Slovenia: Find Me In The Damp Basement*

A special report from Ljubljana on electronic music in Slovenia, a country with an exciting and thriving scene headed up by Laibach, but boasting a host of less-celebrated bands, producers, labels and more 

* English translation of “Poišcˇi me v vlažni kleti”, a line from Borghesia’s ‘No Hope, No Fear’ referring to Klub K4, the pivotal Ljubljana venue 

Laibach

Thanks to a handful of bloggers, vinyl junkies and tape collectors – such as the incredible YouTube channel Dronemf S – obscure Yugoslav electronic music has reached new audiences in recent times, igniting an interest in the sonic legacy of the region. The focus of this piece is on the Slovenian scene, which has often been overlooked, both in academic and hobby circles. While it represents only a small section of the wider Yugoslav story, Slovenia has long been a hotbed of exciting electronic and experimental sounds. I wrote a bachelor thesis on the topic a few years ago, but I feel I barely touched the surface. 

The 1980s was the decade when Slovenian and Western cultural time finally synchronised, providing a fertile climate for audio experimentalism across the country. DIY projects could be found in almost every village, but the centres of creativity were the major cities of Ljubljana, Maribor and Celje. One of the recurring cliches when it comes to Slovenian electronic music is to wonder how a tiny state at the foot of Mitteleuropa – the wealthiest member of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia up until its demise – could produce an epochal phenomenon like Laibach. The truth is that the decade was defined by many lesser-known bands, producers, labels, clubs and more, most of which never reached the “outside world”.

Let’s start with Pankrti, the first Slovenian punk band. Their debut single, ‘Lepi In Prazni’ / ‘Lublana Je Bulana’ (1978), was followed by the first Yugoslav punk LP, ‘Dolgcajt’ (1980), and these records helped Ljubljana to become an epicentre of alternative youth culture, gaining more prominence than Belgrade (in Serbia) and Zagreb (in Croatia). During this period, the political establishment underwent a process of liberalisation, resulting in more daring, critical and controversial music, cinema, theatre and new media art. The freedom of the press grew considerably and previously forbidden subjects were openly discussed in public debates. Progressive ideas permeated the urban areas and activist initiatives were born, from the gay and lesbian community to the anti-nuclear movement.

A crucial institution for the dissemination of both music and ideas was Radio Student, which was founded in 1969 and is one of Europe’s oldest independent non-commercial radio stations. The acclaimed Ljubljana festival Novi Rock, where Laibach gave a legendary performance with their original singer Tomaž Hostnik in 1982, also played a crucial role in the popularisation of electronic music and post-punk. Its name, “New Rock”, was a nod to the tectonic changes brought about by punk and it was here that many Slovenians heard electronic sounds for the first time. 

Miha Kralj

Strictly speaking, it was producer and synth pioneer Miha Kralj – dubbed the Yugoslav Jean-Michel Jarre, although I see him more as a Slovenian Moroder – who brought electronic and ambient music to Yugoslavia. His space-themed debut album, ‘Andromeda’ (1980), sold 100,000 copies across Europe and he remained popular throughout the 80s, releasing solo records, producing other artists, performing on TV shows and competing in national song contests. One of his more eccentric collaborations was with pop singer Milan Petrovicˇ on the album ‘Dvajseta So Nora Leta’, a collection of predominantly cheesy Italo disco tunes with some brilliant surprises.

There were two trajectories in the early days of Slovenian electronic music. While Miha Kralj opted for an accessible sound and mainstream success, artists like Laibach, Borghesia and Mario Marzidovsek emerged from the underground and took the road less travelled, focusing on industrial, darkwave, EBM and other left-field aesthetics. 

A product of the small mining town of Trbovlje, Laibach’s avant-garde multidisciplinary practice and political controversies had a huge impact on the regional scene. They spawned imitators like Abbildungen Varieté, an industrial collective from Maribor, the second-biggest Slovenian city, who released a self-titled cassette on the Galerija ŠKUC Izdaja tape label in 1983. Laibach themselves meanwhile became a larger-than-life entity, breaking national boundaries and gaining recognition around Europe. 

Beyond Laibach, the members of the band frequently hid behind various monickers, one of their most feted side projects being 300.000 Verschiedene Krawalle, comprising of Dejan Knez, Iztok Turk and Peter Mlakar. Their outstanding techno-punk tracks ‘Policijski Hit’ and ‘Prva TV Generacija’ were featured on the ‘84’ compilation issued by ZKP RTVL, a Yugoslav major label run by the Slovenian national broadcaster. The collection, which also boasts acts such as Otroci Socializma and Cao Picˇke, is a great introduction to the cutting-edge artists of the period.

