[Interview] Tijana T
For over a decade, Tijana T has been a seminal figure in the development and reinforcement of the underground dance scene in her native Serbia.
Beginning as a television personality and a spokesperson for the seminal festival, EXIT, Tijana T has since gone on the international acclaim, appearing at nightclubs such as Panorama Bar, Output, The Block, Kaiku, Arma17, Tresor,, festivals like Dimensions, Hideout, Flow,, (of course), EXIT, and has joined events from renowned brands like Tale of Us’ Afterlife at Hï Ibiza. But, this is just the beginning of Tijana’s lengthy activities as an all-around dance music tastemaker as she also has found recognition as a vocalist, radio host, journalist, promoter, and a mesmerizing live performer with dynamic stage presence.
All in all, Tijana T has climbed the mountain and remains at the top with her diverse set of activities and elegant sheen to the weird and freaky world of electronic music. Here, we caught up with Tijana for a lengthy talk on EXIT, Serbia, playing for Afterlife, industry branding and more.
“Even the most experimental and edgiest acts are also brands, they just speak to a specific audience.”
Let’s start by talking about the recent success of Serbia’s EXIT Festival. The word is some 200,00 people attended this year making it the most attended festival on the continent. What are your impressions on this accomplishment?
Exit has a long history and this is not the first time that so many people have attended the festival. I am of course very happy and proud to witness the festival has managed to survive for 18 years now. It’s not easy to keep up with the music industry especially in countries like Serbia where economic and political situation is poor and unstable. Exit had its ups and downs and their concept has evolved and changed over the years, I would stay right now they are on a steady path and the musical concept between stages works really well. There’s something for everyone and I am especially happy about the NSNS stage programming. Every year I am surprised that I still get very excited to go to Exit, it’s a deeply personal connection I have.
What would you say are the integral aspects of EXIT festival’s success?
It’s a combination of things. First, it’s the magnitude of the festival – there are 20-something stages with different kinds of music. On the main stage, there are always huge mainstream bands and pop stars playing, but also respectable cool acts that can reach wider masses like Fever Ray and Roisin Murphey for example. Then you have the A-list DJs on the Dance Arena and amazing underground electronics at NSNSN stage. Plus a reggae stage, hip-hop stage, heavy metal stage and so on… I don’t really know of any other festival in Europe with this kind of concept. It is also the biggest festival in this part of Europe, there’s nothing like it in ex Yugoslavian countries nor in Bulgaria, Romania etc. Then there’s the location. Exit takes place in a beautiful fortress park right on the river Danube in Novi Sad. There are some beautiful sites, sunsets and sunrises happening there. Novi Sad is a cute city with parks and beaches on the river and for the international audience, it’s quite affordable, both the festival and the city itself. These are just some of the aspects behind their success.
Speaking of Serbia’s electronic landscape, aside from the festival, what do you currently view as its strengths?
The good news is the internet and social media have managed to provide us some space to maneuver here in Serbia. Living and working in a country that is not part of the Western world is extremely challenging. We just don’t have access to the same stuff as people from the rest of Europe and our chances to get noticed internationally are much smaller. Plus there is the whole mobility restriction that can affect travels and touring a lot.
So completely independently, the scene in Serbia grew and developed and right now we have more DJs and producers than ever and more clubs, parties and festivals than ever. It’s a good thing that there is space for everyone, so the whole system of having just a few privileged characters run the whole local scene is slowly becoming a matter of the past. There’s a number of producers and DJs with very distinct style and some of them are now releasing and playing internationally. Serbian cultural context is truly unique and that can be heard in electronic music too. My favorite DJs and the ones I have the biggest respect for are still my colleagues from Belgrade and I’m always happy if I have a chance to go out in my own city and dance. Belgrade is now definitely on the map with clubs like 20/44 and Drugstore, but actually, we had the electronic music scene here since the early 90s and it has been strong ever since. People love to go out and dance here, it’s part of our mentality and also, as it goes in troubled places, it’s the outlet that gives you a better perspective of everyday life. High culture almost doesn’t exist here anymore due to political reasons, so we have built our subculture strongly.
