guitar, busking
Photograph: Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

Rijeka's Damir Urban proves Neil Young right

Written by
Lara Rasin

Damir Urban held a mini-tour across his hometown city of Rijeka this Friday.

The rock and roll icon's stage was a sightseeing bus usually reserved for tourists. Urban performed atop the double-decker, from which the rich modulations of his booming voice filled city streets.

The project was initiated by Urban himself and supported by the City of Rijeka. The musician's gigs on wheels were organised at 12 specially selected venues from which spectators could watch without leaving their homes. From windows, balconies and streets, Rijeka's locals belted out beloved hits like Moja Voda ('My Water'), Iskra ('Spark') and Astronaut ('Astronaut').

All it takes is spirit, a crowd, a musician and the legendary genre of rock and roll, with the unrivaled verve of its concerts, lives on. Toss in a makeshift tour bus for good measure, and Neil Young's 1970s hypothesis is confirmed. 

Rock and roll can never die.

For those interested in knowing more about one of Rijeka's most famous musicians...

Damir Urban is a creative soul: music and painting are his fortes, and his professional career, which he merged with his passions, began in the 1980s.

In 1984, Urban formed La Bellona, a band in which he was bassist and songwriter. His first public gigs begin with La Bellona. Unfortunately, the only remaining documents from this period are a few poorly preserved demos. La Bellona breaks up, almost as soon as it began, and Urban begins collaborating with two musical kindred spirits on a project named Fallstaf, but no public shows are performed.

A few years later in 1986, Laufer is formed, with Urban as songwriter and vocalist. The band participates in all major guitar events, and after numerous performances at home and abroad, their songs are released on several compilation albums. 

Laufer's first solo album, The Best Off..., is released in 1993 by Slovenia's Corona Records. The album's song Moja Voda ('My Water') is awarded Hit of the Year by Croatia's then-most popular radio station, Radio Velika Gorica. One year later, Trip Records (Croatia Records) releases Laufer's album Pustinje ('Deserts). The album garners multiple awards, including Croatian music award 'Porin' for Best Rock Album. Two years later, Croatia Records releases the band's album E.P.

Due to copyright disagreements, Laufer breaks up in 1996. Urban continues his musical career with the help of friends collectively called '4' and a solo album: Otrovna Kiša ('Poisonous Rain'). Urban wins Porin for Best Duet for the album's song S dlana boga pala si ('From the palm of the god you fell'), performed with Rijeka band En Face, along with Best Rock Vocal. In 1996 a new edition of Otrovna Kiša ('Poisonous Rain') is released by Izabele Records. This edition is nominated for a Porin in three categories: Best Video (for song Nebo - 'Sky'), Best Production, and Best Recording. Due to dissatisfaction with Izabele Records, Urban&4 later discontinues cooperation and signs with the then-biggest record company in Croatia, Croatia Records.

Urban&4's album Žena Dijete ('Woman Child'), released by Croatia Records in July of 1998, was rated by critics as the best album of the year. Album songs Black Tattoo, Odlučio sam da te volim ('I decided I love you') and Mala Truba ('Little Trumpet') quickly scaled to the top of Croatian charts. The album went on to receive journalists' rock music award Crna Mačka ('Black Cat'). Soon after, Urban&4 wins a Porin for Best Rock Album. Urban rejects the alternative rock category Porin also awarded awarded the band that year, saying that wasn't their style. Žena Dijete ('Woman Child') is ranked among the top ten albums of the 90s. Urban's highly sought-after live concerts, then and now, also prove the magnitude of his music. 

Merkur ('Mercury'), with song Moja (Mine') is an unreleased Urban&4 album of the time. The Moja ('Mine') music video was banned from public broadcasting because of content depicting same-sex lovers - the only way to catch it was late night on local stations. The album, which was supposed to feature many renowned artists such as jazz musician Matija Dedić (in the song Moja - 'Mine'), was abandoned and replaced with new music.

Urban wins the City of Rijeka Award in 1999 for creative work and performance in the field of music.

Urban&4 moves on to album Retro, released in late 2004. The first promotions of Retro took place in the U.S. at gigs in Chicago and New York - among them is a concert held at cult NYC club CBGB. With this album, Urban&4 was nominated for an MTV Adria Award in the Best Act category.

After Retro, Urban performs a major concert with the orchestra of Rijeka's Croatian National Theatre at the city's Torpedo Factory (fun fact: torpedoes were invented in Rijeka). During this time, he also stars in the theatre's choreo-drama Dama s kamelijama ('Lady with Camellias'), and successfully presents a solo exhibition of oil on canvas works in Opatija.

From 2004 to 2009, Urban serves as a member of the Council for New Media Cultures in the Ministry of the Republic of Croatia.

Urban's longstanding friendship with renowned singer-songwriter Gibonni results in a, early-2000s collaboration on the song Posoljeni Zrak ('Salted Air'), as well as numerous guest appearances at concerts. The musical partnership continued on Gibonni's album Toleranca, concert promotions of that album and Gibboni's guest appearance on the Urban&4's 2009 album Hello!.

Hello! was filmed in Rijeka and worked on in New York, while famous designer Mirko Ilić made the cover art. The album received accolades and three music videos were released for songs MagnetHiroshima and Glas Jeka ('The Voice of the Echo').

Urban&4 releases a live album called No mix! No sex! in 2010. It was recorded at the Stereo Club in Rijeka, during two concerts, two days in a row. The record was produced by Vlado Simcich Vava (Laufer's ex-guitarist), and the material was released exactly as it was recorded, without any subsequent edits. The album cover consists of sketches and drawings by Urban himself.

Also in 2010, Urban presents a solo exhibition of works entitled 40 Stanica ('40 Stations') in Zagreb gallery 'Velvet'. The exhibition was composed of spatial art installations, music and fragrances as projections of Urban's childhood and roots. It was a unique journey through Urban's memories.

In 2011, after many years with Croatia Records, Urban&4 signs a contract with new record company Aquarius Records. The same year, Damir Urban records a Porin-winning album with cellist Stephen Hauser. The album, Urban & Hauser, combines classical and rock music through nine songs. Urban also collaborates with band Vatra ('Fire') on song Tremolo, which results in another Porin for Collaboration of the Year, as well as a nomination for Best Hit of the Year.

Urban&4 goes into isolation in Croatia's Žumberak mountains for 12 days in 2012. They come out with a new album. In a makeshift studio, doubling as the band's home for 12 days, Kundera is born. The album won Porin for Rock Album of the Year, and Best Band Vocal with the song Atom. Urban&4 also receives the 2012 MTV Gold Award for the album's song Ako se napijem do smrti ('If I Drink Myself To Death').

Also in 2012, Urban (and part of his band) participates as an actor and musician in student play Ptice ('Birds'), based on elements of Aristophanes' The Birds. The play is directed by Rade Šerbedžija. This wasn't Urban's first introduction to acting and theatre: he acted in film Mondo Bobo (1997) by Goran Rušinović, and played music for theatre shows Rock ’n’ roll (1998) and ballet noir 'Torsija' (2004) by Emil Matešić.

Since 2012, Urban has continuously collaborated with the University of Rijeka. Urban&4 released their latest albums Mamut ('Mammoth') in 2014 and Live 2015 in 2015, both with Aquarius Records. In 2019, Urban was a guest on TV show Glazbeni Top 20 ('Musical Top 20'). Damir Urban continues to participate in concerts and create music actively.

Urban&4 is currently working on a new, collaborative project dubbed Pseća Oluja ('Dogs' Storm').

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