A couple of days ago I was invited to join a short trip to Podgorica to see the Electronic Beats Festival by Telekom, featuring Retro Stefson, Mount Kimbie and Disclosure live on stage. It was a really exciting trip, for Montenegro has never been exactly on any route I took. Of course I jumped on the chance to see a new country, new cultures and a new city to discover.
But — alas. Not much discovering was done. Finding any points of interest in Montenegros capital Podgorica has proven to be a rather difficult challenge. Not because Podgorica is not interesting, it’s just not interesting on first sight… or pretty. Unlike other, at least somewhat undamaged European metropoles, Podgorica was really overburdened with WWII. The city was completely rebuilt and industrialized after more than 70 bombing attacks throughout the course of the war. All of this is still showing, even 50 years later: the Eastern European pearl you expected, Podgorica is not. Not Prague, not Budapest, not even Zagreb or Sarajevo. And: Podgorica is small. So while you’re easily through with a visit in one day, walking from landmark to landmark (including a weird pink colored villa and the American Embassy with its lush green yard), you’ll probably not come back for another round.
All that said: Podgorica is charming in its own weird ways. From its many bridges you can view the picturesque landscapes of mountains, forests and very lush greens, all mixed up with old Soviet architecture and industrialized apartment blocks. We only had one day to spend in the city before moving back into that horrible airplane that brought us from Vienna (worst. flight. ever). We asked our tour guide about what young people did in Podgorica, to which we were recommended “the coolest bar in town” called, funny enough, Berlin. But young people are young people everywhere, and the whole city was excited for the EB Festival that was to take place that evening. Heavy rains started downpouring on us during our city tour and were to continue throughout the night. I was already in pain: the festival was supposed to be open air. I had not prepared for this. My socks were wet. Well, that’s Podgorica for you, I thought.
And yet- I was curious. I hadn’t met many people in the few hours of my visit so I did not have an idea then of what young people were listening to here. Balkan beats? Would they even know the new dance music heroes of the Western European clubs, Disclosure, or the artful, shoegazy-tunes of Mount Kimbie? Would they know how to appreciate it? I guess experiencing a festival was as close as I was ever going to get to Montenegros youth. Our tour guide hat already prepared me: everyone was coming tonight. Podgorica is rarely blessed with big musical events, so everyone’s understandably psyched up about the show.
After an expansive but not expensive dinner (Montenegro is really affordable… well, unless you get scammed, like typically we do) we headed out to the festival site. A few already good spirited people had gathered in front of the stage before the first act, Retro Stefson, came up. It wasn’t super crowded but the young people defied the rain and kept on dancing to the bubbly dance tunes of the Icelandic big band. I was really surprised; not only by the great music but also by the people. They were actually having a lot of fun. This I rarely ever see anymore in Berlin, at least not in such a holistic way.
By the time Mount Kimbie were on stage the whole venue was packed and people were dancing enthusiastically. I was honestly super stunned: not only was the music appreciated (I’d say Mount Kimbie is not easy to digest for everyone), it was honored by dancing people who actually had fun. And let me tell you something: these Podgoricians seriously know how to bounce. Smiling boys and girls everywhere, drinks filled up in an instant, people jumping and wiling out, and all of that while half the Adriatic sea was being spilled onto all of us. A good atmosphere like that is contagious. I was instantly bored by my camera. All I wanted was to dance. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way in a regular Berlin club. There’s no need to compare Berlin to Podgorica, but I suppose that only one big event every other month leads to more and more honest enthusiasm. I loved every minute of the festival, musically as well as culturally.
I talked to some kids about the show and why they liked it so much, got into a conversation about why I wasn’t dancing (I was trying to protect my camera from the rain by putting it under my soaked through shirt, which turned out to be a really shit idea), generally got in touch with some interesting people who even took long trips to see their favorite bands. When Disclosure finally came up, people went bezerk. Like, they flipped the fuck out. Every song was devoured with so much passion. Everyone knew the lyrics to all their songs, too. People were now soaking wet, taking off their shirts, dancing wildly without any hesitation. It was the most beautiful thing. And those Montenegrin kids.. they are gorgeous! Their laughs and their dances, without any pretentiousness, combined with that fierce energy… I’m sure I’ll remember to think about what music can mean to people when its experienced in a truly special way. I’m not sure if the amount of big events we’re spoiled with here has made us a bit jaded or if those Podgoricians are just generally the better party monsters, but either way: nice way to meet a people, and what an awesome night (that unfortunately had to end at about 1 AM in the morning due to strict curfews).
After the festival had left such a big impression I was back on good terms with the city and went for another walk around the old town. It doesn’t look that old, which is kinda sad, but every now and then one can indeed find a few pretty things, monuments, parks or interesting shops. Podgorica might not necessarily be the coolest place on Earth, but it’s nice enough. Many have recommended leaving Podgorica (or using it as homebase for daytrips) to visit the coast and the nearby national parks and mountains as to get the best out of a stay in Montenegros capital. I think that’s the least one can do to give the place a fair chance to prove itself.