Summertime. You certainly can’t complain about your options in electronic music festivals.
But in some of the best festivals, there’s also a sameness – talented lineups, repeated from weekend to weekend. That predictability is part of the draw, part of the commercial viability of many of these events and of the artist industry they support. But where do you go if you want something different to happen? If you want a mix of music that’s different, an environment that’s different, if you want all the things that wouldn’t work elsewhere?
One place to go is the countryside of Serbia, from the 3-5 of July. A select group of 300 people will get to do just that.
There, three of Belgrade’s best underground music forums are teaming up. The people behind Dis-patch Festival and “cult” clubs Drugstore and 20/44 are joining up to make something small, decidedly un-commercial, and unique. There’s reason to keep your eyes on what happens next, even if you’re not going to be anywhere near the Balkan region this summer. Drugstore, for one, has become an essential hub in what defines the worldwide electronic underground at the moment.
I’m going there next month partly as an artist – I played the old Drugstore before it was shut down and replaced by a grander new venue – and on behalf of CDM. In the latter capacity, we’ll have our own tent (or possibly dome) in which we welcome inventor/artists to share their creations.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for festival organizers to make claims about being different. So we’re joined by Relja Bobić and Bane Jovancevic to learn what they mean, specifically, and to hear more about the state of the music landscape in the region in 2015.
We talked about being local in some sense, being connected to a place. What does that mean to you?
Being local for us means that you’re connected to certain time and place in an honest way. We are all witnessing this demystification of local by the “Lonely Planet generation”, where we all try to be non-tourists, ending up doing exactly the opposite. Being local doesn’t mean knowing the most hip bar in the neighborhood – it means that wherever you end up, you need to give most of what you got.
We all know it’s not possible to give all you have wherever you go, if you are an artist doing 20 shows a month. It’s rather another capitalist takeover of culture, and it never could be local. Not wanting to sound too leftist, but yes – we are somehow trying to give artist back to the people by having only one stage, one high-quality sound, light design without the fancy synched video mapping, challenging around-the-clock lineup that aims to create a specific flow, in which the artists’ music is going to have enough time and space to naturally unfold and catalyze the crowd.
What’s this moment in Serbia like for electronic music? How does it connect to the places around it, particularly as it has this central location, but also challenging politics and other barriers? Thinking of the connections to places like Bulgaria in this lineup, too, what’s happening?
The moment for electronic music in Serbia is somehow mirroring the political situation. And it seems it has been like that for the past 20 years. We are very much living in the post-transition era, youth is torn between window-shopping in malls by day and sucking up TV reality shows by night. Occasionally interrupted by trashy turbo-folk howls full of nationalist fillings on weekends.
In this kind of climate, you are often dealing with extremes, where “sides” are further and further separated with each day. The problem is that promoters are pushing electronic music as something that should be familiar to the average 20-year-old. But it is not like that. We need to step back and rethink the approach, and introduce it in a manner that is not drastic.
The situation is more or less the same in the entire region, and Belgrade is somehow naturally the center of happenings as it is the biggest market. That is also where part of the problem is. The scene is constantly diluted by huge corporate-sponsored parties which are falsely presented as “underground”, which leads to the youth being tricked by the “party industry”, serving the illusion that they have attended a “true rave” party.
The idea behind +++ is to introduce the “small town” approach, and by dislocating the event to the open-air, countryside location this become literally the case. We would like to unite with the artists and the audiences in a true community-driven spirit, offer everyone and anyone a chance and not push things to the extremes. Having a number of artists from Bulgaria at our first event is also very important for us, as they have been doing a similar event called Artmospheric festival for years now, and this year they are making a break. Our communities will be connected through collaboration on both events, as Artmospheric comes back in 2016 with their 10th anniversary. They have been a big inspiration for us, and in a way incited the moment in which we started talking about doing something new, in a new way. Which came to be +++.
I think a lot of us in electronic music, in techno, start to think about what can happen with an experience beyond the one we usually access. What’s this experience going to be like for participants – artists and listeners?
We hope no one is going to be left indifferent. By mixing up all kinds of genres and interpretations, supporting original music and the live experience – around 70% of the sets will be live sets – we are hoping that, the die-hard techno fans will be more responsive to Pure Data manipulations of field recordings, or 808 house purists will become more open-minded towards live tarabuka drumming and vice versa. We feel that this kind of synergy is going to be generated by nature and unobtrusive presentation of music.
And need not forget – live music is the central force of +++, but the “experience” is completed by being in the lush natural surroundings of Šumadija (central Serbia) at an altitude of around 800m, and also experiencing the best local food, fruits, or spirits. There are also plenty of side-programs intended for kids or dedicated to “wild food”, and there’s the collaboration with CDM. We stress that the event is pet and family-friendly.
Can you introduce some example artists our readers might want to get to know? Where can they check them out (including if they aren’t lucky enough to get to +++)?
It is always hard to single out especially now when we are so proud of our line-up, which presents as many as 33 acts!
But to anyone who never had chance to listen to Vladimir Ivkovic, we are sure his 3-hour opening set of the event (on July 3rd from 6 PM) will change the perception of DJing and blow away any genre-oriented preferences towards what is dance/club music and what’s not. You can usually catch him behind the decks of Salon Des Amateurs in Düsseldorf.
33.10.3402 is producer whose work has just started to clam wider international recognition, but has something of a cult following among the Belgrade crowd for years now.
The only “pop” act playing the event is the duo Ti , who have just released their second album, induced with psychedelic dream-pop romance.
