Serbia was once part of a country called Yugoslavia. After the war that split Yugoslavia up in the 90s - even though they grew up with sanctions - young people built up a really amazing nightlife and creative scene, especially in the capital city Belgrade. I asked my friend Jackie Dagger, originally from Novi Sad but now living in Belgrade, Serbia to do a little mix for WG … and imma let his interview speak for itself.
How did you get into making music?
I started making music a long time ago: when I was a teenager I was skateboarding a lot and I liked hardcore metal, I sang in a band and played drums in another. All the electronic music I was listening to back then was D&B and jungle because it was aggressive. But then eventually in the late 2000s, when dubstep was getting big and in Serbia we didn’t even have Dubstep, I started playing with some friends in pubs where we didn’t have the proper equipment. This was in Novi Sad where I used to live. You know, we’d get some money and some free drinks, but I didn’t count myself a DJ. Eventually after a year I was like OK I should learn! And in that period I met all my Mystic Stylez friends like Zarko (Feloneezy) through skateboarding. There was a club on a boat on the river that opened so Zarko and I went there and we started practising and DJing and playing on a small online radio here in Serbia - it was like a crew, the 3 of us. But yeah then we wanted to make something way better. Crowds were coming cause we were playing rap a lot but we were way more into underground music. So that’s how Mystic Stylez came about.
So how long have MS been around now?
We had our 7th birthday this year.
And how was the situation in Serbia when you were younger in terms of accessing the music you liked?
I'm 32 now and I’m happy that I grew up during the cassette and CD times. Back then in the 90s, when it was the war and all that shit, we got some music from pirate CDs and cassettes from Bulgaria and Romania. The only music you could find in flea markets and stuff like that was Prodigy, for example, but there was nothing like BBC's impact on the Romanian pirate scene. So basically to get good stuff what we’d do is we’d connect cable TV to the stereo and we would stream music from the BBC on cable TV to the stereo and onto cassettes. But later obviously everything over the internet - we do have vinyl shops here but not the stuff I want so I have to order it. And postmen didn’t care about what you ordered so then sometimes we’d get fucked up vinyls. They’d try and put 7 inch vinyls through the mail box. They don’t give a fuck you know.
So obviously the internet played a big part in terms of you guys being able to get the stuff you want.
That’s the thing, people here in Serbia, musicians, artists etc. are all saying that it's really bad here. Yeah, it is bad but still, you know, you need to appreciate what you have. That’s my opinion. I’m kinda grown up now, and I really appreciate what I’ve done in my life and where I came from.
Serbia is sick. It’s fucked up but it’s still sick. When someone’s says 'Berlin is cool', yeah OK, but Belgrade is like Berlin twenty years ago. And even though there’s kind of a big scene for electronic music here, it’s still relatively new. We still don’t have laws to control volume or decibels in the club, drinks are cheap, you can have fun, if you wanna find drugs you can find drugs, the girls are beautiful, the guys are assholes like everywhere. Basically… it’s good.
So you guys contributed a lot to the scene that it is today. I feel like you guys influenced nightlife quite a bit.
A few years ago I didn’t think that, but nowadays I can say that we did. I remember when we first started DJing with our radio show RMNG. We were playing in clubs and we’d reload tracks and people would be watching us like what the fuck. We didn’t have that reload culture and now that kind of stuff is normal. A few years ago Phillie P was playing somewhere and he posted it on Facebook and someone commented ‘Oh god not them again they’re a bunch of guys onstage jumping around, blah blah, playing rap tunes and techno'. I was like yeah this is a fucking beautiful explanation: ‘Mystic Stylez playing rap and techno and jumping around’ haha. I was like this is the perfect explanation and it’s fucking beautiful.
When was the first time you felt like the stuff you were doing was reaching people outside of Serbia and the Balkans?
I think this happened with Rashad and Spinn because before that we used to book DJs and we were friends with some of them. People knew us. We were friends with some of them, for example we had Scratcha a few times, we had Ikonika, Addison Groove - these are guys we're still in touch with. But with Rashad and Spin, in 2012, they stayed with us for four days - basically Zarko was playing at Elevate Festival in Austria and he heard Spinn like a year before that - and he came back and he was like 'dude there’s this crazy guy who plays super fast music and it’s crazy'. So we got into them - you know ghetto-house guys, or juke guys, most of them making something different. So we just hit them up on Facebook and started chatting.
We were like 'Yo we’re from Serbia' and they were like 'we don’t know where that is' and we were like 'we fuckin’ appreciate your music but we can’t get any. Can you send us some?' and they’re like 'yo here you go'. And they were just sending us a bunch of music and I remember we started playing footwork every Thursday on the boat and people would just leave. They were like 'what the fuck is this…!?' So then eventually, after like two or three months, we booked Traxman and that was the perfect piece of marketing we did cause all the old school house and techno guys know who Traxman is but really we booked him for footwork and juke. And he’s one of the best DJs I ever saw in my entire life. Coldest footwork you can ever see. When he’s DJing he’s a showman - showing you the samples that he uses, and he was playing rap, disco acid house, techno, going on and on and all the time on the mic… a fucking concert. And I think that’s when everyone started getting footwork here cause I don’t think we presented it too well, I mean DJ wise.
Then later we booked Rashad and Spinn to come over and the rest is history. They asked Zarko to be in Teklife and then Rashad called me and was like 'dude everyone is asking why aren’t you in Teklife do you wanna be in Teklife?' I was like 'me and Zarko still don’t make footwork we just play it' and he was like 'dude it’s the same shit, what you guys are doing, no matter what music you’re playing you’re trying to put your city Belgrade on the map, representing it in the brightest light you can. Your guys sitting in your crib smoking spliffs and making tracks. You’re Teklife.'
That was the thing, we didn’t glorify them, and I think that they appreciated them. Of course we respected them, they were our guests, but we didn’t give them like superstar attitude or anything straight away.
When Rashad passed away, that’s one of the things that... I don’t know how to say it. When he passed away everyone started pushing it even more. Everyone was pushing even more just to keep the Rashad legacy and Teklife going on. Because of that everyone gave like 110% to show some respect to Rashad, for what he did for all of us. What he did for underground music... he saved it. Especially back then in 2011 when all the new labels came in and it was amazing, Swamp 81, Night Slugs, Hessle Audio. Everyone had their own labels and were separately doing their own thing… but then when Rashad and Spinn came they basically booked everyone together. They brought the love back to underground culture and the connection to the people and then all of a sudden you saw collaborations again. People from other labels doing stuff together. So yeah, it was fucking good.
Tell me a bit about the scene in Belgrade and Serbia today?
Everyone is really into techno and like crate digging music that your parents weren’t even listening to back in the day. I’m not drinking that much these days and I see when people are enjoying the music and when they’re not. But I understand people here, we live in a shitty country so basically all you have is the weekend to go out and get fucked up and maybe take someone home. That’s why I’m not criticising people here. People don’t generally want to go out to listen to music. Not like before. But I reckon it’s like that everywhere. Other than that, Belgrade is sick. We can still get our shit together and organise a party in like two days. We still have that freedom. And that Balkan attitude: we don’t care about tomorrow, let’s enjoy ourselves today.
And being from somewhere where you don’t really have freedom of movement compared to the rest of Europe?
Yeah. I was in the karate national team when I was younger, and back then in the 90s it was fucked up you know, to have to go to the embassy and wait for a visa and not know if you're gonna get it or not. I feel bad now because we still can’t come to the UK and play cause we need Visas. Our friend who is huge in the techno scene got her visa rejected twice even though she had all the paperwork. I’m 32 years old now and I don’t wanna get treated like shit, you know. I just wanna come to the UK, DJ and hang out with my friends. That’s it. Makes me feel sad. That’s the country where all my favourite music is from - dnb, jungle, grime - but cause I have that Balkan mentality I’m like 'fuck it then I’m not gonna even try and go anymore'. We always gotta show the other side that we don’t care.
Haha yeah it’s embedded and ingrained in our psyche. And finally tell me a bit about the mix you’ve done for Wavey Garms.
The mix is stuff that I usually play in clubs these days. It's a bit of techno going into some classic jungle, new jungle and a bit of footwork at the end with some unreleased new tracks.