Pazi kuče (Beware of the Puppy) — an album by one of Macedonia’s leading underground recording artists, Vasko Atanasoski — was released in October of 2017 by Geenger Records alongside Atanasoski’s own label, Balkan Veliki. Vasko Atanasoski, of the Bernays Propaganda fame (to name just one of his bands), recorded the album in September of 2016. Besides being the author of the lyrics and the principal songwriter, his duties on the album range from vocals to bass to guitars. He is also the album’s producer. Even though Atanasoski takes on much of the responsibilities for the record, there are a couple of key contributions that make Pazi kuče what it is. Most notably, Deni Krstev recorded keyboards and is also responsible for rhythm programming. Pazi kuče was recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered by Krstev in his studio, from October 2016 to April 2017. Additionally, Kristina Gorovska, a long-time friend and bandmate from the before-mentioned Bernays Propaganda, recorded some vocals. Last but not least, there’s Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, The Stooges) who recorded a bass solo on album’s second track, Ništo nema da ne razdeli. His bass impromptu was recorded in Watt’s home in San Pedro. Also, he’s the author of the photo on the back cover. The front cover photo is by Davcevski Bros, and Ivan Antunović made the sleeve design.
Even though the name Vasko Atanasoski rings loud throughout the former Yugoslavia, at least when it comes to underground, it would be foolish to say he’s a household name. That he is not, not in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or in fact, in the former Yugoslav republic of Croatia, or, for that matter, any other former Yugoslav republic conceivable to the people in the know-how when the question of former-Yugoslav-things is raised. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be known outside the circle of post-Yugoslav post-punk aficionados, or indeed the underground scenesters: the sheer fact that Vasko is a driving force behind numerous well-known bands (one would also be advised to put assertions like that in quotations, for you can never be too sure when it comes to acts like that, however good or influential they may be), even outside the genre itself, whatever that genre may be. The question of genre is something that does tend to pop-up way too often when it comes to music criticism and, more often than not, it is to the expense of much more important things—the meaning of music being one of them, or the examination of musical structure, not to mention the investigation of meaning and/or importance of music subjected to the critique in the broader cultural sense. That being said, one is not ill-advised to disregard the question of genre when it comes to Vasko Atanasoski’s album Pazi kuče.
But to render that conclusion reasonable, one does have to have some kind of context. For without one, the listener will find himself totally perplexed when confronted with Pazi kuče. And not in a good way. Imagine playing Bitches Brew to someone that not only knows nothing about Miles Davis, but thinks that jazz is Kenny G and rock music is Bon Jovi. To know where it came from, in every sense of the word, the listener can use search engines on the Internet, or his or her intuition, for Vasko Atanasoski’s music always relies on the primal aspect, and perhaps here more than ever.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Pazi kuče can’t be appreciated for what it is—a piece of music—or as a collection of shorter musical pieces that do not necessarily complement each other in any way, but, put together, form a coherent work. To truly understand the author’s intentions, one is best advised to listen to the album in its entirety, but that doesn’t mean that tracks don’t do well on their own. After all, it’s always up to the one that listens. If his or her beat aligns with the beat presented to them, strange things can happen. And hey, who knows where the beauty comes from anyway.
So saying that Vasko Atanasoski is a perfect embodiment of punk rock ethos within the context of Macedonian or even Balkan music scenes wouldn’t be a reach in any shape or form. However, it’s safe to say that calling him a legend or some sort of underground or punk-rock institution (the irony of that proclamation is not lost on us), we would actually be doing a disservice not only to Vasko, but to every other struggling musician in these parts. For it would not be wise to consider a DIY not an ethical stand, a libertarian banner in a war against forces of all-consuming corporate stupor. It’s not a cry. It’s not a platform. It just is. Meaning, everything that you do, you do outside the realm of the music business. The reason for that is not a question of choice of the former as much a as the non-existence of the latter as something worth fighting against. That’s not to say that the music industry does not exist; it does, but it’s a sad, cartoonish existence devoid of anything worth rebelling against. When you think of the dreaded Industry, you think of the corporate machine, the mainstream factory. But, it is worth asking a question, “What is mainstream in Macedonia?” (or Croatia, for that matter) or, better yet, “Does the mainstream even exist?”
These questions don’t need to be articulated, neither in forms of music nor critical thought. But someone like Vasko Atanasoski sure as hell feels that. It could be one of the main reasons why Atanasoski made the step in the shape of Pazi kuče. It sure doesn’t sound like punk-rock, but it’s punk-rock of the highest order. And no compromises had to be made in doing it. Even if that’s not true, you can argue the importance of compromise. To quote the much quoted Jack Brewer of Saccharine Trust, “Once the music leaves your head, it’s already compromised.”
Having said all of that, it’s almost obsolete to say anything about the reasoning of having Mike Watt be part of this. He comes from another universe, but strangely familiar to us. Watt on Vasko’s album…It just feels right. Watt’s an old punk-rock veteran who knows the ropes, even if he doesn’t want to. The same can be said (maybe to a somewhat lesser extent) of Vasko Atanasoski. He isn’t faced with any particular foe in his punk-rock campaigns. He’s at war with everything. With infinite amount of fronts you must choose your battles, for you deal with things like damnation of memory, recreating history in terms of political fiction. No matter how personal Pazi kuče gets, and personal it certainly is, it also employs heavy weaponry, most notably subtle humour, that can pass unnoticed by the unsuspecting listener.
Pazi kuče maybe is a strange sort, a difficult album to fully comprehend. But it has to be, for it redefines what underground or hardcore is in this part of the world and, in this exact time, it is on both a personal and impersonal level. It’s political even when it’s not. It deals with time, historical, and mythical alike. It’s in attack mode all the time, even if you don’t perceive it as an attack. That’s why you don’t see it coming. And when you do, you’re already under its control.
You, in fact, are compromised.
LP, GNGR054, 2017