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03 May 13

Foltin and the Art of Private Folklore

The band from Bitola describe their approach to music as an irrational process of creating a ‘private folklore’ out of their impressions and dreams, and their latest album as a tonic for apathy and depression.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN Belgrade

In their new album Antitelo (Antibody), Foltin continues to combine elements of mainstream and alternative Macedonian and World music, experimenting both with acoustic and electric instruments.

In a career that began in 1995 in Bitola, in southwest Macedonia, they have recorded seven studio albums, performed in more than 50 plays and recorded soundtracks for several movies and videos.

The most recent plays they performed in are Misterij Buffo, produced by SNG Drama from Ljubljana, and Odysseus by the Ulisses Theatre of Brijuni, Croatia.

With their jazzy Balkan music, full of improvisation and electro-like sound and rhythms, they have performed across the region and Europe.

Foltin sometimes describe their style as “pseudo-emigrant cabaret”, not wanting to identify with most of the existing genres in music. Their concerts often turn into real performances, characterized by an almost frantic dance atmosphere.

Antitelo, (Antibody), their seventh album, released last year, speaks about the life, energy and passion that people need to survive.

The 20-minute album, according to Branislav Nikolov, sends a message that a person needs to be strong, “to think with his own head and act according to it as well as sustain wounds that will help one to better feel the passion of life.

Antitelo (Antibody) means that if we are weak and succumb to apathy, then we encourage the forces that will destroy us. Just like in the blood,” he explains.

The album was recorded by a crew of six professional musicians: Pece Nikolovski  (clarinet, chaos pad); Branislav Nikolov  (vocals, guitar); Pece Trajkovski (accordion, keys, percussion, guitar); Goce Jovanoski  (bass); Slavco Jovev  (drums); Marjan Stanic (percussion).

According to them, the album continues a quest to be fresh and original and combine Macedonian traditional themes with world music, acoustic and electro sounds, using readymade instruments and lyrics inspired by local and international poets.

Mainstream alternative:

The band explain that their musical blend reflects their different personalities and common approach to music, which is based on creating an original sound, instead of borrowing existing genres.

“It is more of a combination of characters than musical genres,” Trajkovski says.

“We never thought of following existing musical patterns. Too me it would be absurd, as the band’s identity has been built over years, accumulating experiences from concerts and theatre plays,“ he says.

Each of the seven albums is an artistic whole that combines rhythms traditional to Macedonia and those from different European countries with modern ones, various languages - some of which do not even exist - and stories that mostly speak of love between imagined characters. Some are inspired by artworks such as poems or books, or by social ideas.

Nikolov, the lead singer, saying that it is an oxymoron to be “mainstream alternative”, explains that the band were always drawn both by influences from both East and West.

“To begin with, we wanted in our small Macedonia to live the life of world adventurers and Mediterranean sailors,” he says. “Afterwards, we tried to play electronic music strictly with acoustic instruments.”

Jovanoski  describes this as “the need to escape from the common genre divisions and place ourselves in a more artistic medium.

“We are transferring our impressions, feelings and dreams into music and that includes the instruments and vocals, as well as various other objects that serve as the source of sound.”

“We never wanted an album that would be a bunch of random songs put together by chance,” Nikolov says.

“Everything we do is a completely polished work of art. In a way they are ‘movies’ with content built up with care,” Nikolov adds.

“Those are mostly love stories, with made-up characters. Any similarity with reality is coincidental,” Trajkovski notes.

Experimental sounds:

Besides including interesting and fresh ideas in their songs, drawing from such sources as the French Poet Pierre de Ronsard, Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov or the Macedonian poet Blaze Koneski, the band is recognizable for their musical experiments.

They are famous for using readymade “instruments”, or creating ambient sounds from objects with unmusical primal functions, constructing musical sculptures and installations.

One of the most famous is the typewriter used as a percussion in the song “Milice”, from the fourth album, Lo-Lee-Ta-Too (2005). It brought them immense popularity at home, as it is a remake of a traditional Macedonian song with the same name but done in a new manner. 

Nikolov explains that their musical career began with improvisation, which remains an important pillar of their work.

“In the beginning we had a great desire, but no means, or instruments, so we made a noise with anything we would find,” he recalls.

“Guys from the theatre heard the noise, and here we are,” he adds. “We are happy to use some natural sounds when we can.”

Nikolov explains the band’s urge to play with words, rhythms and sounds as a “way towards some kind of a private folklore”.

Jovanoski  adds that “musical research and experiment are a common interest for people that work in theatre, in musicals, movies and other performing arts.

“We are especially present in theatre as we record music for many plays as well as performing live, which is a combination of musical, visual, acting element and scenography.”

Every album is a different adventure, Trajkovski concludes, and is “navigated solely by the heart, and that is never something rational”.

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