Belgrade, Serbia, November 2011
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We are used to sleep with the sunset because without daylight there is not a lot to do in the tent. This day we stay awake half the night. At 11 pm we leave the house. We, that is Jordan, our US-American host, Jordan’s friend Neža from Slovenia, Simone and Veter from Brazil and us two. After a 15-minute walk Jordan turns around and looks towards a huge old and dark building. “This is it.”, she smiles, “The Bigz.”
Jordan had already told us about the half-factory-half-jazz-club-building before. We enter a door and stand in a big and dark foyer. Jordan turns left, presses the elevator’s button and then listens. “I think it works today”, she says. We squeeze inside and Jordan presses two buttons at the same time to make it move. “There is no door, just better stay away from there”, she warns us when the elevator starts moving. I feel a bit frightened, the elevator and all the building have been built in the end-30’s and had not ever been renovated. First all the building was used as by the company Bigz, a big publishing house. Bigz still owns most of the floors but not for publishing anymore. Now there are printing offices and old bureaus in the lower floors and studios and a bar in the upper floors.
It is dark and cold inside the elevator. In the 6th floor we stop. There stand a couple of young people in the floor drinking beer they brought from home, smoking and chatting. Somebody makes Roberto paint a portrait of Emiliano Zapata on a big white balloon.
One of those who comes frequently is the 26-year old Oliver who we get to know the following day. He plays the keyboard and electronic organ in the Alternative-Rock Band called Kriške (also on facebook).
“Actually we play Post-punk-noisy-psychedelic-post-rock”, Oliver explains to me. Kriške shares one of the many studios in the 6th floor together with four other bands. Each of the band-members pays 1500 Dinar (15 €) each month. There are some smaller studios for painters or poets and some bigger studios rented by a capoeira-school and a circus. The building is huge and no room looks like the other, every door a new surprise. Once Oliver got drunk. He got lost in the lower floors of the scary building and somehow entered one of the old offices with a “Tito-our-great-leader”-poster on the wall. “I could touch everything, see the old files and all the bills and documents, everything was untouched for so many years.” Sober he never found the way back there.
We head all the way up to the Jazzclub. More and more people are in our way, the cold unfriendly building changes its face with the amount of celebrating young people and turns into a welcoming and warm pub. The band starts playing and the people start moving. The big white balloon Roberto had painted on jumps through the air and everybody takes part pushing it in all directions until it bursts with a loud “peng”. We make our way to one of the tables just by the big window. The view down those seven floors is breathtaking. There is another rooftop even higher and as Oliver says it is the only one in the city where “you can go at one in the morning with girls and beers and sing and dance and enjoy the scene without anybody caring.”
After a couple of songs we move to downstairs, out of the smoky warm Jazz club called “Cekaonica” and enter the cold and dark hallway again.
The walls are full of graffiti and the floor is filled with empty beer cans. One floor down we hear some post-rock music. As we enter the small studio where the music comes from there is a band and a few people watching it. A bearded guy with long black hair and a black hoody headbangs while a grey-bearded man nods his head softly. A young girl with braces dances for a moment. Then she recognizes that she is the only one and leaves. Somebody grabs a small stool and sits down next to the percussionist, shakes his hand and starts with his own snare drum. Somebody gives him a microphone and both play together. After a while a blond young man grabs the microphone, sits down and starts singing. I wonder if this is an organized band or if everybody is invited to join in. What would happen if I just sat on the stage with them drumming on my own knees? When the singer stands up somebody sits down on his chair and does it. Nobody would have cared if I had done the same.
“It is a place for artists of any kind”, Oliver explains to me the following day. “Before I rented the studio here I came often to see art exhibitions or listen to unofficial concerts.” Every now and then there is the rumor that the owner will sell the building and everybody will be kicked out. “But in the four or five years that I am here it had never really happened”, Oliver giggles.
There are many young people like Oliver. In his eyes the big majority of the young inhabitants are creatives: artists, musicians, designer, poets and cultural workers.
That is why the Bigz got as big as it is now, it does not need any advertisement, there is always somebody who knows somebody who has been there and will show you. Just as we have entered with Jordan and the others.
We leave the post-rock band and go back to the elevator. Roberto, Neža and I are not used to stay awake so long. On the way we meet a big man who carries a smaller one on his shoulder. The smaller man smiles at us, he is so drunk that he can hardly open his eyes. All the time he plays with some drumsticks on the big man’s back. I wonder if he had played on stage this night.
When we are outside in the cold night I take a look back and still cannot believe how much creativity and how many talents may come together every day in this huge and old building. I bet somebody just sits on the rooftop with beer and girls and watches down to us.