Rock ‘n' Roll in the Backyard

Ivan Sabadoš, Ruski Kerestur, Serbia, Outpost Dispatch #1, October 2003

For you to be as clear as possible about just who Mirko Hornjak Kole is and what Stativa! was, we have to go back at least ten years, to the beginning of the 1990s. That was when the Kerestur punk scene arose from sweat, beer and blood like an unwanted child, sentenced to a stolen life without meaning or perspectives immediately upon birth. Paradoxically, but at the very same moment – possibly the darkest in the recent history of Serbia – an atmosphere was created in which there wasn’t even a trace of authority, control or common sense. This atmosphere helped the punk scene take off.

As if from nowhere, loud, ugly, angry kids flew into the vacuum that is Ruski Kerestur. Insofar as punk defines itself as an allergic reaction to negative socio-economic tremors which, sooner or later, occur in every society, I maintain that our dear Kerestur, at least in this instance, took a step with the rest of the normal world for the first and last time, even if similar things had already happened in the West in the middle of the 1970s. But elsewhere, punk took off even later than in Kerestur. Due to similar circumstances, the highest-quality punk scene in recent years has been in Brazil and Argentina, for example.

This is the way things went in Kerestur: the band YuckFou broke the ice, the Smargel’s broke it a bit further, three or four incarnations of Underwear went even further, and then came the heathen bands ŠMZ and The Aids... The membership of these bands all came from the same roster, with people going from one to the other in quick rotation. The bands, as a rule, fell apart just as soon as they hit on something concrete musically.

There wasn’t much going on, other than failed concerts and a couple demo recordings. The big action was at the public rehearsals, where literally whoever wanted to could get up and play. These quickly developed a cult following. Nobody had any illusions of developing a compact Kerestur punk scene back then. There was no conscious movement, revolt or political action. There was just a narrow circle of people who got together, played and listened to the music they loved. This was how they passed the time, having been chased to the margins of the Turbofolk philosophy dominant in Serbia in those days. Left to its own devices, the punk scene would probably have burnt itself out pretty quickly, leaving no trace.

But in the meantime, a couple of small, unconnected incidents brought about by some teenagers trying to prove themselves – which, as my neighbor Sergej is wont to say, is a normal part of growing up – turned everything upside down. It began with the famous graffiti (“Sex, Drugs and Religious Education,” see photo above) in the center of town, which got a reaction from the village priest immediately, and quickly introduced the punks to the famous Rusyn means of public information.

Overnight, so to say, Kerestur punk found itself in the center of an enormous media whirlwind – for the Rusyn microcosm, anyway.

I still have a couple newspaper articles from that time which were written by people who are now Kerestur’s pundits of political journalism, and the scandal that followed the TV broadcast of “Keresturiada,” the youth evening of the annual Červena Ruža festival, in 1993 in particular stands out.

Something spectacular happened in these articles and features. Kerestur’s punks were described as wild fascists, flying in the face of tradition, drug addicts and Antichrists. It made people uncomfortable, and was a topic of discussion everywhere: in school, in town, on the street...

The whole affair made the hitherto convicts and criminals interesting to the media. Since a hardened mind can’t be changed, and the system can only be controlled from inside, the punks decided not to argue with the media, but to send them articles and songs instead. However much of this is the truth is visible today – just look at who writes two-thirds of the news today…

After all of this, the battle switched to a different front, and the young people of Kerestur, such as they were, finally entered the administration of the local youth center, which enabled them to start putting on concerts. For a brief period in 1996 and 1997, Kerestur was an important point on the R’n’R map of Yugoslavia. In that season, we had visits by several truly premier bands of the YU rock scene at that time: the Lavhanters, Van Gog, Ateist Rep, Opo, Goblini, the Partibrejkers, Rambo... Finally we lucked out and broke out of the anonymous Kerestur countryside. But despite these early successes and numerous contacts, nothing came of any of this. I still don’t know whether it’s because of the already traditional disinterest of Keresturians for everything that goes on in town, or because we lacked ambition, or because we really just weren’t capable. All I know is that we’ll never have a chance like that again... In the meantime, the neighborhood wasn’t sitting back: bands were springing up in the nearby towns of Verbas, Petrovec, Kula… These guys wisely kept to the margins and were eventually able to catch up with the big leagues...

The hero of our story, Mirko Hornjak Kole, was around from the very beginning. Whether in the foreground or the background, he was always there. At poetry evenings, in the bands YuckFou, Šuhajdova, Rektum, Pendrexil... Over time, people came and went (whether they wised up or got fed up), but Kole was always active. I still don’t know where he found so much push and energy!

The final “project” which Mirko Hornjak Kole gave the thirsty Rusyn public was called “Stativa!” This was a three-member band in which he played guitar and sang, Zlatan Ruskovski played bass, and Vladan Hardi played drums. After standing still for a long time, the boys from Kerestur somehow were able to take a step beyond all of the other garage bands in the village. That feat was called The Incident of the Naïve Swallow (Slučaj lakovernog detliča) and was presented as a promo— CD in June 2000. It was recorded in Kula in a single afternoon. It has 18 “numbers” and a little more than half an hour of music. Bearing in mind the technical and financial conditions in which it was recorded, the result is just as it should be. Here, it has to be pointed out that Stativa! had a lot of help and support from Dejan Nadj Rokije, who played the drums this time, and from Miko Nadjovi, who made the crazy booklet featuring Pixie, Tesla and Ana Kurnjikova. To define the music that Stativa played is like trying to explain gumbo – everything and anything gets thrown in and it’s impossible to sort it all out in the end. My impression that Kole had intended to put more melodies into the musical legacy of the failing Kerestur scene, music he personally respected and to give everything his own authorial stamp. You’ll agree that this was really an ambitious idea. How much of it did Stativa! realize?

It is immediately apparent, and very troubling that there just aren’t enough original songs. Of the 18 tracks, just three are entirely original –the already antiquated “Antirežimska” (Anti-Regime Song), “Duvanomanija” (Ganga-mania) – which could have wider potential – and “Nebeški Narod” (Heavenly Nation), which really seems like something from Croatian band Hladno Pivo. Then there are three simple-hearted children’s songs, and three Rusyn folk songs, but it’s not worth wasting words on them (other than to point out that my favorite “Njedaljeko od valalu” (Far from the Village) isn’t one of them). The next three tracks (Gazda/The Boss, Andjo/Betrothed and Bubuš/The Monster) are along the lines of the band ŠMZ/SMF. All three together last 18 seconds total, but they’re not bad. There’s a hymn about farms and a blues song, which are solid, and the song “NATO – Zlikovci” (NATO – Criminals), a relic of a time which I hope is just a memory that no one wants to remember. I would say the best moment on the disc is the furious version of “Dijana”, an old hit which sounds like YuckFou played it yesterday. There are also two cover songs, but it really isn’t clear to me why they’re included...

How to conclude? If you take it all and put it together, adding and subtracting, Kole’s dream unfortunately wasn’t realized. The material lacks freshness, the spirit of the time, an attitude which could have given it direction and meaning, a thread which would have connected it to a larger whole. It is missing the balance between desire and possibility. Stativa! remains stuck somewhere at the halfway mark.

[The original Rusyn-language version of this article can be found in the third issue of MAK, at

No comments: