Efa Supertramp Balkan Tour Report
Touring the Balkans as a DIY folk-punk singer
Efa Supertramp is a DIY acoustic singer-songwriter from Cardiff, Wales (Cymru). She has songs in both English and Cymraeg (native language) that speak about freedom, antiauthoritarian organizing and personal topics. This tour diary originally appeared in Fuck Off Facebook #7 zine which is available through Afiach.
We took a flight from Manchester to Sofia, in Bulgaria. After arriving at the airport in the blistering sun, we took a bus into town and met our hosts and promoters Mitko and Yoanna. They were a lovely straight-edge vegan couple, who took us to their home which was full of animals—a dog, a cat and loads of kittens! We browsed their awesome collection of hardcore, punk and straight-edge zines, listened to vinyl and were entertained by the crazy cats. We wandered down to a nearby market, which was full of characters. Markets are a great place to get a vibe from any city, as ordinary local people linger and shop, you see the food they eat and how they socialise. This was certainly different to other markets I’ve been to in Europe; the poverty was obvious, people sold single cigarettes and worthless junk on the side of the street, whilst loads of people rummaged through the bins. We dumpster-dived some nectarines, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers—the little Romani children looked at us weirdly and asked us why we were going in the trash, because we were (they thought) Bulgarian and therefore rich. The quality of the skipped food was nothing like that we get in supermarket bins here in the UK, and emphasised just how wasteful and privileged we are over here.
Jet Rock Club, Sofia, Bulgaria
We spent the day wandering around Sofia, which is a bare and run-down capital city. The old communist buildings and statues were interesting to us, as outsiders brought up in a modern capitalist society; with their practical ugliness and weird messages and tributes. We headed back to the house and spent the afternoon helping to cook a load of vegan food before the gig, to give away for free outside! Yum!
We headed down to the venue, Jet Rock Club, where I was supposed to be supporting the female-fronted crust band Finisterre from Germany. The owner of the bar had said the music styles were too different, so I was told I would play outside the club after the band had finished! Bizzare, but hey, that’s all part of the adventure of touring countries like Bulgaria I guess! We hung out outside the club, talking to people who were part of the hardcore scene in Sofia. We were told that nazis are a problem in Sofia, and Bulgaria on a whole. It is ‘cool’ for young people in Bulgaria to be right-wing at the moment, and their numbers are much greater than the punks or anarchists, and there is no strong Antifa movement. They violently target ‘squats’ and refugee camps where the ‘foreigners’ (described to us as, ‘Gypsys’ and ‘Arabs’) are forced to live out of poverty.
Finisterre took to the stage, and though the room wasn’t jam-packed, there was a good number of people there and a great amount of energy. The room started moshing and dancing to the super-political and empowering music. After they’d finished I picked up my guitar and played outside on the street, a good number of the punters sat on the street and watched me play. I had a great reaction and lots said they’d come and see my gig at Adelante the next day! It was a fun way to start the tour, and a million miles from any kind of place I’d played my music before!
Adelante Social Centre, Sofia, Bulgaria
We spent the day wandering around Sofia again, then cooked pasta for our hosts before walking across the city to Adelante Social Centre. The basic, and relatively small space has been operating since December 2010. It is a meeting space, and is open, free, non-commercial and autonomous. I was the only one performing on the evening, so I was surprised that so many people had turned up. I couldn’t believe that I was playing in Bulgaria’s capital, to a packed out room. All the chairs were full, and some people had to stand at the back of the room, but what I was most surprised by was the silence. Everyone was totally silent, listening intensely to me play. Between songs, the cheers and applause was massive! After the show I sold over 20 CDs, and loads of people shook my hand and thanked me for playing. Someone gave me a rose and I did an interview about music and politics for the social centre’s website and Bulgaria Indymedia. After the show, everyone was buzzing and we stayed around for ages, talking about Wales and our tour.
