Joker Out in DOB – Good Vibes for A New Generation

This is a precise translation of the original show report, including references that might be obscure to fansites. You’re free to use it, as long as you quote me and link back to Ptičica. Also, it’s in text format, which is good in terms of accessibility. Enjoy!

May the great Jura Stublić forgive me for having stolen his lines [the title is a deliberate modification of some lines from the song „Dobre vibracije“ by Croatian pop-rock band Film] in order to have an effective headline. Nothing else fit that well. Grandparents of today’s youth grew up in a world that no longer exists, their children might have witnessed its last breath, and the young people brought that spirit back from the dead, but in a combination with values, principles and dynamics that cannot compare to the years right after Tito’s death. Back then, different kind of people used to roam through hallways of clubs filled with cigarette smoke and floors of packed sport arenas – boys in leather vests with big hair and androgynous women with neon makeup, wearing long duffel coats.

I was introduced to the work of Ljubljana-based band Joker Out by Kristian, who wrote a viral review of their sophhmore effort „Demoni“, a little more than a year ago. I liked what I heard, I liked it indeed. Finally, something that has potential that is more in the vein of pop-rock and not hard & heavy. [the market for guitar-based music in most of ex-YU countries is saturated with hard rock and heavy metal, more or less]

Even with all this taken into consideration, I was not ready for what I saw at the Ušće park nine months later! I arrived to the third night of the Belgrade Beer Fest, grabbed a bottle of water from the press area and ran into the photo pit. There was absolute mayhem on the barriers – screaming, numerous banners, girls who were throwing their bras. I got hit in the head by some kind of a rubber chicken and somebody asked me to give it to Bojan. I got on my toetips to reach the stage and left it at his feet. There are photos of him with the said chicken, it’s probably visible in the video as well. That night, I brought home a piece of cardboard with „JAN IF U SEE THIS UR HOT“ written on it, as a little souvenir. My plan was to wait for a Joker Out concert in Belgrade and find whoever made it to give it back to them, as a trollish surprise of sorts… but a couple of weeks later, I adopted a kitten that peed on it the first night at my place. Darn it, Max!

Wait, what was I about to say, anyway? Huh…

Twenty-first place at the ESC might not sound exactly flattering, but consider this – Domenico Modugno, the owner of one of the biggest hits of the 20th century was not good enough to win according to the jury. And curiously, it was Slovenia who delivered one of the highest quality ESC tunes of the decade in 2015 [Here For You by Maraaya]. It turns out that an artist’s end standing is not that relevant in terms of deciding their further career – the most watched music festival on the planet is nowadays closely followed by talent agencies, large record labels and various other monopolies. Let’s not forget whole armies of fans, both online and offline. Interesting performers are offered gigs in this or that country. The fact that Sweden had colonized the ESC jury does not necessarily have to decide somebody’s rise to stardom.

Dvadeset prvo mesto na Evroviziji možda i nije laskavo, ali setimo se – Dominico Modugno, vlasnik jednog od najvećih hitova XX veka, nije bio dovoljno dobar žiriju. A upravo Slovenija je 2015. imala jednu od najkvalitetnijih numera koju sam čula na ESC cele decenije… i šta? Ništa. Ispostavilo se da plasman više nema mnogo značaja – najgledaniji muzički festival na planeti danas prate agencije, velike diskografske kuće i raznorazni drugi monopoli. A i čitave armije obožavaoca, online i offline. Primamljivi izvođači dobijaju ponude da nastupe u ovoj ili onoj zemlji. To što je Švedska kolonizovala evrovizijski žiri može, ali i ne mora da bude faktor nečijeg puta do zvezda.

At the end of the day, Domenico Modugno used the royalties from Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu to buy a Ferrari, solely to total it shortly afterwards.

On the second of November I felt horrible, hopeless. I had a nasty caffeine withdrawal and only my love for strange and different music kept me from walking away from the new classical music performance I was covering, and after that I had no strength left in me to walk towards the river bank [of Sava, where many of Belgrade’s small clubs are at] and cover Zhiva and E-PLAY [great artists, check them out]. The next morning I woke up without much motivation, barely managed to put concealer over my raccoon eyes and run to the Joker Out press conference. Over there, there was plenty of much-needed caffeine, positive people, some old and some new friends, and the vibe was good. I’ll elaborate on that some other time – my large to-do list regarding this very website includes a transcript of an interview with Joker Out. Kudos to me, I guess?!

