Heroes: Interview with Slobodan Brkic (Disco Not Disco, Belgrade)

brka

How are you and where are you at the moment?

I’m doing fine, thanks. I just had a Sunday lunch at the nearby restaurant. Now, I’m back home.

Is Brkic a popular last name in Serbia?

Brkic means a guy with mustache, so it’s popular all over the former Yugoslavia. I guess that one of my forefathers had a spectacular mustache, so we are stuck with that surname now. I never had a mustache but people were calling me Brka since I was a boy. It’s a bit strange when they call you Brka in primary school but I guess it works well as a DJ name now.

My parents told these stories about rare and expensive records from abroad. Were you at the same situation in your country before crash of USSR?

Yugoslavia was a bit different than the rest of East European countries; we were not under direct influence of USSR since 1948. We had passports and open borders. Our communist leader Tito attempted to create “the socialism with a human face». He got a lot of help from the West for that project, which included loans but also rock and roll and Hollywood movies. That’s why some sociologists call the Yugoslav system, coca-cola communism.

coca

Rock and roll was seen as a progressive thing, something that is above the national cultures, which were often associated with nationalism. So, Yugoslav communists, after some hesitation, actually supported the rock scene. So, lots of Yugoslav rock records were produced by the state owned record companies, which at the same time had distribution deals with all major international labels. The major releases were appearing in Yugoslavia at the same time when they would in the UK or America. So, if it was on EMI or Atlantic and if it sold a lot, we’d get a local release.

Still, we didn’t really want those records, we wanted records that didn’t sell a lot or independent records (like 4AD, Rough Trade, SST etc.), which didn’t have the local distribution. So, you had to save the money and bug those who traveled to England or the US to get them for you. JAT pilots and stewardesses brought a lot of records to Belgrade in those days, very often before they were released officially. They ruled the «black» record market.

As a collector, you always want the stuff you can’t get. That’s the only constant thing with records, no matter how many you have or what’s on offer in your town. I kind of stopped chasing records these days; I let them come to me. Internet changed all that, really. We live in a different world today. I think it’s better, although I do miss somehow the rush of getting a package of records after a long wait.

stuff

DJ profession seems quite exotic in post Soviet countries, how did you come to it?

I’m not a professional DJ, I have a day job. I see my DJing as a community service. I have an urge to share the music. The fact that some people seem to be enjoying my selections makes me incredibly happy.

Music was always around me. My father had a nice collection of classic rock, r’n’b and soul. So, I would bring the records to birthday parties, school dances etc. as a very young age. As I grew older, the habit grew stronger, it became a bit of an obsession really. All I cared about was music. Punk hit my generation in the late seventies. We discovered reggae and dub a bit later. Funk and hip hop came along in the late eighties. We hated disco in those days, which seems rather bizarre from today’s perspective.

london

As a pacifist, when the war broke out in 1991, I left Yugoslavia. I was 20 years old and I went to London. I managed to get into university there and, at the same time, after working numerous dreadful bar jobs, landed a part time job at one of the biggest second hand record shops — Music and Video Exchange at Notting Hill Gate. I really got my second education in that shop from the likes of Sean P and Hector. Shops like MVE were internet before the internet, the knowledge behind that counter was amazing.

About that time, I also discovered house music. It was at the Primal Scream gig. I went to see a rock gig and ended up at my first rave. Paul Oakenfold and Andy Weatherall were playing before and after the band. London was incredible in those days. I’ve just missed the acid house open air era of the late eighties and the scene was slowly moving into clubs. I used to go to the Ministry of Sound, Gardening Club, Blue Note, Rage, Drum Club, Milk Bar, Camden Loft, Garage City etc. Radio One and Kiss FM were great in those days, pirate radio was also booming. I used to listen to the Girls FM a lot.

I got my degree and went back to Belgrade in 1996. I brought a lot of house records from London and started playing in the legendary Industrija club with my friends from Radio B92 who already had a residency there. Industrija was the birth place of house and techno in Serbia. It was an amazing club operating during strange times in Belgrade. That’s where I learnt how to play a big floor and stay underground. Literally underground, as we had parties there during the NATO raids over Belgrade in 1999.

Soon after the collapse of Milosevic regime in Serbia, big sponsored events and festivals started to mushroom (Exit, Echo or Urban Experience). I played at these big events but at one point I got tired of it. We decided to make a smaller party without sponsors, championing challenging music — that’s how we get to Disco Not Disco. I still play the festivals and big events but my heart is with Disco Not Disco and 20/44.

disco

Tell about Disco Not Disco, how did it start?

Toshke, Schwabe and I started Disco Not Disco in late 2007. Our friend from England and a very fine DJ, Phil Banks, played the first party. Little did we know that we’ll be still doing it seven years later. In those days, we got tired of big sponsored parties, festivals, fancy venues and the overall mass popularity of house music. So, we decided to do our party without sponsors, without advertising and ultimately without any profits to speak of. Essentially, we went totally underground at the time when we could have been thinking of making money from parties. The fact that we all had day jobs helped a lot in making that decision. It’s not that expensive to make a quality party for music connoisseurs… if you are totally honest and if the party is really good, the word spreads out and some amazing DJs will play for you at a fair price. At the end of the day, you won’t make any money but you won’t lose any money either. And you’ll have a great party. So, these are the main principles. People recognized our attitude and the party has been going strong ever since that first one in Cvijeta club in 2007.

What is so special about 20/44 club?

We were roaming the clubs and venues across Belgrade with Disco Not Disco until we found our home at 20/44. That boat is our home for the past five years or so, ever since it was opened really. It’s an amazing small venue (250 people in the winter and maybe 400 in the summer with an open deck) at the confluence point of Sava and Danube rivers, with a great view of old Belgrade. Still, what makes that place special are the people who are running it. The owners, brothers Bozovic, are amazing people. They care about their guests, staff and DJS. It’s like a happy hippie family. You cannot buy that and you can feel the love when you board that boat.

hippie

Name your favorite guests on your parties?

We had more than sixty guests over the years. Still, our favorite guest is definitely Vladimir Ivkovic, a guy from Belgrade who made his name in Salon Des Amaterus in Dusseldorf. He is absolutely the hottest DJ on the planet, if you ask me. We have a good cooperation with the guys from the Salon and we often share bookings with Detlef. Jan Schulte play our party in April.

We also like Japanese DJs, Chee Shmizu and Chida were great. It was a huge pleasure to host the legends like Baldelli and Beppe Loda. Daniel Wang is one of my personal heroes, probably the best original disco DJ on the planet, played a couple of time for us. UK Balearic DJs like Phil Mison and Moonboots, as well as our friends from the RedLight Records in Amsterdam, are also a special part of our Disco Not Disco extended family. French guys like Vidal Benjamin and Alexis LeTan were amazing, Jeremy Underground Paris had one of his first gigs at 20/44 and has been coming back every year since. We also love to have our disco Norwegians and it’s always special to host somebody from the US, like Ron Morelli, Lee Douglas or Andrew Lovefingers.

I have to mention that we also make an effort to book DJs from Eastern Europe. Recently, we had Pavel Plastikk from Ukraine and Yula from Russia. We also had parties with the Very Polish Cut Outs and Romania’s Khidja. Baris K from Istanbul played for us 3 times already, Ilias Dynamos and MariCha from Greece were great too. We are also cooperating closely with Pepi and Luka from the Masters club in Zagreb, Nikola from Podgorica’s District Club in Montenegro, as well as with Ichi San from Slovenia.

I’m sure I’m missing someone important but you can see the full list of our past guests at this page

Have you a Disco Not Disco hymn record?

Well, here are 5 very predictable Disco Not Disco anthems:

1. Chris Rea — Josephine (La Version Francaise)
2. Loredana Bertè — In Alto Mare
3. Shriekback — My Spine is the Bassline
4. The Style Council — Money-Go-Round (Dance Mix)
5. Kissing The Pink — Radio On

What’s the plan for Disco Not Disco label? Have you some releases in mind? Who are behind the label?

Schwabe and Luka (pretty famous record dealer from Belgrade) are really behind the label. They were the driving force behind our first release – Boban Petrovic’s LP Zora. Zora was one of the most expensive Yugoslav records on Discogs (going for well above the $400 mark) and we decided to offer it again to the people – with Boban’s blessing – at a normal price (and better pressing). We have a couple of ideas for the second release. This time, we hope it’s going to be some unreleased material from the past. In the mean time, Luka started his own new label Discom and you can expect this fabulous release from Max Vincent soon.

Tell us about Boiler Room in Belgrade from last year, how it was? You held every record you played in front of a camera, is it an important moment of appreciation to records on your parties?

There was a big flood in Serbia on that day and the festival, from which the Boiler Room was supposed to be aired, was almost cancelled. The organizers turned it into a charity event and that’s why you could see all those notes that Serbia needs donations during our set.

Anyway, Schwabe and I decided to go with the pure Yugo set, straight from the old vinyl. The idea was to represent our culture to the global audience. Of course, we could have done it better if we practiced a bit. Anyway, we had a good time and got some positive feedback.

We see no point in hiding record covers or play lists. We are all about sharing and getting people exposed to our music. It’s also important to preserve the vinyl; music from that era should be played from the records.

What was the most memorable moment in your career?

I headlined many parties. However, as a host of Disco Not Disco I played a lot of intro sets over the years. And I think I developed a very special skill along the way. You can’t bang it during intro sets but you can’t be too boring either. It’s tricky. It’s especially tricky to play before your personal heroes. Responsibility is high.

One of the most memorable moments of my DJ career was when I opened for Gilles Peterson. Gillles is a big hero of mine; he discovered so much great music to me, old and new. There is no better feeling than when somebody like Gilles is asking you to ID a tune for him from your opening set. It means that he was listening and it meant that I did a good job. I gave him the CD and Gilles played it on his next radio show, sending me a big shout out. It felt really good. Still does when I think about it.

gilles

What kind of stuff you’re playing today? Are you interested in modern dance stuff and what is it?

As always, I’m playing all kinds of styles, old and new. I’m chasing a feeling not style or age, really. As a resident DJ at 20/44, I play the same crowd very often and I think that one of my roles is to break new music to my dancers. I do go to Juno and check new releases weekly. I also get a lot of new promo stuff. If I have to mention a couple of new producer that I’m feeling, I’ll single out young Nenad Markovic, Marko Homeboy and Young Marco.

You are a big expert in weird Yugoslavian stuff, name basic records.

Well, here are some of my favourites… these are by no means the best or the most known Yugoslav records. Still, they represent what I think was the best of that scene and they have endured the test of time:

1. Pop Masina – Na drumu za haos. The first proper acid rock album in Belgrade, released in 1973. It sounds a bit like Harvey’s Wildest Dreams.
2. Bijelo Dugme – Na zadnjem sedistu moga auta. The biggest Yugoslav band of all times, doing their disco hit. We didn’t like them really but this live recording from 1979 shows how state sponsored Yugo rock was really big.
3. Idoli – Amerika. Tune from the seminal new wave compilation released in 1981, as a response to Bijelo Dugme and disco and all that old stuff.
4. Kim Band – Ljubi me brzo (LP, 1981). Today, massive hit for jazz dancers all over the world. Needless to say, nobody wanted to buy this record when it was released in Yugoslavia, now it goes for silly money on the internet.
5. Boban Petrovic – Zajedno srecni (LP, 1981). Well, I had to put this one on the list…
6. Rex Ilusivii – Facedance (Disillusioned LP 1984). Probably my favorite Yugo record. Watch out for Rex’s early staff to be released soon on Offen Music.
7. Bebi Dol – Mustafa. Probably my favorite Yugo 7″, released in 1981. Big shout out to Mikkel who is running the best party in Copenhagen.

Follow Disco Not Disco on Mixcloud
Check fantastic Slobodan’s mix for us

Words by Sasha Tessio & Artem Super Ikra
Cover drawing by Sasha Tessio