The next day Mitko and Yoanna said they’d take us to the train station, we were slightly late so after walking a while we jumped a tram. They said we didn’t need a ticket because they never checked on Sundays. Typically, this Sunday there were controls on the trams and we got caught. After trying to argue and get ourselves out of the fine, we had to pay a ‘large’ fine (about €10). We caught a train to Dragoman, which is almost on the border with Serbia. We were in Bulgaria’s countryside and it felt like the wild, wild West; it was desolate with a long straight road running on for what seems forever; yellowed grass dried from the sun, and the sky blue, with cartoon-like clouds floating happily. We walked in the hot heat to the closest petrol station, where we spent the last of our Bulgarian Levs on crisps and apple juice. We spent about an hour hitch-hiking before we got a ride, which took us over the border into Serbia and a few hundred kilometres north and dropped us on the turning we wanted for Kraljevo. We were only about an hour from Kraljevo, but soon the sun started sinking and we realised we were going to have to sleep out. We walked around for a while, before finding a suitable bush, tucked behind an old lorry container. We slept beneath the stars, and the Autumn cold woke us in the night but we made it through.
Klub Evergreen Kulturni, Kraljevo, Serbia
We woke up in the bush and got moving quickly to start hitch-hiking, It wasn’t long before we got a lift down the road to somewhere better. We stood in the sun for about an hour here, before an awesome lorry driver picked us up. He spoke English and said he picked up hitchhikers to show that Serbs were nice people. He was getting married on the next Saturday and was excited and talkative. He told us so much about life in Serbia; about their wages, their cars, the price and problems of buying weed—all sorts of stuff you will never learn from a Lonely Planet guidebook! He dropped us off about 2km outside of our destination. Our host Vojkan came to meet us there, and paid for a taxi to get us down to where we would be staying for the next few days, an NGO called Pozitivna Omladina (Positive Youth). Lots of people were coming and going from the centre. A 16 year old boy named Vladmir, spoke to us for ages, he was hyperactive and passionate, dodging school because he had better things to do! He told us it is cool to be a nationalist in Serbia, and he was buzzing when we gave him a Welsh Antifa badge.
After drinking loads of coffee, we headed over to the High School to meet a 15 year-old sticker artist who goes by the name of ‘Petro’, who Crav had been trading stickers with over the internet. He had organised a combined sticker-show and gig for the two of us at Klub Evergreen. We went over to the cultural centre, which is used for a number of different social events for the residents of Kraljevo. Petro had already covered three boards with stickers from across the world, and there were two blank ones for Crav to fill with his collection. It looked really good when it was finished, with loads of sticker-art from across the world on the walls!
We rushed back over to Positive Youth, where we shared a pot of vegan food with a big group of people. Then we rushed back over to Klub Evergreen, where people were starting to turn up. Crav and I were asked to do an interview with the local community television channel. I was asked about my music and why I had come to Serbia, and Crav was interviewed about sticker-art. The small room was packed out again, it was crazy that we were all these miles from home and so many people turned up, bought CD’s and thanked us personally for coming to Kraljevo to do a show! People wanted to talk and take pictures with us for ages afterwards, It was bizarre and nice at the same time. I got the feeling not many people came to play Kraljevo from outside Serbia.
We spent a couple more days in Kraljevo, in the hospitable presence of the amazing crew at ‘Positive Youth’. It is a nice little town, and we learnt a lot from our hosts—about the history and intolerance of Serbia. There is a lot of nationalism and homophobic attitudes, which makes the work of this crew even more important to their community!
We caught a bus from Kraljevo to Belgrade, it took about three and a half hours, was boiling hot and full of locals. We spent three or four days hanging around Belgrade, I was supposed to play a gig at the art squat Inex Film, but they were totally unorganised and the gig didn’t happen. We got to stay at the squat anyway, it was a massive building with lots of different groups of artists working on different projects. A couple of Australians turned up at the same time as us, looking for somewhere to stay and we spent a lot of time with them. They were travelling indefinitely and had loads of great stories.
Belgrade is an eerie city, because so many of the building are still really fucked after being bombed, and apart from one over-developed street which could be anywhere in Europe, the rest of the city sets as a reminder of Serbia’s dark history. We visited the Tito museum, which was bizarre; there was his grave and gifts from other world leaders—if you ever visit Belgrade you have to visit here, it’s the weirdest museum I have ever seen!