Ed.: To this list, apart from noting the great TM-404 is playing live, I’ll add a couple of other random picks.
First, I’m a huge fan these days of A//O (atom/output) – worth catching up with this Belgrade solo project on its own. And he’s just now out with a great new podcast that I’ve had on repeat, put out by Warsaw’s wonderful Behind the Stage.
Also, here’s Belgrade sound artist Svetlana Maras, from deep in experimental terrain, who is not only an inventive composer but a great teacher, too.
What does it mean to be family friendly? Obviously, a lot of our scene very much isn’t.
First of all, we are implying that it is an event where it is very convenient to bring your kids along, and not worry too much by the overwhelmingly loud music and other issues that are related to young kids at most of the festivals. We also have a tradition of working with artists and kids through the KidsPatch initiative since 2008 via Dis-patch. In terms of sound, we will focus on quality rather than loudness, as we will be in an open space, in the middle of the forest. So you don’t really need to damage your ears, but enjoy the music. In another sense, we are family-friendly in terms that we are creating a sort of a new family of people who will be drawn by this sort of experience.
+++ draws bits of inspiration from the trance raves, from (post-)hippie festivals, from contemporary music festivals and outdoor raves and renegade parties. But it is none of those things, we are all going to find out what it is and be a part of it in the first weekend of July. Pets are welcome too!
You both build on some deep experience in the community. What are some events or venues that have been special to you – over the years? Now?
The game-changer for both of us was the Artmospheric festival in Bulgaria. As for your “regular” club venue/event, about:blank [in Berlin] and its Homopatik party was also one of the best ones we attended in years. It’s always a healthy dose of craze and surprise.
Before that, the Dis-patch crew had some intensive experiences in the USA while conducting the collaborative ViceVerse tour with Communikey Festival in 2010, which is actually when the first seeds of the +++ idea were planted. We did not even know each other back then. Ed.: ha, actually, I didn’t know either of them in 2010 either, but we all somehow crossed paths that year in Colorado – I was VJing in the Fiske Planetarium at the closing, not knowing I’d meet them years later in Belgrade. Fate.
We have a varied experience in terms of how long we both have been involved in the scene, but with the community, contacts and credibility that Dis-patch festival had built over a period of 10 years, and now the intensive connectedness of Drugstore to the current global underground dance scene, we feel that the potential lies in this combination. Last but not least, our team is joined by the other cult club in Belgrade, the boat 20/44.
It’s funny, there’s almost a disassociation of techno with any real connection to natural environments. There will be an outdoor stage or an open-air, sure, but even there we’re hardly talking much of a relationship. Do you feel like this can be different? What does that mean for the music?
That is a tough question. Being in constant surrounding of big techno parties at Drugstore, over time you see that DJs that are stuck in one genre are the ones that are having a hard time to connect more profoundly with audience, and often people lose focus and drift away. Techno needs to breathe in the same way the nature does. There is always something deferent happening, not just the sound of one bird.
Let’s for a moment look at what Rabih Beaini does, or Traxx. These guys are so genre-free and still you can put them on in the darkest hour of any techno club, and hardly anyone can match up. I think this is a way to put techno in the right context with nature, to understand it more as a sonic movement than as pre-ordered mixtures and variations of the right cymbals, bass lines or syncopated hi-hats. You can be more techno with just a bagpipe then with several 909s, Tempests, 303s and whatnot. But more about bagpipes some other time (laughter).
Ed.: Yes, we… well, we have some bagpipe ideas, seriously. Bane and I are talking about that one.
You’re asking for a higher level of involvement from people coming. How does that differ from other events? Does this have an impact on the social relationship to the event?
In a way, the very nature of this event is such. You are not deciding on the day if you are going or not, you are not getting your ticket at the door. We have had really amazing feedback to the initiative, and we feel people are also appreciating the fact it is limited to only 300 visitors. We want to make it on a “human” level, and create space for real connections.
We will do that also with the stage and the infrastructure we will be building, for which we are running a Kickstareter campaign that is already confirming the social and community potential this event may have. It might all sound a bit “hippie”, but we feel that the mixture of influences and inspirations that went into conceiving +++ will result in a really unique experience for us all.
The event is non-profit and aims to be sustainable from ticket sales, affordable bar and food. There will be no branding at the site, and there are no corporate sponsorships involved. And all staff, starting from two of us, are volunteering. We are actually not asking for anything; it is just the nature of the event that you need to prepare a bit — starting from transport and camping stuff. But we definitely want to take care of the people who are motivated to come out, and will be organizing transport from and back to Belgrade. We already sold some tickets internationally, and are really eager to see and enjoy the social mix at +++. We know that the music will be exciting and weird enough to catalyze it all.
Event details, crowd funding
You can support +++ from anywhere in the world via Kickstarter (there’s art to be sent to you even if you can’t make it to Serbia). And, of course, you can join in-person with a ticket. (Select “Serbia” as your country even if you live somewhere else, and you can pick it up in Belgrade when you arrive.)
It’s not just a party for rich kids, either. A limited number of early birds can get tickets including transportation and meals and extras for $50. (Really.)
If you go, and you’ve got unusual performance techniques or inventions you’d like to share, we hope you’ll join us in the CDM tent.
CDM Tent Featured Artists
We’re also inviting two artists to be featured in the CDM tent. We’re looking for people with unusual performance ideas or hardware or software you’ve invented to share your work, with an intimate performance and get-together with likeminded people.
For those two artists, we’ll cover entry, transportation from Belgrade, and meals. (+++ is a volunteer event.)
Sign up here: