Intro: Nikos Filippaios
Translation: Niki Nikolakaki
13 / 04 / 2017
Although progressive rock as a musical genre and even more as a movement has been associated with the social, political and mainly cultural developments of the second half of the 20th century in the Western world, during the 70s underground scenes developed not only in Asian countries and Africa, but also in those of the former eastern bloc. Although the fear of the influence from the West and censorship ruled in communist regimes, some musicians were oriented towards this new and ambitious musical direction. I am sure that many of the authors in Progrocks.gr can suggest some bands from there, like the band 37°C.
37°C consisted of a group of excellent musicians who collaborated in Belgrade in the late 1970s led by keyboardist Zdenko Radeta. The band’s work is limited in duration; five compositions which do not exceed 45 minutes, and it first comes to light in a meticulous vinyl release by the Serbian independent record label Discom.
Uncompromising artistic prog rock from former Yugoslavia
After reading about the activity of the members of 37°C in the Discogs website, one easily concludes that the recordings gathered in the album Sidarta form studio jams during intervals of their professional course as session musicians. Zdenko Radeta and his friends were given the opportunity to create, free from the limits of record labels and from the demands of the public. Now, if we take into account that the compositions were recorded in London studios, they are probably one of the most interesting cases of cultural influence brought by the West in Yugoslavia in the 70s. The result is a virtuosic and eclectic progressive rock, which does not sacrifice the beautiful melodies and generally the substance neither to the altar of virtuosity, nor in that of pointless, endless experimentation.
Certainly the most experimental composition is the title track Sidarta, which lasts 18 minutes and covers the first side of the record. Basically, we are dealing with an extensive improvisation which I would describe as ambient jazz. Space synths dominate, bringing to mind Vangelis Papathanassiou. Instrumentation is completed by a restless fretless bass, guitars, percussion and even female vocals. As the title of the composition reveals, the oriental melodies and the rolls accordingly add interest, while the track is being built slowly and methodically, to come up with a free jazz crescendo. It is this structure in Sidarta that proves that progressive rock is undoubtedly one of the genres on which post-rock was based.
In the second side of the album we come across compositions of shorter duration, more structured and more groovy. Again cerebrality is in line with the melody and aesthetics are purely artistic. Jazz and rock go hand in hand, with a strong presence of classical music, especially concerning the compositional pattern. Meanwhile, the connection of the musicians is remarkable, as the listener can distinguish their positive attitude, creativity and inspiration. It is not so important to single out a particular piece, as all four will captivate the friends of progressive rock and fusion. If I was made to choose one, I would pick Pescani Sat with the metric epic tone and Izmoreni Putnik, in which the continually alternating musical themes are driven by a restless funky jazz beat. Generally, the highlighted element groove removes 37°C from an academic and elitist mentality and brings them close to the world of black music; an approach logically due to the participation of their members in native funk and disco releases, especially during the 80s. Perhaps the most striking example is the participation of the singer Silva Delovska in KIM.
It is certain that the release of Sidarta is addressed primarily to fans of the specific genre and more widely at vinyl collectors, DJs and radio producers looking for something different. One disadvantage lies in the production, which is somewhat blurred, same with studio tests, which are not intended for official release. On the other hand of course, this more underground sound has a special charm. Finally, through this work of 37°C we have the opportunity to reflect on the dynamics of progressive rock in the 70s, and to understand the uptake and assimilation in the context of a particular communist regime, as it was in Tito’s Yugoslavia.
8 / 10
A lost gem of the outstanding 70s prog scene of former Yugoslavia released by Discom. The sound of 37°C is an idiomorphic mix of progressive rock and strict to funky and groovy fusion with an intense experimental character and rock and jazz to claim on an equal basis the leadership of the music base. With the unique “disadvantage” of an interesting disparity between the two sides and perhaps the overly stretched and abstract (but remarkably original and ambient) 18-minute electronic-wise title track, what one listens to in the second side provokes admiration. Especially in Pescani sat the superb technique of the band is tested at the highest level and in Izmoreni putnik this is masterly combined with the beautiful voice of Dragana Saric (Bebi Dol). The production is typically “thin” for the era of late 70s (1979) and it is perfectly suitable till the end of the lovely Vrteska that closes the album. Highly recommended to any serious collector of good prog rock / fusion.
8 / 10