Ivkovic's other home base is 20/44, a club on the Sava River in Belgrade, across from the imposing Belgrade Fortress, where Ivkovic would hang out in his teenage years. Both clubs, Ivkovic says, were "created for the right reasons, with the door open for everyone who feels curious, who is ready to explore rather than live in ignorance."
As a DJ, Ivkovic likes to "explore the galaxies" that exist within the basic parameters of turntables—33 RPM and 45 RPM and plus or minus eight. He enjoys finding unusual "frequencies, silence and gaps" by playing records at the wrong speed, whether it's a Lurka 12-inch, a Eurythmics classic or some forgotten Goa trance. This approach means his sets often have a sludgy, spacious quality.
In this interview, Ivkovic traces his life as a DJ back to Belgrade in the mid-'80s, when small gatherings at his family's restaurant turned into impromptu parties, through to his time at Salon Des Amateurs and his recent emergence as a touring artist. For him, DJing has a deeper meaning than mindless escapism. "When the entirety of humanity is coming out of the speakers, loud, it's beautiful," he said.
Back in April you played with Lena Willikens at 20/44 in Belgrade. The set finished with you playing Coil's "Going Up." It's probably one of the most transcendent final tracks I've ever heard.
I was thinking about it afterwards, because "Going Up" is one of those songs that can kill you with its beauty. At some point Lena turned to me, and she said that this party was one of those nights that you don't want to end. Then, a while later, she said, "Let's close the circle." And she played some of Suba's Wayang songs. So that could have been the end—there was a moment of silence. And then, I don't know, it felt like something was missing. It's been said that "Going Up" is the last song Coil played live.
How much consideration do you give to the final few tracks of a party?
I usually have some records that I imagine being the final records of the party, but I don't go to the party with the intention of playing them. Those records and songs are quite special for me. When I play one of those songs, it means that everyone involved has had some valuable time together.
What does it take for you develop a deep relationship with a song?
You see a painting and it does something to you. It's the same with music.
Do you think much about tempo when you're DJing?
I never used to think about music in categories like tempo. But just recently I began to get some sense for tempo, being able to read BPM on a CDJ screen. Tempo always depends on place, setting, mood—sometimes it's nice to play proper uptempo music, sometimes it feels right to slow it down. I'm generally interested in some in-between places and moods that are quite far from the ones caused by signals and messages like "dance," "move" and "get down."
You definitely seem to enjoy exploring slower tempos.
I think that slower tempos leave people more space to figure out what else is happening that isn't commanding how they have to behave in a given moment. There is a moment of silence you feel when people react to slow music. Sometimes what I do fails, sometimes it works.
Do you think DJing is about giving a crowd what they want?
If I knew what the crowd wanted, I'd be a fortune teller. I don't know it. I can rely on the idea of someone who invited me to play—I am talking about places that are not Salon Des Amateurs. His or her knowledge of the place and the crowd, and their idea to invite me and not someone else. I see DJing as something that provides possibilities to enter or create new places, to wander together and see what's out there, exploring the unconscious. It's about being honest and not wasting mine or anyone else's time, because that time will never come back.
What are you trying to achieve when you DJ?
I am happy when people dance or listen, and I know that in some situations it's like hiking together—the guests, the staff and me, it's a mutual effort. You don't know what you'll find. The weather can be nice, but it could also rain, or it could snow, there might be an avalanche, but you could also find tasty wild strawberries or mushrooms in the forest. I think that music creates a certain frame, a narrative, but I don't know where all of us who share that time will end up. Laughing, in love, in tears. As long as there is no indifference, I'm fine.
When that approach pays off, it's extra special.
There was a moment in Vilnius one time, at 5 AM, and a lady came over to me, and she said all her friends were gone. But I had played one jazz record in the middle of the night. She said she was dancing and crying. If you can make someone cry, maybe by accident, with a selection of music, it's a beautiful thing. These are the moments when you're happy not to be a dinosaur or a beetle, when we are happy to be an actual human being, and able experience these things. We are capable of so much. When the entirety of humanity is coming out of the speakers, loud, it's beautiful.
Every time I have seen you play, you've played records at the wrong speed, usually pitching faster tunes down. How long have you been doing this for?
I remember hearing a Goa trance record at the wrong speed at Important Records in Essen, a fantastic store with fantastic staff, in the '90s. Important was one of the stores that I used to visit during my university days, and unlike most other stores, it didn't have listening stations. So you had to go to the guy who worked there, and he'd play your records. Loud. Everyone in the store heard all the music. One of the guys who worked there at that time was a proper early Goa aficionado, and he took care of a small and nice Goa corner. The problem was that after hearing a few Goa tunes on 150 BPM my brain was fried, so I'd leave my records and come back a few days later to listen to them.
Long story short: one day one of the records was unintentionally played on wrong speed, and that sparked my interest. Not in trance, but in exploring certain frequencies, silence, gaps between sounds, that suddenly appear when you stretch the tune by playing it at the wrong speed—in this case, playing some 45 RPM records on 33 RPM. I also think that such moments give people so much more space to breathe, to feel way more than a simple pressure to dance. It causes some insecurity when something sounds familiar but also not. Those can be beautiful moments. Or not. There is almost nothing in between. I am not the first one and I am not the last one who is doing it. But by messing with tempos, you can get people dancing to something that's not a dance record in the first place, but you make it a dance record in your DJ set. It's easy to play functional dance music. But there is so much more.
What is your ideal DJ setup?
I am happy with two working turntables, two CD players and monitor boxes that I can control.
Do you prefer a fader or rotary mixer?
At home I have rotary mixer, but I'm happy to play out on both, as long as they work properly. Faders and rotary knobs have influence on how I play. It's maybe comparable with walking or riding a bicycle. In both ways you can reach your destination, but in different ways. Both can be exciting.
Do you use the sync function at all when you're playing with CDJs?
No, I don't use the sync function. I also switch quantize off. I never thought those functions were useful for me.
I noticed you brought your own weights and needles into NTS Radio when you played there with Lena Willikens in February. Do you do that just for radio shows or club gigs too?
My weights are with me all the time. It took some time to get used to them, and now it would probably take some time to get used to their absence. I really like the ritual of finding the record, putting it on the turntable, placing weight on top. It influences the pace of playing records, it takes all the hysteria out of it. And lots of records, especially warped records, definitely sound better with weights.
There is not much I can do about turntables that aren't set up properly except bringing my systems and weights with me. Everything else, like bad vibrations, feedback and broken tone arms are things that shouldn't happen, but they are not my responsibility. So basically I try to manage such situations—that are fortunately still rare—with USBs. I try to forget those situations as fast as possible, except the fact that I don't have to go back to those places again.
I guess that's where a good agent comes in handy.
I'm happy to work with Meri Bonastre, of Futura Artists, she's a friend. She cares, after years of listening, what Detlef [Tolouse Low Trax], Lena and I do. When something comes from Meri, it's not a random offer, and it's not about money—it's about it being a nice place, and if the people putting on the party are nice. We had a lot of people wanting to do Salon Des Amateurs nights, but many of the venues just didn't seem right. And I was at a stage where I was about to throw my computer out the window, and I got an email from Meri, offering to help. She's invested in what we do, and she's part of our circle of friends.
I remember Meri came to a Salon Des Amateurs night in Paris that ended up as a total disaster. We had an electricity blackout for an hour after Detlef had set the fire alarm off because he was smoking. And this was the first time she had met us. But I think maybe that was a good thing.