Monday, 2 December 2013

We Are The State

O! Kult- Berlin, 1985

At the moment the majority of my study has been based around existing literature, including stuff on punk in Slovenia specifically. I've been looking at academic accounts of 'subcultures', whether such a label is even applicable to punk and some critiques of the ways in which punk is treated within academia itself. This includes commentary on the work of people who are identifiable in some way as 'punk academics' but also those merely looking in from the outside. There are also of course plenty of 'punk historians' acting outside the bounds of academia, usually deliberately so. All of these sources come with potential pitfalls, inaccuracies and inconsistencies, and part of my PhD will be attempting to piece together seemingly incompatible or conflicting accounts. My initial aim is to get together a basic literature review by early next year, as I'm then planning to spend three months in Ljubljana as part of a Slovene language course, which should make some of the research I undertake a lot easier because I'll actually be able to read most of the stuff I come across. I'll also obviously be using my time over there to travel and hopefully meet and interview some of the people involved in Yugoslav punk in the 1980s, but as it's a three year course I think the majority of that, especially as far as interviews etc. go, will take place in my second year.

Until I get my bearings with all of that and in order to get this blog going/ feel like i'm doing something, I'll be writing a little bit about some of the bands I'll end up talking about more extensively later on in my PhD. I've been trying to track down some original copies of the Slovenian records from the 1980s as well as some of the reissues that can be found floating about, so in a way this is me keeping note of what I've been listening to. I recently bought an original copy of the Hardcore Ljubljana compilation- which represents the most I've spent on a record in 5+ years of buying them and I also found a copy of a more recent bootleg. I'll be talking about both soon, as well as the bands on there individually, but for now I'm going to focus on a band more easily identifiable as a precursor to that scene- O! Kult.

O! Kult, 1983. Photo by Jane Stravs

O! Kult were by no means 'pioneers' of Yugoslav or Slovenian punk- that title is usually given to Pankrti, who had formed in 1977 and existed more or less as contemporaries of some more universally recognisable UK and US bands. O! Kult didn't form until 1982, in Medvode (near Ljubljana). Their online biography describes their formation as taking place at the symbolic time of 3.05pm on the 4th May, the second anniversary of the death of Tito. They played their first gig in Kočevje three days later, and in Ljubljana for the first time on the 13 May, at the Faculty of Arts.

The name itself, as with the rest of their aesthetic, was deliberately and carefully selected. The bands website describes the meaning behind the name, - 'O! – as an interjection of approval and of unconditional praise,
 KULT – as a non-defined name of addressing and praising a cult of personality – unconditional and total leader and creator of the totalitarian system (of left or right orientation). With the choice of their name, the group wanted to call attention to the dialectical opposition and conflicts between the mass, which they represented and emphasized in their explicitly political, socially coloured texts, manifests and statements on the one hand, and the uniformity and ruthlessly in-consistent consideration of accepted political orientations and directives of proclaimed and in the name of higher interests conducted instructions, given either from the congresses of the CP (Communist Party) of Yugoslavia or any other eastern or western party.
O! KULT never limited its own creative and reflective inspiration to one side of the so-called “democracy for the people.”

The band went through two distinct phases- the initial punk phase which officially ended in 1984/5, and an industrial phase which saw the group change their name to 'Institution O! Kult' (although this doesn't appear on the S/T 12” from 1986). The two distinct phases were primarily linked by an uncompromisingly critical political approach and aesthetic based upon libertarian working class politics- with this representing the defining and most compelling characteristic of the band. Each phase saw the band release one record, the first a live cassette in 1983 entitled 'Razredni Boj Je Edino Gibalo Zgodovine' which translates to 'Class Struggle is the Only Engine of History.' 330 copies (and a further 200) were made and came with a cut and paste fanzine. The band's lyrical approach reflected their wider attempts to promote an anarcho-communist identity within an increasingly redundant authoritarian communist system in clear economic decline. Their lyrics focused directly upon statism, state bureaucracy and technocracy, deception, corruption and elitist privilege, the cult of work and forced participation in a political system that they argued simply alienated the working classes, as well as dealing in more abstract terms with themes of this alienation specific to Yugoslav youths, the cult of Tito, and lack of autonomy available in Yugoslavian society. 

