Interview with Ivan Antunovic of Small Doses!

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In Croatia we found Ivan Antunovic. Now, Ivan isn’t like everyone else. He has his own micro-label, does professional design work for a living, create music and also makes a fanzine. He’s been active in different groups in the Yugoslavian, now Balkan, underground. His alter-egos range from Half Releases to Innumerals, from his zine Small Doses to his designer-ego Nieuw NDG. This man has as many aliases as only he himself could know. Since a few years back he’s mainly been concentrating on releasing different singles and mini-albums alongside his fanzine. Even though the fanzine comes out every once in a while, he’s made a name for it through his proffesionality and originality when it comes to the design of the zine itself and all the macabre subjects which are disseminated within each number. He’s taken it from number one to number six – the last-mentioned due to be out in the very near future. I wanted to get the larger picture of what Ivan Antunovic actually does, how he copes with his egos, the climate in former Yugoslavia, his relationship with those he works with when doing the zine, the releases that are put out by him, his different projects before every alter-ego and many other things which you may find interesting.

So you have a zine Small Doses and you’ve currently released five different editions of it. But you’ve also got Half Releases and Innumerals. What did you first start out with and why has it evolved into three different fractions that are essentially the same?

This is a tough question – and also, only a tip of the iceberg I actually started making noises around 1997/98 with a very dear friend of mine, called Robi – we had a duo called Narrow, which operated in isolation for a number of years and around 2004 decided to come out of the shadows and operate more openly. Around late 2006, I started a parallel solo-thing called “Umrijeti za strojem”, which continues to release music sporadically and around 2009, when Robi and I decided to conclude the Narrow chapter, I/II and 0.5 were born simultaneously. Essentially speaking, I/II is a person and 0.5 is a label. “Small Doses” is mainly an extended tool, showcasing not just I/II and 0.5 but also many other interesting groups and individuals around the globe.

If we start with your project “Narrow”, which was started together with your friend Robi, could you tell us more about that endeavor? What happened between from 1997 and forward, and why did you decide to come out in the open around 2004?

I guess, we grew and learned more about making music and how to bring it out into the open. In time we felt confident enough to carry some of it out into the public, playing live – very few gigs we did though, but it was a great experience. When we first started, it was all raw, very improvised and noisy – technically speaking, it was very limited but also a lot of fun to do in its own way. We operated with cassette in the main, overdubbing things – we didn’t use a computer or anything that would be of, say-instant help. Of course, it’s not that we didn’t want to use a computer, but we learned to love and develop from the painstaking process of manual cut-and-paste. Somewhere along the way, Narrow was pushed into a more “melodic” territory, pieces turned into structured songs and by 2003 we became a very rough, minimal electronic-pop hybrid.

At the time, we wouldn’t have ever considered any of these recordings to be of interest to others, let alone released further than our own tiny DIY editions, but thanks to another very dear friend of ours – Nikola Vitković (of Alone and Ilegalne emocije fame), a German label (T)reue um (T)reue contacted us and proposed a vinyl release. The result was a tiny compilation album, with selected pieces from the 2003-2004 era. Ironically, by the time the record came out, Narrow was already a closed chapter.

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“When we first started, it was all raw, very improvised and noisy – technically speaking, it was very limited but also a lot of fun to do in its own way.”

Up until then, you started “Umrijeti za strojem” as you said, which roughly translates to “To die for machine” when I Google Translate it. Does this have anything to do with Croatian culture, heritage or the like? Have your earliest projects had to do with where you are from?

“Umrijeti za strojem” can be loosely translated as “To die for the machine”, but that’s just Google Translate and it’s not helping out with context, so I wouldn’t rely on it at all.

The phrase “Umrijeti za strojem” refers to suffering from work abuse or exhaustion from overwork. It is more like “to fall off your feet while standing at the factory line”, or “fall unconscious from staring at the computer screen for 16 hours” – in that context, “machine” and “dying” can mean quite a lot of things. In a way, it is a form of criticism against the modern society and automation it submits to: the speed of life, instant technology, everyone can be substituted, utter lack of human emotion… all of that can also be put into the UZS context of things… quite dystopian really, but with a trace of hope, inner rebellion against that dystopia.

