Not a ‘rounded’ anniversary: on January 13 Električni orgazam turns 41, but because of the COVID 19 pandemic, the band from Belgrade did not have a planned concert to properly celebrate this jubilee. We publish the interview Srđan Gojković Gile gave for the project Belgrade Circle (Beogradski krug) which is being implemented as we speak – a documentary and a book about the Circle and the anti-war movement in Serbia. The topics of this interview were the atmosphere in Serbia at the beginning of the 1990s and the anti-war engagement of Belgrade rock musicians, the single with the song ‘Slušaj ‘vamo’ (‘Listen Here’). The interview has been updated only with a conclusion with regard to numerous social turbulences and crashes the band ‘remembers’ and the question about whether the crocodiles were still coming.
– On January 13, the band turns 41. For this whole time, we’ve been playing this song and it’s always relevant. The actors in the roles of the crocodiles change, but the essence of what this song’s about is the same. New threats and fears are always coming in the form of wrong people in wrong places. That’s why this song has been relevant for all these 40 years, since it was released in 1981, our interlocutor says.
What were the characteristics of public space and media in Serbia and Belgrade in 1992, when the war was already raging in Croatia and the beginning of bloodshed in Bosnia was only days away?
What first comes to mind as a trait of that period is the very visible state control of media and political propaganda, very noticeable intent to control public opinion through radio, television, papers, all to serve one’s own version of events. At the very beginning of the conflict with Croatia, I could still watch Croatian television, it was bizarre that one and the same event was presented completely differently on Croatian television and in Belgrade. This is my first association to the media at the beginning of the 1990s.
The characteristic of that time, hence, was that in fact the state apparatus actually started to use its political power totally obviously and with a gloves-off approach, to actually push some rather aggressive propaganda through all the media, through television and newspapers. This is something that has remained my strongest impression, that it was rather aggressive and that nobody hesitated much to abuse it so obviously. I am talking about the political echelons which were controlling the media.
New folk music was being established. It seemed that music followed the war politics and war adventures?
New folk music did not emerge in early 1990s exactly. It had been mutating the whole time, and even today these changes, like everywhere, occur in that sort of music, as well. It was the product of the early Eighties’ folk music, but perhaps with an added element to the usual traits of the early Nineties – disco folk, I don’t really know how to call it. And it started being much more present in all media, much more compared to the 1980s. It was present during the 1980s, too, but there was rock’n’roll too, there were other things, and then, at the beginning of the 1990s, rock music more or less disappeared from state media, or was there, but in some completely ridiculous time slots. Actually, the current situation is even worse. Then it was like some transition phase, now it does not exist at all. At that time, it started being pushed into the background because it suited the political set to give air time to something which was some stupid entertainment, and not to people who perhaps had political positions and were possibly against that political echelon in power in Serbia.
What was Električni orgazam doing, what were your colleagues from other bands doing?
At the end of 1991, Električni orgazam completed a period of hibernation. In fact, since 1989 until the autumn of 1991, we didn’t work. During that period, I worked with Vlada Divljan. When the war started, Vlada had had enough, he packed his bags and went to his then girlfriend in Australia and stayed there for many years. But shortly before that, Čavke had returned from Australia. This is what we were waiting for to re-activate Orgazam. So we started working on a new album and played concerts. The war actually started when we were at that stage and we recorded the single ‘Slušaj ‘vamo’, as Rimtutituki, together with Brejkersi and Ekatarina Velika as early as 1992. This was the period when the war in Bosnia hadn’t yet started. I remember a question at the press conference very well, why did you record an anti-war song when the war is over, meaning the conflicts in Croatia were calming down. This is what really stuck to my memory, because I didn’t see it that way, I saw that the worst war was yet to start.
All of a sudden, we were in some kind of a ghetto, we, who were a Yugoslav band playing everywhere from Slovenia to Macedonia, all of a sudden we couldn’t go anywhere. We were left only with Serbia and Montenegro, where we never played much, and Macedonia, I remember that we survived that year, 1992, thanks to Macedonia, where we had a tour of ten concerts, and before that we had played maybe only in Skopje, maybe in Štip, too. All of a sudden, we saw that there were other places, too, because the economic crisis in Serbia was so severe, the purchasing power plummeted so much that suddenly Macedonia could pay for any Serbian band to play in any village, and we earned more in some villages that we’d make in some big town in Serbia, although that period was short, maybe only 1992-1993.
