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Nightivism

Second episode of our Club To Cloud series highlights the work of Belgrade-based Drugstore club, with Branislav Jovancevic, the venue's program director, also known as Kӣr.

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We are Europe: Who is behind Drugstore and what is the history of your club?

Branislav Jovancevic: Drugstore is in the ownership of two very interesting people, Dragana Dobrić and Nemanja Rašović. Both of them are involved in all aspects of running the company and artistic direction in a very creative way. Rest of the core crew consists of Stefan Unković (design), Edin Omanović (PR&copy), Izvanredni Bob & Aljoša Dakić (visuals), and I’m doing program direction. There are of course many more involved. The whole story started with opening of “Bivši Bar” and its three incarnations around the city center, where we started to organize very specific events that we felt were missing. Then we moved to an old venue near Beko building in the lower Dorćol area, where we spent first two years and then were forcefully evicted due to some shady privatizations, but it turned out to be a good thing as we found current venue to be really one of a kind, which gave us opportunity to step up with the scope of the entire operation.

Branislav Jovancevic from Drugstore

Where is your club located ? Do you know its district’s history ?

Current venue is located in old slaughterhouse of “BIM Slavija”, state-owned meat packing industry of former Yugoslavia. How that socialist state and its attainments collapsed, you can read from various sources, but I would recommend historians such are Branka Magaš and Boris Buden. To understand the present moment in which our club is operating, one needs to at least get to know how Yugoslavia collapsed and what happened afterwards.

The building itself was built after the WWII and it was used to age the meat. Now kids from all around the world are dancing there to stop the aging.

Branislav Jovancevic

Whole neighbourhood where we are situated is developed around the factory and even the railroad that is passing by to other cities (less and less unfortunately), was first built to facilitate the factory. The building itself was built after the WWII and it was used to age the meat. Now kids from all around the world are dancing there to stop the aging.

Musically & aesthetically speaking, how would you describe the scene in which your club evolves? Do you have resident(s) or artists who play regularly at your venue?

Belgrade scene is thriving at the moment. I don’t think we ever had so many artists and djs operating on this level of authenticity and quality. Problem is that Serbia is very centralized around Belgrade and the metropolis is sucking in all the talents, so while Belgrade is getting more artists, country as a whole is losing on diversity. Speaking of electronic music scene, most of the country is unfortunately (tech)-house orientated, except couple of cities in north like Novi Sad, Subotica, Pančevo etc., that are having super interesting but small experimental scenes. South is more focused on bands, and it’s always refreshing to hear new kids with hot southern blood storming the capital.

So Belgrade scene is amalgam of all the mentioned above when this people collide together. We are blessed with array of incredible residents, starting with stars like Tijana T, followed by techno veterans like Filip Xavi, leftfield heroes 33.10.3402 and Stevie Whisper, contemporary sound connoisseurs Feloneezy and SAUD, and young lambs Andria and Matej Rusmir. There are couple of live act residents as well, that we are very proud of like Svetlana Maras, Mangulica FM, Lenhar Tapes and I’m also performing regularly with my live sets as Kӣr and in duo with Jan Nemeček as STEPNƗAK. Also we have couple of international residents with Elena Colombi and Francois X. The number of people who regularly play in the club is very wide so I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone.


Is there a specific mix that represents well your club ?

All of the above mentioned residents are quite prominent in international waters so I would like to give opportunity to one of the youngest of our residents Andria to represent us here with fresh mix he did just for this occasion. Hope you’ll like it. He is one of the most talented young musicians on the scene and he, together with Matej Rusmir, has already his regular night “Insolence”. He is also part of Yes collective and has released EPs and tracks for Phase Group, Osàre! Editions, Bamboo Shows, etc.

What’s special when partying in your nightclub?

I think the particularity of the space itself is giving you already a special feeling and then when you lose yourself in the vast labyrinth of small stages it is disorienting in a very good way. I still witness kids scream of excitement when they first enter the space, they have never seen anything like it before. As it is the case with almost all the societies in Europe right now, we are leaning as a state to the far right. And this kind of abrasive and intolerant social eco-system is surviving with small oscillations for more than 30 years now, which is resulting in high level of corruption, unlawfulness and general insecurity for more liberal layers of society. The bigger repression in “real life”, the more you feel liberated and secluded in these few oases of “freedom” that underground night clubs are trying to provide.

Also there is a general mainstream notion that a nightclub should be a posh place, lavish and for the rich. And from 90s onwards, underground and punk places have been closed one by one, and younger generations were served with this false idea that the only time when you should go out and have fun is when you have enough budget for it; we are trying to bring that on its head, and to provide space where the entrance and drinks are affordable for all and regardless of that, you are still offered with engaging and brave music program. So there are no restrictions basically, and we like our “Music is for everyone“, open door policy.

Please describe one special moment during your club’s life that illustrates its DNA?

