In the late nineties when NATO was bombing the Serbian capital, Belgrade for reasons that hard to remember today, the innocent people caught in the crossfire could but look on as the harsh realities of a war they didn’t cause nor welcomed, was fought right at the doorstep. As is always the case with these types of international squabbles where two political elites determine what’s wrong or what’s right for a nation, the innocent civilians on the ground with no political motive of their own are always the most effected by the circumstances that evolve around these situations. During times like these it’s often useful to evoke that old English trope of ”keep calm and carry on”, but often that’s not nearly enough and what you need is more than just an escape, and that’s exactly what a whole generation of adolescent youths in 1999 in Belgrade. They took to the warehouses with Techno as their soundtrack and tracks like Richie Hawtin’s Minus Orange became anthems for the disenfranchised youths of the Serbian capital.
One such youth was Tijana T(odorovic), and as she explains in Resident advisor: ”Being a DJ at that time was the highest form of rebellion—in a country under sanctions, with no music distribution, where no one is allowed to travel abroad and the inflation rate leads to an average salary of €3 per month, to find records, throw a party and have thousands of people raving to it — that was fucking magic!” She went from the dance floor to a career in music journalism, interviewing various electronic music producers and DJs as a TV presenter in Serbia.
Playing obscure electronic classics on national TV in Serbia, she would inform open-minded audiences throughout the country while bolstering her reputation as a knowledgeable and sincere selector. Eventually leaving her TV day job she poured herself completely into your new calling as a DJ. It coincided with an appearance at Exit festival where she would croon the audience over Abe Duque’s live show to an ecstatic response, cementing in her the desire to become a performer, and DJing became her calling.
Tijana T would follow Abe Duque to Germany, and garnered the respect of a whole new audience, cementing her reputation as an internationally recognised DJ. Last year marked 15 years from interviewing guest at EXIT festival to playing the main stage, and Tijana T’s journey has only but begun. She’ll be playing alongside VRIL and G-Ha & Olanskii this Frædag for their Øya Natt special, so we thought it pertinent to shoot over some questions.
Hi Tijana thank you for talking to us. You are the first DJ from Serbia to ever play at Jæger so paint us a scene if you please. You’re a teenager in Serbia, NATO is currently bombing your city and the schools are closed, but you’re listening to Richie Hawtin in a warehouse club. How were you introduced to this music and what was it about it that spoke to you?
I was quite familiar with electronic music of all sorts as a kid, as my uncle was a passionate music lover and record collector. So already at age 3 or 4 I was listening to Kraftwerk and even much crazier stuff like Einsturzende Neubauten. Lots of industrial and synth records were around the house at the time. My uncle also took me to the first house party when I was 14 in a club called Soul Food in Belgrade. I still remember people covered in glitter with wigs, drag queens dancing on the speakers. The track playing was The Bucketheads “These Sounds Fall Into My Mind”. At the time parties and raves were just starting in Belgrade and it was the thing to do, a place to be! It was new, exciting and spectacular. The country was in a total disaster, falling apart, poverty, hunger, war imagery everywhere, young men being taken to the war involuntarily, hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding in…. and in the night everyone lived as if we’re in New York. Due to this crazy situation, the media was quite open and there were not so many commercial demands so we could actually get educated on the most sophisticated music of all genres just listening to the radio or watching TV. I religiously tuned in to some radio shows on radio B92 and wrote down all the song titles and if I didn’t hear it,l I would call the radio station to ask for an ID. I was quite a nerd at school and had a lot of extra activities after school, language classes, choir rehearsals, music classes and I approached going to parties equally diligently. I would go there all on my own, somehow find a way to get in as I couldn’t afford the ticket, then stand in front of the speaker, dance for hours and then either go home get my stuff and go to school or just go to school directly. At the time I had no idea or wish to become a DJ, I was studying languages and literature and philosophy, convinced to become professor later in life.
You went from a student, to a music television host and selector (with the type of programming that would make Larry Flynt blush). What do you look for in tracks as a DJ today and how has it developed through your career?
My music taste is really wide and even if I did music journalism for such a long time, I still don’t find it easy to verbalise my feelings about music. It’s such an intimate, physical thing and so personal. I find it hard to discuss music with other people as it depends so much on each one’s personal frequencies and emotional perception. In music (as in life) I like to feel intensely. So it can be ecstatic feeling, it can be melancholic feeling, it can be noise that disturbs me, it can be an infectious groove. Also, since I have the experience as a radio and TV selector, I have a bit of a pop perception, always looking for “songs” even in loopy techno tracks.
Speaking of pop music, your first stage appearance was actually as a vocalists for Abe Duque. How did you go from there to the decks and how did the scene in Belgrade play a role in your development?
At the same time I started working with Abe I started a Monday night residency in Belgrade with my best friend. We were both girls doing music TV shows and interviewing musicians and DJs and we always thought there’s so much music we could also share and play. So what started as a fun thing on a Monday night, became a successful club event and as I was travelling with Abe I could buy records and get more serious. We don’t have record shops in Belgrade really. Abe was also my mentor in teaching me how to perform live and use machines as well as where to get my records. So for years I was practising my mixing skills at full parties, crowded places. I’m very lucky people in Belgrade were coming for my selection and not for the mixing, it was really embarrassing for a long time :) And I am very happy that many club owners and promoters were persistently booking me at that time. They had more belief in me than myself. I would never be who I am if I wasn’t doing so many various gigs around Belgrade, from little bars in front of 2 people to all-nighters, and huge raves. Belgrade has a tough crowd, people are selective when it comes to music and they want to be entertained at the same time. Belgrade completely defined me as a DJ.
Besides that vocal appearance, you’ve feigned the ubiquitous DJ/producer role. Why have you steered clear from the studio?
Actually I spend time in the studio and I work on music, but I’m so self-critical it’s hard to select something I would like to have released and share with the world. I think there’s so much mediocre and bad music out there, I don’t want to be the one contributing to white noise. Also, I wanted to see how far I could go with DJ-ing only. Imperative of having releases in the DJ world is something don’t agree with.
We talk a lot about the escapism that a club environment offers, because at the end of the day everybody needs an escape from the harsh realities outside time to time and just be allowed to enjoy themselves, right. But how fundamental was, and is, the clubbing scene in Belgrade to underlying social structure in the city for everyday people like you?
Going out in Belgrade is still a must. It’s not only about social or economic circumstances, it’s also in our mentality. Serbians are like Mediterraneans in that sense. Eating, drinking, having long coffees, partying… but all that with a deep and dark Slavic twist. In a way people in Belgrade go out so much cause there’s nothing else or nothing better to do. It’s not escapism, it’s reality. And it’s good cause the mainstream culture almost doesn’t exist due to really gloomy political situation in the country. So we built our own culture. I said it already before, but right now the world is in a really weird historical moment. Maybe it’s time to wake up and understand what’s going on around us. My feeling is that parties, clubs and festivals in the Western world also make youngsters a bit numb. It’s so easy to live in that bubble where everything is nice, all the people are familiar and you just travel, dance and get lost. Some seriously wrong things are happening outside this bubble.
Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton said in their book “last night a DJ saved my life”: “Dancing is political, stupid!” What are your thoughts on that sentiment?
It is, or it could be or more precise – it was political. I danced in a political sense very much, I can feel this statement. But in 2017 we can’t dance things off. I mean, yes of course, if dancing becomes a part of some sort of extreme worldwide revolution :) Better don’t get me started on politics, my views are not easily digestible for everyone.
Today you find yourself in Berlin. How has the scene there continued to shape or even evolve your selections?
Actually I’m still only a regular guest in Berlin. I live in Belgrade. I started coming to Berlin very often when I started working with Abe back in 2005. It was really inspiring and that’s the place where I bought my first records. Berlin is for me was extended education and it still is. I go there to learn and evolve.
You started out as journalist 16 years ago interviewing people at EXIT festival and last year you made it back full circle back to EXIT, but playing a headliner slot. What was the significance of that for you and would you say that it coincided with cementing a Tijana T sound in the booth?
Last year was beautiful at Exit and this year I played a super headliner slot at Dance Arena. It was a really touching moment. My heart almost exploded and I got all my friends and ex-colleagues on stage. It was such a celebratory moment. The very special touch was Roisin Murphy’s band members with Eddie as the master of ceremonies also there with me. This guy created some of my most loved pieces of pop music and he was there for support. His reaction to my set was worth a million. I’m not going to share it with the public though :) I think with Exit things just came together somehow finally. They recognised I am ready and it happened.
How do you see your set at Jæger unfolding next weekend?
It will be serious and humorous as always. Happy to play with Vril, he’s also funny. Surprisingly.
Can you play us out with a song.
It’s not going to be club music. Here’s a super emotional song by PJ Harvey.