Holiday Playlist: Experimental and Early Electronic Music from Yugoslavia

We hope your winter holidays have been enjoyable so far. We’ll be back at work relatively soon, but in the meantime, here’s some experimental/early electronic music from Yugoslavia.

“Black Santa Claus”, Dee Dee Mellow, Zagreb, Croatia (1990)

Merry Christmas to everyone on the Gregorian Calendar! We have little choice but to kick things off today with the English version of “Black Santa Claus” by Croatia’s Dee Dee Mellow, which was released in 1990. The video for this song is nuts; it’s very “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel (1986) in that it seems like the director must have told the wardrobe and prop department to bring everything to the set because this video is cluttered with way too many bright objects and symbols to decipher (what’s the significance of Marilyn Monroe?) But the big burning question here is why “Black Santa Claus”, Dee Dee Mellow? The lyrics to the song make Santa sound like a bad omen, and it was almost 1991, so that makes some sense. The actual song here is just sorta so-so, a mediocre take on the Talking Heads in the 1980s.


“Elektra”, Zdenka Kovačiček, Zagreb, Croatia (1978)

Zdenka Kovačiček recorded this synth-heavy head trip of a song in Croatia all the way back in 1978, which is pretty incredible. Her vocals still have that haunting early seventies Jefferson Airplane quality, but there’s some real deep synth in there which just makes it mind-blowing. Love the way the synth arpeggios pan back and forth in my headphones. Since Zdenka just belts out a bunch of notes, the song feels way more experimental. It’s dark 1970s psychedelia but all of the usual instruments have been replaced with synths. Zdenka is a bit of a living legend in Croatia, and has gone on to have a successful career in theater. Jugoton included this song on its big retrospective CD, which was released in October 2014.


“Srebrni Zvuci”, Ljudmila Frajt, Belgrade, Serbia (1972)

This is probably one of the better things I’ve heard this year. Ljudmila Frajt was an award-winning composer of children’s music, and wrote the scores for films, radio and television. She studied Balkan folklore for years and then decided to dive into the European avant-garde. This series of compositions is the result: Drone/avant-garde/Chamber music in Belgrade, back in 1972.


“Ja Nemam Više Njen Broj Yugoslav”, Gino De Gagi, Skopje, Macedonia (1985)

So apparently Yugoslavia got really into darkwave in the early 1980s. Bands across the country decided to go so dark in fact, that they made Bauhaus and Joy Division and even Christian Death look like the Carpenters in comparison. Anyway, Macedonia had several of these bands; there were darkwave bands all over the place. This band is great because they formed in high school. The lead singer was only 18 in 1985, and his vocal performance is pretty serious. The bass line here is nice and sinister, but the best part is when the song picks up for the chorus and there’s some relief from the relentless darkness. This is a pretty mature song and it’s impressive that they put this recording together when they were all just high school kids.


“Lilihip” (My Boy Lollipop), Via Talas, Belgrade, Serbia (1981)

Via Talas formed at the beginning of the 1980s in Belgrade. This cover of the Cadillacs song “My Boy Lollipop” was one of their biggest hits. It’s a light and retro interpretation, one that contrasts well with a lot of the dark gravewave music being made at the time. The band’s music, including their cover of Lilihip, was put on the Artistic Work Action compilation, the most important collection of songs said to represent the Yugoslav New Wave of the 1980s.


“Kraj Radne Nedelje”, Bonton Baya, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (1983)

Bonton Baya was one of the more intriguing bands active in Yugoslavia during the early 1980s. They wrote melodic ballads on acoustic guitar, and even tried playing country on a song called “Sarajevo, Texas, Nashville, Tennessee”. But they still experimented with some of the new technologies that were around at the time, and on this song you can hear a sort of theremin-sounding melody layered over the acoustic guitar.


“Andromeda”, Miha Kralj, Ljubljana, Slovenia (1980)

The undisputed master of early experimental music in Yugoslavia. Great for listening to in your bedroom with the lights off and your headphones on.



Cover image credit: Vladimir Tkalčić/flickr/some rights reserved.


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Lily Lynch

Lily is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Balkanist Magazine. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia.