When the last summer festival packs its stages and leaves the Adriatic coast, dancefloor activities return from the sunny beaches, old fortresses and party boats into the shades of clubbing. As underground events in Croatia consistently present world class music and host the most skilled international artists, it’s time to shed some light on that other, less sunny side of the country.
This guide presents the best underground places in Croatia, as well as the most important organisations and projects that breathe life into them. The scene is pretty rich and versatile for a small country. Most of it thrives around the capital, while other cities mature more and more in recent times. Even without cool guest DJ names on the line-up, local artists build up that tribal vibe pretty smoothly, as they know their crowd and which ‘buttons to push’.
Croatians go to clubs late, usually not before 1-2 AM, and we really love after hours. As a musical manifestation of that after-party passion, there is a band called ABOP, which stands for ‘After is Better Than the Party’ in Croatian. They started at the after-party, their sound is inspired by it, and today you can get that Croatian after-party passion on vinyl (mastered by Petar Dundov).
Fun fact for smokers – smoking is allowed inside the clubs and bars. Despite the strict law against it, in many places you can see people comfortably sharing joints. Be careful with smoking and holding though, as Croatian stoners are always alert somewhere in the back of their minds.
There are multiple parties going on each weekend in Zagreb and all of the crews fill up their spaces with people having a good time. Clubbers here know what they want and where to get it, which sometimes means going to more places in one night. Taxis in capital are cheap, and places are relatively close, so hopping around the city can be a good idea if you know where to hop (or even better, where not to).
Just a few minutes’ walk from the main square, in an array of different bars in popular Tkalčićeva street, there is Funk Club, standing out due to its vibe and music (and big choice of delicious rakijas). This café by day and club by night is open daily until 2 AM and, since recently, two hours longer on Friday and Saturday. The basement with a DJ booth and a small dance floor is where most of the magic happens.
Music is played by well established local DJs, while sometimes a promising newcomer gets a chance to test the dancefloor waters. ‘Some DJs started here, some of them are still part of the club. DJs give soul to this club and that recognizable signature. Kristo, Bocca, Vesna, Griva, Mile, Laboš, Sergio, Felver, Jogarde and many others… they’ve kept us alive all these years’, co-owner Davor Nigović – Lexi explains the Funk club’s ‘funk’.
When they opened, they didn’t have any special ‘concept or standard’. They just wanted a place with a warm and friendly atmosphere. ‘Folk or patriotic music, combat marches and sweet pop music was out of the question. So, from the start, we became the alternative place for the alternative crowd.’
Sometimes surprising things happen here, like the legendary actor Rade Šerbedžija playing the guitar, singing, telling stories, or the whole gypsy band Kočani Orkestar packed into one half of the basement, with all their instruments, playing in front of 25 people on a Monday. Funk has heart, which is why it’s loved by so many for so long.
Talking about places with heart, let’s move outside the city centre. With a capacity of 120 people, great music programming and the best sound system in Zagreb, Masters club has become an institution. The cozy wooden interior, slightly illuminated by dim lights and a few candles, provides an ideal setting for the intimate clubbing experience. Besides house, disco and sometimes a bit of fine techno, here you can properly enjoy dub & reggae nights as well.
People who run the place, those who work there, but also the DJs, promoters and visitors, are all part of the same tribe. DJs love to play in Masters and the clubbing community saved it from a shut down – twice. Because of the small capacity, it’s hard to pay out typical international DJ fees and flights. Nevertheless, the list of guests that have played here is quite impressive – Gerd Janson, Intergalactic Gary, Hunee, DJ Stingray, Young Marco, Suzanne Kraft, Âme, Dixon…
‘The trick is to follow what gives us most excitement, pleasure, love, creativity and passion, and to do the best we can in every moment, without assumptions, expectations or pushing’, Pepi Jogarde, one of program managers in Masters and a part of the club’s DJ inventory since ‘98., shares their success formula. ‘That’s how we manage to have insane bookings in a space for 120 people.’
The most underground club in Croatia, Das Haus, is located on the outskirts of Zagreb. It’s actually an old mansion adjusted for parties. There are few different rooms, spaces to chill out, a bathroom,with bathtub and women’s toilet behind the curtain, large basement and a garden. Usually only the ground floor is open, which is enough for local artists or more peculiar international guests. When someone like Surgeon, Octave One or Oscar Mulero plays, the basement becomes the main floor.
