ensl 00 386 40 418 554

Socialist Discotheque: the Electronic Music History of Yugoslavia (Part One)

We bring you some of the most extraordinary Yugoslav electronic gems that found their way to various (re)releases in Europe and the US. Read part two here.

In the last years, various collections of electronic music from former Yugoslavia popped up, ranging from numerous streamable and downloadable CDR mixtapes and bold releases by small labels to the Croatia Records double album. In addition, there were Yugo disco album cover exhibitions and comeback performances and records from some of the YU electronic music stars. Interestingly enough, a film critic, music publisher and media expert Željko Luketić seems to be right in the intersectional epicenter of most of these happenings.

Max & Intro – Ostavi sve (Serbia 1985)


Luketić, too, made sure another new small imprint was established in Croatia that deals in releasing the forgotten gems of YU electronica, making vinyl lovers pleased by brilliant releases such as Socialist Disco: Dancing Behind Yugoslavia’s Velvet Curtain 1977-1987 (Fox & His Friensd 2018). However, even earlier, in 2014, a collaboration between Luketić and Croatia Records resulted in a double-CD load of songs by Yugoslav New Wave and New Romantic stars such as Električni Orgazam and Denis & Denis. The title of the collection? Electronic Jugoton: Synthetic Music from Yugoslavia 1964-1989. On each of these Luketić’s compilations one can find respective sides of the 7’’ single by Milka Lenac from Rijeka, Croatia, featuring the robotic ballad Midnight Express and discoid pop song Crazy Wish. Here’s the latter:

Milka Lenac – Željo Luda (Croatia 1980)


Luketič’s exhibitions of Yugoslav disco record design, his essays, liner notes and interviews correctly acknowledge the roots of electronic dance music in the USA and the UK, as well as the connection between music, dance, sexuality and lifestyle. One should hence not forget about racist, homophobic and other prejudices that accompanied disco and electronic dance music not just in the West but also in Yugoslavia. It seems the bass-based rhythmic music genres have always been rather more appealing to women and minorities on dance floors than to male music label personnel and male music journalists – both in Capitalist and Socialist countries. But let’s leave the electronic dance music be for a while and see when Yugoslav electronica has emerged.


Origins of Yugoslav Electronica

So where does the story of Yugoslav electronica actually begin? If for lack of space one focuses on popular music genres and puts aside 1960s and 1970s electroacoustic and avantgarde music composers (Branimir Sakač, Vladan Radovanović, Dragoslav Ortakov etc), the origins of Yugoslav electronic music can be detected in the late 1970s pop music, jazz, prog rock, film soundtracks, as well as radio jingles and TV themes. Here’s a good example of the latter – the legendary 1978 theme for TV Belgrade’s Daily News 2 programme authored by one of the most remarkable film soundtrack composers in Yugoslavia, Zoran Simjanović:

Zoran Simjanović – Dnevnik 2 RTB (Serbia 1978)


Discussing Serbian electronic music in 1978, one cannot but at least mention the famous synth-pop artist Oliver Mandić’s track Šuma [Forest], the B-side of his debut mega hit single Ljuljaj me nežno. This remains to this day Mandić’s sole officially released electro-acoustic experiment and you can give it a go here:

Oliver Mandić – Šuma (Serbia 1978)


We speed on to Croatia’s Igor Savin. Although this composer and jazz musician released a proper electronic album Childhood in 1982, and went on to establish the Electronic Studio at Zagreb’s Vatroslav Lisinki Hall, he had been dealing with electronic music way earlier. Most remarkably on this track produced for a jazz/rock singer Zdenka Kovačiček:

Zdenka Kovačiček – Elektra (Croatia 1978)

Speaking of composers meddling with electronica, here’s an amazing one: Kosovo’s Gjon Gjevlekaj. Creating tracks for television and film, Gjevlekaj has produced a number of remarkable pieces. It’s hard, however, to find his music to listen to on its own. What we can do is to give a listen to Gjevlekaj’s 1988 soundtrack for Fog Guardians by actually watching the film. It’s a fascinating and rather horrorish avantgarde work of art directed by Isa Qosja, which at the time was actually banned due to its portrayal of secret police’s violent methods:

Isa Qosja – Rojet e mjegulles (‘Fog Guardians’) the film; Soundtrack: Gjon Gjevlekaj (Kosovo 1988)

Electronic music was recorded in all parts of Yugoslavia. It is hard to say however which was Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian etc. since many excellent bands from different parts of Yugoslavia were recording for the Jugoton label in Zagreb, others for the Radio-Television Belgrade label, and so on. »Nonetheless, it’s clear that Croatia and Serbia were producing more tracks than other regions, although Serbian production was rather stronger in terms of quality than Croatian« says Luketić. »Slovenia, on the other hand, held the forefront position, which is understandable as some of the bands there were signed by international labels, for instance Borghesia by PIAS and Laibach by Mute.«

Borghesia – Cindy Sherman (Slovenia 1984)

Speaking of Borghesia, let’s mention that Luketić’s impressive tentacles reached also the USA, where he collaborated with the Dark Entries label on the re-release of two records by the cult Ljubljana band. Namely, the exceptional LP Ljubav je hladnija od smrti (Love is Colder than Death) and the fetishist meditation Clones, which up to that point was available only on the rare original cassette release from 1984.


Written by Gregor Bulc


Title image courtesy of Fox & His Friends

Continue to part two here.