We caught a train from Belgrade to Novi Sad and headed over to CK13, a well-organised youth centre, complete with a live music venue, info store, activist library, free shop, open kitchen, summer theatre and office space. The promoter of my gig for the following night, Bojan, was putting on a hardcore show that night. One of the bands playing was Minus Tree from Italy, who I had played with in Norwich on my UK tour earlier in the year—it’s a small underground world! After watching the bands and buying a load of cool zines, we went to sleep amongst all the hardcore bands in the office space!
Crna Ovca, Novi Sad, Serbia
The next day after a hefty breakfast courtesy of Bojan, we wandered around Novi Sad. The guidebook says, that some describe this as the first Western city, and others say it is the last Eastern city. It is certainly a much grander city than Belgrade, with posh Austrian-Hungarian buildings, less obvious poverty and no signs of war. We walked up to the fort which looks over the river, this is where Exit Festival is held in the summer and it was a stunning place. After walking back into the city, drinking coffee and writing cheesy postcards, we went to pick up our bags from CK13 and walked over to where my gig was, Crna Ovca (Black Sheep). It is a small alternative music shop, with zines, comics and a small bar and there was a cheerful man waiting for us there. Only five people turned up for the gig, meaning that including Crav and the bar man, I had a grand total of seven people in the audience. I still put all my energy into playing my songs, as much as I would in any show and those that were there were enthusiastic. I enjoyed the gig, and talking to everyone afterwards, drinking rakija… I was glad to be around new people, nothing quite beats an endlessly changing horizon!
Panic Room Zica, Belgrade, Serbia
We got a train back to Belgrade, it was hot again after a couple of rainy days. We found an amazing falafel place called Tel Aviv Hummus House, which was expensive in Serbian terms but super-delicious and highly-recommended! (We pretty much sample a falafel in every city we visit!!) We caught a taxi across the city to Novi Beograd, where all the modern sky-scrappers stand. The sun was setting into the smog, and I love this time of day in a city, when the bright sun reflects off the shiny buildings, and cars rush in every direction, as the working day comes to an end. We were going to visit Slobodan Vianovic, a DJ on the radical radio station B92, who resisted Milosevic’s repressive rule throughout the ’90s (there is an amazing book called ‘This is Serbia Calling’ about the station—READ IT!) Anyway, Slobodan is a big fan of Welsh-language music, often playing it on his show. Crav has been in contact with him for over a decade and has played many of his different projects on the Serbian airwaves! We spoke for hours about Welsh and Serbian music, ate some delicious food and drank more rakija.
Slobodan drove us to Panic Room Zica and dropped us off outside a big metal door. We climbed up the stairs and into the venue, which was dingy and cool. The lights were low and everyone was smoking inside, it was atmospheric and dark. I met Tom, the promoter who ran the bar. I did a soundcheck then went to get my merchandise to put out on the table, before realising I’d left it in Novi Sad—DAMN! We tried to check if it was possible to get a train to Novi Sad and back, and make it to the train in Zagreb in time, but it wasn’t. SHIT! This was our source of money to keep us going through the tour! Luckily Tom had the great idea of sending the bag on the bus the next morning! So he saved us!
I was worried this gig would be empty too, but it soon started filling up as the first act started playing making cool songs with weird pedal noises—a one man Fall, or Lou Reed. I played second and the room had filled up, and it was a good gig with people listening and cheering passionately! I was annoyed I didn’t have any CD’s with me to sell! We stayed to watch the last act, a slightly-nervous and drunk 19 year-old who was pretty good. Then we went to our host’s house, Ivan—a Serbian guy, who had learnt Welsh in Llanbed! He had no connection with Wales, just a fascination with Celtic languages—he also spoke Cornish! Ivan was quite a strange character, with his big beard and staring dark eyes, and an obsession with anything mythical, from Celtic history to psychedelic drugs! I went to sleep around 2am, but Crav stayed up all night with him comparing Welsh and Cornish!