‘Das Haus is a place for people connected by this music, who like to dance longer than it’s usually possible in clubs. Here we can take our time to relax and enjoy’, explains Brighton, co-founder of the initial Das Haus project. Events are more like private parties, so there are no usual restrictions. Guests from other countries are often surprised when they come to play, many of them saying that this type of clubbing doesn’t really exist anymore in Europe. ‘They sometimes even feel a bit of pressure, as the DJ booth is in the middle of the crowd, who obviously knows what they came for. These people are not so easy to please.’
‘There are always some new people’, shares Brighton, ‘stunned by what they have discovered. That’s always interesting to feel on the dancefloor. Their vibes mix with those more experienced ones and, in combination with crystal clear sound… it creates a very special dance atmosphere. I always try to level up from the current situation on the dancefloor and, in Das Haus, that’s a lot of levels.’
Sirup is the most popular underground club in Zagreb. At the moment it’s closed and in a mysterious process of moving to its third location. Although it was impossible to get any info about when and where it might reopen (or if it will open again at all), this guide wouldn’t be complete without Sirup. Before the last shutdown, there were one or more international guests on the line up every weekend. Both locations were pretty cool, but very different.
The interior of the first location was a bit fancy and a bit trippy, while the second one had that industrial techno vibe. It was in an old steam mill factory, just behind the Central Train Station. The club was always full, it became so popular in recent times, that you could easily bump into your neighbor or cousin that usually doesn’t party. Zagreb is missing an important clubbing spot at the moment.
The new spot on the west central block aims to bring the festival life into the city. Pločnik is on a mission to ‘gather the crazy hearted, the artists, the music lovers and the weirdos, and provide them a collective living room where they can feel like home and enjoy their shared passion for music, arts and drinks’. This place a bar, a club, an art gallery, concept store, a record shop, all in one.
The bar with a living room vibe and a selection of 60 different sorts of beer is on the ground floor, while the record shop and the offices of Pozitivan Ritam and PDV Records are on the first floor. The basement serves as a multifunctional space for different kinds of events. The interior design, inspired by the New York clubs atmosphere of the 30’s and David Lynch, was done by Poop Studio.
‘It was my fantasy since childhood, to have a bar, a club and a record shop, all in one’, says Vedran Meniga, co-owner of Pločnik and the man behind Pozitivan Ritam, an organisation involved in Outlook and Dimensions festivals. ‘This is a place for the civilised, intellectual, tolerant and creative minority of our society.’
If you plan to party in Zagreb, you could also check what’s going on in Grey Room (AKC Attack), Katran / Super Super, The Garden Brewery, Depo, Boogaloo, Pogon Jedinstvo, Aquarius or The Best. Sometimes the parties are set up in open air locations, or places that aren’t usually used for this purpose, like old cinema, sports gym, a castle, a tunnel, or a museum rooftop… There are ‘morning/daytime parties’ held often in Brazil, a bar on a ship, ‘stranded’ by the Sava river.
Different crews throw parties in different places and, of course, it makes a big difference to know who is doing what and where. Here are some of the organisations and projects operating in Zagreb, that you can rely on:
ekstrakt | cfsn | Burek | Das Haus | Freilauf | NO BALANCE | low income $quad | BSMNT | Fonetika | Sindikat | Deep’n Out | Stereotip | bRave | You Are We | Micro | LIFT | Frendova Soba | Potop | Deep’n Delicious | Legalize Lambada | CYCLE | CASA | Beat The Future
Although there aren’t many parties to choose from each weekend, the largest Croatian coastal city is offering more and more of the good stuff. It would cost you a lot more to hop around in a taxi in Split anyway.
Led by the Coalition of Youth Associations, club Kocka is home to many projects. In 15 years of existence, they have organised thousands of concerts, parties and art exhibitions, with local and international artists that promote different cultural and subcultural scenes. Most interesting in the context of electronic music are LoopJunkies, Pulp, Radio Esplendor and Fields & Forests.
‘A huge leap happened recently in our awareness about what we have in Kocka, and in our confidence about what we’re doing. It gave us more optimism and motivation, as we started to feel responsible to keep this thing alive and growing’, says the program coordinator and a resident DJ, Luka Šimić – El Commando.
Some changes were made inside out – they asked local artists to give the interiors some colour and life, ‘so it’s not so black anymore’. ‘Another thing is that we use the modularity of our big space much better now’, continues Luka with the updates. ‘Every crew has it’s own style and layout, so we change it and customize for every event. The audience is growing, the vibe is great and I would dare to say that we are going through a small renaissance here.’
Another place to party in Split is club Kameleon. It’s the first and only club in Croatia with its very own Funktion-One sound system. Although the vibe in the club is not very underground, projects like Cruise Split, E Nights and Family Grooves promote good music here and invite DJs like Terry Francis, Eddie Richards, Enzo Siragusa or Anja Schneider to Split. Judino Drvo is another nice place where you might find your deal.
Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia and it was selected as the European Capital of Culture 2020 in 2016. People are more chill, easy going, tolerant to differences and less into nationalism, fascism and other ‘isms’ than the rest of the country, which they have demonstrated many times in elections and referendums.
The most important club in Rijeka is Crkva (Church), providing ceremonies for its followers since 2014. It got its name because of the high ceilings that very much look like in a real church. The music here is mostly focused on tech-house. Crews that present their vision of modern clubbing here are Balance, KBS and Subire. It’s also important to mention international DJ star Marina Karamarko and her THANQ record label.
Vojko Mecena, responsible for booking and promotions in Crkva, sums up the club’s story: ‘We wanted to create a community of open minded, electronic music enthusiasts. I would say that in the past 2,5 years we have managed to establish a great local hub for this group of people.’
Tunel is a small bar located in a closed tunnel under the railway line. Events in this peculiar place are held a few times a month. Those made by the CUT association stand out with their nice vinyl-only selection. There is also Club Život, where you can dance once or twice per month.
Osijek is the largest city in Slavonia, the region that was hit by the Yugoslav Wars the most. As the ‘90s were becoming more of a distant past, war wounds started to disappear slowly from the streets, but not so much from the people’s lives. This context is necessary to properly understand and appreciate things created in such environment, supported by a failing economy, ridiculous politics and shameless corruption in the whole country.
DJs/producers (and a couple) Volster and Insolate govern the techno scene in Osijek. Besides running the Out Of Place record label, they organise TRAUM club nights with Kolek3k. Events are usually held in club Epic, located in an old city fortress, but they’ve also been set up in Hangar at Sport Airport Osijek, and Barutana, a space inside the cultural monument of exceptional importance.
‘Since it was very hard to grow musically or in any other artistic way in regard of our surroundings, we always had a need to find inspiration somewhere else. Things that were a given for some were far fetched and hard to come by. A distant dream. That’s why we decided to go forward. A final push to reach the place we wanted to be. A place we can call home’, stands as their vision and mission.
Sunčica Barišić ‘Insolate’ believes that Osijek is on the verge of ‘its golden era of techno’ – ‘We wanted to share what we have heard and experienced in clubs around Europe. The line-up, but also the quality of the sound, lights and overall production has been taken very seriously.’ Their efforts are paying off, the audience is growing, people are coming to their parties from neighbouring cities and countries.
‘We are witnessing the growth and development of a new, vital and educated audience, who appreciates good clubbing experience.’
The largest city of Istria County is known for its protected harbor, beach-lined coast, Roman ruins and amphitheatre, as well as Dimensions and Outlook festivals. What is also important to know about Pula, is Vakum Records and Galerija Cvajner.
Vakum is run by DJs and producers Borut Cvajner, Disrupted Project and Evan. Besides doing parties and gigs in Zagreb and other cities, presenting the artists from their label, they sometimes do events at home, at Galerija Cvajner: ‘These events at the gallery are not usual parties, but more like art exhibitions with great musical background’, explains Borut. ‘The vibe in the gallery doesn’t support crazy raves, but after midnight, these events transform into a nice dance session with 200-300 people.’
– by Daria Grudic
Daria is a journalist from Croatia and a dance floor enthusiast.