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Feature 07 Feb 18

Serbian Rock Guitarist Lends New Talent a Helping Hand

One of the most prominent guitarists of the 1990s Serbian rock scene is nurturing a new generation of regional rock bands. 

Milica Mancic

Robert Telcer (left) in his studio in Vrbas. Photo: Darko Kurjak

A host of young bands are rocking Belgrade’s alternative scene, gathering crowds of local rock connoisseurs in underground clubs and smaller venues scattered around the Dorcol and Savamala neighbourhoods. They all have one thing, or rather one person, in common: the guitarist Robert Telcer.

Best known for his work with two bands – playing guitar with Veliki Prezir and Partibrejkers from the 1990s onward - Telcer has built from scratch and now successfully runs a music studio called Samarcina in Vrbas, a town of 25,000 that lies 130 kilometres north of Belgrade.

An unusual place for a studio, it has nevertheless produced dozens of young, up and coming and well-established bands.  New bands such as regional act Seine, Crvi and Crno Dete from Belgrade and Plastic Sunday and Igralom from Nis, but also well-known bands like Kanda Kodza i Nebojsa, Repetitor, and Artan Lili have all made use of Telcer’s studio and his skill and advice.

I wanted to interview Telcer in his studio in Vrbas but, as luck would have it, he was in Belgrade to promote his new album with band Hevi Hipi Bejbi. The band managed without much media fanfare to pack the Elektropionir music club last month, where fans mingled with around half of Serbia’s most influential musicians within the (admittedly not too large) rock and alternative scene.

Asked what he wants to achieve as a musician and producer, Telcer told BIRN: “You hope to produce the right kind of rebellion. It is mainly achieved through lyrics and music, of course, not aggressive but rather efficient, in its own way. “

“We have world class musicians who lack resources to present themselves in the right light. They need money to invest in instruments, to record songs, to enable themselves to do what they enjoy doing.”

Musicians who have worked with Telcer resolutely return the love, with the band Nicim Izazvan, who burst onto the regional scene in 2014 with singles like O tebi and Trideset, describing him as a “great man and a great musician” for whom “you could not find enough paper to write plaudits”.

“All the songs we ever made were written in his studio. Most were recorded there as well, and coupled with the limitless advice he gave us… he must be the most important member of our team,” singer Boris Bakalov said in an interview published by the Moja Srbija webzine in October 2014.

Telcer (left) with Partibrejkers band colleagueNebojsa Antonijevic "Anton". Photo: Darko Kurjak

‘No pressure, no fear’

I asked Telcer about the studio and the bands that seem to emerge from it.

“It is a space where things happen, things that perhaps could not happen elsewhere,” he says. “I have noticed that, over there, people feel relaxed. There is no feeling that you have actually come to a studio to play and record, no pressure that you absolutely must produce something, no fear of how it will turn out in the end.”

Part of the magic must be Telcer’s love for the town of Vrbas. “It is beautiful. And not just because of that beautiful main street, or that canal, the most polluted one in Europe, not even because of all of my habits, or because I feel safe there. Simply, there is a good vibe. And everything we’ve done there has turned out well. Actually, the more I work there, the better it gets.”

Asked about current and emerging acts, Telcer says he likes Belgrade-based Repetitor. Formed in 2005 by guitarist and vocalist Boris Vlastelica and drummer Milena Milutinovic, they were soon joined by bass guitarist and vocalist Ana-Marija Cupin. The band's debut album, Sve sto vidim je prvi put, was met with praise by music-lovers and critics alike, making them one of the most high-profile bands of the so-called New Serbian Scene.

“Recently I have [also] been listening to Turisti [a band from Rijeka] and Plastic Sunday is also excellent… I still don’t have a CD player, it is supposed to arrive any day. So I listen to roughs [what remains on the studio’s channels after recording]”.

The latest ‘roughs’ to catch his ear were from Seine, a self-styled folk/punk trio. 

“To me, these roughs actually have the best sound… the best sound was the one that came out of the recording itself, that that was the moment."

“All the ‘make up’ you add afterwards is needless. And the only reason we do it is because it is the trend that demands it. The new production has significantly killed the music, you lose the dynamics of playing the instruments, you lose the feeling, the difference between when you play quiet, when you play strong – it all becomes pretty flat, sort of like electronic music.”

Still, Telcer muses, “apparently the kids like it… They seem to be used to that kind of music, they don’t care whether it ‘breathes’, they only care if it grinds.”

Noting that “children like repetitive sounds”, Telcer seems ambivalent, to say the least, about the trend.

“This is what is happening right now with electronic music. I don’t understand too much of it. Or, the whole song becomes the refrain. This is what the new Serbian folk music is about. I don’t mind, but if you turn your whole song into a single refrain, at least let it be a good one.”

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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