Springtime in Belgrade: A Musical Journey Through Serbia’s Exuberant Capital

It’s Springtime in Belgrade and the weather is threatening rain. The Serbian capital’s fabled nightlife scene feels a bit sleepy as the seasons turn from the indoor clubs of winter to the summer ‘splav’ boat parties on the Danube. Easter weekend finds many locals leaving the city to visit relatives in the countryside. Bright sunsets from the heights of Kalemegdan Fortress give way to grey skies, sudden freezing sleet storms and desolate streets. Too much time is spent peering at dodgy GPS looking for dodgy speakeasies in the dead of night.

Still, fun can be found for those who seek it — in the edges and corners of this gritty city with the fractured history and vibrant late-night culture. The legendary boat club 2044 is celebrating its eighth anniversary with an ambitious program of events, from international DJ Ivan Smagghe to an inspired set of slow-burning live-tronica from Serbian mainstays Tapan. The weather squeezes everyone into the red-lit main room, where a dense fog of cigarette smoke and Chuck Taylors adds to the atmosphere. A few days later, the Resonate Conference brings together the worlds of avant-tech and avant-music with artists ranging from metal minimalist Stephen O’Malley to the hip-hop performance art of Mykki Blanco.

Belgrade _ 2044 packed house 8th anniversary _ Lawrence Lui _

2044 packed house 8th anniversary. Image by Lawrence Lui.

Dance music — especially the techno and psychedelic trance varieties — has always held a special place in Belgrade’s cultural DNA. In the ‘90s, Serbian youths danced at underground parties as NATO bombs fell in an iconic moment of defiance and abandon. The rise of worldwide dance music culture roughly coincided with the lifting of sanctions, and was among the first sounds to pierce Serbia’s years of isolation. The Prodigy were granted the keys the city just for playing there. While the indigenous pop of Turbo Folk represented a nationalistic turn inward, techno was the sound of liberation and of Serbia opening up to the world. Continue Reading