Lot of people who are our regular guests prefers the small club as their favorite place and I must say that I’m sharing this sentiment. The place is more intimate and it’s easier to make it packed, so there were really some crazy nights with memorable djs like Helena Hauff, Morphosis, Elena Colombi, Carlos Souffront, Beau Wanzer, Svengalisghost… But the most specific of these nights is when 33.10.3402 is closing the night with his marathon sets until midday, this is really something to check out in the future.

How does your club interact within its political local context? Are relations pacific or conflictual?

As there are no legal safenets and much of the state system is run by deep corruption, anyone who wants to dodge racketeering, either from state or your regular underground criminals, needs to keep a low profile with keeping money turnover very low (with our noncommercial programing this is really not a big problem). Also we try to be politically vocal as possible on all the major issues and to provide safe space for young artists to express themselves artistically and politically. So you can say the surrounding is very conflictual, as freedom of speech is very limited and civil rights are almost non existing.

Is the dancefloor a political space according to you?

With lacking of actual political, subversive ground for acting, we are limited in thinking that dancefloor is some kind of political space, which is really a bit of a romanticized perspective, from the conformist viewpoint of privileged middle-class liberals. Club can be a hub, a catalyst for bringing likeminded people together, but the real political agenda is somewhere else, on the streets, with strikes, agitating, publishing, writing etc. Late-capitalist apparatus has developed very sophisticated and sneaky ways of bringing us away from actual uprising; with steady dose of sensationalist Netflix-“leftist” documentaries, comment-section activism, podcast binging, “mindfulness”, fitness, etc., where is the time and energy for acting against status quo? So we’re mistaking that going out to dance, drink and party, is some kind of rebellion, which in most cases is far from true.

There are of course bright examples of places that are acting more like a communes and where clubbing activity is just a side project, within these doors we can talk about more political agendas. This dancefloor to which we are implying, within the discourse of the electronic music in general, is still a selectively permeable eco-system, very much class-orientated (in a plastic example, some of these places are notoriously proud about their segregational meta-racist door policies). And this class doesn’t demand a systemic change, but only peripheral tweaking of some of the postulates of the capitalist system, mostly engaged in identity politics etc. You are not really expecting bourgeoisie crowd of graphic designers and IT kids at elite west European clubs, who just payed 25€ entrance, to go out and do Seattle 1999.?

The role of the “night” sector will be first to survive pandemic and then to fight new conservative laws that I’m predicting are about to emerge.

Branislav Jovancevic

What is the social and political role of the “night” sector? 

It is interesting to look back at the (cultural) history of people who are active by night. Night strolling was considered until relatively recently a delinquency. Vibrant development of “night” sector is closely connected with the evolution of the laws addressing citizen activity during the night (pandemic brought to west one of the first nighttime restrictions in free movement of people since probably WW2. Others who were fortunate enough to be subjected to western humanitarian interventions have had this opportunity more often). With tsunami of conservative and right wing politicians surging the political milieu worldwide, I guess we are about to witness the return of more restrictive laws regarding the night life.

So the role of the “night” sector will be first to survive pandemic and then to fight new conservative laws that I’m predicting are about to emerge (Slovenian right wing government is doing that as we speak, with destroying cultural hubs Rog and Metelkova with unprecedented force of riot police, and EU is of course not doing anything about it, and there were almost no media coverage in cultural/electronic music media).

Main role should be some way of cultural and political autodidacticism, forming small communes around clubs, establishing artistic/political collectives, reading clubs, communal radio stations, lectures – more engagement overall.

Would you say that the current “nightlife” shutdown is a democratic issue ?

There are tons of illogical phenomena around the pandemic and restrictive measures imposed in the name of stopping the spreading of the virus. We really need to be responsible now and look at the priorities. If our main goal is sharing ideas, debating, etc. at least technology gave us means to do that, without endangering more lives. But then again we would need to talk more about what is democracy. I’m afraid that you wouldn’t like to be fully democratic now in handling something like pandemic, as we saw how distorted are views on something rather basic as vaccination. So I guess majority of people would at this point go and party, but is that really something that we can ask the majority about?

By now I think we are well aware that market economy is given more importance than human lives. This is even more obvious at the periphery of global capital, where human rights are more in danger than in the center. So here, where ownership structures of rich night venues are more close to ruling class, we see that every opportunity is taken to bypass any kind of lockdown, in favor of spinning the money machine, endangering human lives in the process. On the other side, those who are not close to corrupted state oligarchy (small and underground venues), are completely deprived of any help from the state in this situation, so they are forced to find ways to work, even illegally. So in a nutshell, it’s a Gordian Knot of greed, moral indifference, incompetence and bare fight for survival. If states recognize importance of small/underground venues and secure the much needed help, we are on the good path. And in the meantime this much talked about clubbing agora can maybe transcend into something actually political.

How do you see the future ?

Speaking of nightlife, in near future I see a bit of a craze when we reopen fully, but then I hope that people will reevaluate some postulates of status quo and not take for granted many insights that we gathered during this time and start implementing it. My optimism lies within two scenarios; one is complete change of the system globally, which obviously is highly doubtful, other is building small or not so small sustainable and independent utopian communes. I see myself being involved in one of these.

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