Another alias used by Laibach members, most notably Andrej Lupinc, was Keller, a name synonymous with minimal and abstract industrial experimentation. Keller’s discography includes several cassette albums, the first three for Galerija ŠKUC Izdaja and a fourth for the FV Založba label. This last release, ‘Sizzling!’, came out in 1986 and I’d particularly recommend the tracks ‘Lapcej’, a ritualistic jam that could land in a mix by Serbo-German selector Vladimir Ivkovic, and ‘Mali Mili Gnili’, which is a nod to Throbbing Gristle. 

Like Galerija ŠKUC Izdaja, FV Založba was a vital outlet for alternative music. Founded by members of the AV collective Borghesia and the people behind Disko FV, a seminal student club in the 1980s, the label issued around 60 cassettes, vinyl LPs and VHS tapes between 1985 and 1994, among them some notorious live recordings by Nick Cave, Swans and Diamanda Galás. 

Borghesia

Borghesia are probably Slovenia’s best-known electronic export after Laibach. Established in 1982 as an offshoot of the alternative drama company Theatre FV-112/15 (later the video production unit FV Video), they were led by producer Aldo Ivancˇicˇ and singer Dario Seraval. They were among the first bands to introduce Slovenian and regional audiences to new wave, electropop, disco, darkwave and EBM. 

Borghesia’s provocative image, captured in iconic music videos directed by band members Zemira Alajbegovicˇ and Neven Korda, was inspired by the prohibited and the repressed, especially homosexuality and fetishism. See their video for ‘On’ for reference. Their initial releases, via Galerija ŠKUC Izdaja and FV Založba, secured the support of Slovenia’s electronic music mavericks and it wasn’t long before they began to attract an international fanbase, drawing comparisons with DAF and Front 242. 

As they became more widely known, Borghesia signed to the Belgian label Play It Again Sam, releasing their breakthrough album, ‘No Hope, No Fear’, in 1987. The title track remains one of the undisputed alternative anthems of the day. Four more PIAS albums followed, resulting in several European tours and catching the attention of NME and Melody Maker. Borghesia continued to perform and release records until 1995, returning with a different line-up in 2009 and remaining sporadically active to this day.

Aldo Ivancˇicˇ also made his mark as a pioneering DJ. He spent some time in London in the late 1970s, discovering Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League, The Normal, Fad Gadget and more, whose records he subsequently introduced to audiences in Ljubljana. He was also partly responsible for Magnus, the first festival of gay culture in Yugoslavia, which was held in 1984 at a venue offering the earliest “dark room” in Eastern Europe. Ivancˇicˇ later became the resident DJ at Ljubljana’s Klub K4, where the famed K4 Roza (K4 Pink) night was held on Sundays for many years, and mentored the first techno generation. One of his alumni at K4 was the superstar DJ Umek.

Another significant figure on the 1980s Slovenian scene was Iztok Turk, a versatile musician and producer who left an envy-inducing legacy with the punk bands Kuzle and Otroci Socializma, as well as various Laibach spin-offs, but his biggest success came with the much-loved electropop act Videosex. Taking notes from groups like Depeche Mode and Yazoo, Videosex opted for a more commercial sound, but they still managed to retain a sense of underground mystique.

According to the music journalist Igor Bašin, Videosex were the first Yugoslav pop act that could compete with its Western counterparts in terms of quality. Their 1983 single on ZKP RTVL, ‘Moja Mama’, a cover of a Kuzle song, was famous for its clever juxtaposition of uplifting synth melodies and depressing lyrics about the suicide of the subject’s mother. Videosex’s self-titled album appeared the following year and is considered to be one of the highlights of the era. Just listen to the Italo disco-inspired ‘Neonska Reklama 2’ and the synthpop masterpiece ‘Detektivska Pricˇa’ and you will hear why. 

While many of these artists had an almost immediate impact on the scene, the enigmatic Maribor-based experimental producer and DIY visionary Mario Marzidovsek remained unfamiliar to the wider public for most of his life. It was only after his death in 2011 that the Slovenian label Monofonika brought attention to his opus with various archive releases, including their ‘Ex Yu Electronica’ compilation series (currently counting 10 issues), which are solid stepping stones to finding some excellent embryonic Yugoslav electronic and experimental sounds. 