In interviews they stressed a desire to unmask and subvert the 'card-carrying party members' who continued to repeat the party jargon in spite of economic shortages, empty shelves and currency devaluation. Their artwork saw party pamphlets, daily newspaper articles and similar imagery repurposed- with the punk they furthered in Slovenia therefore representing a genuine internal response, method of challenging the system and conceptualising some of the dissent felt. Musically this era of the band was based around a primitive and variably successful take on mid-paced '77 style punk, early anarcho punk like Poison Girls, whilst definitely also seeming to owe something to the subversive tactics of bands like the Dead Kennedys.

O! Kult, like other Yugoslav punk bands, were unsurprisingly observed, censored and at times openly suppressed. The general attitude of authorities to punk in Yugoslavia is described by Gregor Tomc, formerly of Pankrti and now a punk scholar as a culture of 'repressive tolerance'. This meant that at times punk bands were afforded cultural 'opportunities' within Yugoslav society, such as the opportunity to play at the Novi Rock festivals, which O! Kult played in 1982, but simultaneously had limits placed upon the extent and nature of the criticism that was allowed. O! Kult's songs were censored from the Ljubljana radio concert recording and they were subject to more strenuous forms of repression throughout their life as a band.

Other recordings by the band during this guise were limited to various compilations, most notably the '84' comp alongside some other punk, EBM and experimental bands based in Slovenia. 1985 saw their aforementioned stylistic change, which was also reflected by a new lineup, including the departure of their original guitarist Andrej Petek, vocalist and other guitarist Brane Zorman switching to tapes and effects as well as vocals, the introduction of a second drummer, Robert Vidic and metal percusionist Renato Topolovec, who was later replaced by Rok Zavrtanik. Full details of members can be found on their official website (see end of article for link.)

O! Kult + a flag bearing their logo. Photo by Sinisa Lopojda. 

Apparently claiming that the musical possibilities offered by punk were limiting, the band maintained the political nature of their lyrics and manifestos, but altered the visual and musical identity. Under this guise the band supported Einsturzende Neuebauten in Ljubljana, released a 12” record on West Berlin Label Dossier Records and toured across Europe, playing Germany, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. As far as comparisons go Einsturzende Neuebauten are probably the most immediate choice, particularly due to the metal percussion, but it's far from anything I'm really knowledgable about. I wasn't able to find the record online for download whatever reason, so the download link below is recorded directly from my copy. The highlight for the record for me comes about 4 minutes or so in when the band seem to collapse into a bass riff which reminds me a lot of 'Walls' by Crass. It's another interesting listen with varying degrees of success, but the Slovenian language for the vocals sounds particularly great.

S/T 12", 1986

The band officially broke up in 1987, exactly 5 years after they formed. In recent years however Ne! Records have put out a couple of records, the first released on the 30th anniversary of their formation, a 7” titled 'Mladi Imajo Moc', (The Young Have the Power) which features remastered versions of three of the songs from their 1983 tape and comes with English translations. In the last few weeks Ne! Records also put out a 12” entitled 'Mi Smo Država'(We are the State) which features several recordings from the 1983 tape alongside three from 1982, one a live recording from the Novi Rock festival in September and two recorded at a studio in June 1982. Again this features English lyrics translations, remastered versions of the songs, a reproduction of the 1983 fanzine and some words about the band from Igor Bašin-BIGor. The band were also subject to a documentary DVD in 2009, which I'm currently trying to buy. 

Mladi Imajo Moc- Front Cover

Mi Smo Drzava- Front Cover

DVD Cover


O! Kult- Razredni Boj Je Edino Gibalo (Class Struggle is the Only Engine of History)- 1983

O! Kult- S/T 12"- 1986

O! Kult- Mi Smo Drzava (We Are The State)- 2013

If you enjoy these please try and purchase the records from Ne! Records to help fund future releases and reissues. If not for their sake, then for mine, as I want to buy them.

More photos of O! Kult

O-Kult! Website

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Once upon a time in Ljubljana...

I stumbled across a great website dedicated to documenting Yugoslav punk in the late 1970s/early 1980's and along with tonnes of stuff useful for what I'll be writing about, there are several sections dedicated to photographs taken by Matija Praznik. Here are a few of my favourites.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

I've just started a PhD in History, focusing on Hardcore Punk in Ljubljana, Slovenia in the mid 1980s. I'll be posting stuff relevant to that on here, in an attempt to avoid the work I do being totally consigned to the world of inaccessible academia.