On the flip side, what are some things that are still needed in order to bring even more attention to the country’s scene and it’s artists?
Well, it would help if Serbia would be an easier place to live. If you’re always in fear for basic survival and with no perspective it’s kinda hard to believe in your music and a career that seems like nonsense to most of the population. So people here are coping with existential problems and that, of course, affects the scene a lot. It’s actually hard to establish a “scene”, cause there is a lack of infrastructure, system, and support. On the other hand, international music media and general attention are pretty homogeneous, constantly following the same names, same brands, self-perpetuating clicks, and stories. There’s a whole world out there that could be equally interesting if you just give it a chance. It would be a positive boost for people in the scene here to realize their efforts are noticed and respected.
You also have a relationship with Tale Of Us’ Afterlife brand, where you played at Hi Ibiza in early July. Can you give us your impressions of that event and the club space itself?
It’s impressive how they managed to transform that space and make it perfect for their art direction and concept. I always loved Space and it was the first club I ever played in Ibiza back in 2006, so it was really good to come back and witness the evolution. Afterlife team worked on every corner of the venue and used it to the maximum. I really like the second floor and programming there and I think it’s important to have acts like Dr. Rubinstein, Helena Hauff, Alva Noto and Aurora Halal play in Ibiza.
Similar question to EXIT, but how do you see Afterlife fitting in the wider International electronic music spectrum? What space does it occupy?
It has become a very strong brand and the good thing about it is they stay dedicated to their visual and musical concept. As I said – for me the best thing is that they present underground acts that don’t sound anything like Tale Of Us to their audience and the audience responds very good. Matteo and Carmine have a certain sonic signature which is recognizable and they made it their own, but I know they follow many different styles in electronic music and have a really good taste for a range of genres so they manage to present it now at their parties.
How do you personally view this concept of internationally focused branding in electronic music? Do you see it as an obvious goal of artists to build exposure? To me, I see it as something natural however brand maintenance does tend to take away the “edge” to art and creativity.
Everything is a brand these days and the most successful acts, parties or festivals are those who develop as brands. I actually sometimes encounter confusion because I haven’t built myself as a brand. My sets really vary from slow weird electronica to classic house to brutal techno or early trance, sometimes they are deep, sometimes pumpy, sometimes stripped down and it seems like that is the opposite of a “brand” strategy. I don’t have a specific fashion style and I don’t advocate any kind of agenda. Brands need to have a clear message, one style, always the same, they need to have a “message” and a visual identity. So when people “buy” it, they know what to expect. Even the most experimental and edgiest acts are also brands, they just speak to a specific audience. That’s the reality, if you want to make music or play music, you need an audience for this and this is the way to reach it. Different acts want a different audience and they speak to it.
How do you maintain a sense of mindfulness while traveling the world? Do you hold any rituals or processes that help you do so?
Touring DJ’s lifestyle is everything a human should not do actually :) So yes, it’s hard to stay healthy and mentally sane. It’s more demanding than being a stewardess or a professional athlete. It’s also more exhausting for DJs than for live musicians or bands. I am trying to meditate as often as I can, I follow a strict diet, I’m doing breathing exercises and physical exercises and I don’t drink and take drugs. It’s not very usual in the DJ world to have this kind of discipline, but for me, it’s the best way. I’m very interested in mind/body connection and I’ve read a lot about it, so I try to apply all my knowledge to keep me going. I had problems with anxiety and depression in the past and flying every day and not having regular sleep really feeds that so I am doing everything I can not fall back into it.
Looking through the rest of 2018 and into 2019, what are some things that you are personally looking forward to? These could be professional or personal…
It seems like I will have some time to finish my music and I have a couple of remixes coming up so that is exciting. I’m also very much looking forward to ADE in Amsterdam, I will play a few parties and participate in an interesting discussion called “Body In Revolt” curated by Bogomir Doringer and Arad Inbar. It’s about club culture as a form of activism in times of socio-political crisis. Guest speakers are Jazar Crew from Palestine, Mamba Negra founder Cashu and Lyzza from Brazil/Netherlands, White Noise Movement and Bassiani from Georgia. That’s a huge and important topic and I’m glad to be able to share my thoughts and experiences about it.