Break Down The Walls: Youth of Today in Yugoslavia 1989

In March 1989, US bands Youth of Today and Lethal Aggression came to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as part of their European tour. Here's a recollection of memories from both shows in Zagreb and Ljubljana.

In the former Yugoslavia, during the ‘80s, some really interesting things were happening in the underground punk scene. The major labels (more or less all of them, state-owned record companies) lost their interest in punk as soon as some new music became popular. Therefore, all the punks turned to something quite different and more independent. Under the influence of the emerging DIY hardcore punk scene in other parts of Europe, Yugoslavian punks started their own scene which was totally out of the focus of the Communist party, mainstream media, and the record companies. Beside all the bands and fanzines, there were also independent “booking” agencies, who started organizing gigs not just for Yugo punk bands, but also touring ones (Discharge, Youth Brigade, DOA and many more).

yot-lethal-aggression-tour-poster

In 1989, fans of good hardcore sound (there were almost no straight-edge people in Yugoslavia at the time, so the audience was comprised mostly of purebred punks and the occasional metalhead) were lucky to see the performances of two great bands at their peak. Namely, the American band Youth of Today who performed in Zagreb and Ljubljana as part of their European tour, together with their compatriots Lethal Aggression. In fact, Youth of Today were guests on Lethal Aggression’s European tour. The shows were organized by the Zagreb DIY booking team Independence, whose most active member Alpi still remembers how these concerts were organized.

youth-of-today-yugoslavia-2
March 07, 1989. OK “Đuro Đaković”, Zagreb 📸 Marko Korać/Vojin Veljkovć

Why these two bands? “There is not much behind it. At that point in time, I got only an offer for them, so I accepted. It could have been any other band and I would probably accept that as well. I admit, I wouldn’t book just about anyone, but the two bands were famous, and by that I don’t mean stuff like Jukebox’s charts” reminisces Alpi.

Apparently, the concert in Zagreb went very well and those who attended remember it with a smile. But the organization wasn’t simple at all. The bands were brutally late, and Martin (their tour manager) did not inform the team in Zagreb what was happening. After a lot of waiting, the bands finally appeared, literally flew from the van to the stage and, according to those present, tore up their sets. 

“I guess that’s when I got my first gray hairs. The bands did not show up at the agreed time. I sat (and sat) at home by the phone, every now and then speaking  with some of the guys at the club to always get told that they hadn’t arrived yet. I don’t remember if we called the border and checked whether they were detained by the customs, but now that I think about it, we didn’t even have anyone to call there. At that point, I guess I was already getting pissed off and had no choice but to go to the club and experience the agony there, better than sitting at home and waiting for a call from a band or an agent that would never come.”Alpi

Considering that more than thirty years have passed since the shows, it is clear that only fuzzy memories remain. So, for example, drummer Sammy Siegler (Youth of Today), who was only 15 at the time (turned 16 during the tour) remembers little of it: “I loved that tour very much, but my memory is completely hazy. The only thing I remember from the concert is that the kids were very excited and even rocked our van at one point.”

youth-today-sammy
March 07, 1989. OK “Đuro Đaković”, Zagreb 📸 Marko Korać/Vojin Veljković

On the other hand, his bandmate Walter, remembers the atmosphere well, both before and after the show:

“I have a vague memory of the concert, but I know that I was blown away by the reception, not only during the performance itself, but also during the arrival and exit from the van. I remember the faces of the kids who were so excited to see us, they looked like we were their favorite band ever. Few of them spoke English, so it was an unusual, but at the same time nice, situation in which the crowd is sitting next to us, obviously very happy to be here, but you have almost no one to talk to. The photo of Ray with the Coca-Cola reminds me of that situation. By the way, as a kid who grew up in the ‘80s in the USA, it was unusual, but also fascinating, for me to live in a communist country. US propaganda taught us to view all the countries of the Eastern Bloc as ‘enemies’, and you have a situation where we were hosted in such a country and honored to know that the crowd loves music so much. It is a very nice feeling to know that there are people so warm, even though we grew up in different political systems, with whom you could share your love for hardcore punk music, which brought us closer. It was really a ‘Break Down The Walls’ situation.”Walter Schreifels

How the performance of Youth of Today in Zagreb actually went can be seen in the gig report published in the seventh issue of the Sarajevo fanzine Epitaph:

“After them [Lethal Aggression] come Youth of Today and you can immediately notice a little nervousness in the band members. The gig begins and the crowd starts slamming again, but it drops due to great exhaustion. The performance of Youth of Today is cheerful and interesting, to which the drummer, a 15-year-old boy, also contributes a lot. The songs are short, fast, and full of arguments to make you straight edge. They performed “Thinking Straight” best. The guitarist is very similar to [the popular at that time in Yugoslavia comic book character] Bob Rock and his leg is still in plaster. Maybe a consequence of skateboarding? Because of the brevity of the songs, everyone thinks they played briefly and could have continued longer. During the encore, they played “Anarchy in Yu”, “Minor Threat”the biggest slam, and “Louie, Louie” for it, the band members change instruments and the vocals, there is a kid who is in great contact with the crowd and constantly stage dives on them! After that, they play two more songs from the new LP and the gig ends.”—Epitaph Fanzine #7

One of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to watch this concert is Marko Korać, best known as singer of Vitamin X, who at that point had been present on the domestic hardcore punk scene for some time:

“A group of enthusiasts from Belgrade went to the concert, and if my memory serves me correctly, we also met Stevan Gojkov and Boris (Bolji život fanzine) from Novi Sad. Anyway, I met the late Vojin Veljković, with whom I later became good friends. There was also Korke from Marshall Kids, the crazy Gvido (Brainstorm), the late Vanja (Overdose) and the late Bole (Sunrise / Svarog). There was also my then-friend from elementary school Saša Rupa and as icing on the cake, there was also Deki from Jerković, who knows in what dark waters that guy ended. With him was that bastard, fraudster and drug addict Cole, who got into trouble with Vanja and sang with him in that first incarnation of Overdose, while they were still playing crossover hardcore and were called Kerozin. That guy later got tired and became some kind of Orthodox priest, monk, martyr or some similar shit. Since I left for a concert in Zagreb without telling my old folks, I was more than careful not to run into some shit, especially after the stories I heard from the older team from Belgrade, and a fight that was at a Disorder concert some year and a half earlier. Like the Bad Blue Boys, they look for Serbs to beat them at concerts, etc. I remember that Deki and Korki went wild on the train and that we were given a couple of warnings to behave properly, but  nothing terrible has happened.”Marko Korać

Of course, the performance of Youth of Today was an unusual event for the then fifteen-year-old punk. About this kind of experience, Marko continues:

“When Youth of Today came on stage, I think I experienced a cosmic orgasm. I’ve listened to the Break Down The Walls LP a zillion times before, and a couple of months before this gig, their We’re Not In This Alone LP came out and I got hooked on it like Sid Vicious got hooked on heroin. Watching Youth of Today when they were at their peak, of knowing all the songs and the madness of the atmosphere where people jump in all directions, was a life-changing experience for a 15-year-old kid like me. Ray already had that Hare Krishna lock on the back of his head, and Porcell had broken his ankle the day before and his whole leg was in plaster. Ray tried to communicate with the crowd on a couple of occasions but hardly any of them spoke English. In any case, he used some chairs lying around to jump from them into the audience. At one point, those chairs also disappeared and then he just kept throwing himself between us from the stage. I, like any crazy fan, took the opportunity and took a picture with him, chatted a bit and congratulated Sammy for being the  same age as me, and playing in such a band.”—Marko Korać

youth-of-today-ljubljana-2
March 08, 1989. KUD “France Prešeren”, Ljubljana 📸 Matija Kvesić

Well, as mentioned earlier, apart from Zagreb, there was another performance in Yugoslavia as part of this tour. What is interesting is that the official tour poster states that the bands will perform in Sarajevo after Zagreb. However, that concert did not take place because simply the team that booked them there did not manage to find any space that would host these two bands. That is why Ljubljana and KUD “France Prešeren” came in as an alternative solution. Dario Adamič, a veteran of the Yugoslav punk scene, who was serving his military service in Ljubljana at the time, remembers the gig:

“I found the announcement in a Slovenian daily newspaper on the day of the concert. After dinner, I took the “civilian” clothes and hopped over the fence. I didn’t know anyone, so I watched the whole concert from the sidelines. The bands were OK for me. I liked Lethal Aggression’s pretty wild performance, while Youth of Today was more static maybe because Porcell had his leg in a cast. I’m glad I watched YoT then, because  although I’ve seen them three more times in the following years, it wasn’t that important to me to watch the reunion. I’m not a big fan of reunions.”Dario Adamič

Unlike the lively and crazy Zagreb gig, the concert in Ljubljana was, as Dario himself notes, more static. Fatigue may have contributed to that, but the audience itself is to blame too. Thus, in the report of the concert in the Slovenian fanzine Platfuzz #2, Miloš, the author of the report, begins his review with the following words: “The concert was a complete failure. Not because of the bands but because of the ‘audience’.”

youth-of-today-ljubljana
March 08, 1989. KUD “France Prešeren”, Ljubljana 📸 Matija Kvesić

As he further notes, the bands did their best, especially praising Lethal Aggression and claiming that they tried to move the dormant audience, but a couple of fools did their best to finish the concert ahead of time. It seems that one group of the audience got into a fight (which was not uncommon at concerts in those years), so Youth of Today stopped their performance, packed their things and that was the end of it. It is a pity that their Yugoslav epic ended so ingloriously, but on the other hand, it seems that this adventure remained in their fond memories.

