Igor Todorović—or as locals know him, Zgro—has been living in Novi Sad since his birth. He has been part of the local underground scene since the end of 1980s, and in the last twenty years, he has been organizing concerts and exhibitions, promoting bands and artists, and publishing books and zines. He is working with the Institution Student Cultural Center Novi Sad as a program organizer in the unique place called Fabrika (The Factory), and is also a member of the famous Exit Festival as a booking agent and stage manager of Explosive Stage. We can definitely say that Novi Sad wouldn’t be the same without him. We met him at Fabrika, after the two-day-long To Be Punk.Festival to talk about how Fabrika was created, what kind of programs they are doing, what is the local underground scene like, and why Novi Sad’s Chinatown will remain Chinatown, in spite of the fact that there are no Chinese there.
How was Fabrika created?
I have been working with the Student Cultural Center for many years. Before 2009 we didn’t have our own place, every program had to be organized in a club, café, or bookshop in a town as a ‘guest organizer’. The part of the town near the Danube, where the Fabrika stands now, was known as Chinatown, although there weren’t any Chinese here. This is an old factory from the 1920s. There were some car and boat repairing garages, welders, a few cafés, and many homeless. We found this venue (in the 1990s it was used as a Winery Stock), paid the rent to the local government, and renovated it. The first event was held with local bands in March 2010. That’s how it started. Later there were some other good spaces here as well, but now we remain the only one, where you can knock on the door if you want to do an exhibition, independent theater play, or anything similar. You are welcome, we're glad to have you here, you can do whatever you want without any charges.
What kind of events do you organize in Fabrika?
We organize almost 300 events every single year. There has been a punk festival called To Be Punk since 2008, so this year was the 15th edition. Even when we had the lockdown, we did a festival through live stream, which is not the thing I like, but it was the only option. We make Comics Weekend every September, and this year we had the 16th issue of it. Every month we make student exhibitions in cooperation with the Academy of Arts of the University of Novi Sad, and lots of other various cultural events like book promotions, contemporary dance plays, vinyl and book market and exchange, various festivals (Tanz Platz—contemporary dance festival, UPAD—theater festival, FSP—The Serbian underground scene festival).
However, Fabrika is not just a place for events: it also publishes CDs, books, and zines.
Fabrika is the venue used by Student Cultural Center Novi Sad (SKCNS), and since 2006 we have published more than a hundred CDs of various local punk and underground bands, but also jazz and classical music, because they are not popular genres either. We never ask for any money, just publish them, for example, 500 pieces, from which we give 350 to 400 to the authors, and keep 100 for ourselves for promotional reasons. We are not selling them, we just help these guys create something. We also publish comics, books, and zines. For the To Be Punk, we do a small fanzine every year with interviews with all the bands who perform that year. Apart from my regular job with SKCNS in Fabrika, I am doing punk/hardcore fanzine Out Of the Darkness with a friend of mine, which includes lots of contributors from all ex-Yugoslav countries. The 13th has just come out, we started 6 years ago and we print it twice a year.
You and a friend of yours made a book about the local punk scene. How did this come about, and how was the punk scene in Novi Sad?
I had that passion to write down all the things about the punk scene since I went to the first punk concert in 1988. So I have an article about every single punk concert, like a gig review, which is around 1,200. I also collected all the paper cards, tickets, pictures, everything... Me and a friend of mine, Sava Savić, a journalist at the local newspaper Dnevnik, who is ten years older than me, had an idea, that we know all these people from the underground scene, so let’s try to make something out of it. We searched every single person, we were talking with them, they gave us pictures, etc. The book Novosadska punk verzija (Novi Sad punk version) was published in 2006 and it was a big achievement because in Serbia there hasn’t been anything similar about the local underground scene. It was sold in two days, the reprint was sold in five days, then in 2014, we made an extended version, which was also sold out.
Is punk still alive in Novi Sad?
Yes, it’s always present. There are some better and some weaker periods. At the moment we have about ten to fifteen good bands. It is not just strictly punk, it’s mixed with some hardcore, some emo screamo, all this stuff, but the scene has stayed together for all these years.
What is your source of inspiration to invite punk bands to Novi Sad, and do you have a favorite?
I still enjoy every single concert. I regularly attend every single Rebellion festival in Blackpool. I’ve been there twelve times. I know all these guys. Almost every punk band that played in Novi Sad in the last 15 years was invited by me and my colleagues. SKCNS has a monthly budget so we can afford to invite them. SKCNS has organised concerts for Exploited, Cock Sparrer, Damned, Ruts DC, Marky Ramone, The Adicts, etc., among many other bands. This year’s To Be Punk hosted a band from Japan called Death Side. They flew from Tokyo to Vienna, did the show, then came to Novi Sad together with Ruidosa Inmundicia from Vienna, then went back to Vienna and flew back to Tokyo… But it was worth it because we had a full house with people from Spain, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia...
So Fabrika is truly on the map of the underground scene in Europe.
Definitely. Although we are not underground, we are a government institution. But like a black sheep, because we are not doing any commercial or traditional things.
Serbia is not a member of the EU. I guess this causes some difficulties with the organization.
Promoters from all around the world come to me and say, hey, we are planning a tour, can we make a concert in Novi Sad? All right, of course, except that Serbia is not in the EU so many times it is just too complicated for them. Lots of times agents just give up on coming over to Serbia as they do not want to do all the paperwork and spend half a day at the border for the only one non-EU show on tour. We had problems at the border numerous times, because of Ata Carnet or other things. So sometimes I send a taxi to Horgoš to pick them up. It’s just horrible.
Despite this, Novi Sad received the title of the European Capital of Culture for 2022. How was it, how would you rate it?
The place where Fabrika is, as I mentioned, is part of the town everybody knows as Chinatown. The ECC started to call it the Creative District. However, all the manufacturers, clubs, and café owners and everyone had to leave their places, and because of that, it is not a creative district anymore. It used to be, but now it is not. Maybe in ten years, the next generation will call it that, but otherwise, it will remain Chinatown. They should just leave it to creative people. Anyway, I told them, you did a lot of brilliant things, a lot of great events. Let’s see what will happen and what will remain three years after 2022. How many kids did you turn toward culture from Pink TV or mobile phones and TikTok? If you achieved 1%, you did a great job. But I’m afraid it failed.
How do you see the future?
We will continue to work like in previous years. SKCNS was created 30 years ago. Fabrika existed five and ten years ago and will still exist when the ECC finishes. We’re fully booked until April, we now have some bookings for next October, and November, plans for exhibitions, gigs, and festivals, and we just continue the work.
Cover photo: Barney Greenway from the band Death Napalm and Igor Todorović
Photos: Lea Bodor