How did the Rimtutituki project occur?
The Rimtutituki project emerged at the SKC (Students Cultural Centre). There was a call for public figures to support a petition against forcible mobilisation, because there were plenty of people conscripted and sent to the war in Croatia against their will. This is how we got there, members of EKV, Partibrejkers, Električni orgazam, Rambo Amadeus, I don’t know who else, but all in all, these were the most popular Belgrade bands playing at that time. Then Cane and Čavke had an idea: let’s make an anti-war song. Only two-three days later, we gathered at SKC for a rehearsal. Milan was not yet there then. Actually, only Brejkersi and Orgazam made the song. Milan joined at the very recording, when the music was already written, as well as the lyrics. I don’t remember why, I no longer remember the reason, but, anyway, I do remember that only Orgazam and Brejkersi were at the rehearsal. Then we entered the studio which Željko Mitrović gave us. He was the owner of a recording studio back then, and now he’s the owner of Pink television. He gave us his studio to record the song for free, and then Radio B92 released the single, for which we insisted to never be for sale, but be given to people for free. Then we held a promotion, this was when we were playing on a truck driving through the streets of Belgrade on March 9 1992 and we were giving out LP records from the truck to the people following us.
How did the creation of that now-cult-single look like, what were the rehearsals like, the talks?
There weren’t any, actually, there was one rehearsal, we made the stuff, came the next day. What I do in fact remember about the very recording, actually, is that other part, the part when a riff changes all of a sudden in the middle of the song – this didn’t really exist. Anton actually started playing that part, that à la Led Zeppelin riff at the time of recording. So the second part of the song “Mir brate mir” was actually created totally spontaneously, because it was a live recording, everything was like live, except Cane recorded the vocals later. So this de facto jamming was somehow enriched with that second part which, as far as I remember, had two or I don’t know how many accords, this is what I started playing. This is the main, first part of the song, then Cane made up the major part of the lyrics and, let’s call it the main singing tune, for lack of a better word.
Then Anton added that riff in the end, this is what I remember. Then Milan came and recorded that slide guitar and sang some replies to what Cane was singing in the chorus.
That song, in both lyrics and music, actually caught a moment in time which probably speaks much more than many words?
Yes. That’s because everything happened very quickly and spontaneously from the moment when we agreed to work on that song, in two or three days we already met, we made the song in one day, at one rehearsal, recorded it in two or three days and it was out in two weeks. It was less than a month from the initial idea until the finished single was printed.
How important was it for you personally to make that song?
For me personally it was rather important as there was, actually, a huge media blackout and some completely crazy stories were reaching me, that someone in Zagreb was saying how the actor Bjelogrlić and I had been killed as Serbian volunteers on the frontline. It was complete madness for me. You totally couldn’t tell who was on what political position. I didn’t even have a computer; telephone lines were disconnected. For me, the idea was OK. This song was actually going to explain to our pals in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Ljubljana, what our political positions were. Regardless of the fact that it certainly wouldn’t be aired on the official TV channels of Zagreb, or Slovenia or Bosnia, it’d reach our audience through special channels, and this is what was the important reason for me at the time.
What were the reactions of your fans?
Our fans were delighted. People who were, let’s call them, the urban population at the time, and the largest part of that population ran away and left Serbia, Belgrade, Yugoslavia in the years to come. I am talking about the phase between the conflict in Croatia and right before the beginning of war in Bosnia, so there were still many people there. No later than the following months and next year, plenty of that audience of ours actually emigrated.
Fundamental characteristics of the city were endangered and attacked. It is when the devastation of the city started to a certain extent. How did you feel about that?
