Academy 3, Manchester, 7/11/2018
published: 27 /
Denzil Watson has fallen in deep, deep like with Balkan ska-rap-punk-Balkan folk act Dubioza Kolektiv. They deliver a barnstorming set in the basement of Manchester Academy.
Occasionally, a new band comes out of nowhere and totally blows you away. Most recently, this happened to me when I heard Dubioza Kolektiv. Clicking on a Facebook ad that caught my eye, I watched a clip of them playing live at a Hungarian festival (Sziget) and I was instantly hooked. Tickets were duly booked for a date on their freshly-announced UK tour, and I picked up a few of their albums. A few weeks later, and I'm one of two-hundred-or-so expectant fans awaiting their arrival in the basement of Manchester Academy.
For those of you unacquainted with the band, they formed back in 2003 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, initially as a four-piece. Four eventually became seven, with a fine array of albums under their belt (including 2015's landmark ‘Happy Machine' album). Blending their Balkan roots with an intoxicating mix of Ska, reggae, rap and punk, they set about establishing themselves in Eastern Europe and beyond as a kick-ass live band.
How such a multitude of influences (apparently due to the band's own very diverse musical tastes) was shaped into such a cohesive sound is a miracle in itself. In some ways, due to the myriad of influences, their music is genre-less, but think The Specials, Gogol Bordello and Bad Manners and you won’t be too far off the mark.
Still a relatively unknown force in the UK, tonight there's a very intimate feel to the gig. But from set opener 'Volio BiH' to the closing 'No Escape (from Balkan)', the energy-level they maintain is nothing short of phenomenal. Resplendent in their now trademark black-and-yellow team kit, they come across very much as a collective. Despite the band's strong DIY-philosophy, there's a tight stage choreography underpinning their performance, showing that they are consummate performers.
Joint frontmen – the mohawked-Almir Hasanbegović and his bleached-blonde accomplice, Adis Zvekić – share vocal duties seamlessly and work the crowd well. They mix their English-language classics like the infectiously-catchy ‘Free MP3 Song’ and the tumbling Balkan swirl of 'One More Time', with their Bosnian language material in equal measures. 'Kažu' and 'Himna Generacije' are greeted with equal enthusiasm and fits of pogoing and dancing. This becomes less surprising when a rough head-count taken by the band reveals that half of the crowd are their Balkan compatriots. While the mood is light and upbeat, Dubioza pride themselves on their political stance and humanitarian outlook and don't shy away from difficult topics. That said, at no point does it feel like we are being preached to.
As mentioned earlier, this is very much a team effort. Keyboardist Brano Jakubović takes the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar to divide the crowd in two for a singing contest, split along the line of people's Brexit vote (needless to say it's not a very even split). Bassist Vedran Mujagić and drummer Senad Šuta are the powerhouse of the band, as they propel Dubioza through their hour-and-a-half set. It takes its toll on the latter, rendering him unable to join the band for their encore, due to his bad back. Member number six is guitarist Jernej Šavel, the relative newcomer, having joined the group three years ago in 2015. The ace in the pack, however, is their doe-eyed sax player Mario Ševarac, his haunting sax riffs helping define the band's sound. You may have missed them earlier in the year at Bearded Theory festival back in May and on this tour. However, this wonderful Balkan septet are bound to be back and when they grace our shores again, make sure you catch this life-affirming band and their explosive live show.
Photos by Denzil Watson