A couple of hours later, I was once again almost late to a Joker Out gig. It turned out that I had no reasons to worry – there were only two of us, photographers, as well as an older man with a bulky TV camera. The photo pit at the „Amerikana“ [the Dom omladine’s upper venue, where I am the de facto resident photographer] seemed even more narrow than usual. We had to jump over two large-bodied bodyguards, on top of that. I notice some faces familiar from Beer Fest. There are so many fan banners that I cannot even manage to spot them all, but my favourite is the one inviting the band for ćevapi [ćevapi or ćevapčići are the staple food of the ex-YU region, little ground beef rolls usually served with clotted cream, onlions and in fresh pita-bread-like bun]. I spot numbers written with permanent markers on the back of many fans’ hands. Now, come on, this is what people do at shows in serious countries. I get goosebumps – did these girls really, really ran up two rows of stairs and sprinted over the slippery floor to „Amerikana“? Brrr!

The audience is singing along to the intro to „Sunny Side of London“ from the speakers. Once Joker Out are onstage and playing their instruments, a choir of eight hundred souls stops singing and starts screaming. The atmosphere is chaotic, everybody wants one of the boys to hold their hand, everybody wants to give them some sort of a prop. I didn’t even register the moment when Kris and Jan ended up with princess tiara on her hands and Bojan picked up a magic wand. There were no bras in sight, I guess that girls ran out of them after last night. One of the band’s oldest singles, „Gola“ results in such an euphoria that could only be seen in documentaries about the Beatles. Gosh, I hope nobody gets in through a window and steals Nace’s trousers! [The Beatles’ song „She Came through a Bathroom Window“ is about a real-life event where two women broke into Paul McCartney’s house and did exactly that… and Paul played the bass, of course…]. I don’t think that those two burly G-men could handle that sort of a thing and the situation is getting serious, indeed – a girl from Finland just received a shout-out.

From the upstairs lounge, the euphoria seems a bit further away, so one can hear the music properly. As I’m taking photos from my favourite spots up there, I meet a woman whose little daughter had her photos taken with a band and has her favourite among them – not saying whom. We’re hanging out a bit, along to „Bele sanje“ and „Plastika“ and that’s where my pseudo-VIP experience ends according to the protocol and I am off downstairs to follow the rest of the concert. I don’t think I managed to get closer than seventh or eighth row to take some frontal shots. But it’s OK, I didn’t have to – those spots are for the fan army. Hmmm. At the press conference, during the interview, I joked with the band that somebody is probably writing slash fiction about them on tumblr. and they laughed. Now I’m wondering something that is nowhere near as silly – what’s the name of the Joker Out fam anyway?

In the break between „Dopamin“ and „Padam“ Bojan states that the lives of Joker Out members changed overnight, something he said multiple times during the show. He then adds that climbing to new highs never comes without its own setbacks and that, when we’re falling, we should have people we love beside us. He further suggests that we should all hug somebody we love right now. There’s a girl in a flannel button down shirt next to me. I tell her that I have no idea who she is, but that I love her, either way. We’re hugging. I’m thinking that it’s a tiny bit cruel to have a depressive song following an ecstatic, happy one – but at the same time I am more than aware that it’s effective. And I’ve always appreciated young songwriters who are, unlike various macho caricatures, living relics of the times when we all lived in the same country [a lot of ex-YU boomer rockers were/are quite conservative and almost like parodies of toxic masculinity], they are capable of expressing themselves, saying what bothers them, what makes them tick. They recognise both other people’s emotions and their own. It was never the determining factor that these young men are handsome – it’s also that they are quite mature and self-aware. It’s not just a sight for sore eyes, I am pretty much convinced that it was never that shallow for all these fangirls. That feeling that somebody understands what you’re going through in these difficult times, combined with community support, regardless of what was the cause of forming the said community – that is what even us who are old enough to be convinced of the end-of-history illusion need in our lives.

By now I am convinced that this live trilogy of songs about certain states of mind and moods is not accidential – the next song is „Demoni“. Bojan urges the audience to scream their hearts out and get the demons away from themselves. This was, without the doubt, the loudest moment at the entire show.

After the song, Bojan requests an applause for everybody who helped make this concert possible, but also for the members of the [Serbian punk pop band] Keni nije mrtav, „somewhere in the back of the crowd“. Following is „Katrina“, one of my favourite Joker Out songs. Funk and alternative influences in this number were equally cool in real life [as they were on the studio recording].

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A little bit later, I run into Mateja and Matija from Keni nije mrtav – Bojan was definitely not kidding. I’m asking them why they chose to be in the audience and not in the VIP lounge. The feeling is much better in the general admission area, they are quick to respond. Meanwhile, the audience has no trouble with simple, more standard pop songs being interspersed with more demanding ones. They love it all. And through these more adventuristic songs, they are spreading their music horizons. You think you have an affinity to a boy band… not really. Great musicians and composers, these boys are. They’re more than villing to step on the effect pedals, eat drums for breakfast and head in an unexpected direction – just because it’s fun. That’s shagadelic, for ya. And tonight, they are keeping the promise given mid-show: that it’ll be crazier than last night.