Various people who had emigrated from war-torn areas already started coming to Belgrade, from different parts. In the beginning, from Croatia, Slavonia, and then, in later years, from Bosnia too; so, on one hand, there was a great inflow of people coming to Belgrade, but also a great outflow of people on the other, not older citizens of Belgrade, but younger, who were actually our audience. They left the city. So the greatest impression for me was that all of a sudden, when you walk around the town, you don’t meet people who dressed in their particular way, had their style, there were fewer and fewer of them, and some other people were coming. You’d meet people who didn’t look like citizens of Belgrade at that moment because they weren’t from Belgrade, they were newcomers.
Of course, I don’t blame these people, I’m only making a comment on how it looked like to me. So, I was meeting people who looked differently, as if someone kept the scenography but suddenly changed the actors and extras in a movie that used to be one thing and then became something else.
What were you talking about, what opinions did you express, I mean, rock musicians and your social circle? Were you thinking about some sort of different engagement at the time?
That entire crew gathered around these three bands which made Rimtutituki had more or less similar political positions at the time, and everybody felt it as a dictatorship of Slobodan Milošević and the set that was in power. This was something totally strange to us, since none of us had nationalist ideas, and the key characteristic was the growing nationalism, which was totally strange to us, because we grew up as children of another country, Yugoslavia. We travelled a lot, we played, we knew people and had friends in all parts of Yugoslavia. It was totally abnormal behaviour to us, that someone declares my friends on the other side of the border as enemies and criminals. This was generally our position, but none of us had any ambitions to engage politically in the sense of becoming part of some political party or express their positions and engagement in that way, but we did try through artistic expression, most of all by directly protesting against the war with the song ‘Mir, brate, mir’ to express what we thought about it. And these three bands individually had their songs which talked about it, like for example ‘Sex, drugs, violence and fear’ by Električni orgazam, or that entire album titled Balkan Horror Rock which was released in 1992. All of these were comments, that skull on the covers, so these were some messages at that sort of artistic level.
According to the experiences of others, dictatorship should be convenient for rock music. By coincidence and due to that emigration you mentioned, this was not the case here?
The dictatorship was inspirational in some way, in that it was a kind of inspiration for some more engaged lyrics or something like that. A part of it was inspirational indeed. All of a sudden we had someone who was, to say it that way, an enemy to our philosophy of life. We had it before too, but this time it was drastic. Up until that moment people were not killed, there was no fratricidal war.
The moment it started, we also felt a need to get involved a bit more directly, although I personally was against some daily political engagement, to name the names or something. I have always loved to have some sort of comment that could be applied to any other similar political situation. Like, for example, in the early 1980s, when I wrote ‘Krokodili dolaze’ (Crocodiles Are Coming), this could simply be applied to 1992, 12 years after being created, when that political echelon and Slobodan Milošević were coming to power. This was my artistic relation towards it, and there were others who probably had some more direct comments.
After so many years, that is, more than quarter of a century later, a comparison imposes itself. Can you recognise some of it in the society and politics of today?
This really is a bizarre repetition of history that’s always happening here. Both with regard to what had been there before Slobodan Milošević’s regime and today. In fact, what is the same is that there is always a cult of personality of a leader in power. It was like that during Tito, it was like that during Slobodan Milošević, it is still like this today in Serbia. This is my main impression, that here in fact we always have a cult of some political personality and that the person who is in power is in fact some kind of monarch, a Middle-Ages totalitarian ruler of everything and a person controlling everything. It’s something similar to what it was during the 1990s and what had been, as I said, during Tito’s time, to this very day.
How do you look at the city and music today, compared to the period we are talking about?
The city is ever-changing. I don’t go out that much today. I am in my mid-50s now, I was in my 30s then, when that civil war started, so I was still going out actively to the clubs and bars. I got bored with it mainly, so I don’t have an insight now as I used to have back then. Since I am older, I don’t feel like going out all the time and maybe I’m not the most competent person to assess the situation now. Of course, the city is always changing and what characterises urban population today is a visible apathy and that people are hugely disappointed. At the beginning of the 1990s there was still rather strong hope that something could change, and that’s maybe the greatest difference between the early 1990s and today. Generally, as far as I can see it now, people are more or less of that opinion that it is always the situation of the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I think it goes indefinitely. Like, the rulers change, but in fact the system actually remains the same and this is the core of the problem.
Photo Source: Noizz.rs/Rimtutituki