The obvious upsurge in digital media has reshaped the modes of consumption of publicly shared content in the past decade, repurposing the multimedia Internet platforms into sources. In just the last several years, YouTube has surpassed its initial premise of sharing personal, but predominantly impractical, video content in favor of the music industry. Consequently, the participatory culture comprised of anonymous consumers has responded with constructive deconstructions of what is largely consumed. Grading theoretical knowledge and its gradual documenting before a camera of specific human practices, in the literal sense of the word, enabled the shaping of a new variety of the cultural principle known as DIY (do it yourself). In itself, the practice now encompasses the totality of human activity. Nowadays, platforms such as YouTube, customized to meet the multimedia-inclined user’s needs, offer templates, instructions, steps, and demonstrations of the desired product production: from craft beer, fashion tricks & tips, culinary recipes, complex algebra problem solving, assembling personalized and customized cellular phones, to the process of (amateur) music and film production, namely the production of music videos.
The skillshare culture has modelled artists as Billie Eilish, American singer-songwriter who has recently turned 18 and who wrote and produced her debut album. It was made from the confines of her high school classroom with the help of her older brother of four years. Her long play debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go (2019) broke the Grammys’ record for the youngest musician to win the most relevant awards. Eilish was nominated in the four leading Grammy categories (and eventually won them) based merely on what she had been consuming musically from the platform. She forged her craft endlessly watching those most successful, only to shape her album minutely as a reflection of the consumed DIY music videos. Eilish eventually became the most successful Spotify artist of 2019. Her success is unattainable for artists coming from the Croatian economic-political environment, yet fresh names on the scene like pocket palma (former Side Project) are the best example of the contemporary assertiveness within a genre and studio production based on the artists’ own principles, finally shared in the aforementioned manner. However, not even the electro-pop duo, or synth-wave, if you will, have shaped their auteur poetics, thus focusing only on the musical, and not the presentational element.
In that regard, contemporary and fresh names catch up with them, names that expand the singer-songwriter to total authorship, even when it comes to presentational-propaganda modes, namely the ones in music videos. In the era of meticulously designed video games for big formats, films, and series on demand, which are now more affordable and practical to consume, the Internet has enabled and then created independent sources of entertainment and art production. The widespread media and technical accessibility of the digital era has resulted in the birth of the DIY culture 2.0, defined by the simplicity of approach, which massively eliminates the need for a mediator, and thus enables creators to enjoy larger autonomy over their own craft.
As a space of decentralization that recognizes the lucrative potential of fads and trends, the Internet generates practical channels designed for a plethora of users with different professional and interest backgrounds. They can reach potential audiences in a less mediated and expensive manner, which in return instantly provides them with feedback on the form and content of a product.
The year 2019 proved that money as a creative currency is secondary to the participatory culture propelled and motivated by financial limitations. Stjepko Galović aka Kandžija is a prime example of Croatian authorship, and as such, potentially the most sound representative of anti-systemic social satirists.
Having been a ‘master of his own’ for a number of years now, the independent Pannonian hip-hop artist authored some of the most coherent Croatian music videos. The clarity of his visuals, avoiding clichés in editing and photography typical of the outdated but present Croatian music video aesthetics, demonstrated how “how to” can become “as if”. In other words, the author’s personal music and cinematic interests are transposed onto his video production having the desired effect of a high budget, behind which one would assume stands the music industry. Such appearance showcases his music videos as Gesamtkunstwerk, a complete work of art that fuses spectacle, theatre, film, and music.
Kandžija translates his writer’s cynicism and satire into a film script, whereby he utilizes photography to literally convey his text and intention, thus giving the effect of an animated or extended meme–a cross-medially and culturally replicated (political) idea.
His videos are successful correctives of the Croatian social-political condition and mentality. He achieves his ideas through incongruity of the spoken word (sung) through lyrics and shown (depicted) through photography, composition, and lyrical/cinematic subject. Kandžija’s aesthetics are based on the continuous pseudo-nostalgic palimpsest as a metaphor of the cosmetically improved system of hyper potentiated maladies of the national past that virtually impede progress. In the past year he stood out, thanks to his two videos Državna Sisa (eng. State Tits) and Magična Butra (eng. Magical Chick), which heavily parody the transposed Yugoslav mentality of clientelism onto the contemporary Croatian society of parasites who “suck” the “state tits”. As a procedure, it is a direct realization of a national metaphor, or a colloquial idiom. Meanwhile, he actualizes the conceptual taboo by flirting with visual censorship, replacing female nipples with the inviting, puckered and singing lips, open to all consumers of good will.
Kandžija’s subversive visual potential rests on the explicit, directing the viewer to the national ideological and cultural absurdities. He visually feeds daily socio-political phenomena to a culturally semi-literate citizen of Croatia. His directorial decisions are based on the aesthetics of literal depiction. Therefore, he appears as a middle-class social critic, and at the same time as a wacky clown for those blinded by the ideology. The State Tits and Magical Chick appropriate the templates of the remix culture, feigning nostalgia that would, for example, become an integral and authentic element of the musical and cinematic tissue of Porto Morto. However, Kandžija’s visual and metaphorical remix regularly serves irony and subversion as a direct funnel of opinions coming from his online audiences. Furthermore, he modifies genre conventions of his more successful international inspirations. As an aged millennial, Kandžija sprouted from the MySpace culture that propagated the DIY principle and posed himself as a successful example of a user-creator as a vital part of the contemporary music production paradigm.