An eccentric artist inspired by the avant-garde, Marzidovsek may have been an obscure figure, but he was also an internationally active and hyper-productive home studio beast, self-releasing seven albums on his label Marzidovshek Minimal Laboratorium between 1984 and 1985. During the 80s, his cacophonous and hermetic industrial productions were featured on more than 30 international compilations as a result of his involvement in the mail art network, but he stopped making music in 1991.

Still with the underground, the first three cassettes by Demolition Group and their side project Silver Baracudas, self-released on Opus Manuum in 1985 and 1986, are hot tips for aficionados of EBM-tinged adventures. Hailing from the town of Brežice, Demolition Group are today considered one of Slovenia’s foremost rock bands, but their early material was minimalist, cold, funky and psychedelic. Their song ‘You Better…’ is like a soundtrack to William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, while ‘Beautiful Site/Hard’ comes across like a proto-rave banger by The Pop Group. These are some truly cult releases marked by an esoteric darkwave atmosphere.

For lovers of the shadowy, another hidden treasure are Electric Fish, an industrial duo from the small town of Žalec. As part of the anti-psychiatry movement, they collaborated on various performances with the Italian improvisational group Musika and the Coordinamento Musicale Il Posto Della Fragole organisation, leaving behind a demo tape (‘Materijal Zvok’, 1986), an official cassette album (‘Optimalni Usodni Minimum’, 1987) and some rare compilation appearances. Their sound, an amalgam of rhythmic noise and musique concrète, is best captured on the composition ‘Materijal Zvok II’, which feels like a lo-fi forerunner of contemporary techno by someone like Maenad Veyl. 


Following Slovenia’s declaration of independence in 1991, new cultural forms flooded the domestic music market. Rave and club culture started to bloom, especially at Klub K4. It was techno that led the way, taking the country’s electronic scene to fresh heights. Names like DJ Umek, the godfather of Slovenian techno, and the luminary duo Random Logic, whose productions were sometimes attributed to Detroit hero Robert Hood, along with labels such as Matrix Music, ABsense and Consumer Recreation, came to define the techno landscape.

At the height of commercial clubbing, most notably at the world-renowned Ambasada Gavioli discotheque, which opened in 1995, Slovenian electronica began to split into micro-scenes, just as it did everywhere else. By the end of the 1990s, a wide range of genres – house, drum ’n’ bass, breakbeat, IDM, dub techno and more – had found their places in clubbers’ hearts. 

A number of the artists mentioned here, along with newcomers like Coptic Rain, April Nine and Strelnikoff, appeared on the ‘Trans Slovenia Express’ compilation issued on Mute in 1993. Presenting 15 reworkings of Kraftwerk tunes, it was a momentous release because it united the first and second generations of Slovenian electronic pioneers. With the advent of capitalism and globalisation, however, there’s no doubt that something was lost in terms of a distinctly Yugoslav/Slovenian aura that had characterised the music of the 80s. 

Mainstream artists reigned supreme in the late 1990s and the opening years of the new millennium, but bands like The Stroj and Bast, plus others from the realms of noise, continued their existence underground. Another wave of alternative music has taken hold in the past decade, with many of the trailblazers returning to their projects, and today’s scene is as lively as ever. We cannot really talk about places as hubs because the artists are relatively evenly interspersed throughout the country, but most of the experimental and progressive electronic music production is happening in Ljubljana, where Radio Student remains an essential meeting point in terms of support, coverage and the diffusion of music.

One of the main labels now is Kamizdat, and I propose you start with releases by Kikimore, Shekuza, Gašper Torkar, Beepblip and Lifecutter. For further investigation, I also suggest you check the AmbientSoup imprint – especially their artists Nitz and II/III – and the first Slovenian ambient compilation, ‘Senzorama Vol 1’, which is on ZARŠ Records. And if you’re ready to jump down the Bandcamp rabbit hole, you should focus on the young dark ambient artist Vsemag, abstract harpist Rouge-Ah, imaginary folk trio Širom, post-club duo Warrego Valles, jazztronica outfit Etceteral, and occult techno producer Alleged Witches. 

It is with the support of festivals – Grounded, Sonica, Zasavje Noisefest International, Sajeta, MENT Ljubljana and others – that Slovenian electronic and experimental music artists and fans get their chance to present and discover new sonic sensibilities. Just like in the old days, it remains a tiny and fairly niche scene, but it’s powered by unrelenting enthusiasm. 

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