Playful connected with Serbian born Lag when he visited Berlin for a smashing Berghain set. And it became a long talk!
First of all, how’s 2023 treating you?
It’s great on all frontiers. Just played Berghain and two gigs in Poland, and fresh back from a US tour. Can’t wait to play with some new pedals I bought and get more familiar with my gear I didn’t get to explore while I worked in a startup. I'm just really happy to be back to full-time music-making and playing, as well as teaching production and DJing to those hungry to improve.
Unfortunately, I had to change my life’s course for a while there because covid happened and then I got a functional, but according to the EU "wrong" vaccine which made it impossible for me to travel for a while (even with PCRs, as I'm not a EU citizen). The silver lining is that being forced into having a demanding dayjob and being country-locked only made me appreciate working with music and travelling that much more. It has, over the years, crept up to becoming a part of my natural rhythm and source of peace and inspiration and I am lucky and happy to now have it back.
This year has been one of gratefulness and I am so happy coming back to who I really am.
How would you compare Beograd and Berlin?
The cities are very similar in their speed and hunger for the new. I think Beograd is a bit rougher and unforgiving, producing a special breed of culture only found there, whereas Berlin, being the multi-cultural hub it is, offers a wider variety and choice. If you align artistically (and in other ways) with what Beograd is about - it's a very good place to be. If you are a misfit though, it can be difficult to feel at home. For example, while Berlin offers the extra spicy and quirky on a weekly basis, the last thing I saw in Beograd that really was up my alley was a Squarepusher concert in 2016.
On the flipside, I feel like Berlin people seem to take what they have for granted in certain ways. The Beograd clubbers, like so many Slavic people, have embraced throughout generations that there isn't a tomorrow. Centuries of slavery, frequent wars, and decades of living through a deeply corrupt communist system built up our mindset in certain ways, one of which is to deeply appreciate the "now" with no regards for the price our future selves might have to pay for it. I feel a special excitement and giddiness whenever I get to play for my Slavic brothers and sisters! We party really fucking hard, big grins all around.
We have a feeling (read in another interview) that you’re not the biggest fan of social media, can you tell us about your relationship to that?
The basis of this thing that we live for is PLUR. Acceptance of others, dialogue, healing, learning and, most importantly, equality. The DJ should never be above the crowd or the club they are playing for, not to mention the producers who give as much life to the scene as the dancers. The DJ is literally the last link in the chain, and the core of DJing, the thing which embodies PLUR, is the dialogue between the performer and the crowd in the room. “No matter who you are, we’re equal and in it together” is both the underlying motive of what made me fall in love with the scene, and the very thing that social media is so corrosive to.
Social media is, in my humble opinion, problematic for these two main reasons:
1. Narcissism is rewarded. People thinking and placing themself above others, constantly pushing the self rather than those on whose shoulders they stand unfortunately really helps skyrocket a career these days. It's an unfortunate constellation of several things that I could write an essay about but will spare you the eye-strain. Unfortunately, I can't see anything positive about this. It’s not even a celebration of individualism: this pushing of the self offers nothing beyond empty, shallow posturing with money over everything as its only goal. It is as corrosive as it is effective.
2. Echo chambers amplify identity politics, sewing discord based on whatever our inherent tribalism sees as identifiers. If done right and with great care - acknowledging our differences can bring about greater understanding and tolerance. Unfortunately, social media algorithms are a sledgehammer, distorting any civil disagreement into antagonism. The very thing that masquerades as a promise of building bridges actively helps burn them and we end up divided, bickering over issues that were previously easily resolvable under the flag of well-guided and good-spirited PLUR.
I could go on but don’t want to get into the “old man yelling at cloud” zone. Maybe it’s actually great and I can’t see the forest from the tree but it seems to be increasingly developing into something that goes against the very core of what I and so many other people believe in and fight for, too often sacrificing for it our financial stability, mental health and so much more.
As always, I want to send a big "thank you" to everyone who fights for the scene and does this without expecting anything back. Especially if they using the cancer that is social media to do so. I know it can feel lonely, but you are seen and appreciated.
Can you describe your creative process when producing new tracks? Do you have any particular methods that you use?
I’ll spend 50% of my time just making the track, and then 40% of the time making “mistakes” on purpose to make it more human and musical: putting sounds off the grid, adding nuanced unpredictability across the track, carefully destroying and deconstructiong sounds in musical ways etc. The human brain is a pattern seeking machine so creating variability and contrasts gives it more to deal with, elongating and enriching the life of a track.
The last 10% I spend fussing about things that no one really hears and possibly making decisions which ruin a perfectly good track because I don’t know when to stop. It does seem to work out in the end, judging by the reactions on the dancefloor. :)
The only thing I am cosnsitently obsessed with is whether it's dancable and whether it's something that hasn't been said a million times already. That has been my MO for many years, although recently I've started also enjoying limiting myself by imposing what is the norm and trying to see if I can distrupt within those confines. Very interesting results and, more imporetantly - hella fun.
What does Berghain mean to you?
Berghain is a safe-haven for misfits, a magnet for the “too weird to live, too rare to die”.
