Friday, 29 May 2009

Kosovan Rave Culture

This is quite a good article taken from today's Guardian, and much better than that claptrap about Dalston.

Dancing in the dark

There is an electronic musician in Pristina called Toton. He has written a track called Coca Cola, which petitions the owner of the world's most popular beverage to buy Kosovo, paint it red, plaster the Coke logo on to everything, do whatever the company wants to the place - just, please, sort out the electricity problem. Kosovo's entire energy supply, such as it is, comes from only two thermal power stations. "We're probably the only electronic musicians in the world producing music without electricity," says Toton, "Our ministers need to tighten standards so that things start working."

Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe - 60% of Kosovars are under 25 - and also one of the continent's most unexpectedly progressive and dynamic electronic music scenes, thanks to a small, cosmopolitan group of music producers and promoters. Spray Club, the focal point of techno in Pristina, was included in DJ magazine's top 100 clubs in the world, and records made by Kosovar producers get played by internationally known DJs such as Richie Hawtin. The scene is so close-knit that if you meet one DJ on a Friday night, by Sunday you'll have clinked bottles with all of them. Promoters call each other at all hours of the night to borrow leads, cables, lights - whatever has just blown and needs immediate replacement. Small bars in the city play dubstep and techno, and bootleg white labels that haven't reached the rest of Europe.

It all started with one song. In 1995, Josh Wink's Higher State of Consciousness turned a generation of Kosovar punk kids on to techno. There was no money to buy equipment to replicate the song's rush, so people improvised and assembled their own drums, amps and speakers, while putting money aside to buy proper mixing decks. They held parties in squats and abandoned buildings - parties at which drugs were rife, given the country's position astride the supply routes between Africa, Asia and Europe. The stories go that one in four people in Pristina dropped acid during the 90s.

Pristina is a gloomy city except in summer. The seemingly constant rain carries ash and mineral particles, which coat all they touch, leaving everything feeling muddy. After dark, it feels as if you're trespassing in an abandoned city. Those who were dropping acid and dancing had one way to escape the gloom, but when the fighting with Slobodan Miloševic´'s Yugoslav forces intensified in 1998, the party scene in Kosovo went on hiatus. "There was no real partying during the war," says Toton. "It would have been a bit pointless seeing as our friends were targeted for execution or imprisoned."

The majority of Kosovar people are ethnic Albanians; during the war, more than a million of them fled, mostly to Germany, Switzerland, the US and UK. Young people who left kept in touch by listening to Kosovo's only independent radio station, radiourbanFM. The station began after the Nato bombings of Yugoslav targets in 1999 and acted as a soapbox for the new electronic music being created in Kosovo. Toton left his job to dedicate himself to the station, where, like many of the station's producers and DJs, he worked for little or no money. In turn, the listeners were patient enough to not switch channels during the frequent blackouts.

In contrast to the mainstream news stations, with their reports of economic and political problems, radiourbanFM offered information about local gigs and events, and helped talk up the scene. It would eventually encourage a lot of those listening around the world to move back to Kosovo. Berna, whose friends call her Bass Face, was involved with the station from the beginning, hosting her own new music show. "It's the only station in Kosovo where you are free to say whatever you want and can listen to underground tracks," she says.

Berna owns a bar called Llocks, one of the few venues in Pristina with a proper sound system; in a city where the roads need surfacing, the hospitals need beds and a tap in your home is no guarantee of running water, sound systems come a long way down the list of priorities. But Kosovars are shrewd improvisers. If a DJ wants to play, they'll make it happen, even if that means transforming a bare bar into a venue.

Equipment gets passed around depending on who needs it, and Toton learned to mix on a set of decks he shared with half the street. "It's what's made the scene happen," he explains. "Not everyone can afford to get a decent mixer or turntables." Though he has DJed across Europe and in the US, Toton still doesn't have a record player of his own at home.

"We make the best of whatever there is or try to provide what's needed," says Likatek, another Kosovar DJ who has managed to make the transition from local to international star and now runs a regular interantional night called Episodes. "There's some charm to it, though, and carrying equipment everywhere helps to keep the DJs' weight down."

Despite the practical difficulties, Kosovo clubbers demand good music. Until a couple of years ago, many of them were going out in London, New York and Berlin, and now that they're back home, they won't accept a compromise on quality. Besa, who was working at the New Yorker a year ago, now runs her own publication in Pristina. She sees the boom in DIY creativity in Kosovo as a reaction to the 90s, when the Miloševic´ government in Belgrade stamped out freedom of expression. "We had to find alternative ways to express ourselves," she says.

