When a global crisis came to town, it was inevitable that it would eventually spark a reaction culturally as well as politically.
What might have seemed less likely was that this would come from that most carefree and hedonistic sector of popular culture, electronic dance music.
But that would be to overlook the contemporary Belgrade dance music scene’s roots in the city’s politically-progressive counterculture of the 1990s and early 2000s – turbulent years that exerted a lasting influence on participants like Nebojsa ‘Schwabe’ Bogdanovic and Goran Simonoski, who make up the duo Tapan.
Tapan’s latest release, a haunting, evocative soundscape called Europa, and their debut album, which shares the same name and will be released next month, were inspired by the period when the Serbian capital suddenly became a hub on the ‘Balkan route’ from the Middle East to the European Union.
In 2015, some 600,000 refugees and migrants are estimated by the Belgrade authorities to have passed through the country on their way to what they hoped would be better lives in the EU. This sudden and unprecedented influx of foreigners from the east came as a huge, unexpected shock to the city’s consciousness.
“Nobody was talking about it at first. I was going every week to a place near the train station and I saw so many people there, and I was thinking, who are these people, what are they doing here? I thought that maybe some bus was broken down,” Bogdanovic recalls.
“Then you see how these people are living – sleeping outside, living in tents, with a lot of kids. It’s hard to ignore it, and of course it affects everybody. Some people were afraid of them, these strangers in the city; they don’t know who they are and they don’t want them here. But other people started to organise to do something to help them, bringing them food and clothes,” he says.
The Serbian capital distinguished itself with its warmly humanitarian response to the refugee influx – particularly the non-governmental initiatives that channelled Belgraders’ empathy for the new arrivals.