On April 10th our friends from Eaglehaslanded (Belgrade, Serbia plus a touch of Russia) and Deer In The Headlights (Banja Luka, Bosnia) played a show in Sofia as a part of their Balkan tour. After the pretty intense gig they did I sat down and talked with Milica (vocals in DITH), Nemanja (the-no-longer-underaged drummer of Eaglehaslanded) and his brother Stefan, who would jump in the interview from time to time between carrying and packing the gear.
You might be wondering how come it took me over three months to get this interview done and published… Well, even though we were all dead tired after the show we did talk quite a lot. The result is below.
So, let’s start with a brief introduction to your bands, the ideas behind them and the shows you’re playing on this Balkan tour.
Nemanja: I’m Nemanja and I play drums in Eaglehaslanded. It’s three of us. My brother Stefan plays bass and Djidji is on guitars. All three of us played in a band a long time ago, but then we quit it and started Eaglehaslanded so we play the music we like. Actually it was Stefan who made me become a drummer. I took some lessons and started the band. I don’t know, we play some kind of screamo hardcore punk. We’re saying that we’re from Russia, but actually we’re from Serbia (Nemanja is actually born in Russia, they both have lived in Russia and speak the language, that’s where the joke came from) and the people are really confused about that… It’s just a funny thing about our band. And that’s it I guess. About the shows on the Balkans I would say that every time I play the Balkans I enjoy it because people are so warm, you can also have a chat with them and share experiences. We made very good friends with people from the Balkans. Yeah, the Balkans rule!
Milica: I am Milica and I’m singing in Deer In The Headlights. It’s a band from Bosnia. We are five people and I don’t know if I how to describe what we’re playing. Everybody uses different words, but I’d describe it as blackened hardcore crust if I have to. I really hate putting these labels. Especially because everyone in the band is kinda different and that’s sometimes really bad because they are all driving me crazy, but in a way I also think it’s cool, because everyone is influenced by different things. About the shows on the Balkans, I don’t know what to say, I grew up in a city in which the shows either never happened or they were really shitty, unless the bands were from abroad. And I don’t know, that’s it. Lately we’re trying to make a difference but it’s really hard because people are not so motivated. They’re not aiming at something bigger. In general, speaking about hardcore there isn’t even a scene in Bosnia or the city where I live in. And in general people are just trying to be mediocre and just live their daily lives without expressing their full potential, but I guess that’s also because they don’t have money, which is their main concern.
In the 90’s, during the Yugoslavian wars, the hardcore punk scene united bands from Croatia and Slovenia to tour together under the name “Preko Zidova Nacionalizma i Rata” (Against The Wall of Nationalism and War) singing together against the war, against militarism, against nationalism. Now the context is pretty much different, although there’s still tension and many problems to act on. Do you think there’s still a strong antimilitarist and antinatonalist message in the ex-Yugoslavian hardcore punk scene? Or probably you’re too young to remember the times and it’s hard to make the parallel between then and now?
Milica: Luckily, people in my band are not that young so they are a great source of information to me because of their experience. If it wasn’t them I’d definitely wouldn’t be into this. They have a lot of background because they grew up in the old country of Yugoslavia and they have these experiences that we (the young people) can’t have. I guess from their perspective it’s a really big issue because they knew what it was before and what it’s now. And definitely the people should unite and tear down the walls, they should push each other and join in some kind of force using their potential.
In some aspects we see that happening, there are a lot of shows and connection between people from neighboring countries, there are also festivals (like the annual Monte Paradiso in Pula, Croatia) and everything’s easier in general because of the Internet. And I think there are the new generations coming and making a difference. We just need time I guess. But of course my view is kind of pessimistic, because the change I see is very slow. In other European countries you see a lot of things going on and then at your place everything’s kinda stagnating. That’s really frustrating, but we think that the fact we’re playing all these shows and making music is very important to us, a lot of people already know us and know what we’re doing. We shouldn’t glorify the people who are active in the scene or play in a band but to know for what the band is standing for and the ideas behind it. The way they’re doing things, like the fact that we’re DIY band because most of the people are so away from the concept of making things and music just for the sake of solidarity, I think there’s no other way, especially for the Balkan countries. We just have to work together.
