Belgrado: 'Siglo XXI'
(La Vida Es Un Mus, 2013)
A good day I realized that my musical standards had narrowed (had I, perhaps, turned old?) because “post-punk revival” and its nostalgia started to look like simple tomfoolery to me. What was the aim of trying to recover those joyous, desperately non-political chants permeated of colorful thatcherism that overlooked unemployment, AIDS and heroin? Luckily enough, I soon became aware of the other side of that retro scene, the dark side to which Belgrado belongs.
Because the eighties were not at all devoid of dissident voices that were well aware that their time was not the best to be young, but instead certainly frightening in a lot of different aspects. That punk that did not become mere aesthetic artifice either sided with anarco-syndicalism or tried to analyze the alienation and nihilism prevalent amongst the misfits of that time in History (and perhaps every other time as well).
Belgrado, a multicultural band from Barcelona composed of singuer Patricya, bass player Renzo, guitarist Fergu and Drummer Jonathan, tries to connect these two social critiques of different focus but similar causes and conclussions. Their main influences are Crass, anarchopunk inmediacy and DIY ethics along with the mechanical, industrial and menacing atmospheric character of bands like Killing Joke, the first Siouxie, Wire, Bauhaus, Joy Division and so many other British bands from that time.
Their approach to musical composition bring the rythmic section forward, with a barely human-sounding Jonathan and Renzo bringing a certain sonic “warmth” that sometimes brings to mind the almost reggae techniques recorded by Jah Wobble for the first two albums of Public Image. Pat's monotonous voice and Fergu's guitar, seasond with a good dose of reverb (almost the only “spice” added to their minimal production) are in charge of bringing cold blasts of winter into the mix.
Their sound inmediately reminded me of that pursued by the roster of Sacred Bones Records (which I would recommed everyone to go listen to) so it did not surprise me at all to find that this house was the one in charge of the international distribution of the physical release of the album.
We are used to listen to music in stranger tongues, so a change in accents is a welcomed pleasure
When playing the first song of this short but intense 2013 LP, one can inmediately appreciate the victory of punk-rock structures over the elements imported from post-punk. The band wants their music to be the soundtrack of a desperate dance, and their concerts to be sinister parties: they prioritize mechanical effectiveness over technical and technological complexity. 'Sombra de la Cruz' (“Shadow of the Cross”) also surprises because despite its Spanish name, it is sung entirely in English.
But this is not the only nor greatest language surprise of the album. Beginning with the second song, the cold 'Pałac Kultury', Pat sings most of the album in her native Polish. But, does it matter? We Spaniards are used to listen to music in stranger tongues, so a change in accents is a welcomed pleasure. In this song, the band puts their deep knoweledge of first eighties music to use, shoowing us, among other things, a “Spanish-sounding” bass solo riff (one could almost hear the rattling of the castanets!) which was a common element of the sound of many of the “darker” bands from that age.
When 'Świat Jest Nasz' appears, a rainy monotony seems to be close to conquer the sound of the album, close to make the energy of the first three songs finally wane. That impression, however, is readily dispelled as soon as the instrumental 'Siglo XXI' begings to play. This song serves as an introduction to 'Nie', an energetic song filled with aggressive riffing, straight lines and angular melodies. Paradoxically, this song also showcases sensibilities unknown for the previous songs, with a more readily noticeable “sinister” influence. It is nice that this two songs are placed in the heart of the LP, because they succesfully bind together its two sides, which happen to be quite different.
The album is a major example of the international current of darker post-punk revival
In the B side, opened by 'Wake Up', post-punk influences begin, at last, a regime of peaceful and equal coexistence with punk ones, which translates to a certain mutation of the songs in terms of complexity, but not of sound. Even with the “sweetening” of some melodies ('Iluzja' could be the main example, and also the closest Belgrado gets to The Cure's more progressive edge of post-punk) the main change comes by way of structure: interludes lenghten and acquire more relevance and complexity and, in general, the bands turns subtler and less aggressive.
The contrast between 'Progress' (fast and dizzying vocal theme) and 'The End' (instrumental, long and dense) lets the band develop their melodic, rythmic, melodic and atmospheric abilities to their maximum extent, while staying within their narrow and self-imposed aesthetic confines.
The last song, 'Automatyczny Świat' acts as a sudden surprise... that I will let you discover for yourselves.
The album is a major example of the international current of darker post-punk revival, and showcases a deep, detailed knoweledge of the genre's characteristics: from the liking for the mechanical and cold to the surprising insertion of flamenco and surf rock influences, the band assumes a great quantity of the tropes used by those bands from that age.
In fact, they could be confused for some of them with ease, but... is that good? What can a band that follows a certain aesthetical current in the most zealous and minimalist manner? What instruments can our fight get from their saddened situationism? Maybe the answer is only “fun”. While I personally like the approach of bands that are less constricted by the base material (like ill-fated Beastmilk) one cannot ignore that Belgrado is a funny and accesible band for anyone that likes post-punk, with the added attractive of being shrouded by a halo of mystery... but they will not change us, nor the world. Because, perhaps, we do not need them to do it.
Text: Dimas F. Otero
There's more in https://belgrado.bandcamp.com/album/siglo-xxi-2