These days, survival for a Kosovar electronic musician doesn't mean fleeing repression, but getting out of the country frequently to play bigger venues and earn decent money - and that's not easy. The visa regime requires that anyone leaving Kosovo must prove they intend to return, Officials find it hard to believe that young DJs with no savings, family obligations or regular employment will want to come back, so most Kosovar artists fall victim to a visa rejection at some stage. One day, Kosovo will probably join the EU - France, Germany and the UK all back its inclusion - and travel will become easier. But the waiting, especially when artists are forced to turn down festivals and gigs that they have worked hard to secure, is maddening.

"The combination of disappointment and frustration is severe," says Likatek. "Most of the time, the promoters abroad have no idea of the requirements in place, and frankly I don't blame them as their freedom of movement was never limited in this way."

Funnily enough, one place DJs can travel to is Serbia; to Serbs, it's all still the same country. Toton was one of the first Kosovar DJs to play in Serbia after the war. He was booked to play the dungeon of a castle. All night long, he had a beautiful, toned blonde woman by his side. To make matters clear, she told him immediately, "I'm not here to fuck you; I'm here to protect you." She was a black belt in half a dozen martial arts.

It would be wrong to suggest that the newly installed Kosovar government isn't weighing in with financial support for music in the country, but a lot of the time the trade ministry chooses dubious recipients for its funds. For example, it spent half a million euros on a concert for young Kosovars that featured Elvis and Abba impersonators, and a headlining slot for Samantha Fox.

Of course, there aren't many electronic music scenes anywhere that get government support. The musicians in Kosovo know this, and they're not looking for a handout; they've kept the scene alive by themselves so far. But they say they would appreciate it if the people in charge could do something about the irregular power supply.

Toton says there's something in the soil that radiates a positive energy and keeps the young people feeling good. If Europe is looking for proof that religious tolerance, cooperation and optimism can thrive in the face of material shortage, it could do a lot worse than to check out the electronic music scene in Kosovo.
Fresh in Pristina: Kosovo's techno DJs

Traditional Kosovar music is made with a 7/8 time signature - not the easiest to dance to - but, like every other electronic scene in Europe, Pristina is influenced first and foremost by the music coming out of London and Berlin. Minimal techno, dubstep and house are the sounds you hear in the bars and clubs. Kosovar house and techno producers add darker, grungier, more industrial beats to standard electronic music templates to give a distinctive flavour.

Pristina's most famous club, Spray, is home to the city's best-known DJs - Likatek, Toton, Legoff, Goya and Naka, who is considered by many to be the best techno DJ in the country, play there regularly. And when international DJs come to Kosovo, Spray is where you'll find them. Seven years ago, Likatek started a regular techno and house night at Spray called Episodes. It brought together DJs, producers and designers to create a complete Kosovar clubbing experience. Episodes now has residencies in the Netherlands and Albania.

Apart from techno and house, there's a vibrant trance scene in Pristina where parties are put on in the woods around the capital. Word about these raves is usually circulated in the bars around Pristina, but the Bass Face show on radiourbanFM is the primary supporter of local musicians in the capital. Right now they're playing a lot of a new Kosovar electronic music collective, founded by Toton, called Pischmen.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


I don't want to talk about the previous post. Suffice to say that it is only by listening to my favourite tunes of all time that I am getting through this most disappointing of days.

First heard this in the summer of 2004, and haven't stopped listening to it since. Up there with 'Your Love', 'Show Me Love', and 'Blue Monday' for me. It was through this that I stumbled across Environ records and discovered the genius that is Kelley Polar. Unbelieveably good.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Champions League Final

This evening could crown a momentous season for Manchester United. Winning the league at a canter, going to Japan during the crowded Christmas fixture period and winning, winning the League cup (ok, but still), and hopefully, giving Barcelona the bosh this evening in Rome must count as pretty fucking good going by anyone's standards.

Messi vs Ronaldo is dominating coverage, and although the spectacle of these two going head to head as the (unofficial) best footballers in the world is cream yourself exciting, my prediction is that this will be a midfield battle. I'm praying Iniesta isn't fit, and that Pique remembers the good times at United to do us a couple of favours, and that Nemanja Vidic breaks Henry's leg. Ok, maybe that's a bit much, but I do hope this encounter has a bit of zest to it. I'm also expecting a big game from Rooney, who has quietly managed to create an aura of gravitas around him with his unselfish, startlingly adult performances, that was unthinkable a few years ago.


Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Lakeview Terrace

This could have been so good. Ultimately, a bit of a disappointment. LaBute likes to lay his themes on pretty thick and heavy. Essentially 'Training Day' meets 'Crash' with a dollop of (the excellent) 'Arlington Road'. I'd say give it a miss.

