PETAR BIBERČIĆ - THE ALTERNATIVE IS A CONSTANT, IT CAN’T BE DESTRUCTED NOR CREATED, IT CAN ONLY PASS FROM ONE FORM TO ANOTHER.
One of the „people from the Square" and one of the first “inline skaters“ in Serbia, but also one of the members of the ex-Venus Radio, today is a successful independent event producer, who had in his career so far organized a large number of various events and campaigns from all walks of life.
He can be held responsible for founding the festival “All Like One", and a string of concerts many of us still keep in our memories, but also in our hearts. His last major project was RETROSPEKTACLE, an event that can certainly be described as travelling through the last 20 years of electronic music on the alternative scene of Belgrade.
Just like with all our guides so far, we talked with Petar about Belgrade, about the alternative and all that makes a part of the alternative Belgrade spirit.
Petar has chosen for our first stop, as one of the big local patriots and a boy from Banovo Brdo, the Ski track in Košutnjak; as he says, this is a place in Belgrade that he visits the longest.
And what have we there? A million dollar view.
II: Let me confront you immediately. Why are we here, in what way is this place special to you and why did you put it on the map of the alternative Belgrade?
PB: Hi. (smiling) I was born on Banovo Brdo, and I spent my whole life in Čukarica. That is why I kept coming here ever since I became aware of myself. When somebody shows me a picture with a view from the “Track”, and I must simply say that it’s one of the best views in the city, it reminds me of all the years I spent here. It brings back a sea of emotions and memories.
I was coming here with all my friends, godfathers, family. I experienced all kinds of situations, always in company of others. One of the most memorable experiences here was the concert of Darkwood Dub in 2004 or 2005. That was maybe their most beautiful concert in Belgrade. It happened in the evening hours, and the stage was set frontally, however, without a “back”, so you could see the whole city behind the band. WOW!!!
This is one of the rare places in Belgrade where I can come on my own, and be completely OK with the fact I don’t need anyone. Just Belgrade and me.
II: How does the alternative fit in?
PB: How could this not be an alternative? This is the pure alternative to the city. Just look in front of you – THE CITY. And we are in a forest. We have a river here. (laughing) A creek here. A flower there. Wherever you look around you, there’s urban tissue, projects, Dedinje. It’s in the city, but it’s not city.
All the foreigners I’ve ever brought here, and I must admit there was a lot of them, have all been amazed. The restaurant isn’t the alternative. Its location is.
It’s simply ZEN.
Indeed, it is possible to sit here and look at the city for hours. We don’t have that time on our disposal right now, but it’s most certainly the time everyone should be able to afford. Having that in our thoughts, we continue our city “walk”, full of enthusiasm and conversation topics.
The next destination, maybe a little weird at first glance. The BIGZ building. Through the decades, this place was changing its tenants, but it seems it had never changed its face.
II: I have to admit that I am not at all surprised with your choice of BIGZ. That’s, however, due to all the things I know about it, so I could have expected it. What’s the story behind your choice?
PB: BIGZ is a building protected by the Institute for protection of monuments. Besides, BIGZ is one huge grey building I was not noticing at all until 2002. It was just a grey mass I used to pass by every day, and even worse, I didn’t know what it actually was. It always looked so uninviting and boring. (laughing) BIGZ is sort of like Monty Python when, at the beginning, a bureaucratic building from the end of the 19th century decides to sail away from the concrete and become a pirate ship. (laughing) Yes, that’s nonsense just like other works of Monty Python. But this is that building, right here.
The building of BIGZ started to live in 2003 when Venus Radio moved in. It became a backbone of Belgrade’s underground alternative and a recruiting center for the urban population of Belgrade. Venus Radio was the first content in this building that did not have any connection with publishing, press and bureaucracy.
The whole concept of Venus Radio at that time was suicidal, let’s call it that, since it broadcasted electronic music exclusively. In spite of that, in the next year or two, Venus Radio flourished. The next thing that happened was the transfer of complete DJ scene to BIGZ building. That was a time when electronic music still used to be pretty underground, while the city alternative scene was mainly based on rock and roll music, on SKC Radio, Radio B92, Studio B and so on. Okay, those radio stations partly emitted electronic music as well. But Venus Radio was really exclusive. It never happened, before or after that.
Most honestly, Venus Radio, building of BIGZ and all that was happening back then remain parts of one of the nicest periods of my life. I remember the couch on the roof with a view you cannot describe. Like in some Kevin Smith’s American movie. And somehow, all are there, all those important and unimportant people from that alternative world. (laughing) Of course, we felt the whole world was ours. Besides, when you take a look from the roof of BIGZ, you really have Belgrade under your feet.
That had started the avalanche for which all of us, participants, thought it would bring super-cool changes to Belgrade, and really make this city a New Berlin. At that time it seemed quite certain. During that avalanche, studios for music production were opening in BIGZ, rehearsal studios as well. Nastić and Milićević had opened their studio here. Coffee shops and clubs started to appear. I almost forgot: Urban Bug was made here! (laughing)
BIGZ was a serious contender at that time to be a state within the state, but unfortunately, it never happened. Luckily, though, the energy formed here was enough for the alternative to survive all subsequent blows.
BIGZ is simply the cradle of the alternative we have in Belgrade today. Whether it’s open or closed, that’s not going to change.
Since no one is allowed into the BIGZ building today, except on formal visits, we were not able to climb to the old premises of Venus Radio. Another Belgrade’s cult place under lock, but people still remember.
