Novi Val – The Balkan post punk that shaped one generation

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It is almost impossible to separate music from politics, and so is the story of the Balkan Novi Val. What was called Post Punk in the rest of the world, became a blooming of something new and something different in the Balkans. While it slowly emerged in the very late 70’s, and was greatly encouraged both by the magazine Polet and the cultural scene of the time, it truly came alive in 1980.

It seemed that the death of Tito sparked a change, not only on the political and world scene, but also in the artistic youth who now had new, and different things to say.  Novi Val has finished it’s tentative and sometimes hidden childhood and was ready to face the world. And while it lasted for a relatively short period, it left a deep mark not only on the music scene, but several generations, and in the end, the entire Ex-Yu population.  You will find a crossover of both punk and more mainstream bands in this article, which perhaps, is the best possible testament to how open and hungry the youth of the day was for a different type of expression.

This is by no means a definite list of the new wave bands, and as it is with most things nostalgic, your mileage may vary in terms of what was real and proper Novi Val, but the following bands (and one joint album) have undeniably left their mark on the movement and the time. And for those of you paying special attention, we’re doing this geographically.

Slovenia’s Pankrti (bastards) were the forerunners of Novi Val. They were provocative, political, and styled themselves “The first punk band behind the Iron Curtain”. Hailing from Ljubljana, they started in the late 1977 and drew their influences form the Sex Pistols, The clash and New York Dolls. Their first album, Dolgcajt (Boredom) was released in 1980, which cemented their status as a cult band. They were also included in the Novi punk Val combination album.

And while Pankrti were shaking Slovenia, Rijeka birthed their own prodigal sons- Paraf. Tongue in cheek and toeing the line with the establishment (their Narodna song, mocking the police, and their ironic usage of communist slogans), they still managed to publish their album A dan je tako lijepo poceo… (And the day started out so nicely) in 1980.

In Zagreb, however, different things were brewing. Johnny finally managed to get a crew together and called them Azra, and started churning out music, ending up with the controversial title of one of the most influential Yugoslav Novi Val bands, and you’d be hard to pressed to find any kid with a guitar these days who doesn’t know how to play at least one of their songs.

The Novi Val was however, not only influenced by the British punk and the rock music, but also drew it’s influences from all the contemporary music. An unlikely influence, the Caribbean sound, brought fame to Haustor, who built their hit Moja Prva Ljubav (My First Love) upon it. It is hardly a surprise this song still gets played on the radio come summer, only partly for nostalgia.

Film brought a different sound however, opting to be Neprilagoden (Misfit), a song which brought them nationwide fame and won them the Subotica Youth Festival. This fact perhaps, speaks volumes of how and what the youth of the day at the time felt.  Their debut album, Novo! Novo! Još jučer samo na filmu a sada i u vašoj glavi (Extra! Extra! Since yesterday only on film and now in your head), featured a more ska inspired sound.

Prljavo Kazaliste declared their world black and white in 1981, and despite the fact that they were teeter-tottering between wanting to be punk and sound like the Rolling Stones, their second album remains one of the most influential Novi Val albums.  The sound they developed through this dichotomy was distinctly post punk and could stand next to any foreign releases of the day.

Many place the true birth of Novi Val in Belgrade, and it is not hard to see why when looking at the cult bands of the time.

Elektricni Orgazam started off as a combination of new wave, punk rock and post-punk, encompassing everything Novi Val was about, and delivering it one irresistible package. I admit to being partial to them as they are a part of the music I grew up with, but their pure and raw energy, along with their rebellious nature earned them the status of a cult band.

The same title is more than fitting for Idoli, whose albums were voted as the greatest Yugoslav rock albums by critics on several occasions. Their gay-friendly, socialist-mocking (Maljciki, their most famous song) and sexually suggestive lyrics (Malena) were perhaps just what the youth of the time needed, but beyond that, they were one of the most original and successful bands of the time.

Sarlo Akrobata, on the other hand was possibly the shortest lived, but the most influential of all the bands listed. Surviving for only a year, they brought a unique and avant-garde sound to Novi Val. After the band disbanded it gave birth to both Ekaterina Velika and Disciplina Kichme, two bands with a radically different sound.

The three bands, Sarlo akrobata, Idoli and Elektricni Orgazam were also the only bands featured on the compilation album Paket Aranzman, perhaps one of the best and most significant albums of the YU rock scene at the time, which marked the proper and true birth of the Novi Val.

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