The heart of the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica is a jigsaw of terraces that cascade from nearby cafe-bars: chairs cramped next to one another against a backdrop of multicoloured 19th-century buildings, decorated with the eclectic flourishes of the affluent urbanites who once owned them. People young and old sit and gossip, drinking coffee and rakija in the early evening sun. It is warm and laid back, but venturing elsewhere in search of something more exciting leads to uninviting concrete suburbs, Podgorica’s socialist leftovers. Concerts and events seldom happen here, leaving Podgorica lumbered with the unenviable title of Europe’s most boring capital.
Platform 081 wants that to change. Based in a dusty ground floor studio set on a tree-filled courtyard, the group was founded by four enthusiasts who hoped to build Podgorica’s creative scene. Independently, the co-founders had already taken their own small steps to transform a city many Montenegrins seek to leave. One founder, Tajana Nedić, had set up NGO sPas to help stray animals. Matija Mitrović manages the only board game club in Montenegro, while Oliver Senić is a DJ. But by joining forces, together with fourth member Matija Racković, they hope to do something more.
“Montenegro’s art and culture scene never evolved or integrated into Podgorica’s identity, which has been especially hard on young people,” says Racković. Thirty years of post-war poverty and apathy has left scars on post-socialist Montenegro, leaving many to feel that whole swathes of the economy — such as art and entertainment — have simply been on hold for decades. Racković believes that without role models, young creatives simply don’t know what to do with their ideas. Those with talent usually leave the country.
Platform 081 — named after Podgorica’s former area code — hopes to change that by providing both support and a space. The studio apartment (initially taken by Senić as a “temporary space” while he waited to travel to Sweden for work) is the crew’s headquarters, but it is also on offer for young Montenegrin creatives who want to promote themselves or put on performances, all free of charge.
The crew themselves, meanwhile, have honed their skills to become their own high-quality production team. Despite being self-taught, after just eight months of work, they are already in the running for one of the biggest honours in Balkan music production, the Ambasador prize.
Launching amid the Covid-19 pandemic shaped much of the team’s earliest work. They began streaming performances of Montenegrin musicians at landmark locations around the country, including UNESCO site Boka Bay, Podgorica’s neglected spomenik, the Memorial to the Partisan Fighter, and Biogradska Gora, one of the three remaining virgin forests in Europe. Established and emerging artists from all the genres were invited to take part, such as cult alt-rock band Vrpca, rap duo Necke, and rock band Rudolf.
Unlike elsewhere, where online events have been seen as mere replacements for their real-life counterparts, Montenegrins embraced these new livestreams as something new. For Platform 081, who describe their live streams as the country’s first, it proved a hunger for cultural events that currently wasn’t being catered for. Pandemic or not, audiences wanted something fresh. “Podgorica is like that burnt-down area at the end of The Lion King,” jokes Mitrović. “Nothing happens here anyway. So any time is the right time for us to start something new.”
By New Year 2021, the crew was so popular that their livestreamed event was widely followed on screens across Montenegro. Based on Balkan New Year shows, which traditionally include performances from a plethora of turbofolk stars, Platform 081’s show instead gathered the best jazz talents in Montenegro, including Kuhinjazz, instrumental jazz talents who performed their own composition and stole the audience’s hearts.
But as Platform 081’s audience began to grow, something unexpected happened. “Established institutions and festivals recognised our efforts,” says Nedić. “Now, they are hiring us to make livestreams of their own pandemic events,” says Tajana. She hopes that their collaboration with these more established and traditional organisations will open bridges between art institutions and the underground that will provide real paths for youth culture.
“Podgorica is like that burnt-down area at the end of The Lion King. Nothing happens here anyway. So any time is the right time for us to start something new”
But the team are not content to limit themselves to music. Under the label Sunset Vice, Platform 081 have already begun hosting parties, inviting artists and creatives to attend and show their work alongside performances from musicians. Elsewhere, their Platform Poetry and Platform Performance events are pioneering local poetry adapted for the stage, alongside other kinds of dance and performance art — all underdeveloped art forms in Montenegro.
One such event, Me Follow Me, featured a self- choreographed performance by Sara Vujadinović, a young contemporary dancer now living in Portugal. Platform 081 recorded the work for free and organised the performance at the Budo Tomović Cultural Centre. It was the first time that Vujadinović has been able to perform in Podgorica. She believes such support is invaluable for Montenegrin artists who believe they have no possibility to thrive in their home country.
“Thanks to Platform 081, I had a chance to display my work in my hometown for the first time,” she told The Calvert Journal. “And a professional video [like this] would be very expensive to make in Lisbon.”
Yet although Platform 081 has been catapulted on a fast road to success, their journey has not without difficulties. “People still don’t believe we didn’t have any money to invest in all of this,” says Senić. The team remain defiant that it is people who make up their greatest resource. “Somebody has the skills, somebody else has the equipment, somebody else is full of cool ideas, and that’s how it goes.”
Racković agrees. “Joining forces around the same idea, with other hard-working enthusiasts is the only way to build a new environment [from the ground up]. After all, we are such a small nation — the population of Montenegro is just more than half a million — and even though that has many disadvantages, we should focus on the bright side. Why not all be friends and support each other?”, he says.
Platform 081 is full of plans for 2021, apparently another lockdown year. They aim to network regionally and introduce their party label to other Balkan states. They also hope to use their ground floor studio space, now labelled Platformhouse, with more purpose. Window Sessions, a project dedicated to Montenegrin DJs has just begun with weekly performances from their window. They are looking forward to when Podgorica’s cafe-bars start working again as anti-pandemic measures ease. “But we don’t want to make this another terrace,” Racković says. “We want this to become a real creative hub, where people would come to freely express themselves, draw, write, and exchange their ideas with other like-minded creatives.”