In other news, had a couple of very good friends visiting last weekend (this being the reason for lack of blog activity), and only one thing remians to be said:

Puuh ah donk ohn eet

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Man on Wire

I can't recommend this docu-bank heist thriller highly enough. A well-deserved win at the Oscars goes to show there is some form of divine justice. Hats off James Marsh.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009



Great comic + shit rapper = whack!

Silver Pozzoli

Can't explain how much I like this song.


The "sport" may well have been a flash in the pan, but looking back over some of its greatest moments (both on and off the pitch - getting shoutouts from Jay Mohr and Jay Leno), you can't help but think it definitely made good viewing. Slamball I salute you!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Jahdan Blakkamoore

I've always been more of a roots man than a dancehall diva. The lyrics are spiritual, the beat just as heavy but not as jarring, and the sentiment heartfelt. Nonetheless, I like a bit of aggro as much as the next man. That's why I like Jahdan Blakkamoore. Its dubby, dancehally, dopey, fuggy, you name it. He's from Brooklyn and signed to Matt Shadetek's Dutty Artz label which are releasing some pretty heavy stuff at the moment.

I mentioned in a previous post that I like the xlr8r podcast and I still stand by that. Of late though, it has been a bit staid. Nothing on it has really grabbed me (probably since Drop The Lime's bassline mix - how on earth did an NYC-based DJ manage to get hold of and assimilate into a coherent mix the latest bassline releases when the genre had barely even pierced the consciousness of Guardianista savoir faire - or Johan Agebjörn's (of Sally Shapiro fame) Italo megamix). That is until Jahdan came and gave it a good old Jah-shakedan.

Only qualm. Shadetek has only chosen to put EXCERPTS of Jahdan's track on Youtube, and so far, no fan has uploaded a whole track either, so can't really post any videos up here unless you want to listen to some excerpts. Oh well, I'll put one on then.

Annoyingly, this is not his best track, as that can found only on the podcast: "Long Road" (Produced by Liondub, rmx by Matt Shadetek & Liondub). With that in mind, I urge you to download it here.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Nope, not Belissima. I am talking about the seminal Kevin Bacon bike messenger movie of 1986. You see, before Kevin started tackling gritty, difficult roles like he did in the ominously titled, 'The Woodsman' ("His performance was so powerful, it was amazing how he really entered the paedophile, made you feel his pain so vivdly"), Bacon was a stalwart of the 80s genre movie. From 'Footloose' to 'Animal House', and even taking in such classics as 'Diner' and 'Tremors', this guy was never far away from something that could just as easily morph into a franchise as it could become the genre-defining movie of a generation.

And then we reach 'Quicksilver'. You see the 80s was a great time to make films, not because filmmakers were blessed with a particulalrly fine crop of actors (or at least no better than any other time in cinema history), and not because there were huge advances made in the technical side (although there were, these advances were more limited to blockbuster fare such as 'Terminator 2' and 'Alien' - that sort of thing). Instead, there were so many more new sports (and by this I mean sporting subcultures) for filmmakers, well, to make films about.

Quicksilveer tells the story of Jack Casey, a super-trader based out of San Francisco. Jack is riding the tidal wave of success, that is until it all goes tits up and he loses everything a la Nick Leeson. In desperate need to find some new way of focusing his life, and seemingly reduced to the bottom of the labour force pile, he takes a job as a San Francisco bike messenger. It is only here that he realises this is what he truly needs, the freedom of the open road, the wind in his hair, and not the false trappings of wealth he had become so accustomed to. But it is only once he is at peace that the past will come knocking again and force him to make a choice that will impact his future in ways he cannot even imagine. So far, so standard.

But is it? Or at least is this paradigmatic structure, one which is employed in myraid other films, a timeless, Aristotelian structure, or an 80s, extreme sports meets coroporate America 'Point Break' structure that us children of the 90s are now just completely anaesthetised to? Just think of other similar movies, most made between the late 70s and early 90s: 'Breaking Away' (about a small town in America obsessed with an Italian cycling team!), fellow bike title, 'American Flyers', 'Rad', also about cycling but this time BMX, and finally 'Winners Take All', this time about Moto X. The last three movies were made within two years of each other - a coincidence? I think not. And how can we forget 'Karate Kid'?

We still see the legacy of these pioneering movies today. 'Blue Crush', 'Lords of Dogtown', and the list goes on. It is not so much the sport that matters each time, but rather the structure, the sport's gradual movement from the marginal to mainstream and back again. The only tragedy is that every time the new extreme sport gets given the Hollywood treatment, it arguably loses some cachet amongst its respective community.

Nonetheless, these movies and by extension their sports, should be celebrated. These 80s testaments to the sheer novelty of the sports and those who practiced them remain pleasing if not a little dated. And to a certain extent (if we can include the slightly camper posturings of 'Footloose') were the making of Kevin Bacon, and for that we should all be thankful.