Max Vincent ‘The Future Has Designed Us’ (Discom)

A new compilation of unreleased material by one of Yugoslavia’s unsung heroes

Max Vincent might not be a name you’re immediately familiar with, but the pioneering Belgrade-born musician, composer and arranger was pivotal in raising the profile of electronic music in the politically volatile corner of eastern Europe that was the former Yugoslavia. For Max Vincent, the future was very much where it was at.

His contribution to the electronic mise en scène can’t be overstated. From the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, Yugoslavian punk and new wave were the prevailing genres. By 1984, however, the tectonic plates had begun to shift. That was when Vincent (real name Miodrag Misa Mihajlovic), then a precocious, synth-obsessed 17-year-old, got together with his friend Intro to compose ‘Ostavi Sve’ (‘Leave Everything’). Released under the name Max & Intro, it’s now regarded as one of the most influential ex-Yu minimal wave cuts.

What followed was the gradual emergence of predominantly Belgrade-based Yugoslavian electronic acts such as Oskarova Fobija, Beograd, Videosex, Šizike and a host of others, who found themselves thrust into the underground spotlight. In the midst of it all, Vincent became an axial driving force, a real electronic innovator. Unable to afford expensive synths or kit, he spent many hours holed up in the studio, programming and recording his armoury of patches and effects, layering voice samples and artificial sounds to scintillating effect.

Despite the lack of fancy equipment at his disposal, Vincent’s producerly finesse really shines through on ‘The Future Has Designed Us’. Embracing influences across the electronic spectrum, from early Yello to Art Of Noise and beyond, the 10 tracks on this defining compilation range from 1984 to 2002 and are a testament to his visionary life’s work.

Although the songs are delivered primarily in his native tongue, the language barrier here is irrelevant. You don’t need to speak the lingo to appreciate the mesmeric robotic hues of ‘Beogradska Devojka’ (‘Belgrade Girl’), which is like Cabaret Voltaire gone eurodisco, or the seductive proto-Pet Shop Boys stomp of ‘Loš Je Dan’ (‘Bad Day’), or the atmospheric after-dark vibe of ‘Šta Je To Što Nam Se Dešava’ (‘What Is Happening To Us’).

Vincent sings in English too. “This is a story about Shirley,” he informs us, crooning wistfully in his cool, seductive baritone, at once soothing and resonant. If Scott Walker were Serbian, this might well be how he’d sound. There’s no denying that Vincent was a singular talent. Rather like the plangent, epic movie scores of his fellow countryman Goran Bregović, the wonderfully cinematic ‘Odlazim’ (‘Leaving’), the album’s prophetic final track, hints tantalisingly at the career path Vincent might have taken had he not died suddenly from a heart attack in 2004, aged just 37.

The eye-catching photograph of Macedonian sculptor Dušan Džamonja’s war monument (‘Memorial To The December Victims In Dubrava’) on the album sleeve is a nicely considered finishing touch. It’s designed to connect the grandiose, futuristic physicality of Dzamonja’s important work in “real space” with Max Vincent’s esoteric, futuristic adventures in music. Eleven years after his untimely death, Vincent’s captivating odyssey, a benchmark of the ex-Yu electronic canon, feels more essential than ever.

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