Autonomi Kulturni Centar Medika, Zagreb, Croatia
After managing to get my CD’s which had been put on a bus from Novi Sad, we got on a train to Zagreb. The train was hot and slow, and took seven hours. For the last half hour of the trip I stuck my head out the window, and reminded myself of how fun travelling across the land, crossing borders and seeing things change in front of your eyes is. Much of the journey had been dried yellow grass, or fields of corn and so when we got to Zagreb I was happy. A new city, a new day and a new place to play! We walked straight to the venue, AKC Medika, a squatted medicine factory, which is now a popular live music venue and we were greeted with food and drink! The line-up was very bizarre! First up were Merfolk, a hard rock band from a Croatian island, I played second, then Broken Ideas a teenage indie band played and last up was a really weird psychedelic pop band from New York with about 10 vinyl releases on their merchandise table!! Strange! Anyway, my set went well—the big room was about half full and I even got an encore, despite only being second on! Loads of people came up to me and said they had enjoyed the show! Woohoo!
The next morning we jumped a tram from where we were staying, we spotted control coming on, so we got off in the middle of town—which was cool because we got to see a bit of the city! Zagreb looked grand and Western after spending time in Serbia and Bulgaria! We got on a train to Ljubljana, and after passport checks to leave Croatia, we were back in the EU. As the train travelled into Slovenia, I was glad to be back in a country I had fallen in love with the previous year. It’s nature is incredible; thick dark green forests. picturesque mountains and rivers in every shade of blue and green; whilst the capital city heaving full of alternative art and culture. The people of Slovenia are so welcoming. When we arrived in Ljubljana, we walked straight to Metelkova, the ex-Yugoslavian army barracks which were squatted over 20 years ago and is like a mini-village of alternative life!
We met up with Emir, the organiser of Pogo Never Ends Fest which we’d attended the previous year. He’d found us a place to stay with a couple in the massive ROG squat, an old bike factory that used to make ‘Pony’ bikes in the communist era, which are super-awesome and everywhere in Ljubljana! The squat seemed pretty cool, but Jasmin told us about the problems there; laziness, drugs and carelessness causing fires. Hundreds of people used to live at ROG, but now only five people did. The couple’s flat was really nice and tidy, but it was sad that their lives were pretty tough because they choose to live outside the status quo. The same problems arise across Europe, people with good intentions and good energy and a true passion for building a better society, brought down by self-destructiveness and laziness of others who just want to live outside the status quo because it’s an easy option! It is sad when the stereotypes of squatters, anarchists and outlaws are proven right, but it was good to meet Jasmin and her boyfriend who were hardworking and dedicated.
Jalla Jalla, Ljubljana, Slovenia
We all woke up pretty late, after a good rest. We cooked a massive pot of food to share with our hosts, out of discarded vegetables we’d found in the market. We sat out in the sun, in ROG’s garden eating and then wandered into the colourful and vibrant city centre. Later on, we headed back over to Metelkova, where I was playing in Jalla Jalla, a small but busy bar full of interesting characters. There was vegan food waiting for us there. The gig went well, but the sound wasn’t loud enough for my liking! It was more like a gig in the UK, than the others on the tour because half the room was getting fucked and talking loudly, while the other half tried to listen. But I had a good enough response, and the soundman told me, “beautiful voice and beautiful playing”, which was cool. What stuck in my head the most though, was the woman who half way through my set said; “Just don’t play anything in Celtic again”, and later came up to me and insulted me! It is weird, I had played all over Wales, England and Europe in 2012 and this was the first bad thing anyone had said about the fact I sang some songs in Welsh. Stupid woman!
Kaleidoskop, Vienna, Austria
We hopped on a train to Vienna, and watched the beautiful mountains as we crossed borders into our final destination. Once we were in Vienna, we wandered around the outskirts and eventually found Kaleidoskop, where the promoter Martin was waiting for us, with loads of hummus, falafel and mate! Yum! It was a tiny little social centre, cluttered and colourful, with zines and weird objects! People started arriving slowly, and the support act R-Coustic played. There was only around 15 people at the gig, but still I was amazed by the DIY scene and the fact people will come out on a weekday to see someone they’ve never heard of, from Wales! I almost sold out of CD’s and everyone said they had enjoyed and offered me bigger gigs next time I was in Austria. We hung out, drunk beer and talked about the tour, life and politics. It was a really great place to end the tour, full of awesome people!