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Ontario DIY label reissue the almost forgotten gem of Yugoslav punk, Osiguranje životne večnosti by Serbian band EX-CESS

Hans of Ex-Cess
Ill in the Head Records is pleased to announce the vinyl reissue of the almost forgotten gem of Yugoslav punk. Twenty five years after its underground release on cassette during the wars of succession in Yugoslavia, “Osiguranje životne večnosti” by a legendary Serbian punk band EX-CESS is available on vinyl, the way it was envisioned by the band, remastered from the original tape. Digital formats (streaming and free download) are also available.

The peculiar story of this records takes us back to the early 1990s –– the final days of Yugoslavia, just before the breakup and consequent war. It was a time when the punk scene in Belgrade, the country’s capital, was booming with excellent bands, numerous fanzines and emerging independent record labels. Ex-Cess was one of the most promising punk groups of this generation and about to break out.

ExCess was started by high school friends sometime in 1987, but the first studio demos were not recorded until 1989. By the beginning of 1990 the band was in full swing, writing daily and performing on a regular basis at the city clubs to ever growing audiences. As the band gradually came into their own, and the level of their musicianship grew, the relatively straightforward punk rock sound established at the very beginning gradually shifted towards much faster and heavier style that eventually morphed into a curious sonic blend brought on by an unusually wide spectrum of influences between the four band members. Simultaneously, Ex-Cess drew attention with their mature, clever lyrics, covering socio-political topics ranging from street life, anti-conscription, and asinine violence, to introspective stories of alienation, young adulthood, systematic abandonment, and rather stylistically unorthodox at the time––love. In a relatively short period, Ex-Cess managed to garner reluctant media attention, as their live shows attended by hundreds of disenfranchised youth become notorious, and often outright dangerous. Over the next two years, they toured the country performing in all major cities in the region, but as the civil war progressed, and with the inability to continue to travel, their shows become few and far in between.

In the fall of 1991 ExCess entered the studio with an original idea of recording an EP, but on a whim decided to record a 14 song set instead. The material was recorded live in one day, mixed the next day, and in an attempt to protest the present devastating war circumstances, they ironically entitled the record “Osiguranje životne večnosti” (Eternal Life Insurance Policy). Soon thereafter it became more or less impossible to actively continue playing, and the band went on a hiatus. Hoping for the things to blow over, three out of four band members temporarily left the country, only never to return home. Newly recorded album was copied on a couple of cassettes and shared with a close circle of friends.

One cassette tape made its way to Croatia, the other side of the national divide and Yugoslav war. Perhaps by coincidence, or due to the interconnectedness of the Yugoslav punk scene, a small underground record label Ill in the Head Records picked up the material and released it as a cassette under the catalogue number ILL-008. The album was a true underground DIY release. Each cassette was copied individually from the tape that came from Serbia. The photocopied cover which came with the cassette was slightly modified to add Ill in the Head logo, contact information and catalogue number.

The war was in full swing in Croatia and national hatreds were at their highest levels at the time when the album came out. In Croatia, everything related to Serbian culture was deemed undesired, censored, and was banned from the public realm. Ill in the Head countered the official politics of the day and mainstream culture in a true punk fashion by releasing the band from the “other side”, or better yet the “enemy side”. No matter how small this action was in the greater scheme of things, and despite its confinement to the realm of subculture, releasing of this album was a genuine punk rebellion and attempt to counter the agenda of the official cultural order. Despite the lack of promotion (Serbian music could not get any airplay on radio, or be reviewed in music magazines in Croatia during and after the war) and confinement to the underground scene, the album sold well. The reason for positive reaction from the audiences was twofold. On one hand, it was an excellent album by a band that was at the peak of its creativity and artistic strength. On the other hand, listeners were eager to hear banned music from the “other side”. The album sold in several hundreds of copies in Croatia and neighboring Slovenia, which was a fantastic number for an underground release that came out during wartime. The cassette became sold out when the original “master” tape became too worn out to produce more copies.

“Osiguranje životne večnosti” was a first album by a Serbian artists published in Croatia since the breakout of civil war in Yugoslavia. While this was seemingly a highly controversial move, it ultimately echoed a well-known pre-war practice of Croatian record labels publishing some of the most important works of Serbian New Wave and other underground bands.

The lo-fi, sped up bootlegs of these cassette tapes eventually found their way to the Internet, and that’s where this story might have ended. Well, it almost ended there. Twenty-five years after the original release, Ill in The Head, now based in Hamilton, ON, tracked down the band members in USA. The DAT master tape of the album was amazingly unearthed somewhere in Belgrade, remastered, and prepared for a vinyl re-issue. So at last, for the first time ever, the album is available in the way it was always meant to be heard.

The album was recorded by the late Igor Borojević, a prominent Serbian producer, musician and composer at Studio O in Belgrade, October of 1991. He also co-produced the record with the band members. This reissue was mastered by Gavin Lurssen at Lurssen Mastering in Los Angeles in February 2017. Guest vocals on the track “I Want You For Ex-Cess Army” feature ‘who’s who’ of the Belgrade’s punk/HC scene from the beginning of the 1990’s: Drakula (Direktori), Gvido (Brainstorm), Lesa (SMF), Ruža (Urgh!), Vojin, Bole (Svarog), Vanja (Overdose).

Ill In The Head Records

Ill in the Head was founded by Berislav Sabolic in Croatia in 1992. The project started as a fanzine, but evolved into a record label shortly after the publication of the first issue of “Ill in the Head Zine” in June of 1992. Label’s initial release was a cassette compilation entitled “Life?” featuring punk/HC music by several Croatian bands. It was the first in total of 6 punk/HC compilations produced over the next 4 years. Geographical scope of these compilation cassettes was later expanded to feature bands from all over the world. In addition to the compilations, the label started producing full length cassette albums in 1993, focusing on underground punk/HC and metal music from Croatia and Ex- Yugoslavia.

Ill in the Head was the first Croatian record label to release music by a Serbian artist after the breakout of the war in 1991. It was the cassette album entitled “Osiguranje zivotne vecnosti” by punk band Ex-Cess from Belgrade. The cassette was released in 1994.

The next step in the expansion of Ill in the Head activities was the creation of a mail- order distribution. In the spirit of the true punk DIY approach, the items (cassettes, vinyl, CDs, fanzines, T-shirts etc.) sold via mail-order were acquired through exchange with other independent record labels from around the word. The label’s distribution catalogue was extensive and represented 40% of Ill in the Head’s total sales, reaching underground/indie music audiences in every corner of Croatia and further in the Balkan region.

In 1996 Ill in the Head started focusing on vinyl records, specifically 7”EP format. “Vragoder” EP by the Croatian band Gipps, and a split EP by the bands Running Party and The Cardinals came out that same year.

All activities related to Ill in the Head stopped, and the label ceased to exist at the end of 1996, when Berislav decided to move from Croatia to Canada. In the span of four years Ill in the Head produced a total of twenty-two cassettes, two vinyl records, and distributed numerous international and national music releases and merchandise. The idea of restarting the label and focus it on promoting music from ex-Yugoslavia came about in 2013. Three years later, and exactly 20 years after the end of the label’s Croatian chapter, Ill in the Head is starting a new life in Canada.

The first Canadian release, and also the 25th in the label’s complete catalogue, was a vinyl LP by the Macedonian post punk band Bernays Propaganda, closely followed by a full-length vinyl release by the Croatian artist The Marshmallow Notebooks.

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