Next to the bar and close to the exit I see concert goers who are definitely older than me – some of them by a large mark [I’m 40]. An older woman with short blond hair sings along and dances the night away. I’m joining her with my sub-par vocal chops on „Barve oceana“ and I’m glad that the place is so loud that she cannot hear how bad I actually am. After this song, Bojan is „inviting one very tall guy to step to the microphone“ because the next one is about his ex girlfriend. Kris sings a part of „Ngvot“. Then, we have a couple more demanding numbers, followed by a couple more standard ones…

After seventeen songs I am assuming that the guys will take a couple of minutes to rest and let people to invite them back onstage, not that they were not planning to do so, anyway. However, it seems that they find this old trick to be ridiculous. Bojan assures us that they’re going to skip that stuff, which prompts the audience to scream even louder, to which, he responds in sarcastic, but playful manner: „Thank you, I was totally not expecting that!“ and asks if we want more, almost immediately. He then starts singing the first lines of „Ona“.

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After a quick „Japanese language class“ for the audience the band performed „Tokio“ and then two proven hits that anybody would leave for the end anyway – „Umazane misli“ and „Novi val“. Oh boy, the latter is giving me the feels. Generacija ljubezni i upenja and their ecstasy and positive vibes would’ve melted the hearts of the world’s biggest cynics by now, let alone a casual fan’s heart like mine. Girls barely have the room to dance – a little person is standing next to one who is towering every other woman present. And in the enclosed space next to the stage, in a safe place, a girl in a wheelchair is too enjoying the concert with her aide. Somewhere in the crowd there’s a pro-LGBTQIA+ banner. If this new wave 2.0 is so inclusive and if there is a safe space for everybody – spread it all around Yugoslavia, as far as I am considered. The further you head to the east, there is more cynical, old-fashioned, grim and reactionary folk. That wasn’t so much of a thing during the original new wave era per se, so it’s about time for us to feed the machine of regression.

A couple of words about the song that changed the band members’ lives. Of course, Joker Out have saved the Eurovision banger „Carpe Diem“ for the very end of the show. That is where it’s clear to me – we are not supposed to be counting on them only in the context of all things wrong, obsolete and bad. As a stark opposite to that, they and their cheerful army of fans are observing their own sky as per song’s lyrics despite the fact that here, above us are only mazes of cables, some strobe lights and a lone disco ball. Count on them. The same way as those from „ninety fifty something“ asked you to count on them in their song, forty five years ago [there is a song from 1978 written by the late singer-songwriter Đorđe Balašević where he promises that his generation of young people will be good Yugoslavs, though they do not know anything about the WWII and were born significantly after it ended].

I am packing my bags to go home after the encore, to make sure I’m out before the staircase and the lobby are jam-packed with fans, and then I realise that Joker Out have returned to the stage, for another one. Bojan asks the audience what they want to hear and somebody yells: „Đurđevdan“! A bunch of folks back up the outlandish idea. And even though he barely manages to find a guitar pick and is somewhat concerned that Goran Bregović [the composer of the late 1980s folk rock hit by Bosnian band Bijelo dugme, as heard in the movie „The Time of the Gypsies“] wouldn’t like the idea of him singing the said song unauthorized to do so… the front man of Joker Out treated us to his improvised, unpractised ad-hoc rendition of „Đurđevdan“. This should have convinced the remaining grumps who still think that these young people cannot be possibly be talented and good-looking at the same time. Please, stop making such idiotic conclusions, will you?

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At the end of the day, there is another malignant stereotype that should be left in past. Fandoms dominated by women and groups of women in men-dominated fandoms (the so-called „estrogen brigades“) are often ridiculed, given negative reputation and said to be cringey. They’re most certainly not. Read this whole write-up over and over again, I made quite a few points regarding the communitu, support and opening oneself to more adventurous music. It would be completely wrong to dismiss young women as fans and brand them foolish and thirsty, especially not in the world where men feel confused when they’re told that no, we don’t want them to share their fantasies about this or that actress because we never f… asked them to.

After all, each and every single girl is young at heart and has some Bojan, Jure, Kris, Nace or Jan of her own. And fantasies and random smiles at shows, as opposed to genuine interaction, allows them to go ape-crazy when their boys sing and play their instruments, to scream their hearts out and not feel guilty about it or feel like they’re being watched and judged. Use your chance, my sisters, just don’t be creepy, OK? We are all in need of our very own dopamine refills.

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