Joker James in Tivat

The efforts of our co-founder Alexander Shmelyov made it possible for Alexey Ponomaryov’s band ‘Joker James’ to give a wonderful show in Tivat. Here Alexander shares his impressions about the show

«It’s all like a dream:

There used to be a house,

but now the house is gone»

Joker James, ‘The Good One’

About five years ago, I was at a party where my friends played for me a song by ‘a new artist who you are definitely going to love’. I listened to the song, was impressed by the uncompromising nature of the lyrics, started googling his other songs, which took me on a deep dive into the oeuvre of ‘Joker James’, by the end of which I knew by heart most of their lyrics. Then I realized that the artist was an ex-journalist from ‘Meduza’ with dozens of mutual friends, but I wasn’t able to meet him in Moscow: there were plenty of opportunities, but each time something or other stood in my way… And then, after my move to Montenegro and after the start of the war, I saw a Facebook post by one of our mutual friends with the schedule of a new European tour of ‘Joker James’; the last stop on the itinerary was Belgrade. Right away I left a comment saying that it would be only right for the band to use the opportunity and drive down to us and left a link to Pristanište’s website. It worked. The same day, Alexey Ponomaryov got in touch with me, we discussed the logistical issues and practical arrangements, and the date was set.

But the closer the date was, the more worried I became. ‘Maybe only I like these songs, and other people would hate them? Maybe these songs didn’t age well and would now ring false? What if no one shows up? It’s not a massively popular artist (2500 subscribers on their Youtube channel), and Montenegro is not a big country. How many people here have even heard his name?’ My optimism was also dampened by the weather forecast (rain) and the ongoing crisis with the ferry that would make it harder for people from the other side of the Bay of Kotor to get to Tivat…

The anxiety rose even higher before the very beginning of the show, when the sound check was virtually derailed by local kids who started hurling stones and water-filled condoms at us (I don’t think the kids had anything against us in particular, they were just bored this Sunday night, and some people singing songs in a foreign language seemed to them a nice distraction). Anyway, right until the very start of the show the situation remained quite tense.

But almost after the first note it became clear: all these anxieties were unwarranted! At first, the audience — the venue was filled to capacity — remained seated and was orderly; but soon they were on their feet, dancing, singing along, while ‘Joker James’ were warming them up, alternating between new and old songs. I don’t know why Alexey calls his style ‘a mix of hip-hop and indie rock’. To my layman’s eyes, it’s good old punk rock, complete with uncompromising, politically charged lyrics.

After two and a half hours the tired performers tried to end the show. But the audience wouldn’t let them go, demanding more songs. So it happened that the last songs were accompanied by loud yelling, car horns, and gunshots from the streets — it was the very moment when the results of the second round of the Montenegrin presidential elections were finalized, and it transpired that Milo Dzukanovic, who had effectively ruled the country since 1991, was finally ousted by his younger opponent, Yakov Milatovic. So, in a sense, the show did go on — in the streets of the cities and towns of Montenegro. In any case, the mood and vibe were very similar.