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2021 Year in Review

With the year 2021 already behind us, I... I don't give a damn anymore. No, let's start again.

With the year 2021, the music scene has become... infested with coronavirus? No, I mean yeah, a bunch of them did, but some didn't, I mean yeah you can act stupid and still dodge it. Scratch all of this. I had some spectacular moments in 2021 while going to a few concerts I could go to. They were far fewer than usual but as the year went on corona anxiety wasn't a thing anymore, I imagine we are all now experienced corona soldiers, if a bullet passes your head you are not screaming for your life, it's just a single bullet, and c'mon, it didn't hit you.   

So, again, how was the year 2021 for the unsuspecting dwellers? I remember almost nothing. All I can say is some numbers, March was pretty bad, 8000 cases daily in a country with fewer than 7.000.000 inhabitants. I am not going to review hospitals. I haven't been at one, and I didn't get a coronavirus, not that I know of it. Instead I got vaccinated, not a single one but three shots, right in the arm. I was so excited the first time, I couldn't sleep out of fear I would not wake up on time. And I felt dizzy after the first shot, I am sure it was all psychological, but the excitement, the hope, dreams of things to come, as if you had your first alcoholic drink, all the euphoria was flowing right through my veins as not-yet-peer-reviewed chinese home grown vaccine was hopefully starting to work its way into making me corona proof individual! And then exactly nothing happened, cases were rising, anti vaxxers won the propaganda war and held an upper hand so the immunization was very slow and still stands at less than 60% at the time of this writing. Thus, the first part of the year was a write off. I fell into a depression, I lost all the pleasure in my life, nothing real bothered me anymore. 

Then two things happened. First I got a new job which was very exciting but also demanded much more responsibility and at first I was afraid that I could not make it given my state at the time. Second, I started playing music with other people. Great things for me, but what about concerts? I honestly don't remember, all I know is I basically didn't get out much, except for work, and I really believe there were no concerts at all in the first half of the year 2021, not in Belgrade, not that I know of. 

Ah yes, now I remember. It was summer already. I remember it because I bought my car in June, and I still had to take a taxi to get there. Because you know, I usually take a drink or two, usually over the limit for driving. And I don't mind it, sometimes I shouldn't drive even when I'm sober. I remember seeing Bjesovi and Repetitor at Ciglana. It is in a remote area and I was late, so I had to take a taxi. I am ok with taking a bus, but I was late, and what's the point of missing a concert just so you can save some money - it's the concert you are after, not the money saving thing. It was a pretty strange scene there, bouncers were not friendly at all, and being in a crowd was very strange. Contrary to intuition I started going forward to the stage and found that paradoxically the front was more sparse then the middle of the open space where the concert was taking place. I have nothing much to add. Yes, Bjesovi have some fine musicians, very well rehearsed indeed. But overall the sound sucked and it was even more obvious when Repetitor came on stage. I went again to the same place a few weeks later, that's definitely sometime in July, to listen to Svemirko. Their music is so summer-ish, it just evokes some undefined nostalgia for the times you went somewhere, like a seaside, and felt good and really enjoyed yourself. But I couldn't say the same for the concert. It was overcrowded, bouncers were dicks again, Svemirko did the set with robotic precision and I felt I got less than from just listening to albums. Well, it was okay, but all these details kind of spoiled it for me. 

Then I went blank again, I am not sure what was happening after that, I was on a vacation, I had to work hard and was much busier than normal. All my travels back in my time bring me to a moment when I spotted what I thought was a single lone skinhead in Drugstore. 

But before that I needed to consult the statistics and graph showing the number of corona cases in Serbia, and I remember that after the summer the numbers started to rise again. I think I am not alone in thinking at the moment that it's the right moment to go somewhere, just go to any social event before numbers go really bad. In order to prepare for doomsday I went to the Street Gallery to listen to Katie I believe, and I found her sound better than ever. More complex, but more pop at the same time. And I thought that was it, the clubs already started to close early due to restrictions and it was to remain like this for a foreseeable future. 

Suddenly, I got the ticket for the event I wasn't even planning to attend because it was on a workday, and I already gave up on going to concerts but my friend couldn't come to this concert and gave me the ticket. I thought it was a sign I am meant to be there, and sure it was. To give you some context first, I started to listen to these Russian Doomer playlists on Youtube, it perfectly fits the current mood, it's kind of moody and even gothic, a bit retro and stale in style - so you can't tell if it was made way back in USSR on some shitty improvised recording equipment, or some conscious decision of contemporary band to record so that it sound old, warn out, lo-fi, but it captures the feeling of uneasiness of these times as well. Not only because of corona, but because of the other things that aggravate its consequences, rampant capitalism, social insecurities, and even globally, the feeling that we are tipping over the edge. For me, as a frequent passenger of Pripizdinsk Oblast Express, I could only find myself at home with this sound. 

