How Belgrade’s Club Scene Grew From Wartime Rave Roots

Tijana T analog
Belgrade native Tijana T describes how raving in Serbia developed from a form of rebellion during war to a scene bustling with creative producers and DJs.

Belgrade’s history is intense and full of discontinuities, so it’s crucial to approach its dance music scene in context. Every 30 to 50 years there’s a new war, new ideology, new political system or cultural influence. The city has been destroyed dozens of times over the years and somehow still survives. It may seem like a classic ex-communist Eastern European city, although its Austrian and Turkish influences are apparent. Belgrade is the only true metropolis in the Balkans, so it’s confusing and chaotic at times, but there’s a lot of charm and appeal in this mess.

Just like in Detroit, Manchester or Berlin, electronic music and party life has been closely allied with social fluctuation. When the scene as we know it started forming in the beginning of the ’90s, parties were not held merely for the sake of hedonism or enjoyment—they served a social function. These were times of war and isolation, and swapping our days for nights was a form of rebellion against grim reality. We had a couple of clubs and many crazy, legendary warehouse parties. Over the course of a decade, ravers and clubgoers formed quite a strong group. Several DJs had the power to influence young people’s political decisions and techno parties were part of the greater movement against the political regime at the time.

At the dawn of the 2000s, most promoters and DJs were rewarded for their work, and club culture became part of the mainstream and developed a strong media presence. It was insane what you could see and hear on the airwaves at that time—for us, Autechre was more pop than Britney Spears. It was also a time when international acts could finally come play in Belgrade, and we were thrilled to experience all the music we’d been illegally downloading for years in a live context. Pirate sites and forums shaped music tastes in Serbia and still do. The music industry has been vandalized over the last 20-something years here, and luckily, with the power of the internet, youngsters could form sophisticated music tastes. However, this enthusiasm and hunger for international talent has also led to disrespect towards local acts, and to this day, promoters are more likely to invest in guest acts (no matter the quality) and leave peanuts for local performers, some of whom are absolute geniuses.

The scene has grown nicely in the past seven or eight years. Clubs, promoters, producers and DJs reflect the diversity of this crazy city and music-wise, you can find anything you like. Partying is still interpreted as an obligation rather than a choice, which makes the vibe really intense. Posh house clubs dominate nightlife, but if you like grime, disco, techno, footwork, dark wave or experimental electronic music, we have it all! Bearing in mind that this is a city that almost never had a proper record shop, where kids can’t even afford a decent computer and the average salary is 300 euro a month, I’m very proud of what we’ve built. I’m still more excited about local acts than guests, and I’m happy to see a new generation of tourists coming to the city to experience our clubs and parties—no matter who’s playing.

I’ve been around for quite some time now, starting as an enthusiastic teenage raver who took parties as seriously as homework and continuing with a long career in creating electronic music TV shows and, finally, as a performer and DJ. The latter is a path that I’m pursuing more intensely than ever, and I am very happy where the Belgrade scene is right now. It’s rich, and luckily talent and hard work are starting slowly to pay off and bloom on the international scale. Here’s a handful of places and people I recommend—by no means a full list, but a sampling to get inspired.

Tijana T performed at Electronic Beats’ 2015 festival in Podgorica. Follow her on SoundCloud or Facebook.

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