In cultural terms, there might be a connection, considering the rich musical legacy of former Yugoslav underground scene, but in ethnical or otherwise “cultural” terms, UZS is not necessarily directly referential. More like commenting the society in general, regardless of ethnic or geographical whereabouts.

What do you think about the current political situation in Croatia in regards to that project? Since the industrialization, a lot of things have happened, but Yugoslavia have a kind of complex historic context – especially in regards to the 90’s. Could you tell me more about that?

Sadly, the “current political situation” in Croatia drags for about 20 years now and it turned out to be this horrible, messy octopus, drenched its tentacles causing continuous financial and economical breakdowns, due to corruption, greed and incompetence. Instead of learning from its own 90’s war experience and sadly, tragedy, Croatia today is a ruined country on many levels.

Regarding Yugoslavia on the other hand, many insist it was better times – I lived in that system for the first 15 years of my life, and all I can say is I’ve spent a decent, if modest childhood, growing up in my own isolated, care-free world of sorts. My parents probably felt some of the repression more, due to the totalitarian nature of the whole federation, a system that was flirting with both – east and west… Mentioning a little earlier, Yugoslavia had a very strong and rich multicultural background which was reflected in many ways, not just music – and in a positive way. Like many people, I share the very same nostalgia about certain contents of the time – be it music, films, children’s television programmes, entertainment and quiz shows, educational stuff… So, many ideas were considered to be more advanced back then, albeit a bit more naive – at least on the surface. Croatia being part of the federation back then, participated in many interesting ways but today, the authorities continually insist this inevitable part of history be erased.

In 1990, no-one noticed any of that, cheering for the (positive) change, but slowly things were changing not for the better – starting with the horrific war which, despite who started it, made every country a willing participant in a sick game of “divide and conquer”.

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“Regarding Yugoslavia on the other hand, many insist it was better times – I lived in that system for the first 15 years of my life, and all I can say is I’ve spent a decent, if modest childhood, growing up in my own isolated, care-free world of sorts.”

Would you say that many of the characteristics can be compared to the nostalgia that Germans have of the BRD in regards to their “new” and “democratic” system that they had installed after the fall of the Bundesrepublik? Also, how does this affect you as a person, both in music and in regards to your artistry as such?

Maybe it is so, yes. It certainly affects me now more than when I was younger and didn’t really pay that much attention to the climate change of the time… Seeing and judging things form today’s perspective, definitely affects my music and visuals as well. Although, I am trying not to sound too pathetic. I prefer allegory to direct meaning.

What do you mean by that?

I like to express my attitude through symbolic phrases, not necessarily preaching directly about the problems of economy, society or culture – for example, couple of songs I wrote for Umrijeti za strojem; one that is called “Strano tijelo”, which translates as “Foreign tissue”, is a song condemning xenophobia while on the other hand it is addressing cancer in both terms – as a disease and negative society issues (misinformation, prejudice, bigotry…), or for example “Mini-suknja i psihoanaliza” (“Mini-skirt and psychoanalysis”), a phrase directly borrowed from Foucault, is a reference to sexual freedom… I wouldn’t call these songs “Xenophobia” or “Sexual freedom”… it is just too plain and obvious. I am interested in forming a lyric line people would consider reading between the lines (in a positive sense, I hope).

Would you say that your interest for symbolic phrasing has anything to do with I/II, as I’ve read that it’s a kind of persona? How does it differ from you, personally, more then that you’re passionate about certain issues?

Yes, I/II definitely did provide an interesting conceptual platform. The name itself is deliberately non-descriptive, it can mean a lot of different things, other than just “half”. It might differ a great deal but then, it might be the perfect reflection of who I actually am. And slowly pushing my thirties, I can definitely say – in Morrissey’s words – I’m half a person now.

One hint that I have gathered is that it might be your closure from Narrow that contributed? Even though it’s deliberately non-descriptive, can’t one narrow you down to some factors that make you what you are? Since you say it’s a conceptual platform, how much is true and how much is fake?

I agree with you that the very initial idea about I/II was the “remaining half” of what Narrow once was. Speaking of true and fake, I guess many things reflecting in I/II’s repertoire so far don’t necessarily reflect me personally but also the close world around me – which includes friends and acquaintances that continue to inspire it. Of course, some of it is also fiction. Nothing can – or should be – entirely exposed as “true”.