The event in question is Hali Gali event, or festival, I am not sure, that takes place every now and then, and the lineup is usually local bands or performers, with some exceptions. This time it took place in one of the biggest and most interesting places in Belgrade - Drugstore. That assured that there would be some room to avoid human contact as much as possible. 

On top of all difficulties, it was a workday, so I decided that my stay will be brief, as I would feel awful at work tomorrow if I stay too long. When I came to the gig sv. Pseta (their name is written in cyrillic though) were already playing. Yeah, that was some nice and raw guitar sound, more raw than their recent recordings. Seems like raw guitars, weird melodic hooks are the new default now for bands in Serbia, or Belgrade, or whatever. But nothing could have prepared me for Shortparis. I've seen the video that Youtube graciously recommended for "Strashno" - and it was a weird combination of both pop and weird electronic sound, choreography and political message. But I don’t think anything would have prepared me for what was to come.

Remember that skinhead I mentioned earlier? Well it came to me that he’s not the skinhead. It was Shortparis singer in a long black coat and black boots. He was watching sv. Pseta. How nice that you mingle with the audience and watch the other much less famous local acts! 

There’s something wild, tribal like, and yet at the same time technically perfect and perfectly tidy with Shortparis sound. First, just take a look, they have a guy on the stage and all he does is slam the snare in front of him in a very theatrical way. He is always doing some kind choreography, and in some way it reminds of a berserk version of snare hitters from Leibach video Geburt einer Nation, only this time it goes more in Warhol's Velvet Underground stage dancers way. The sound is cold on first listen, electronic glitches, pronounced percussions, guitar that is minimalistic and serves as a haunted intermezzo during somatic sound illusions. Then, the said singer. The slim, ascetic appearance, and yet a bit decadent, with all the jewelry, something of a contrast. Both he and the band act like possessed people. And I don’t remember any of the songs, especially after the time has passed since, but it all melted into some weird futuristic, neo-paganistic, and yet cyber mesh of dance, lights, drum strokes and whatnot, a really enjoyable phantasmagoria. The highlight of the evening was when the singer went off stage and climbed the bar, hanging himself by this wide neon light, in Jesus Christ pose.

Phew! If that was the only concert in 2021 I would still feel satisfied. Yet, there were a few more gigs I went to here and there, mostly taking place in squat-like building, occupied by artists called Kvaka 22 (Catch 22 - yes, you guessed it), DIY to the max. Let’s name a few: Ivica - after my past review I have not much more to add, his clearly moving in more electronic direction (and stylistically more towards some kind of blended genre I cannot define, with bits of soul maybe, trap beats, I am not sure) but with new/old guitarist to accompany him on stage it counterbalances that and brings more live feel, although heavily processed with pedals. The second concert I went to recently was Tús Nua, a croatian shoegaze or post-rock or ambiental pop noise - definition again eludes me, and I hate to be stuck with them anyway. It was a pleasant concert, they are serious with what they do and they stick with it - perhaps too much, a little bit of stepping out of the self imposed boundaries could yield more it seems to me. To note, a big plus for Kvaka 22 is that they actually require a green pass to enter, at least somebody cares!

I forgot about the INDIREKT festival. The festival was a nice mix of old and new, and included regional bands as well. I went only to the last day, primarily to check 21. vek and Lenhart Tapes (with Orchestra). I regret missing out on the previous two nights, which had good moments so I heard.. To keep it short, I watched 21 vek just a couple of weeks earlier in Skoplje, where everythings was more or less the same, except they are well established there, but it didn’t prevent some nice interactions with the audience in Belgrade as well. The singer Vasko didn’t care to keep on the stage with fellow members so he spent most of the time in the audience, drinking, hugging, kissing, I am not sure what all the things happened there. As the concert progressed his speeches and funny stories between the songs were getting longer, he should consider a career in stand up perhaps? Lenhard Tapes is exactly what you would expect, his tapes sounding like the usual mix of everything put on tape in the Middle East, and every bizzare thing you can imagine to come out of the tape, plus a band, which sounds… like a real band playing their own stuff, which creates a sort of opposition to tape master, and plus there is a female singer to steal the spotlight. I listened to two more younger bands that night (Cactus Fields, Gazorpazorp), oh and Presing as well, which seemed to have some issues with sound, so it was a scrape. I didn’t like the strange way the festival was organized, all the shuffling between three halls, with the cinema hall being absurdly big for this kind of event, chairs included. 

And this concludes the year 2021 in a review. Not enough concerts! Not enough festivals abroad! But I am looking to change that if everything goes accordingly this year. You should know about OFF Festival if you don’t by now, the always exciting line up for much less than what you would pay normally elsewhere. And we are expecting to see Pixies and A Place to Bury Strangers here in Belgrade. I hope I will write proper reviews. This yearly kind of thing is annoying, so much stuff to cover even in the year like 2021 when half the year was just scrapped and the other half wasn’t close to normal either. 

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