Let 3 are Croatia's most provocative rock act. They come from Rijeka. Formed in the ‘80s, in the days of the city's lively post-punk scene, they have been challenging cultural taboos with their prankster-like behaviour ever since. Their shows are among the best rock concerts you could ever experience in Croatia, and for many young Croats, seeing a Let3 gig is a rite of passage.
Founding members Damir "Mrle" Martinović and Zoran "Prlja" Prodanović still front the band. A curious and inspired soul, Martinović also appears alongside his wife Ivanka Mazurkijević in the experimental MrLee & IvaneSky band. But Martinović's artistic endeavours do not end there.
For several years he was co-curator of Hartera, an alternative arts space located in a former paper factory inside one of the city's many abandoned industrial sites. The venue, and its Hartera Festival event, brought many famous names to Rijeka, including some of Europe's top DJs, and was cherished by the city's youth.
Hartera may have closed, but Martinović is back co-curating another festival. Sailor Sweet & Salt Festival is again a multi-faceted endeavour, with Martinović ambitiously collaborating with Rijeka's science community to turn the sound of their city into a piece of visual art. The event is a key part of Rijeka 2020 Capital of Culture and has an exciting music programme attached. It begins on Friday 27 July with a live concert featuring Darko Rundek & Ekipa, Urban&4 and Mr.Lee & IvaneSky, continuing on Saturday 28 July with a DJ-led night.
Hi Damir! You've just returned from a sailing holiday. Where’d you go?
Two years ago I went to Silba, a beautiful island which has no cars, to try out a "sound pump", which is the scientific part of the new festival Sailor Sweet and Salt. In Rijeka, I recorded its frequency (the sound of the actual city), which serenades us on an unconscious level. In Silba, I wanted to record the crickets, but when I tried recording the frequency, there was just silence.
The “pump” that I'm making, with help from the scientific community of Rijeka, is hopefully going to transfer sound into visibility. I'm going to use speakers and with the "sound pump" the sound waves will make a salt sculpture from the sound of my town. The story about the silence of Silba haunted me and made me want to visit as many islands as possible. And to rest. Because obviously, in my profession, I'm surrounded by a lot of loud music.
In the video to Let3's 'Tazi Tazi' single you're holding a pretty crazy party in some industrial looking areas of Rijeka. Was that just fantasy or did those areas of Rijeka have 'alternative' uses at that time?
Not in the part you can see in the video, no. But Rijeka, like the whole of Croatia, is full of a destroyed industrial past. On the other side of the city was a former paper factory, Hartera, where the alternative music and theatre scenes held good parties for a decade.
The star of the 'Tazi Tazi video' was the sheep. How was the rest of life for the sheep following his/her's rise to fame in your video?
The sheep was sexually stimulating for many relationships on the set of the video. We had protection on our genitals to prevent any real encounters with the sheep. She died peacefully after many years of bliss.
You used to curate the Hartera festival. Can you tell us what was so special about it, and pick a few of your favourite memories from it?
Hartera was voted one of the ten best "little festivals" in the world by the online magazine Virtual Festivals. The special thing was the old venue itself and, in the best years, the six or seven different locations within it, on various floors. Within those spaces you could not only find famous DJs but also scientifically, scenically and artistically made spaces. One time we had like waves on the floor and another we made big puppets and little rooms with hearts... many beautiful things, like "trntrn angels", which were represented by a self-turning chandelier. We had more "IT stuff", like looking for creatures with your mobile phones. We were, of course, very ahead of our time. Artists should always be ahead of "normal people". Otherwise, what is our function? I hate artists who are just trying to please and repeat old stuff.
Do you consider the CD of your ‘97 album Nečuveno, which was released containing no sound or music whatsoever, to be good value for money?
Of course. It was music. That's one of my favourite projects. The silence which is recorded there is absolutely nothing. When you put the CD in the player there is nothing. No manipulation. You are alone with yourself. And it's a cheaper option than going sailing. Ha!
Each CD had a serial number and if you had a smaller number, one of the early ones, you are better off. Because they are more collectable. I hope one day my ‘number two’ will be very expensive. And then I will sell.
You were making music during the famous punk movement in your hometown of Rijeka. What was Rijeka like then? How different is that time of cultural expression with today?
Of course, it’s different today. I was a boy then. Everyone was crazy, but at that time I thought that this would change into something more civilized. Now everyone is crazy, but not in a good way. And the people from that time are still in the same positions. Nothing much changed. Now, the Churches are Communists.
Maybe the only difference is that back then we had special commissions, which would read the lyrics and discuss every song. They would approve or disapprove of what could be recorded. Now nobody listens. Neither of those situations is good.
I'm now older and so I know that no system invented by people anywhere is okay. There are just traces of democracy, moments which are again disappearing. And again, the fight will be bloody and in vain. But we must participate, to try to make the ‘the bosses’ disgusted with the things they see, so that they run back into their little dark rooms.
Culture is very poorly supported and ‘they’ are doing a good job in destroying any cultural growth. Because it's better for them to make people scared and lonely, staying in their homes watching terrible TV news. Scared, isolated, without a thought or a compassionate discourse with anyone.
Who were the best bands around in Rijeka at that time? Which music from the former Yugoslavia still sounds great today?
