Punk Not Bombs: Severed Head of State in Serbia
When Severed Head of State came to Serbia shortly after NATO bombs fell over Belgrade. An inspiring story from the Ex-Yugo DIY hardcore punk underground.
I started booking shows with my friends (or I should say “crew”) back in the beginning of the 2000s. The name which we used was (and still is) Positive Youth (Pozitivna Omladina) as we were influenced by youth crew bands like Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits etc. Also the majority of the group were straight edge so it was more than normal to use that name. But of course that wasn’t the only reason. Positive Youth refers to unity, friendship and last but not the least, positive mental attitude. Those things were important for us and still are.
Anyway, in the late ‘90s, just after NATO war against Serbia, we started our own bands, practicing in the basements, old houses and all other similar places. We were influenced not just by the youth crew bands from USA but also by the local hardcore punk heroes Hoću? Neću!, Totalni Promašaj, Smudos and others. For those who don’t know, Kraljevo (my hometown) had strong and really influential hardcore punk scene during ’90’s and their influence spread all over the ex–Yugoslavian area. Besides those bands there was the punk distro/label Kontrapunkt. It started as non music/political fanzine, various political groups and other interesting stuff. In the times when nationalism was mainstream and it was supported by the state and majority of people, those guys were on the frontline of antinationalism. They started, together with comrades from other ex–YU countries, several antinationalist campaigns under the name “Over the Walls of War and Nationalism” (Preko zidova nacionalizma i rata).
So, under the influence of both—straight edge youth crew and political hardcore punk, we started with our own thing. Among the first activities were organizing gigs—for our bands, but also for the touring bands from abroad. Although there were active bands, in the 90’s there were not so many gigs of touring bands since Serbia (or SR Yugoslavia) was under the sanctions and it wasn’t easy to get in or get out. And funny thing is that there were not so many bands playing from other cities. It was a little bit closed scene. After the collapse of Slobodan Milošević’s regime Serbia was open to the world and Kraljevo also opened their venues for the touring bands. That’s how the bands from all over the world came here and played their gigs. One of the gigs that we like to remember was Severed Head of State gig in 2003.
Severed Head of State wasn’t the first foreign band to play in Kraljevo. In 2002 two bands from Croatia, AK 47 & Intoxicate, played their first gigs in Serbia after the war. And one of their gigs was in Kraljevo. Although we were a little bit scared that some crazy Chetniks/right wing extremists will cause some trouble nothing actually happened. But the day before Kraljevo they were robbed. Someone stole their van which was actually borrowed from a friend of theirs who spent all of his savings to buy it. What was more problematic was their backline which was also in the van. So they were left with nothing, but they decided to come to Kraljevo and they played hell of a gig.
An year later we had another foreign band in the city. This time it was an American hardcore band, which of course, we didn’t care about at the time, but after the show we realized that it was important as they were probably first Americans who came to Kraljevo after the NATO bombing (if we don’t count the diplomatic personnel). Somehow we were informed that Severed Head of State got some problems with booking the show so we accepted the call from Belgrade punk veteran Andrea. She introduced us to the situation and we agreed to help with the show. As I remember, we were little bit euphoric because we’ll host a punk “superstar” band, but actually didn’t know too much about them.
Anyway, we found a venue, it was a nice underground place called Opposite. Located in the basement of an old house couple streets away from the city center. The owner was a pscyhobilly fan, really enthusiastic, who opened his place for our gigs, and never had any complaints. Only thing which he insisted was not to come too early to the place. But this time he had to do it because the gig was in the time of “Sablja” (Saber), a state organized action against the criminal groups. This “Sablja” thing started after the assassination of Zoran Djindjić, prime minister of Serbia, who was assassinated by the mafia. So the next couple of months we had something like a curfew while the state fought against mafia. This whole thing failed big time, but that’s another story. So actually the gig was supposed to be a matinée show, because we had to finish around 10 pm. And that’s the information that everybody got, except for Severed Head of State themselves.
Three other bands were also playing. These were locals OPD and Lifeless. Old school hardcore band Another One from Belgrade were also on the bill but they cancelled. On the day of the gig Severed Head of State were late and we were getting a little bit scared what had happened. The people started to gather and I saw a lot of familiar faces, but also some unknown. And then I realized how important this gig was. In one moment we couldn’t wait anymore so we started searching for the phone number of Žule from Banja Luka (Bosnia) who was their tour manager and driver.
In 2003 it wasn’t easy to find a mobile phone number. No one from the crew had mobile phone (yeah, we were poor punx from the province), so we asked our friend Mačak, another punk veteran. He gave us Žule’s number and when he told us that they’re in Niš, we were fucked. The situation was like this: the band is 146km away from the place where they should have been long ago, the gig was supposed to start an hour ago and we didn’t have a backline to start, since we were waiting for theirs.
In the end, we decided to bring our own backline, which was some 200m away from the venue, so we asked our friends to help us. In one moment, you could see groups of punx carrying drum set, amps and other stuff from the basement to the venue. We set up the backline and started with the gig. After a while, Severed Head of State appeared in the club, so then we started changing the backline. Again, punx gave us a hand and we unloaded our equipment and changed it with theirs. I remember that their backline was huge, compared to our small shitty amps. And we had a lot of problems moving it through the crowd.
Finally we made it. They set up their backline and started. “Woooow! What the fuck!” That was the first impression. They killed it. It was soooo hot (the gig was in June). It felt like we were in Hell. The crowd was crazy, moshpits all the time—we thought the venue will be destroyed. And suddenly, some “silueta” appeared on the doors. Those were members of a special police group who came here to stop the show, because it was too loud and too crowded. We tried to talk with them but there was not way to negotiate. One of them said: “What? They bombed us, I was at war for three months because of them. Shut the music or else!” And that was the end.
Unfortunately, the band didn’t stay for a night since they were in hurry, that’s why Žule doesn’t remember anything from Kraljevo. They didn’t eat anything, because the crowd eat their food, someone left the plate with the pie in the venue, so people thought it was for free. But despite that everyone who was at this gig (we sold 95 passes) remembers the power of Severed Head of State.
Written by Vojkan Trifunović, a Serbian hardcore punk veteran who still plays in the band The Truth.