I guess that’s necessary for it to remain relevant and mysterious. To be a riddle in some way. In regards to Narrow, you also had started up a label to release material called Aside Thorns. What was the meaning of that, both in means of what you created – and how it did (or did not?) affect you, in your modus operandi to come?

Aside Thorns was relevant during Narrow’s existence. The name is paraphrasing “Thorn In My Side”, which is a Eurythmics song. “Aside Thorns” being this small, unknown world, lurking from its shadows, waiting to be eventually discovered. In it there was also a bit of self-indulgence, pretending to be a “label” that no-one ever heard of.

After Narrow did appear more in the public, Aside Thorns became more relevant or say – more exposed. Certainly, many of the working methods during AT – especially including sleeve designs, definitely influenced the 0.5 imprint later on.

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“I like to express my attitude through symbolic phrases, not necessarily preaching directly about the problems of economy, society or culture”

As you’ve said, 0.5 was birthed at roughly the same time as I/II. What kind of relationship do you have to these fractions? Besides them being different in their execution. In what way did Narrow and Aside Thorns influence, more than in design? And what kind of influence was it when it comes to design, in the pure method of doing it?

I wanted something a bit more “confusing” in regards to the “artist” and “label” – in a way, we can tell, both are actually the same, I/II and 0.5 are just different ways to put it. I guess, my relationship with both these fractions is the same, I handle them with same care. When recording something, I pay more attention to detail regarding I/II and when planning a certain release (whether I/II or someone else’s), I pay more attention to executing an album sleeve, do the announcements, etc. In some way, these two “halves” do form a “complete picture” – or “person”.

Regarding Aside Thorns and Narrow’s influence, I guess what was done more rough and improvised back then (both auditively and/or visually), informed 0.5 to be more of a slick platform, but keeping its own audio-visual edge. Regarding pure designing method, influences are quite many – Zoviet:France for example, or Bruce Licher (of Savage Republic/Independent Project Records fame), then there are Mark Farrow, Peter Saville, Neville Brody and Vaughan Oliver that remain eternal sources of inspiration… More obviously so, because these people do interact with music – which is perfect. Music inspiring the designs and vice-versa… And of course, there is Russian Avantgarde and its apprentice-movements (Bauhaus, De Stijl, Futurism,…)

In recent years, I was also introduced to the amazing work of Milja Radovanović, who creates stunning and funnily perverse cassette packaging for the No Basement Is Deep Enough label… also the clothes designer Natascha Plum, whose work also inspired one of 0.5’s micro-edition releases, both of whom I’ve introduced in earlier “Small Doses” editions… I like the idea of playing with various material to give a certain release its deserved identity with tactile quality to it.

In regards to your graphic artistry, you’ve designed covers for two live-releases of Croatian artists, mainly jazz and the like. This spans from 2006-2007, from what I’ve found. Are you self-learned when it comes to graphic artistry? Also, what have you done that can not be related to 0.5 or I/II (or any other of your projects)?

I’ve designed quite a few more actually… For the Impromondays collective, Margita je mrtva, Zastranienie, f.O.F., Diskurz, the labels Monofonika and Room Tracks, Monofonik, even for Zone… I am sometimes using my real name, or appear under a pseudonym “Nieuw NDG”… or sometimes choose to remain hidden from the design credits… The list is probably a bit longer, but at the moment my brain is like a sieve.

Why do you have the pseudonym “Nieuw NDG” and why do you want to remain anonymous? Won’t people find out in the end, anyway?

In a way they did, people seem to be familiar with my work. Staying anonymous in some situations is a deliberate, conscious decision in order to keep things a bit more secret… and tease people a bit.

“Nieuw NDG” is deliberately a funny, non-descriptive choice of words to mark this specific area of operation, being graphic design (although “Nieuw” means “new” in Dutch, in deliberate reference to De Stijl) – forgot to answer regarding whether I am self-taught… Actually I am a professional. But there is definitely a self-taught level within this profession, because there are many things you learn yourself through professional experience…

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“I like the idea of playing with various material to give a certain release its deserved identity with tactile quality to it.

Considering that you have a lot of philosophical annotations to your works, and inspirations for that matter, would you care to reveal in what way they inspire your work? Because it’s hard enough to understand, let alone delve into their theories, when they’re in your framework.

I believe, any philosophical annotation that you suggest here, is a matter of spontaneity – more than deliberate (or conscious) observation. I approach things on intuitive level.. say, from the aesthetic point of view. If a certain phrase – or visual reference – appears to be aesthetically appealing, I will try and find a way to use it.

But it seems to me like you’ve chosen the more modernistic approaches in terms of philosophy and aesthetics. Why?

I guess it’s a matter of zeitgeist that is now. Everybody try and build their own philosophy these days… I am not sure what is my philosophy in that context. I prefer the word simplicity rather than “philosophy”… Because, simple things are the hardest to achieve… On the other hand, it may be modernist, but maybe it’s just nostalgia… cannot tell.

When it comes to “Umrijeti Za Strojem”, you explained what two tracks were about from your first release under that name. You’ve released quite a lot under that alter-ego. Could you go through the different releases and their meaning? Because it’s hard enough to understand the Croatian language if you do not know it that well.

Most of them do deal with social issues – “Strana A” (“Side A”) is about amnesia (in direct reference to Alzheimer’s desease), “Jednostavno” (“So Simple”) is basically a UZS auto-biographical song addressing what I explained about earlier in this interview, “Odnosi s javnošću” (“Public Relations”) deals with communication breakdown, “Plava pjesma” (Blue song”) is about violence within a relationship, “Opasna ljeta” (“Dangerous summer seasons”) is inspired by the horrible fire accident that killed 12 firemen on the Island of Kornati in the summer of 2007, “Izvan struje” (“Streamsides”), is referring to forms of escapism from everyday life, “Sivi dan” (“Sombre Day”) is originally a song by the Slovenian cult synth-pop group Videosex – if I understood it correctly, it is a song about emotional indifference, and to some extent about rape… “Odlazak” (“Departure”) and “Napunjeno vrijeme” (“Filling Time”) are originally written and performed by another Yugoslavian cult group, called Paraf, which are a bit abstract in lyrical content although referring the state regime of the time…

If we disregard the Croatian context for a moment, and step outside the bubble and into Small Doses – the label that you have in companionship with the zine – it was created at the same period that you decided to split personality. In what context are we now when re-visiting the beginning of Small Doses?

Actually, “Small Doses” is just a tiny extension to what I already started as 0.5 in 2009. In July 2012, I decided to put out the first edition. Considering there is so much interesting information around, I wanted to contribute by supporting those whose work I like and/or find interesting. In addition to written/printed word, the idea to add exclusive music was definitely the main inspiration for providing the periodical itself.

The very name “Small Doses” on one side refers to the modesty of my technical input, while on the other, the phrase is borrowed from a Fad Gadget song.

I find it to be a web of entanglement, since you have done and continue doing – a lot of things. Would you mind defining what you’ve done and what it is, both in the periods, but also the intention of them all?

In a way, it is a somewhat deliberate act of “confusion”… It’s the contents that should stand out on its own two feet, my (split) personality isn’t that important I am actually involved in quite a few other and altogether parallel projects that it makes it hard even for me to explain what is authentic between them… I guess it depends on the mood – if I feel like recording an album as I/II, then I7ll focus on that, if it’s a UZS situation, then I’ll dedicate my time and do something within that context… Regarding “Small Doses”, I am actually doing all the designs and preparing all the texts and interviews, translating some of them + recording occasional music if time allows me to. Of course, there are friends without whose tremendous help regarding English translation work I would have probably fallen off my feet at the time of preparing the very first issue. The intention is to bring people together, although I am not sure whether it entirely works on that level – but that’s a double-edge sword I accepted when starting the whole thing. Still, it’s wonderful to interact and get in contact with various people, be it music, literature, arts, fashion…

“Considering there is so much interesting information around, I wanted to contribute by supporting those whose work I like and/or find interesting.

Considering that you’re conscious about different issues, aren’t you worried that it will stray away from yourself if you allow other people into it? Or are you interested in differentiating opinions?

The very periodical is a platform open to discuss various issues, not entirely (and necessarily just music). Of course, music is the driving vehicle but through “Small Doses”, I am trying to present it through interactive areas – as mentioned in the previous answer. Yes, different opinions are always tempting to carry out and read.

In the very first issue of Small Doses, you had a lot of varying subjects that were addressed. Everything from J.G. Ballard, to Josef K, Natascha Plum, and Zagrob. Mixing both the more known with the unknown. What was it like releasing your first issue and what made you select those subjects, interviews, articles and alike?

It was the very first issue and in a way, the choice of topics was a bit random. But not without reason – Zagrob was at the time promoting his masterpiece album “Vječni stan” (meaning “Eternal Tenement”), which came out on Athanor and I truly recommend it, Natascha Plum started presenting her official clothing label and blog, and I became a big admirer of her work, while J. G. Ballard and Josef K was more of a music analysis – or some attempt to discuss the phenomenon of a song cover… For that first issue, Miro Župa also contributed – he is a very popular Croatian haiku-comics author, a great one in fact and he provided an interview with one of his proteges, the group called Dreamy Swastikas (too bad the interview wasn’t possible in Croatian considering the “Small Doses” international context, I am sure it would be far more hilarious)…

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So a lot of the inherent meaning is lost in translation, in regards to Dreamy Swastikas?

In a way yes – especially considering the Dreamy Swastikas interview was deliberately in misspellings and all in order to get the closest to the genuine Croatian translation of the very interview…

I’m guessing we’ll have to leave it at that. But I’m interested in the interpretation of Bill Nelson and Josef. K, because I’m not that sure of the connection between them. Being a Josef. K listener to some extent, this analysis becomes more interesting. I’m finding it hard to know just why, if you know what I mean? Could it be explained further?

I guess, that is probably the random choice I mentioned earlier. Between Bill Nelson and Josef K, there is no connection in terms of my choice of cover versions. I simply chose those two songs due to their melodic simplicity and pop-song aspects… Both songs in their original forms radiate with simplicity, yet they sound so uplifting, so stimulating… I always loved “Sorry For Laughing” and I wanted to find a link between the original and the more familiar Propaganda cover version, which is more audible in the Split Personalities’ cover version… Regarding the choice of Bill Nelson, actually it is a bit of an “anecdote” situation – you wouldn’t believe me but at the time of recording “The Real Adventure”, I just discovered his music – thanks to a friend, Nikola Vitković, who was quite surprised that I never really listened to any of Bill Nelson’s music previously… I remember, Nikola and I discussed this in terms of the very name – “Bill Nelson” can very easily be “anyone”, the name sounds a bit generic (with no offense to Mr. Nelson) to pay specific attention, unless you’re familiar with his work… Of course, after Nikola’s brief introduction, he played me the “Chimera” mini-album and I was just amazed. It’s been two years now and “Chimera” still spins on my turntable. I am a bit embarrassed to admit all this, but I guess, the excuse would be there is just too much great music in the world and in a lifetime we cannot achieve the ultimate goal of hearing absolutely everything…

I’ll be as embarrassed as you then, because I neither had any idea about Mr. Nelson. In regards to the contribution of Miro Zupa, whom you say is a popular Croatian haiku-comics author, how popular is he in Croatia as a whole? Is he a niche character, or widely appreciated, even outside Croatia?

I am sure, Mr. Nelson would understand I actually contacted him through his official website forum when the Split Personalities cover was done and he replied very kindly, I even sent him a copy of the periodical at the time – but being a busy man, Bill never replied back whether he received it or not… In all, he is a music genius and I absolutely recommend you check out his music… Miro Župa is very popular within the underground comics/art circles, he is also a sculptor, which adds to the charm of all the characters that he brings to life through paper – as he also creates the sculptures of them. I’ve been to some of his exhibitions and all i can say, his work brings joy and happiness in people, in the purest sense of the word – because, Miro is one of those rare people that bring a smile to other people’s faces, whether with his work, or by simply meeting him in the street. He is a very funny guy and very very eloquent. He is also into music, and even more so, the owner of the most obscure music collection imaginable.

This also brings me to the Fad Gadget-connection that you have. I believe it is taken from a part of the lyrical content in “Swallow It (Regurgitated)”. It seems like Small Doses, and your other projects, are derived from what you call “the underground”. Do you see this as an opportunity to allure to people interested in a niche circle, or could it be a problem? What do you say?

Yes, it’s from Fad Gadget’s “Swallow It”. There is a line in the song saying “Take your medicine, scented roses, one for the sake of it, keep to small doses…” which I admire from Frank Tovey’s point of view as he is commenting on exaggeration – be it addiction or plain and simple consumerism… I borrowed from it more within the context of “less is more”… Speaking of “underground”, in a way we can talk in terms of a niche, because, everything tends to be over-exploited these days, from Lady Gaga to Boyd Rice… With “Small Doses” and 0.5 in general, I do enjoy the so-called micro-cosmos, a place where I enjoy the freedom of choice inviting like-minded groups and individuals to join and participate… We’ve got one life to live so let’s make things fun and creative… A parallel world, where you gather your friends and acquaintances and make new friends. Communicate. It’s new utopia practically…

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“Miro is one of those rare people that bring a smile to other people’s faces, whether with his work, or by simply meeting him in the street.

When we left off the last time I asked you about the first edition of Small Doses. Then came number two, three, four and five – and now the sixth is on its way. Could you summarize what you’ve been through and what’s coming?

At the moment I sent questions to some really amazing individuals who happen to be among my music mentors as well (in terms of inspiration) – Stephen Singleton, James Nice, Warren Defever and eventually Paul Haig… at the moment Warren responded pretty quickly to his interview while the remaining participants happen to be very busy… and I am also quite busy myself, preparing bucketloads of I/II material for release and it all happens to pop in at once, so I’m a little exhausted from it all.

If we end this interview on a rather good note, I would like you to tell me about your favorite writings from Small Doses and your favorite release! Anything else besides that which you want to put out there for the world to see?

I am especially happy to have communicated with a group of people who kindly contributed their gorgeous music to the 0.5 catalogue so far – Popsimonova & Zarkoff, Colin Lloyd Tucker, Simon Fisher Turner, The Bridge, Alone In Heaven, Ilegalne emocije, Noi Kabat, Soft Riot, Hemendex, My Robot Friend and Videododir. Being a “micro-label” in itself, which happens to be a bit “selective” already, it would be ungrateful to point out just one release among these diamonds… They are all great and mean a lot.

Small Doses in general is fun to make – despite its modest volume – so to point out just to a portion of its contents would be pretty ungrateful as well. It just happens as a whole, and I am really happy with all of it… And that so many great people exist and create great stuff… All I can say to every single one of these wonderful people is – one big THANK YOU and let’s keep the rhythm of the very work and the printed word alive. Of course, due to a certain majority of people out there who are willingly supporting 0.5 and taking notice, it is even more inspiring and brings hope for something we can call a scene.

Besides people I mentioned throughout this interview, I also recommend you to pay attention to the work of groups like Leifert, Šumovi protiv valova, Markantonija, Diskurz, Man Machine, Baden-Baden, Marinada, NNNF (aka No Name No Fame), … then, there are Klopka za pionira, Lenhart Tapes, Konvoj bonton bajkera which is amazing, … then there are Seasick 6, a brilliant death-surfrock group from France, a highly innovative cassette label called No Basement Is Deep Enough,… Aufnahme + Wiedergabe and Totally Wired Records are continuously putting out great stuff… NAUK from Serbia as well… the list is vast and counting… it sadly won’t fit in this interview. It’s up to you folks, explore and pay attention. There are many reasons life on this planet is worth living!

Listen to the exclusive track “Justice“, the pre-mastered version, taken from the S/T debut mini-album of Colourbox from 1983 – cover-version by Split Personalities (I/II). A rehearsal piece, intended for the forthcoming I/II retrospective titled “Reminders“. This forthcoming release will also cover a range of previous releases, test-recordings and one exclusive remix. The release date haven’t been set yet. But you can listen to this track exclusively on Repartiseraren as a part of this interview.

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One thought on “Interview with Ivan Antunovic of Small Doses!

  1. Pingback: Najbolji linkovi s interneta, 26.-30.5.2014. « planb.hr

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