Nemanja: I have to say I’m too young to talk about this but I see there’s still some hardcore punk bands from Serbia who don’t even have a facebook page like the band The Truth of XXX from Kragujevac. There are also a lot of bands from Belgrade who play political hardcore punk and have a strong attitude. As Milica said I think the connections between the people on Balkans are good but I think they should be tighter and we need to unite all the hardcore punk scenes on the Balkans beyond all borders and make a fucking special thing out of it.
I think here on the Balkans we’re living the same life and you can see that we have the same things happening, but the people used to think it’s not like that and always compare with the others. We should hear from others – how they perceive the very same things you see. I guess it should develop in a better way, I agree about the negative aspects with Milica, but I think we’re doing it in a good way and people are getting to know and support each other. As Milica said, when playing shows I don’t want the people to like me or think we’re a great band, just come to the show, talk to us and have a good time. I can feel how the music really connects people, if you’re not here only for the music but also because there’s some kind of message behind it, that’s always good too. I can see that people from the Balkans are not shy, they’re really open and want to connect, to hear a story, to come to share with you and not ashamed to tell you directly if you’re good or not so good.
What’s the current political situation in Bosnia as of lately, I was very inspired by the uprisings in 2014 and the establishment of popular assemblies (plenums) in a direct democratic way, what changed since then?
Milica: Bosnia is a federation of two entities, the federation of Bosnia and Hertzegovina on one hand and the Serbian part Republika Srpska on the other. And generally in the Serbian part there’s more conservative and aggressive politics prevailing, and you can see that. Especially among the young people there are some really violent ones, and there are stereotypical roles like the hooligans and I don’t know what else. Here’s the biggest mess. And it’s a fact that there’s more money in the federation and therefore more things are finally happening there. Foreign people are coming there more often and the place is more open to new ideas. I guess the things you were talking about are more likely to happen again in the federation than in the Serbian part. I think what is tearing the state apart is the politicians. Those of the Serbian part are too much towards Serbia and Belgrade instead of focusing inwards to the people living here, like in Banja Luka, and they’re not doing this because the two other major cities are generally Muslim, it’s really dumb. And the biggest problem is definitely corruption.
The next question is to Nemanja. How do you deal with things like homophobia and transphobia being from Serbia (and pretending being from Russia, hehe), do you think that the hardcore punk scene on our part can really create safer spaces where everyone being a punk or queer could really feel comfortable?
Nemanja: I should say that we don’t really have a lot of places to play hardcore punk shows in Belgrade. We don’t have strictly DIY venues or something like that, we have modern hardcore stuff, bands that are playing in big clubs. For DIY hardcore punk we have Inex Film squat which is a really good place and the people in squats are generally against all nationalism, homophobia or any kind of fascism and I think people could feel safe. Once there was a problem with a guy wearing a Skrewdriver shirt and he was told to put a jacket on or leave the show because the things are not going on in that way in this squat and actually I think they’re solving problems with troublemakers in a good manner, openly saying we don’t support this bullshit and if you don’t want to change you should leave and never come back.
We’re also putting up shows in a pub in Zemun and we never really had a problem with the people. I feel that people coming to hardcore punk shows in Belgrade is safe, because we’re trying to solve problems by talking to the people about the problem and if they don’t agree with us they can leave the show. We don’t want to start a fight but just solve the problem in a normal way. I’m not in a mood for fighting with someone, just want to tell them don’t do this shit and leave the show, if you don’t wanna change don’t ever come back to a show that we make. And that’s it. I guess the venues where we are setting up shows are safe for the people who are outcasts or people who are out of step with the world. It’s kind of a dead end in Belgrade and as Milica said it’s kind of dead in Banja Luka but there are still some kids who want to express themselves and we’ll keep doing this because we love it.
How does the shows in Banja Luka look like? What kind of people are coming to the shows? Are there poor kids, queers, etc.? Are there any squats or social centers, connection between hardcore punk and social movements?
Milica: First of all, there is no representation of queer/gay people in the hardcore in Banja Luka because there is no scene. It’s not a question of a scene, it’s a matter of the people, there are nice and shitty people, like everywhere. There’s all kind of people at shows, from your granny to the kid next door. Everyone. They have this fair feeling like if you go to a small village and if there’s something on the main square the whole village shows up there. But there is no scene or collective mentality, no one cares, it’s five of us here but what do we do? I don’t know.
