Prazan prostor među nama koji može i da ne postoji is the title of the new record by Serbian post-punk formation Repetitor. According to singer and guitarist Boris Vlastelica, the title can be loosely translated to The space between us that may or may not exist. An apparently metaphysically loaded title, but a simpler explanation than that might suffice. Vlastelica talks about the new record, about the current state of the Balkan scene and the problematic status of originality in 2021.
Written by: Micha Zaat
Photos: Filip Tasić
It's a drizzly Sunday afternoon when I speak to Boris via Zoom. He is in Belgrade, me in Rotterdam. Despite the absolute distance of more than 1800 kilometers, these cities are very similar according to Vlastelica: “Both scenes have a do it together mentality; the scene as a collective effort.” He indicates that he likes to play in the Netherlands: “When I enter the Netherlands from Germany, I suddenly feel free again,” says Vlastelica. The band has built up a decent status here: with shows in, among others, WORM (Rotterdam) and OCCII (Amsterdam), Repetitor is a welcome guest in the Dutch underground.
After some troubles with the internet connection (a huge delay in the connection, so we keep talking through each other and then simultaneously apologize again) I ask Vlastelica where the remarkable and intriguing title of the album comes from. He tells me that the title refers to his desire to get closer to someone as soon as you feel that there is a click with that person. “I'm talking more about the metaphysical than the physical,” he explains. “When I wrote this, I was thinking a lot about the audience during a performance, which is often behind a fence, leaving an empty space between the artist and the audience. Due to the pandemic, this sentence also has a whole new meaning.”
When it comes to the way the band has tried to weave its emotions into the music, the conversation quickly turns to the current state of affairs. Due to the general tenor of this time, the three band members were not always in the mood for their usual heavy guitar riffs. The last two songs on the album are even melancholic in nature. There is a certain sense of frustration and sadness. In addition, Vlastelica and bandmates Ana-Marija Cupin and Milena Milutinović have focused more on the simplicity of their music in the run-up to this album. They wanted to create more cargo with less. What is ultimately still there carries more tension, is Vlastelica's philosophy.
Repetitor's Bandcamp page features translations of the lyrics from Serbian into English. This particular sentence from 'Kost i koža' is striking: 'Your words like earrings made of glass just like decorations, just like NATO weapons and me, I'm sitting here, with blood up to my elbows.' An apparently political sentence, with reference to NATO, which played a major role in the Yugoslav War (1991-2001). Vlastelica says that he wrote the song as a result of his travels through Western Europe, which determined his view on the relationship between Western Europe and Serbia. “The idea of Serbia as the country of the genocide stings me because I wonder if the Western countries are that much better. Who killed the most people in all of history?” The song is a critique of Western imperialism, including the whitewashing of crimes committed by the West. “The West weighs the war in Serbia many times more than its own war history. They are still bombing innocent people.”
Nonetheless, Vlastelica does not want to actively intervene in the political debate. He simply finds it superficial to emphasize that. You won't soon see him launching a political diatribe with the goal of changing the world. He prefers to talk about personal concerns from which certain themes - including politics - arise, and tells the story of real people with real concerns. That is what he does in 'Kost i koža', a song about an incident that took place in Belgrade two years ago. During, a mafia real estate tycoon was shot by a woman who had just been moved out of her home by said real estate tycoon's accomplices. This woman has since become somewhatof a folk hero.
It will not escape any listener of Repetitor: the band sings in Serbian. It gives a refreshing, challenging dimension to the music of the trio. When Vlastelica explains how he himself views his choice of language, he refers to the title of the album and his ideas about the mental space that can arise between people. He explains that he would have to translate his thoughts if he were not singing in his native language. This would then cause an empty space between the musician and the listener, a space that disrupts the signal Repetitor is trying to convey to the listener.
Vlastelica not only looks with pride at his mother tongue, but also at the music scene of Belgrade. “For me, Belgrade is one of the most interesting places in the world for rock and roll right now. We have dozens of really good new bands. There's a whole scene of young people making alternative music." There is even a small smile when he admits that his band, much loved within the scene, might have had something to do with it over the past fifteen years. Then Vlastelica dives into history: he proudly tells that Serbia was the first country in Yugoslavia that allowed influences from Western rock 'n' roll in the eighties. According to Vlastelica, it laid the foundation for the scene that now exists, a scene in which musicians support each other and have fun with each other.
“It is pointless to try to be original in 2021. What should I do? Eat a bat on stage? Even that has already been done!”
Putting themselves out there, receiving media attention and reinventing music, is lower on the priority list of Repetitor and their fellow bands in the scene. “Our band name makes fun of originality. We say no to the idea that everything has to be original to be 'good'. Authenticity is much more important. We are not frantically looking for originality. Instead, we try to do what we do the best we can, and above all, make sure the audience has a fun night. There is no point in trying to be original in 2021. What should I do? Eat a bat on stage? Even that has already been done! Everything is a derivative of something else, and we embrace that.”
Prazan prostor među nama koji može i da ne postoji is out now on Moonlee Records.
Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.