There are records that walk into your life without knocking and say that they intend to stay. After a couple of weeks, you realise they had always been there, that you knew that record already. Not because you’d heard it elsewhere: it’s just that you just knew, you knew that record before you were born. For everyone, those records are rare. For me, Elektro Kultura’s record is one of those records. I’ve only had two or three – so I take it very seriously: I know that it’ll keep giving. I am thankful it was made and thankful for its reissue. A very deep благодарам for both.
What is it about Mirovna Poraka and about its live execution, almost 22 years down the line? There is something, undoubtedly, about the production – its starkness, its amateurish sound which sits so strangely with the natural authority and decidedness Vladimir Muratovski ‘Divo’ has over his material, which also feels rehearsed from birth. Something similar occurs in the perfomance, both in 1992 and in its 2013 incarnation: there are slippages, there are hesitations, yet Muratovski’s ownership over the songs makes those glitches worthwhile, even important – the record sounds somehow inevitable, like a folk tradition, like it had to be made and it had to be made like this.
This record sounds inevitable, like a folk tradition
In the aftermath of being introduced to Elektro Kultura’s work by Gjorgji Janevski, most of my conversations about his work with his Skopje-based fans and lovers had to do with the record’s astounding simplicity; they had to do with how minimal it was, both lyrically and melodically, yet so powerful. One piano, two hands, one sentence per song. One phrase, one idea, one nucleus of meaning and sentiment per track. And most of it squeezed into the typically punk less-than-three-minutes format. The whole thing is shrouded in a sort of cold naiveté, as even Ansome sort of cold naiveté, as even the title of the album suggest: ‘Mirovna Poraka’, ‘message of peace’, is a perfect yet somehow strange introductory concept to this record, at least now.
Now it’s different, though. It’s a title from another place and time. Then again, the times have also changed, and Macedonia now is not Macedonia in 1992 (which in fact was barely Macedonia as we know it at all). And as strange as that title is for this largely dark, profoundly sad, sometimes apocalyptic, always disarmingly sincere record, it is a title that opens up onto the aesthetic spheres we are invited to inhabit by Vladimir Muratovski Divo, spheres seldom indulged these days. Interesting spheres: a sort of childish, teenage melancholy. A simple, gentlemanly arrogance. Or all of these ‘religious’ songs, which rather than being tongue-in-cheek speak, as the Macedonian tradition has accustomed us to, of a deep – punk – morality, in which imagining the end is coincident with the idea of ‘being good’, almost a form of responsibility. And it’s all performed and it’s all true: the listener is being played with but never cheated, and Muratovski neither, he is not cheating himself.
There’s Love Song, irresistibly stylised, handsomely punk; Beg, the gloomiest but also the most controlled track on the record – where Muratovski slips knowingly between the voice of the little boy and the voice of the world-weary man to offer us a deeply painful and universal portrait of the adolescent within; Nema, song for an empty room, so nihilist in feeling yet so melodically abandoned; Electric Things, humorous little piece on the all-absorbing ‘love’ of futurist sounds. He’s a true romantic, Mr. Muratovski, the kind of romantic we really need now: he happily surrenders to big ideas, big melodies, big feelings and all the time stays small, quiet, discreet. The journey of the instrumental on Mirovna Poraka is probably the best example of the romantic complexity the record is capable of, and in spite of its lack of words, it is – as all the record is – exquisitely narrative. The track starts and we’re thrown into a terrible darkness, and then progressively off we waltz, into the light, into pink cherry blossom. The road is full of detours, interruptions, obstacles, of course, but it’s a journey against the odds, and it was never going to be easy.
All of these ‘religious’ songs are not tongue-in-cheek, instead they speak of Muratovski’s deep – punk – morality
Muratovski tells us of this journey through his electro culture: it’s nowhere near an electro record, but the culture within it is electro. Electric. Electronic. The Divo synthesises. He plays piano like it was synth. Alternating moments of anguish and moments of infinite tenderness, Muratovski shakes his way through the kling-klang of the 1970s and ‘80s, during which, clearly, his identity as an artist was formed. He reminds us that in post-punk that word, ‘post’, lasts forever: this is not music that looks to the past but music in which the past is continuous. He also hits his piano keys (and he hits them hard!) across the dusty landscapes of traditional melodies, and folk song becomes what folk song should be – immortal – in his hands. Yet, his record sounds like nothing else – although you’re constantly reminded of something, and although he wears his influences on his sleeve, there is an honesty and a candour in these songs which evades the contours of influence, genre, or style. In fact, apart from sounding like nothing else, all the songs sound very much like one artist: indeed, like Vladimir Muratovski Divo. Because although he moves between terrifying murder ballads (Darkness), the epic rattling bells of byzantine mysticism (Gospod Trgnal Pesh…), Kraftwerkian obsession (Electric Things), goth moodiness (Beg), folk madrigal (Jana) each track belongs to an organic whole that very starkly has its own, extremely original, very personal and deeply felt internal logic. Away from genre-chat, it’s rare for an album (and indeed for an album so minimal, almost poor in production) to sound so theatrical, so grand, so controlled with such ease – and to never sound artificial, self-conscious, or self-referential. Here delicate, unpretentious ideas have been working in Muratovski’s mind, voice, fingers, for decades – and they have become very powerful over time. You can hear a resistance: this is music that resists. And I think it will continue to resist, too.
Of course, this record is made in Skopje. And it tells a story, maybe even many stories, about Skopje, and also about Yugoslavia, about Macedonia, and perhaps even more about FYROM, born just as Mirovna Poraka was made. Too many stories to tell here, but stories that don’t need to be told and can’t be told any better than they are in the record. Skopje is a place where you think about buildings all the time, and where you think about everything as if it were a building: power, decay, attack, neglect, fun, loneliness, age, nature, war, fear, love, time. Elektro Kultura’s building is a monochrome, effortless, elementary facade holds corridors of complex, elegant, serious interiors. The sentence Muratovski chooses to introduce himself to the world with synthesises it quite well: if you love me, you can tell me. Obvious, really. Obvious beyond pop, in the true sense of the word: it’s something anyone can say. And have you ever said that sentence to anyone?
London, 19th April 2014
Text written for Vladimir Muratovski / Gjorgji Janevski / Ako Nikoj Ne Sviri.
Listen – or indeed buy – Mirovna Poraka here: https://elektrokultura.bandcamp.com/