Of course, in order to make something you have to communicate with other people and everyone is so unable to realize that it’s ok to be whoever you are. There is this a café where the people going there are gay, and it’s obvious. And it’s completely normal and accepted. But as far as there are people who can openly say they are gay, there is none of that. And especially on shows, you will be probably condemned and maybe even attacked. It happened. It’s basically you can be whoever you want, but you can’t speak of it. I really hadn’t have the opportunity to be involved in social activities where you communicate and share ideas with people. It takes a lot of energy that we don’t have, there’s like a black hole of negative energy and everyone is like let’s just go out, drink coffee and chit-chat. It’s completely crazy. But when I leave and go somewhere else I feel completely motivated and wanna do things because I’m surrounded by people who think different. I think the local environment is too poisoned to change. That’s how I’d describe it.
What’s the weirdest show that you have played? What is like having a brother and touring with him?
Nemanja: Every fucking show that we play is fucking weird! It’s fucking crazy having a brother in your band and the speeding, if you like speeding come to our shows and you’ll enjoy the best speeding ever! You’ll like the music and you’ll like the speeding. We’re just trying to express ourselves, maybe I look stupid when I play the drums, maybe Djidji looks stupid when he plays guitar, maybe Stefan looks stupid doing whatever he does but it’s just us playing the music we like… I came to the point in my life where I don’t give a fuck if people give a fuck about my band, I’m just going on tour with friends, playing in front of people I don’t know and if they like it, good; if they don’t like, ok. Just to do the things you like and enjoy it. If you like weird shows, you can come to our shows.
Having a brother and touring with him is oh, my god! I’m seeing him every day and…
Stefan: I took you on the first tour.
Nemanja: Yeah, Stefan said I’m alive because of him. And if there’s anyone I own something in my life I guess it’s to my brother because if it wasn’t Stefan I wouldn’t be even born and I wouldn’t be doing stuff I do now, because he is my life coach, he showed me the way in life. He has a big influence on me. Being with him in the band could be really hard because as I said before, I’m seeing him everyday and also when I go to rehearsal. I might go to chill and relax but no… it’s like I’m a doll and when playing with him in a band it could be nervous and full of tension, but I guess we need to learn to live with each other. We’re still like kids who fight with each other and everything, but I really appreciate that he is with me in a band and without him this band wouldn’t even started and I wouldn’t even be playing drums. I will never change him or Djidji. It’s a connection that started five years ago and we still want to play together and I hope it will keep going. I just enjoy playing with them.
Did he introduce you to punk and which bands he showed you?
Nemanja: As I already said I’ve started playing drums because of him and he introduced me to the whole hardcore punk stuff. I don’t know, probably I should be ashamed but I started with listening to modern metalcore stuff and deathcore, but after that, after year and a half listening to that shit I found the music that I really like and found the people to play the stuff that I like with, and I guess this is my thing – playing DIY shows and spending all our money on tour. I’m seeing places that I would have never seen. I’m going to small towns and I really like them, because capital cities suck. I don’t give a fuck about any capital city. And I should thank Stefan for everything that’s happening in my life, because without him this wouldn’t be happening at all.
Milica, how did you start listening to hardcore punk? What made you start going to shows and play in a band? Did you have some kind of an urge to express some radical ideas or was it just for the sake of music?
Milica: Well, I had a lot of fucking anger in me. I was just pissed off about a lot of things and hearing violent music made me feel better. First, I was drawn to it because it was violent and I could just discharge. Also my mom had pretty distinct taste of music, she liked rock music and I always had this preferred sound of electric guitar, I guess. And then naturally you go through phases and then to find that there’s actually something behind the music that you listen to is really cool. Because a lot of the times I was really angry because of the sexism or racism or fascism, you know. So hearing a type of music that actually speak about these things and it’s about smashing the heads of people who are fucking dumb is really liberating. And of course the people that are in the band have helped me immensely to know the history of the movement, especially in the sense of local bands because I used to think there are no local bands before since when I was growing up there was nothing happening and the punks were usually listening, you know, Oi! punk, old school UK punk rock. This was really not appealing to me, but of course with the Internet I discovered a lot of things. However, getting to know the people in my band was really helpful to find myself and especially to start making music that I like. Sometimes it’s really hard to like the music, there are too many factors behind it. First of all, many times I don’t like the song that they have written, after some time I get to like it I guess and then I don’t know… it’s a whole different story.
You’re featured with Deer In The Headlights in Dog Knight’s Orchid tribute compilation. How did you find those emo violence influences and what’s more interesting, how did you find people to start such a band yourself?
Milica: The fact is that we’re so different in the band and this is a reflection how nothing’s ever happening here and we’re the only ones who want something happening, so we decided to start a band despite the fact we are completely different. When we had our first rehearsal I didn’t even know them. I was just asked if I want to be in a band and then I was “what band?” and the bass player said “let’s gonna be a screamo band.” And I was excited, yeah, I was in a screamo phase. I went to the rehearsal and the guitar player, the fat one, started playing d-beat and I was WTF, I didn’t sign up for this, you know. But now I like crust and d-beat bands, not all of them though. And mostly bands with female vocals. Because I was also in that phase and it’s so fucking cool to be a girl and like this. It’s so important to see that you can actually do things and don’t follow what other say about girls not fitting or not being able to do things, and that’s what is called sexism. You can do whatever you want as a girl and feminism and equality are not about supremacy or whatever, it’s about being able to do anything that the other gender gets to do.
I guess other people like our other guitar player, the skinny one (I can also tell you their names but I’m not going to!), he likes drone and noise, and also he has a metal background, which was so annoying when I met him. But whatever. And the bass player of course, he is the underground genre music guru, the ultimate hardcore punk encyclopedia, when I met him he came out with bands like Clikatat Ikatowi and I was WTF, how can there be so many bands with weird names. And then you just google them and they are real bands. He is just like a database of bands. And the drummer, well, I have no fucking idea, he is a real introvert and you can’t get to him. But I think he likes stoner music and punk. He is the old school.
Nemanja: I can say he is the punk guy in the band.
Milica: And I’m like WTF, I have a Britney Spears face, you know. Whatever. I just like music. But I like mainly music that’s angry and that has a standpoint, a valid standpoint.
Do you want to say anything to the bands from the Balkans who are looking to play more shows abroad? What’s your experience from the DIY shows on the Balkans?
Nemanja: This is a really good question and I should say that I started a new band with guys who are younger than me, they are like 18 and the guitar player is 16 years old. And I’m the oldest guy and I’m 19! I really want to show them that they can play in other cities because you have to play in other cities and not just being stucked in your place. OK, you’re playing for friends but you’re not going to play forever to your friends. It’s nice you have friends but I don’t want to see friends at every fucking gig! You should play in front of new people, maybe they are not going to like you but that’s ok. I don’t give a fuck! If you have a band just make your best to go on tour and it may be the best thing in your life. Being in a band is not just recording and putting out records but also travelling with your friends and visiting new places. Yeah, you’ll sleep 3-4 hours a day and drive for 15 hours. You’ll be stuck in a smelly van but it’s also having a lot of fun and enjoying your vacation. You’ll play the music you like and you’ll enjoy it anyway.
Milica: Why to play music? Just do it. Do anything you want… Draw, make movies, just do something. It can be organizing shows, playing in a band, just do anything. And what to expect? I don’t know. Playing shows should be more about broadening your own mind and realizing things about the world as an artist instead of being an audience. It’s about being heard! With making things you have the possibilities to experience people and places and it’s really empowering. If you’re young person you don’t have to wait but just do the things you like. You’re gonna see so many people and places that will inspire you.
Anything to add? Are there any good Serbian vegan meals that your mom is making for you? (to Nemanja and Stefan)
Stefan: I think during the Post (40 days long Orthodox Christian fasting before Easter) we’re having a lot of vegan food at home and mom is making us a lot of sarmi. It’s rice and mushrooms wrapped up in cabbage leafs. It’s pretty good and my aunt recently made for Nemanja’s birthday some soy fake meat stuff that was so good.
Nemanja: Yes, it’s the typical Serbian meal but instead of meat with some other stuff. You can put mushrooms, soy, whatever. Just make the meal without meat.
Stefan: Actually our mom makes the best soy pleskavica in the world! She is not vegan, she is eating meat but she is cooking the best vegan meals ever. It’s a devotion, mother’s devotion.
Nemanja: When Stefan became a vegetarian our aunt, mother and father all started cooking vegetarian food and everybody is enjoying it. It’s great that Stefan made them cook other stuff, because now they are cooking more meals and you can feel great. It’s awesome when your family cooks for you even if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
Milica: Don’t eat animals. Don’t be a sexist asshole. Don’t be racist, don’t be fascist. Don’t be a hypocrite, that’s the most important thing. And don’t listen to anyone! No matter what they say, unless of course they are right.
See a photo gallery of the show here.