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About Ex>Misha

If You Don't Know Me By Now

by Youssif Gujarati

“Amazing”, Ex>Misha thought as a teenage, “no matter how hard I whack the guitar it still sounds like music”.

And so he made noise alone. Without any skill, led just by intuition, he slammed strings rhythmically. Somehow it developed into music at some point. Some years after, he was already making noise together with other people. But rehearsing with other people frequently turned out to be a tedious job. Finding a common ground, making decisions, overcoming city traffic to reach remote rehearsal studio, deciding on many issues concerning image, style and identity – so many issues to deal with and so often solutions resulted in bad compromises which in turn drained motivation. Ex>Misha, then simply known only as ‘Misha’ found similar people, very artistic kinds, lacking in the technique, but compensating it with brilliant and funny ideas. Together with Midži and Krule, he formed a band that had many different names but one of them stuck for longest – RRRRR. They never rehearsed in a proper studio, heck, they didn’t even have proper instruments. Playing percussions using empty Nescafe cans, bass guitar that never had more than three strings, customized but broken fretless guitar, and so on… their instruments reflected their lo-fi-sh and chaotic creative spirit. Their live performances were legendary and sometimes led to extreme situations. They were even banned from playing in some places.

Čelik promet album cover featuring their logo

In parallel, Misha still wanted to make something more musically structured, and even emotional, and so he started to release and distributes his own collections of songs. By now, he was introduced to lo-fi genre and whole new world opened for him. Suddenly, he realized he wasn’t alone and a bit crazy, others before him have already opened that path which he rediscovered for himself. He as well as many other individuals playing in so called “home” bands, rehearsing at home and without equipment – exploiting endless freedom while playing without any considerations, their creativity not limited by anything – these kind of bands were all around, hidden inside bloc buildings and there was no way to hear them anywhere, no radio would ever play them, and even more, sometimes they themselves were not sure about what are they doing.

Meanwhile, on the other front, Midži and Misha formed fraction of RRRRR called Čelik Promet. Reason for forming a separate band within a band is that they wanted songs which would more, well, song-like. Their songs were still a bit weird, but they could also resemble twisted pop song, and they could even have chorus. They went on to make a legendary lost album called Hagoda, containing 60 songs written and recorded in just 2 days.

Misha bought a PC and it changed the game completely for him. Suddenly he didn’t even need any people for the band. Insert bass line here, drums there, everything could be programmed to sound like a full band playing. Right people, with similar ideas were always hard to find, but PC is something that could even help with that. But the trouble was that Misha took some time to learn music production and his first releases made using PC as a recording studio were a real mess. On the positive side, he has broadened his range of styles. After playing punk, noise, and acoustic pop, he could start to experiment with genres like underground funk, post-rock, and even electronic music. The latter was the one that he started to get really fascinated with. After a while, he has even released entire album almost without any guitar sounds. The album called “Safe in Sleep”, title inspired by his trouble with insomnia, was the result of collaboration with Ivana, a fellow musician with whom he also had short lived space-pop band Pockets Full of Marbles.

Ex>Misha just playing something

Already having six releases to his name, Misha still never performed live. That was about to change. Feeling that atmosphere was somehow changing around him, and that more and more people in Serbia are starting to form bands, realizing that even some kind of online magazines started to follow what was going on in the local scene, making music somehow got entirely new context – someone could now even hear your work and even care about it. This awakened a scene in Belgrade but also in other cities across Serbia, and a great change (read: chance) was felt in the air. And one of the means to be heard and catch someone’s attention was to play live. So, back in 2006, almost nine years after he started to make his own songs, Misha played live for the first time at one house party. More shows followed. They were still experimental, Misha used dictaphone on the microphone to play samples, backing music was played from CD, and performances were theatrical to some extent but mainly to cover for technical imperfection. Although there were many technical difficulties – Misha was still learning and playing with matrices presented many challenges especially to sound technicians not used to this kind of performance – when everything fell into place it worked awesomely.

This marks the richest and most active period of Misha’s career. At one point he played in four bands and sung in a choir (Horkeškart – later renamed Horkestar), and at the same time was a journalist for two online magazines (Popboks, Plastelin) writing about thriving local music scene that he was the part of. Now he changed his artistic name. Still a bit shy, he was at first hiding behind the name of Čelik promet, even when playing alone, but then he used many other names, two most frequent were ‘Mali Robot’ (after a Čelik promet song) and ‘Ex>Misha’. Ultimately the name Ex>Misha prevailed because it sounded more confusing.

Čelik promet gigs are relaxed

Then the two hindrances came. First, he got a job, a good one, but time consuming and although now he had money to buy better equipment the songwriting process came to a halt because of a lack of time. Second, he formed Grupa kao takva, a band which for the most part sounded Ok and provided him with opportunity to play his songs with a live band, but he wasn’t entirely satisfied with punky arrangements that the band made for his songs. Few years together, few break ups, and an album that was stitched together by so many compromises that it was devoid of any sonic life and was destined to fail, the group’s history was rather short and explosive as their early performances were. The album failed to capture their live energy and came a few years too late for the band. To further complicate matters, final days of the band were marked with a betrayal, deceit and even thievery.

Here comes 2008 and economic crisis - everything slowly started to go in reverse. Places where bands could play and online magazines closing down, music boom from few years back was also in decline, raw guitar music was once again superseded with mainstream dance music (not that raw guitar sound was ever that big, but for a moment it seemed like it was about to start a revolution which would put local music scene into a completely another level), and with no radio or TV shows playing non-mainstream local music we were back in the beginning. Somehow, if economy is a base and culture is its superstructure, then, it seems, culture cannot live and spread out without stable economy. Without a public space for the creative music, it was destined to go back to the garages and private rooms from where it originally came.

In 2009, Ex>Misha reactivated his solo project. He had a bunch of new songs, he’s mastery of home music production was improved and he has also matured enough to know what of his expectations are realistic. Ironically titled album “If You Don’t Know Me By Know” marked his comeback. The title, of course, has no connection with Simply Red, but is a statement of his position in the local scene. Musically, it was a comeback to guitar oriented sound, but only because the songs were written for a band and were not intended originally for a solo release. An active period followed, playing on festivals, working on various music experiments, and making videos.

Ex>Misha - bad hair days are the best

Not entirely satisfied with the sound of his previous album, Ex>Misha already had a plan for another album which would more accurately present his vision. In 2012 he materialized his idea and finished ‘Domaći album’, his first release sung entirely in Serbian. His most polished album to date was influenced by electronic music, but also featured very structured guitar layers. It took some time to make and Ex>Misha decided his further releases would be more simple in sound and arrangements, a more polished return to his lo-fi roots. Three videos were made for songs from Domaći album: Mjau, Bolja and Agent promene. Bolja airing on MTV Adria was both very ironic and somehow gratifying, but ultimately didn’t mean much.

What about Čelik promet? They had their life in their parallel universe. Loyal to their original ideas, they never transformed into a fully-fledged band and were always incomplete on purpose. Without the need to succeed, or any other motivation except to be creative while working together, the idea of Čelik promet proved impervious to a real life circumstances. After a more than a decade and further two albums, hundreds and hundreds of songs, Čelik promet lives on.

Pažnje vredne rekords is the name of a label by which all of Ex>Misha and Čelik promet albums were released. Till 2001, all of its releases were exclusively on tape, from 2001 and on, CD-R has become its favourite physical format. Also, many later releases are additionally available for download online in various formats (check Releases section).

Taken from the book Plastic Beer Bottles Along The Banks: An Illustrated Guide To Bedroom Punk