in , , ,

Pussy, Guns & Coke My 1st Turbofolk Club

War and bizarre subcultures are some of my biggest fascinations in life, and Turbofolk is a prime mixture of the two. On my first trip to Belgrade, Serbia, I became fascinated with this scene, which was seemingly hidden from foreigners. Most Serbs I spoke to told me they were embarrassed by the Turbofolk scene and advised me to go to foreigner-friendly clubs in downtown Belgrade and maybe they’ll play some of the music I’m looking for. I’d heard that the real Turbofolk clubs were on the highways leading into and out of the city, but I was warned under no uncertain terms to avoid at all costs as I could be robbed or worse.

Hoping the warnings were just far fetched exaggerations, on a cold February evening, I was waiting on a cab outside of my hotel in Belgrade, Serbia. My hotel was branded as a ‘botel’ due to it being a recommissioned Yugoslavian era cruise ship that had been turned into floating accommodation. Upon entering my room I called reception to tell them there was a mildly alarming level of leaking river water over the entire floor of my cabin, they switched my room and told me not to worry before heading back out for a smoke.

As my cab arrived, I hopped into the stereotypical dated car of a mid 50’s Balkans man where seemingly every surface is covered with religious icons for divine protection on the road, and the smell inside is a hearty mixture of cigarettes, Turkish coffee, and diesel. I handed him the address and received a confused look in response. In classic older male Eastern European style, he proceeded to tell me I didn’t know where I was going, and I automatically wanted to go downtown. Speaking in a hybrid of Russian and Serbian, we debated for five minutes over who was right before he relented, hit the road and headed out of town.

Situated on a desolate wasteland East of Belgrade, the club was seedily painted red and located between a gas station and a bathroom warehouse. As the taxi pulled up on the outside, I paid a suspiciously rounded up amount and stepped out. My arrival attracted suspicious stares from the sketchy looking characters standing outside smoking: three mid 40’s men clad in dark leather jackets all with matching short, thuggish haircuts and sitting on a leather sofa, a woman in a clearly borrowed oversized leather jacket, dramatically high heels and wearing a skirt so short it would make the denim industry cringe and worry for their future.

As I walked through the entrance to the club, perfectly timed with my taxi screeching off into the distance, a huge hand grabbed me from behind and turned me around, revealing a steroid addicted skinhead security guard. ”Where the fuck are you going?” he curiously snarled in Serbian. I told him I was a foreigner and was just looking to check out a Turbofolk club, he asked if I had ever been to one before and if I was here to cause trouble because, if I was, it wouldn’t end well for me. I calmly confirmed I was just looking to have a few drinks and listen to music without bothering anyone. With a bemused look on his face, he opened the creaking door, nodded sideways and pushed me in slamming the door behind me.

Walking down the neon illuminated corridor into the main hall of the club, every step I took was sticking to the dated carpets, and I was hit by the overwhelming smell of cigarettes, sweat, alcohol, and a bitter candy scented air freshener that was losing the battle against the other odors. Walking through a set of beads, I was inside the main hall of the club. The layout was a dance floor in the middle flanked by a number of black and red leather booths, mostly full of the type of patrons who were standing outside. The music was deafeningly loud, and locals were literally screaming at each other to communicate.

As I stood there, I panned from left to right for about 10 seconds and took in my surroundings. My first sight was a scantily clad woman laughingly flashing her pussy to a rather unimpressed guy in one of the booths. My second sight was a gun in a grey suit leaning over the bar, exposing a 9mm handgun stuffed in his beltline. My third sight was a screeching laugh from a woman with her fake, oversized breasts exposed whilst a guy poured Cocaine over them and snorted it off before rubbing his face in them whilst laughing maniacally. Seemingly the Holy Trinity of a true Turbofolk dive bar: Pussy, guns, and coke (and fake tits, but that ruins the pun I’m trying to make).

I walked through the Serbian Sodom to the bar, I ordered a Jack & Coke, but my broken Serbian attracted a curious scowl from the armed suit about five feet from me. As I waited for my drink, he spoke in the barman’s ear about me. My Jack & Coke arrived alongside a hearty glass of Rakia, the staple alcohol of the Balkans and one I didn’t order. As I tried to pay, the barman leaned back with his arms folded, slightly shook his head and nodded to the armed guy next to me, who nodded in response and raised his own Rakia. As I drank with him and thanked him for the Rakia, he approached me and introduced himself as ‘Zeljko’. He was sporting a flat top haircut straight from the 1990s and a row of remodelled teeth. As he sat on the stool next to me it was clear he was struggling to sit comfortably due to the handgun in the bank of his pants.

In broken English, Zeljko talked about how he despised the arrogance of Americans, his war stories from fighting in Croatia during the 1990s, and how fucked Serbia is thanks to the US and Western Europe. I told him how I was a big fan of the Turbofolk genre and reeled off some names of patriotic Serbian singers to stay on Zeljko’s good side. He laughed, sipped his Rakia and said through broken English and gestures, ”You have balls for walking in here; I knew you weren’t a Yankee when I saw you. If you were, I would have cut your throat”. I laughed it off, thanking God for being British. As Zeljko finished his drink, he slapped me on the back, shook my hand and disappeared into the back of the club.

My arse was hurting from sitting on a bar stool, probably not as much as Zeljkos was from sitting on a Beretta, but when I spotted a vacant booth, I took my drink and parked myself there. As soon as I sat, I was approached by a seedy-looking guy with a sneering grin. He offered his hand, which almost felt sticky as I shook it and introduced himself as Coco. I struggled to understand his Serbian when he said 50 Euro in English and beckoned towards one of the generic, botox and fake breasts clad women who was smirking in the background and beckoning me. I told the pimp thanks, but I wasn’t interested. He didn’t persist and moved on, as he did another woman came rushing over and sat with me. I told her I’d just told the pimp no, and she feigned a shocked look and mockingly slapped me. ”Not all women in here are whores” she explained, ”I’m here for a good night not for money, stay away from those bitches”.

Her name was Milena; she was in her mid-30s and a native of Belgrade. With me a rare foreigner in a club like this and her a clear veteran, we drank our way through the night and we were keen to find out more about each other. It turned out that Milena had been a former Turbofolk singer since she was 21, but she took early retirement in her late 20s when her manager was blasted four times in the face outside a club in Eastern Serbia whilst she sang inside. With the classic Turbofolk look of fingernails longer than my temper, fake breasts, and cosmetic overload, it’s easy for some people to class those like Milena as a ‘bimbo,’ but she was educated, spoke fluent English and had some interesting life stories to tell.

We ordered some shots in the colors of the Serbian flag and over the night, we were joined by various curious patrons. All male, as Milena had suddenly become protective of me against any other woman in the club. I could say that around 40% were somehow armed, and 70% were in leather jackets despite the heat inside the club, not that I was taking a survey or anything… We ended up leaving the club around 6 am, after a night of meeting a range of interesting characters, some sleazy, some dangerous like Zeljko and some genuinely interesting and good people like Milena. Whilst hipster travel blogs will warn you away from such places and direct you to overpriced, new age establishments popping up in cities across Eastern Europe, don’t listen to them, take the plunge and visit your local dive bar!

Jason Green

Cambodian New Year Gets cancelled

General Butt Naked Liberia’s Cannibal Warlord