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In parallel to the music program of this year’s No Sleep Festival, which took place in Belgrade from November 15th to 18th on a dozen locations, electronic music aficionados got to be a part of a two-day No Sleep Conference, held on Friday and Saturday, on 16th and 17th November. The conference took place at Marsh Open Space in a bar-rich area in Cetinjska street, featuring many of the festival’s performers such as Dax J, Olof Dreijer, Philippe Zdar (Cassius), DJ Tennis, Molly, Francois X and Marcel Fengler, and many others who discussed topics that ranged from running labels to social activism in the global music scene.

The first festival panel named “Where Are We Now?” focused on the current state of the club scene, featuring panelists Bane Jovančević from Belgrade’s world-renowned club Drugstore, DJ Peppe, Viktor Ranković and Ana Veliki, who all took a look at various aspects of clubbing, the self-sustainability, and evolution of the scene, as well as ways to give incentives to young artists. When asked how to put together a successful and grade-A program for a club, Jovančević stated that the secret lies in finding a balance: “Finding a footing between commercial and authentic – choosing quality music and having it be self-sustainable”, Jovančević singled out these things and was backed up by other panelists. The way that the present professionals find new young artist was also discussed. “The beauty of my job is that I have the privilege to work with young people and have good associates. It’s them that get around, follow the current music scene, truly know it and have good taste. That is how I got to know a whole generation of DJs”, DJ Peppe pointed out.

The panelists also touched upon what’s more important – promoting music or its quality. All speakers were in unison that music represents the young artist best, thus up-and-coming names should focus on the quality, while the rest will come itself, including the promotion.

The most prominent festival acts came out for the second panel, named “The Art Behind the Labels”. Francois X, DJ Tennis, Dax J and Marcel Fengler, who are all at the same time record publishers. At the discussion which was moderated by Gramophonedzie, everyone involved shared with the audience when and why they decided to start their own label, as well as the pros and cons of the job, in addition to today’s importance of the visual aspect of music. One of the more important questions raised was the comparison of digital release and vinyl: “Thanks to our label, we have the opportunity to be visible, show our identity, vision and all we stand for. And vinyl is a part of that and a great channel for promotion. It’s very esteemed because it’s an object you hold in your hands. After 30 years when your music is lost in the digital world, someone will find it. That’s the dream of every DJ. To be immortal”, DJ Tennis highlighted.

A similar viewpoint was expressed by Dax J: “Vinyl is very important. Fewer and fewer DJs use them nowadays. Its significance lies in the fact that it allows your music to last forever. It’s important to publish music in all forms.”

Afterwards, a workshop was held by the highly-respected Belgrade duo Monosaccharide on the topic of creating the perfect techno track without using the computer. Visitors had a chance to get acquainted with the creative process of creating music and using Elektron Analog Rytm, Roland TR8s, Roland TB-03, Roland TB-3, and Roland MX1 equipment. The educational workshops continued into the second day of the conference, too, with testing of the J equipment by members of and the SAE Institute, with whom the conference was organized in partnership.

The most sought-after local names at the moment, DJ Jock, Ilija Djokovic and Lag, spoke on Saturday about their international experiences on the panel “Sorry, We Are from the Balkans”, but also about the pros and cons of being a performer from the said region.

“I always had the feeling that we are cut out from the rest of the world. A lot of time and effort is required to get noticed abroad and taken seriously by important people. In other countries, everyone is well-connected and they support each other, which is not the case in the Balkans”, Djokovic pointed out, while DJ Jock had a similar viewpoint, but adding that the uniqueness of the Balkans influenced the development and music taste of many famous DJs from the region, which is an advantage that made them recognizable in the world.

“We are not connected to Europe. I don’t get a lot of gigs just because of the price of my plane ticket. It’s not always profitable to have me booked because for a smaller budget, promoters can get someone similar to me, but from the UK or Germany. Visas can also be a problem for performances in countries like the UK and Ireland”, Lag explained. Gigs by well-known and respected electronic music performers in the Balkans can also help the music scene evolve and push young artists to create quality material. “If it weren’t for EXIT, my story would’ve probably been very different. At EXIT I had the chance to hear people that changed my life. I grew up on the Happy Novi Sad Stage, which is No Sleep Novi Sad Stage today, which was always reserved for alternative electronic music”, Lag added.

Olof Dreijer, Sonja Sajzor and Ilija Milošević tried to find the answer to the question just how much can art bring change to society, while Vojkan Bećir was the moderator of this panel named “How Sharp is the Edge”. The panelists highlighted the importance of social activism in music, while one of the many examples given was the influence of Dreijer and his former duo The Knife on Belgrade’s drag scene. “One of the first references to drag art that people had a chance to see here was through a music video by The Knife. And it definitely created a change on our scene, because something avantgarde and interesting was seen, which later gave birth to the drag scene in Belgrade”, Sonja Sajzor explained. Asking what is actually “art”, Ilija Milošević pointed out that it’s a product of culture, a platform that we all have the right to fight for, and through art, it can achieve its full potential for creating change.

Thirty years of the French club Rex was presented by Philippe Zdar, one of Cassius’ members, as well as the club’s resident Molly. These two artists shared the history of the club, their experiences and how much it influenced the evolution of the French music scene.

“We always looked out to promote young producers and DJs. We would usually book a local performer, so they could have a gig before a big star. We also did Bon Nuevelle nights, which were reserved for the new generation of French DJs. This project was of special importance, and the whole team and I were very proud that we had the chance to discover new names and help make them into big stars”, Molly explained, who herself got to shape her career as a part of Rex’s team, as well as become a resident and one of the more prominent names of the French techno scene.

“It were the very Bon Nuevelle nights that were a favorite amongst clubbers, and DJs appreciated what club Rex did. The club continued to help young performers, even when everyone else had stopped. A lot of techno names on the French music scene owe a lot to Rex”, Philippe Zdar highlighted, who also got into electronic music in part thanks to the club nights in Rex he frequented.