I can be myself there and not feel judged. Especially musically. Throughout the years I kept hearing how unforgivable it is to play “different” stuff in there but I found that to very much not the case. If you are respectful towards the crowd they are always more than happy to indulge you and hear what you have to say. For example, this last time I played I just felt like the mood was such that broken stuff would not be that perfect of a fit for who I was having the conversation with, which didn’t mean I couldn’t slip in Ples Slovena and see it take off once I've earned enough trust and "credit". Similarly, the previous time I played Berghain the slot and the energy of the room demanded more of a peak-time selection, but playing Darkside - Ecdysis! in the middle of the set seemed like the right choice at the time and it didn't clear the room. To the contrary. It's so liberating to have a such a place where you can express yourself and I can't really compare it to anywhere else.
Additionally, everyone who I've met that works in Berghain is extremely humble and hardworking. I don’t feel an ounce of ego throughout that place. It's a very rare beast, aware of its own beauty and power, but also understanding how delicate this ecosystem within it is, how precious and meaningful it is to everyone involved. There is a lot of sweat and wisely invested love in there and I couldn’t be more grateful that I get to contribute to it in my own way.
How do you prepare for a Berghain set compared to any other set? Is there any difference?
There is absolutely no difference. All I need is my vocabulary (ie. music collection), and my way of connecting the words into sentences (ie. skills in the craft/art of DJing). What will be said depends on listening to the other side of the dialogue which is the dancefloor.
In the context of PLUR and the art of DJing - too specific of a preparation or holding on to very fixed ideas on what a DJ will be saying during their set is just ego, as well as disregard for those who pay the ticket to be on the other side of the DJ booth and who, that way, give life to the night. I thought myself too judgy when it comes to holding this view of DJing but recently saw an interview of one of my all-time-heroes Laurent Garnier where he stated a completely identical view so I'll keep trying to pass it on.
I always get a bit nervous before playing, whether it's Berghain or a small local gig. It feels like a first date - like meeting an entirely new person that could be your friend for life. In that anticipation, exploration, and recognition of our joint love for music lies the greatest reward when it comes to DJing.
How do you see the future of techno music evolving, and where do you see your own music fitting into this landscape?
Oh, this is a very difficult question for me. My burnout, which started in 2019. and kept going for a few years before I slowed down, led me astray for a while. Rather than focus on techno, which I love but also associate with work, my soul went to other genres. When I came back to it I couldn't really recognize the scene and its sound.
I’m only now slowly getting the focus sharpened again and I have to say that I do have trouble really figuring out the current constellation. For a while I was really anxious about this. Lack of understanding made me feel panicky because I am supposed to live off of techno, and to do so I have to understand what's left and what's right. Recently I gave myself permission to not care and all the anxiousness went away. In the end it became liberating to remember that 1. as always, I will just play the music I believe in and 2. not knowing what fits gives me more liberty to make whatever the hell I want. To illustrate my point, I just self-released a very industrial-sounding remix of a favorite track of mine. At the same time I’m making some happy, simple ghetto-tech with a local friend of mine, as well as doing more pure-fun old-school techno with X-Coast. Last year I released five records, all different from each other and basically nothing to do with the stuff I'm making right now. People react equally well to all of these when played in the club, and this is all that matters, really.
Regarding the scene and where it is right now... If people react well to the music I don't really understand - then so be it. I do really hope to get it some day and share their joy. Sometimes we are blind to the selling point of the new direction because we cling too close to some previous values, but those are values which made sense in a context that might be long gone. The only thing I really am vocal about and that I wish to see change or, well, come back is groove. I mean, come on - bring the groove back! It's electronic dance music, not electronic stiff music. Gimme something I can wiggle to!
What is the most important thing for you to deliver to an audience? Techno is all colors, not only black. Every emotion is valid, and there really is no one thing we should not include and "talk about" during the night.
Also, whatever is for everyone is for no one. In the end, what I hunt for is the balance between dancefloor pleasers versus the peculiar, individualistic flavors which might not wow most of the room, but will gift some dancers it connects to a soul-binding sonic memory. A wink and a hi-five, showing a few souls that someone does understand, and that not only are they not alone, but that the very thing which prevents them from fitting in is actually a superpower. I think that is truly the greatest power of music.
What’s up next in 2023? Summer plans?
Production-wise: I decided to use 2023. for learning and exploration rather than chasing releases. I am trying to finally get myself in the mindset that time spent learning new gear and software rather than working with what I already know is not time lost, despite this not being the shortest route to getting released. I knew this once and need to re-learn it.
DJing-wise: gigs, gigs. As a highlight - I am playing in Colombia for the first time which is exciting. I've heard so much about the scene there so I can't wait to experience it. Also, I will very probably play in China for the first time ever!
Teaching-wise: a masterclass is coming out on Home of Sound, and then another should come out after summer on SeeDJ.app. I also keep doing workshops in places I get to play and spend a few extra days (I just did one in Berlin and one in Seattle). Additionally, I am still and regularly tutoring people on a 1:1 basis through Home of Sound. I take great pleasure in this.
But first and foremost: I need to leave my burnout behind me and be able to fully breathe in and out because, seriously, fuck a life lived behind this misty wall which obscures any love and beauty that falls upon you. I'm lucky to have my cats, my friends and family and to be in love, so this mission I've chosen seems like an easy one. I'm also happy about my newly regained ability to travel, especially for gigs, as I get to feed my need for new experiences, people and sounds, and enjoy the beautiful exchange of energies whilst dancing to techno together.
All in all, I feel like 2023. is gonna be a really good one.