Lonely Planet travel guide ranks currently Serbia’s capital Belgrade as the world's number one party city in terms of the quality and diversity of its nightlife. Paradoxically, this image was forged initially during the last decade of the 20th century, an unfortunate time for Serbia. It all started in clubs that played western electronic music, and the B92 radio station (today a TV station as well). They propagated electronic music through their editors and hosts, later to become Serbia's most important DJs.
During the war, when it was difficult to travel beyond the borders of the country, participating in techno, trance or house events was a way to keep step with global music trends and defy the prevailing depressing, and often tragic, public mood. With the arrival of the new millennium came major changes, but transition, with its problems, led to the closure of many of the capital's electronic music clubs, leaving the Dis-Patch festival a rare constant in Belgrade's variable and fragmented scene. This event has been increasingly garnering international acclaim as a festival of unorthodox electronic sound.
At the start of the 1990s, rock and pop music in Serbia began to decline as audiences emigrated, and also because international sanctions made its impossible for foreign bands to hold concerts in the country. Meanwhile, a mutant form of country music called turbofolk turned mainstream, while western electronic music became a rare curiosity played mainly by the opposition radio stations. In 1992, B92 music editor Gordan Paunović was introduced to underground techno music in London, which he subsequently began playing as a DJ together with Vlada Janjić in a handful of Belgrade clubs. At the time, they were still experimenting with different genres.
The opening of a club called Soul Food signified a step forward from the techno parties and themed evenings of the day. The club was exclusively devoted to dance music. Each Thursday, DJ Eye would play New York dance music, dark house, wild pitch sound, etc., an event which also became known as an informal get-together for the city's gay crowd. It all paved the way for the emergence of Industrija in 1994 - the first electronic music-only club, and the club credited with articulating Belgrade's club and electronic music scene.
Because of its importance to the capital's pop and clubbing culture, Industrija has often been likened to Manchester's The Hacienda. The club was the birthplace of several Belgrade DJs like Strob, Avalanche, Mark Wee, Boža Podunovac, Eye, Paunović, and Janjić. Industrija was the peak of the avant-garde period. Meanwhile, new clubs sprouted up, and concerts by several cult foreign performers - Laurent Garnier and The Prodigy, along with a huge rave party in Košutnjak Park in 1995 that gathered 5,000 people - ushered electronic music in Serbia into an era of greater popularity and commercialism. Techno, trance and house were also popularised by a TV show called Technokratia, and these events began attracting more and more high school students, who preferred younger DJs, such as Marko Nastić, who played a very hard, minimalist brand of techno.
The extent of the popularity of electronic music among Serbia's urban population became evident in the summer of 2000 at the anti-regime Exit Festival's "zero edition" in Novi Sad. The festival's programme largely consisted of domestic and foreign DJs through 100 days of incessant, free-of-charge, partying.
After 2000, the country's electronic music scene flourished and became highly commercial. The Novi Sad Exit music festival, now a mainstream event, is as strong a sustenance for the scene as possible, through its hosting of world-renowned artists like Bob Sinclair, Ronny Size, Darren Emerson, David Morales, Transglobal Underground, Timo Mass, Carl Cox, David Guetta, Eric Prydz.
Belgrade’s night-life is now going through a period of regression, elicited by a constant state of crisis and a desire for quick profits on the part of club owners, which is why many clubs have closed and many new ones expire after one season. Economically marginalised, the unstable scene is maintained by DJs who are better known than the places where they play at. Large, sponsored parties featuring domestic and foreign DJs who play mostly mainstream electronic music, and the Dis-Patch festival, which is devoted to progressive electronic sound, are the few remaining certainties.
Dis-Patch was created in 2002 by Relja Bobić and Goran Simonoski as an extension of an electro-jazz project called Belgrade Sound System, and one of their experimental electronic music programmes on Radio B92. Culturally and ideologically, Dis-Patch has picked up the torch from the no longer existent Industrija through its promotion of young artists - domestic and foreign - and by pointing the way to new kinds of music, not necessarily commercial. Dis-Patch's avant-garde and educational approach has attracted not only domestic attention - the event's October 2009 edition, featuring Vladislav Delay, Fellonz Flats and Cofee, was staged in eight cultural institutions in Belgrade - but has also earned it strong support in foreign publications like Resident Adviser, Fact, Wire and Last FM.