The Big Bang of 2019 was caused by Aklea Neon, an Osijek-born singer-songwriter with the undoubtedly biggest work ethic on the Croatian music scene of last year. The songstress debuted in January of 2019 with “Da mi je,” a song whose constituent parts are defying classical genre labels. The first single was followed by a video-collage of her travel diaries from Brazil, in which she travelled on a motorcycle with her digital nomad partner. The young couple have documented their journey with cameras that are practical to use (Go Pro, a drone, and DSLR Canon 5D) and captured intimate, but also documentary-like shots, which correlate to the poetics of the singer. Using his digital nomad experience, defined by self-made travel-footage from the motorcycle, her partner used his low budget equipment as a rhythmic instrument in shaping the (future) video of a flickering structure. Authenticity of experience and artisanship is Akela’s artistic currency, while exoticim is her visual-rhetorical argument; these extend into her later music videos, especially the video for What I Want. This video, which was filmed in Peru by the same dual and independent production, visually actualizes the nomadic tendencies and aspirations of the musician whose lyricism is based on the equivalent philosophy.
The long, full, and extreme wide shorts of the South American landscapes are contrasted with exotic details and woven together with the classical, auto representational performative shots of herself, which confirms her rejection of the classical narrative tendencies. Aklea uses her own character in videos as a manifestation of rhythm and beat in perpetual motion where the dancer becomes the dance, but also as a visual bridge or glue in the editing process. The author does not steer away from laying bare the device and sporadic rawness of representation, thus potentiating and defending her own authenticity. Such tendencies were recognized and approved by her audiences, as proved by the relevant digital statistics. Finally, the media and labels have noticed the momentum which resulted in an obvious talent hunt.
The Croatian veteran songstress Nina Romić, who is not inclined toward gender labels when it comes to her craft, uses her music to propagate universalism, radical openness, and connection. The same values are highlighted in her visual signature, which regularly dances on the edges of sweet nostalgia and psychedelic surrealism, evoking the artist Josebe Elroza. The music scene is familiar with the resoluteness of the author’s expression, which is in itself rigid towards labels and expectations of the audiences. As with Kandžija, such an approach enables her to be a master of her own. At the same time, like Aklea, Romić shares her passion with her husband Marko Nakić, who is responsible for channelling and polishing her poetic vision in the language of images. In the past year, Romić released a single video for the song “Crno” (eng. “Black”), which appeared on her current studio album Sloboda (eng. Freedom), and later on on the all-female compilation Femme Nouvelle, alongside the previously mentioned Aklea Neon.
Psychedelic collage with the hints of sacred imagery is in a deliberate contrast with the morbid lyrics of the song which speaks about the demon of depression. Meanwhile, she sweetly evokes the spirit of Georges Méliès’ fantastic, reflected in the animation, pale color palette, and a spectrum of vintage motifs. At times, her visual number occasionally echoes Constructivism marked by the two-dimensional composing of graphic excerpts.
Non-verbal elements further amplify the premise based on lyrics, swiftly avoiding banalities and literal conveyance, which are, on the other hand, a political weapon for Kandžija. Animated images of a utopia undoubtedly stem from her previous engagement with the psychedelic band Pridjevi, which she had fronted up until motherhood, when she returned to being a solo act.
The last chosen name of the DIY aesthetic that marked 2019 in Croatian music video production is Porto Morto–a collective of musicians whose current domination over the alternative scene is absolutely justified and deserved. Their last year’s efforts prove that the formative period in their vision, ethics, poetics, lyricism, studio work, and in front of the camera is behind them. Porto Morto leans on the nostalgic mode of postmodernism in order to summon their auditory and visual inspirations from the realm of music. Their expression is a fusion of the Yugoslav New Wave names, from Idoli to Haustor. The influence is nowadays further strengthened when the frontman of the band, Roko Crnić, plays the bass alongside Darko Rundek, the former vocalist of Idoli.
The year was rounded off by the nostalgic, but attractively bizarre music video for the song “Hodaj” (eng. “Walk!”) made entirely by the collective. Crnić here played the role of both the scenarist and director as a music virtuoso who clearly directs according to the music principles of the song itself. The rhythm of the composition defines the structure of editing, while the music elements define the composition of his shots. Using the popular retro-effects and filters, namely the pale and somewhat tinted photography, he illustrates the contemporary melancholy contrasted with elements of gag-based humor. In the video featuring Darko Rundek himself, the band hints at psychedelia as their poetic leitmotif, which does not invite the viewer to pretentiously read into it, thus reflecting their freshness and authenticity, regardless of their hipster aesthetic usually defined by pretentious referencing. With one foot deliberately in the banal, Porto Morto lyrically and visually achieve their comic potential in this video without a classical narrative premise, and successfully avoid slipping into the trivial. Autoreferentiality of visual elements strengthens their visual signature, which Crnić puts on a symbolic journey saturated with unrealized suspense. In doing so, the viewers see that the musical structure is at the core of their work, while the representational modes serve for entertaining purposes. Crnić’s directorial signature is, therefore, bold and clear, with the accent on music as the dominant matter. Visual content here is merely a subjugated illustration.