The whole new wave. Paraf and Termiti were very special, also Laufer, Ogledala, Grad, Umjetnici Ulice. It was such a strong scene which made Rijeka famous. And it still sounds great today. After 40 years, we are recording with Let3 a project with many bands from former Jugoslavia. Our song is "Long Live Yugoslavia" (Živjela Jugoslavija) which, back then, was viewed as ironic and against the system. We are so interested in how it's going to sound today. We are mostly sure that they are going to be angry again, but this time for an opposite reason.
In the Communist era Yugoslavia, punk and rock bands were allowed a certain amount of freedom to be critical. That critical expression would never have been tolerated under other Communist regimes. Was it naïve or wise to view Yugoslavia's poets with guitars and weird haircuts as being no great danger?
As I said before, we had this commission which was deciding what could and what could not be recorded. And if you looked different, for sure you would get something on the head from the police. Of course, considering what was in other communist countries we were not so bad. Anyway, we have some respect for the former partisans because they destroyed the fascist garbage. And also, they made a lot of industry, which is now sadly destroyed and left out to dry.
That system had many troubles, but we perhaps shouldn't have dismissed absolutely everything from it, as we, unfortunately, ended up doing. Garbage on the top stayed the same. Only now they're not building anything.
The statue of the two-headed eagle in Rijeka has been restored. What kind of conversations do you imagine the two heads have with each other about the life they can see happening below?
I think they are speechless. Maybe, for a second, one said to the other. “Oh fuck, we are back here."
In 2000, during promotion for your Jedina album, Let 3 were taken to Zagreb’s main square ban Jelacic and executed. What specifically were your crimes, and do you think the sentence was appropriate?
We had only one copy of that album. Only one sample. We personally took it to each radio station and that was how we released its songs. We had no intention to multiply the number of copies of the CD. There was only ever supposed to be one. But, after we went on tour, our record label went out made copies of it and sold it in all the stores. We were devastated and made collective suicide.
Are your moustaches real?
You're returning to Rijeka's old industrial zone with your co-curation of the Sailor Sweet and Salt Festival. What do you hope to achieve with this event?
The festival is here to promote scientific ideas. I hope to make the public know everything about the sculpture of salt made from sound. Of course, we have chosen special musicians. They are not one-dimensional people. We went to Berlin and we are planning to visit other cities and record their sounds. In Berlin, we recorded the song ‘Sailor’ with some great musicians. Our intention is to bring the musicians from all these cities and to make a big concert. Also, to find sponsors for the scientific programme by using the prototype of the sound pump which, with the help of the scientific community of Rijeka, offers very interesting directions in which we want to go.
How did you choose the lineup of Sailor Sweet and Salt? Can you tell us about some of the performers who will appear?
We were searching for artists who have more layers than just trying to please the public, artists who have some new approaches and different artistic dimensions. One that surely bears more than being just a musician is Darko Rundek. Also, Damir Urban. They are special artists with a charisma which is not usual and every day.
If you go to a Croatian supermarket and a new blagajna (till) opens, people in the queue run towards the new blagajna as if it’s the apocalypse and look as if they will kill anyone in their way. Why does this happen?
Croatia is a strange country with many unusual ways about her. When you think that it's all just pure nothing, you get some extraordinary moments with people from whom you would least expect. I'm used to this behaviour. I went to high school in Bakar and we beat each other into the school bus. It was great.
What kind of music do you make with your wife Ivanka Mazurkijević as MrLee & IvaneSky? How is that music different to Let 3 and what future plans do you have?
I don't think it's different. I think it's special, as it is unconventional in its form and lyrics. Ivanka and I are enjoying and having a very happy time at our theatre shows. We are making such free music, music free of any intention whatsoever, other than to transport people into other dimensions or lives, which perhaps they would like to have. But there is one thing in common; it's always a search for something new.
One thing about me is that I love technology. And I like to set it free in a way that no one would think. In one show I made six instruments and each of them recorded accidental parts of music. I played them at the same time and they made a music over which I had no influence. Over that music, we connected with our instruments and vocals.
Rijeka has a reputation as being a very liberal-minded city. Some people say Rijeka is like this because it is a port and so it's normal for the people who live there to experience visitors from different places and the different ideas and culture they bring with them. But Split has been a port for longer than Rijeka and it does not have a similar reputation for liberal thinking like Rijeka. Can you please explain this to a naïve foreigner like me who does not understand this?
Rijeka is a left-thinking city but unfortunately, it has been turning right in the last couple of years. The only hope is the force of Rijeka City of Culture 2020, that we will stay interested in culture and in exchanging energies with the people who sail into our town.
Probably Rijeka is like this because Italy is just 30 minutes away. And we corresponded with the west, but it also has the partisan touch. Also, Rijeka was big in industry. People from all around Yugoslavia came to work and live here. The Italians and other foreigners made a mixture which you feel like a new dimension. Also, I wouldn't rule out Split. There are unfair beliefs about that city. Some of our greatest artists are from Split.
In the title of your 2005 album Bombardiranje Srbije i Čačka (Bombing Serbia and Čačak), why did you single out Čačak? It's already in Serbia!
We were trying to break a serious message. Critics called this the last Yugoslavia album. We took many elements, like a broken vase and put them together in a specifically different way. We were also testing how people react to the ideology of religion and swearing also.
Do you think there's a future for Let 3 on Croatian television talk shows?
At one time they regarded us as blasphemers. And now they just ignore. “Look at Facebook.” You can't do anything in art that is really provocative. Artistic provocation is always very healthy for the society.
If the story of Let 3 was made into a comic book, who would be the band's foes?
The enemy is always the system. And Facebook. Because they are putting people into induced comas.