Vojkan Trifunovic

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March 07, 1989 OK “Đuro Đaković”, Zagreb 📸 Vojin Veljković

Appendix: Awakening of Early Spring / Youth of Today in the Unconquered City

It’s the good ol’ days, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The scene is on a rise both in the world and in our country. The gigs of contemporary hardcore bands were not uncommon, at first only in Ljubljana and a little later, east. The first to be hit was Zagreb, with an excellent geographical location and a very well-developed club sceneKulušić, Lapidarij, Jabuka, Đuro, Moša, SKUC Spider Hall… quite enough. And there was the audience (in Serbian, as in Bolji život fanzine, the slang word for the hardcore punk crowd is ‘stoka’ or ‘marva’, in Slovenian fanzines simply—folk, and in the rest of the country mostly ‘masa’, ‘škvadra’ or ‘raja’). The news that our Zagreb friend Alpi is organizing a gig for Youth of Today and Lethal Aggression struck like thunder from the clear sky. He also had a show called Independence on a local youth radio station, and invited Goja and me to be guests on Monday, the day before the gig. Morning bus to Ruma where we take the train to Zagreb.

The first day away was spent in a festive and busy atmosphere. Is there anything more beautiful than sitting in a small room, endlessly listening to new releases from the world stage!? In the evening, a radio show with Alpi and Aleksandar Dragaš as hosts. After the show, shave with the Zagreb hardcore team and go to sleep. As soon as we lay down around midnight, Alpi’s landline phone rings (mobile phones appear a decade later) to announce the arrival of new guests. The late Vanja and Cole from Belgrade joined us.

The five of us are in a room no larger than 14 square feet. In the morning we go to the station in Pec Krstić and then the day turns into a waiting room. Waiting for the call and the arrival of the bands and so on indefinitely. The job of the concert organizer is not easy at all, not to mention the stress. There is no call from the bands’ side, nervousness is at its peak. A cold evening has largely replaced a sunny day and the phone is still mute. Alpi remains glued to it and we slowly move towards “Đuro Đaković”, and in front of the cluba lot of people, acquaintances, stories... In a word—the scene. Uncertainty whether the bands will appear at all is at its peak, when suddenly there is a van from which the singer Lethal Aggression emerges like a zombie. Little Vojin from Belgrade enthusiastically shouts at him: “Hey, Lethal Aggression! We are from Yugoslavia”, the singer spread his arms in surprise. Gvido and Vojin came from Belgrade together, a combination of youth and experience. In appearance, Vojin is much closer to preschool age than adulthood, and Gvido being Gvido.

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March 07, 1989. OK “Đuro Đaković”, Zagreb 📸 Gvido Obradović

As soon as Lethal Aggression get out of the van, they end up onstage. They play their set like a hurricane and instead of metalized, torn, long-haired rags, Youth of Today come off neat, clean, short-haired, fine, and cultural. In a diverse audience made up of a couple of Macedonians, a few Belgraders, three Novi Sad residents, some Slavonians and a mountain of locals (400 tickets sold and a positive zero for the organizer), one character was at the center of the attention. Extreme appearance and, for god’s sake, behavior. A Yugoslavian version of Sid Vicious, but stronger. It is Ivica Čuljak or Kečer, free out of jail (he was in a prison hospital for years), wearing a scarf like Yasser Arafat, leather jacket, military boots. In the midst of a spectacular Youth of Today performance, Kečer snatches a microphone from the surprised Ray Cappo and begins to recite one of his songs with the concentration of someone who’s won an Oscar: “No, this is not Salman Rushdie and his Satanic verses, this is Satan Panonski and these are his Satanic verses”. The encore of Youth of Today came very quickly in the form of “Anarchy In The Yu” and “Louie Louie”. Kečer did not remain indebted to them with his ritual pogo dance. When Youth of Today played their own stuff, Vanja, Bole, Cole and the local hardcore collective were better at pogoing.

Boris Miškovic (Bolji život fanzine)

Originally published in Out of the Darkness Fanzine, March 2021. You can read it in Serbian at their website here.

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