II: Barutana? (laughing)
PB: Barutana. What can I say? It’s definitely a fortress of Belgrade’s clubbing. There were other cult places as well, and I’m sure someone had already mentioned them (laughing), but this one is quite specific. It’s just fascinating what went on in here, what kind of destinies got entangled in this place. And I’m talking about centuries, not just about the last decades. Dungeons, wars, soldiers on watch... and today some kids are dancing here to electronic music. Quite crazy.
Thereby, it’s not right to declare Barutana to be exclusively a place for clubbing. Many things had happened here - exhibitions, show. My working beginnings during my days at college are also tied to Barutana. I was working on scenography at a movie set. I remember, my first working day – location Barutana. I was so happy. After that I was also sick for two weeks, because I was carrying bricks into Barutana at the height of summer, at 40 degrees Celsius. When I say into Barutana, I mean dungeons under the fort where temperature is 16 degrees. I got sick the day after.
Barutana was closed for a period of time. The same thing happened to many places. However, everyone is delighted now that it’s open again. Unbelievable, but possible, still.
At the end I must say that this is a unique place in Belgrade when we are talking about cultural life. Also this is a place every young foreigner should visit while staying in Belgrade. Simply, it’s a must! Barutana is the tradition of Belgrade’s alternative.
We hopped into our MINI and drove across the river. Almost exactly across from Barutana is our next stop. Belgrade skate-park.
II: As “our day” goes by, I’m under the lasting impression that my questions are completely redundant. You have taken to your task more than seriously (laughing). It would be silly to ask why the skate-park, but still, please tell us the story behind this city place.
PB: My first memories connected to skating come from “Vuk“, “Square“ and the plateau in front of the School of Philosophy. A few years after that, they opened the ramp on the Fairgrounds. Inline roller-skates came to Belgrade through a small door, sometime in the nineties. All those people gathering there, with skateboards or rollers, now belong to city legends. Not many people know that the basis for that story was made at the end of the 80s, when there was a strong underground breakdance scene, and graffiti scene as well. In Belgrade there are graffiti from that period that look like they’d “dropped out” of New York, only it was all so alternative then that people simply couldn’t understand it. In the early 90s, rollers were something for the small “selected “ city crew, and of course, over the years their number got bigger and bigger.
It’s funny when I think of it now. Many pieces of clothing, so “in” at that time, we were making ourselves, because we couldn’t buy them anywhere. We were truly trying to be “in vogue” although Serbia was under sanctions. (laughing)
When the city decided to build something where the ramp was, as it usually happens, we took our stuff to all kinds of locations around town, while it was feasible at all.
I think every big city should and must have a skate-park. A developed scene of extreme sports represents one of the indicators to whether some city is a metropolis. In the 2000s Belgrade did have a developed scene, the first skate shop opened, but there was no skate-park. At least, not anymore.
One day we were sitting in that skate shop which had become our main gathering place, when a modern young woman stepped in, wishing to buy a skate for her nephew. Of course, we were all delighted to help her with her purchase and it was all done in five minutes. Then she asked us: “Guys, where can he skate?“
We found out that the lady was quite resourceful and soon, the city authorities have allocated the ground and given money for the skate-park.
Over the years various events happened in the park, from competitions to festivals I organized, to concerts, workshops, everything really.
One of the nice stories connected to building of this skate-park is this one: the lady I’ve already mentioned married the main engineer and specialist for skate-parks, who came to Serbia as a consultant. That’s when they met. After that they built 22 more skate-parks around the region. Belgrade was the start of the whole avalanche.
Still, I must mention the other side of the medal. Today, instead of a place Belgrade and Belgradians can be proud of and where some cool kids will meet, at night we have gatherings of various unsavory characters.
Unfortunately, Belgrade skate-park is on its way to end up the same as many other alternative places in Belgrade – it will either come to total ruin and remain like that, or it will be locked down, which in this case means its total termination.
We can only hope that they are going to find a way to move it, instead of closing it down forever.
While we were sitting on one of the devices in the skate park, a couple of teenagers were trying new tricks behind us on the ramp, so we believe there is still hope and people interested in this type of sports, and this way of life. That’s why we can assume that Belgrade won’t lose its skate-park.
Our next stop: Daska i veslo (The Board and the Oar).
We are finally going to have some coffee! (laughing)
II: Daska i veslo. I heard about this place around town, there are rumors, quite typical for Belgrade. However, I don’t know much more. Where are you taking us?
PB: Daska i veslo is a totally new and different place where the more alternative crew gathers, but not the skate-park alternative type. (laughing) These are the people who like the river, but not all those “mainstream“ places we have in abundance in the city over summer.
Considering its concept, Daska i veslo is placed on quite an unexpected location. It is on the promenade in front of the Hotel Jugoslavija, well known for the completely different type of boathouse restaurants. The whole thing was initiated by a guy named Zoran, and he did bring that new culture of exotic water sports to Belgrade. I’m telling you too much about that since picture speaks more than a thousand words. Daska i veslo is definitely the only city oasis where, besides SUP (Standup paddleboarding) which is complete ZEN, trust me, and my greatest discovery this year, you can eat great food and listen to some really cool music. And hey, you’re on the river.
I can tell you a lot more about SUP, whether you drive it in a company, or you decide to drive it alone and have a little talk with yourself, but I think it’s best if you try it. That’s why I’ve chosen to end our time together here.
People. You must try it!
A great decision indeed! Great ending of this adventure of ours in Belgrade!
We began in the very heart of the city, with nice city stories and Marko Basarovski, and we ended up on the river, drinking juice and arguing over the decision who would be the first one to try SUP!
We can only add that, if you know some super cool people who can take you through Belgrade, especially the alternative one, and tell you about some city legends along the way, you can really fall in love with Belgrade.
Hoping still that our story will not end here and now, we abandon ourselves to the river and all the enjoyment.