Dancing to Balkan Beats in Eastern Europe

After spending a week in Slovenia relaxing on stony beaches along the coast, cycling to salt plains and exploring caves and castles, my friend and travelling partner Jess and I felt we’d got everything out of this country that we possible could. There was one exception, however – we were yet to experience any nightlife. It was our last night in the picturesque town of Piran and we were sitting back, watching the owner of our hostel and his father play music together, chatting to two Dutch girls who were telling us about their time in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital. We were due to head there next, so I asked if they could give us some advice on where to go out and they told us about this place called Metelkova, an abandoned military base that comprises several bars and live music venues, which put on different events throughout the year. It sounded intriguing so, upon arriving in Ljubljana, we dumped our bags at the hostel, went for a quick meal then decided to check it out for ourselves.

Piran

Jess and me in Piran

I’m not sure why, but we both felt slightly apprehensive as we approached the place, and had agreed that we’d just go for a couple of hours, then head back to the hostel- I had to catch a flight to Vienna at 8am after all. Once we were there, however, that feeling completely disappeared. Metelkova was a playground for adults. Literally. There were swings and slides, people drinking, chatting, singing and playing various different instruments, as music blared out from the surrounding bars. In the queue at one of the bars, a guy turned to me and asked, “Do you speak English?” The next thing I know, I’m sitting at the top of a climbing frame with him, his Kiwi mate, Jess and a group of Slovenians, who were offering their weed around. We sat there and chatted for ages, observing our bizarre surroundings: old, brightly-coloured buildings, whose walls were covered in graffiti and mosaics, trippy sculptures of mutant babies and giant body parts, plants growing in empty oil drums and all sorts of other weird and wonderful things.

Metelkova

One of the many odd art installations at Metelkova

At one point, I ventured into one of the bars to use the toilet, where I encountered an array of sweaty people dancing to this mad style of music that I’d never heard before (I later learned it was Balkan music). I couldn’t resist joining the madness and it was just minutes before I too was caked in sweat from dancing so frenetically, but it was such fun that I didn’t want to stop! The others eventually joined me and Jess described the scene as ‘a barn dance on acid’- I couldn’t have summed it up better myself. We learned that there’s no particular way to dance to Balkan music, you just go for it and do your best and keep up with the quick tempo (see video below).

After almost two hours of dancing with just the occasional break, we were absolutely exhausted and ready to wave farewell to Metelkova. By this stage, we’d accumulated several locals, who had joined our little group and who tried to convince us to stay on to play a game of poker with them. Seeing as I had to catch my flight, and now didn’t have any time to sleep beforehand (so much for the ‘couple of hours’…), I politely declined and returned to the hostel with Jess. There was a minor drama involving my bus to the airport, but luckily I made it to Vienna and caught a bus straight to Bratislava, where I’d planned to spend the next couple of nights. Upon entering the hostel there, I spotted a poster advertising a Balkan beats night in a club called Dunaj. My eyes lit up. A quick nap, plate of pasta and pint of Kofola later, I was set to do it all over again.

Balkan beats

‘Barn dance on acid’

 

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2 thoughts on “Dancing to Balkan Beats in Eastern Europe

  1. Awesome! 🙂 Balkan has always been one of my favourite genres of music, despite it being very hard to find. This post has made my desire to travel Eastern Europe even stronger!

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