low income $quad - LI​$​013

low income squad compilation cover

Edited album cover.

LI$013 compilation from the Croatian low income $quad offers a rare insight into the realm of young ex-Yugoslavian ambient, noise, and experimental artists


Low income $quad is a Croatian label best known for their love of all things lo fi, quirky and genre bending - from techno and underground house to noise, jungle and whatever catches their attention. Run by Strahinja Arbutina, Filip Šćekić and Igor Cvitković – three producers with very different sounds, but a similar playful approach to running a label and making music – the label is mostly focused on compilations from a very colorful roster of artists. These often feature both regional and cutting-edge foreign artists, such as Pan Daijing, S.English, or Bleaching Agent, while the full-length releases tend to give space to both local and international hidden gems.

LI$013 was curated by Igor Cvitković and presents experimental ambient and noise rooted in innovation, close to the sound he himself creates as Igen. The release combines works of well-known artists (like Christian Kroupa or Jan Nemeček) and as yet unfamiliar ones, both offering glimpses into new genre-bending experiments as well as signature sounds. Unlike other low income compilations, LI$013 features mostly artists from the “ex yu” territory.

The referential, yet humbly subversive relationship to the ambivalent notion that is “ex yu“, is appropriately addressed with the cover art, which was designed by Yugodrom - the designer duo of Milena Savić and Vladimir Crvenković. Done in a similarly extravagant intertextual manner as their “Greetings from Yu“ postcard set, it depicts an old partisan cemetery in Mostar, overlooking the Adriatic coast - at the same time stylistically recognizable and conceptually far removed from Yugoslavia’s utopian touristic context. By skewing the myth of the Balkans which presents it as the wild and exotic Other of Western Europe, it opts to show complicated relations of heritage and alienation from the collapsed culture most of these artists never experienced. The term “ex yu” still links them to it, and remains palpable in the way they consume widely accessible international music and promote their own. Marked by geographic position away from diverse international scenes, it often goes under the radar, cultivating its rich eccentricity in small local scenes or open corners of the Internet.

This is also evident in the distinctive approach to their own sounds. Each track on the release is structured to redefine an often chaotic mixture of influences, with disregard to current genre trends. The tracks are finely arranged to take us on a journey from complex, clear productions conveying warm, almost effervescent melancholy, to harsher, pitch black and surreal conceptual landscapes.

The release kicks off with a collaboration between Serbian artists Subsided (Nemanja Vlahović) and Jan Nemeček. While Subsided is a relatively new name on the ex yu scene (releasing his stellar debut Music From Inconvenience on low income $quad in 2017), Nemeček has been active since 2005, through various collaborations, solo work and as a co-founder of the first Serbian netlabel Norbu. Their track, “To Remain“, combines Subsided's sentimental, at times almost folkishly idyllic approach to ambient with Nemeček's affinity for clean, glassy texture.

“We Will Grow, Always and Forever“ is another step forward for Croatian artist Matija Nonković aka Late Dinner, both in terms of the constantly evolving production skills and his ongoing play with the authentic. Nonković found his voice through aesthetics similar to that of Posh Isolation or Pan and managed to make it his own. “We Will Grow, Always and Forever“ is a complex track that reflects a sense of constant movement. Vocal echoes give way to a bright melody, which is complemented by a strangely cheerful automatised voice sample, defamiliarizing semantically-charged concepts: pain, betrayal, passion, love in a rich interplay between the divine, the artificial and the excruciatingly human.

The calm and peaceful mood set by the first two tracks is soon disrupted by Christian Kroupa's “Nymphaea Kabuki“. Kroupa is a Slovenian producer who makes very diverse music along the intersection between drum ‘n' bass, techno, house, and ambient, with a signature dark tribal atmosphere, which is especially prominent in his other project - Alleged Witches. He has contributed to low income $quad compilations in the past and uses his LI$013 slot to present a haunting ambient track which relies on the interplay between loudness and quiet. The slow melody progression is buried underneath the shooms; tension and release come in waves as the elements disappear and re-emerge as if from a desolate space, creating some kind of circular pull.

Drumpo's track “Jean du Rapa“ again offers some relief through a pastoral synth melody, occasionally interrupted by steely side effects subtly invading nature with technology.

From this point on, things start to get really weird. “Culinarian“ by Slovenian experimental artist and poet Gašper Torkar sounds like a piece for primordial paranoia, combining ambient, noise and sound art into a surprisingly fluent track. Torkar released his debut EP Dreams of Others on Slovenian label Kamizdat in 2017. A similar dense and eerie atmosphere that worked beautifully on the EP can be found on “Culinarian“, this time with more prominent industrial touch-ups piercing through vividly ritualistic ambiance.

Andria's track “Spirine“ takes this uncanny feeling even further into a pure state of bewilderment and disorientation. The prolific Serbian producer is becoming well-known for his knack for weird and mind-bending experimentation across genres. “Spirine“ throws the listener back and forth between passing club tendencies, ominous lurking static, and vocals muffled beyond recognition, evoking the claustrophobia of a slowly shrinking space.

After this, “Statues Remain Where They Have Fallen“ by Bosnian artist Cruelty Field can seem like a classic noise track, with a striking psychological twist. There is undeniable emotional power to his Prurient-inspired and heavy effect laden approach, mainly because it's rooted in vulnerability, an immediate desire to unfold a very intimate conflict, a kind of negotiation between uninhibited expression and calculated distance, raw despair, and doleful melancholic resignation.

The closing track, “Part three“ - a collaboration between artists Alexei and Mario - sounds like an avant-garde theatre piece that slowly disintegrates itself through a five-minute duration, exposing the listener to surreal and often horrific stages of its' own demise. There is the semblance of rhythm at the end to provide some relief before it escapes into a fading high pitch and complete silence. This brutalist treatment of sound isn't devoid of the idiosyncratic humor low income $quad has become known for over the years.

What sets LI$013 apart from many other experimental releases is its playful, passionate energy and entirely DIY concept from the artist and track selection to the novel and daring sound. This music doesn't belong anywhere. Labeling it “ex yu“ is as much a provocation as it is a geographic necessity.

low income $quad - LI$013

1 Subsided & Jan Nemeček - To Remain
2 Late Dinner - We Will Grow, Always And Forever
3 Christian Kroupa - Nymphaea Kabuk
4 Drumpo - Jean Du Rapa
5 Gašper Torkar - Culinarian
6 Andria - Spirine
7 Cruelty Field - Statues Remain Where They Have Fallen
8 Alexei & Mario - Part Three

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