Tijana Todorovic (a.k.a. Tijana T) may be a new name on the international scene, but the Serbian DJ has been a key figure in her home nation's dance music scene for many years. However, music was never really in the script—Tijana was actually studying Spanish language and philosophy before her detour into more musical pastures—but her knack for DJing quickly gained her a recognition in the craft.
While studying, Tijana was offered a job producing music reports on public TV in Serbia. She took the position for the money alone, but an undiscovered love for presenting her experimentally-inclined taste to a wider audience saw her become an overnight success. In 2005, around the time she was creating content for Exit Festival, Tijana, a talented vocalist, met Abe Duque and the pair kicked off a collaboration that resulted in world touring and a slew of records on Abe Duque Records.
In the subsequent years, Tijana decided that DJing was where her heart was and focused intently on it, cutting her teeth on the local circuit before debuting internationally around 2013. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength, playing some of the most renowned and in demand parties and clubs across the world—Space Ibiza, Panorama Bar, and New York's Output, to name but a few.
2016 doesn't seem to be slowing down either. Up next, she plays Sonus Festival, Tale Of Us' Afterlife, and her first trip to Mexico. It's with this accelerated trajectory that Tijana's gig schedule and notoriety will continue to rise—which isn't a surprise when you hear her play. Check out her recent mix for Resident Advisor for a case in point. Ahead of her gig in Croatia this weekend, we asked Tijana to reflect on her experiences and offer up 10 tips for improving your DJing.
Even if you're a DJ playing strictly techno or strictly drum & bass, your sets and style will surely be influenced by all the other music genres you are open to. It is, I would say, essential to listen to all sorts of music. Knowing about jazz, rock, classical or pop music is exactly what will change your listening and performing perspective, and also make your DJ selection more intriguing.
"...don't worry what others will say: originality always seems a bit ugly at first."
There's no book of golden rules in mixing
This is something I've know very well as I'm self-taught in mixing; I was learning by doing and nobody has ever explained me how anything works nor did I read any tutorials. In the end I've learned that there are no strict rules in mixing, just as there are not in music. Everything is possible. If you believe there's a connection between two tracks even though they are miles away in any sense, just blend them together with no fear! There must be a reason why you found them compatible in the first place. Ideally this approach will shape your very own, original mixing style. And don't worry what others will say: originality always seems a bit ugly at first.
Don't prepare your sets
It is good to practise and have a rough idea where your set might go on a certain occasion, but don't play a pre-planned set. That goes directly against the basic idea of what DJing is. A DJ should feel and be able to play the right track at the right time. If you come with a precise tracklist and prepared set, you’re not present in the moment and it shows that you care more about your performance than the audience's experience. Those blissful moments at parties happen when a DJ, music and audience all correspond in perfect synchronicity.
Know your music
Listen carefully to the tracks you selected to play. Listen to them more than once at home. Even if you use it as a loop or tool it will help you discover sonic nuances, precise dynamics, and you will know how to work with the track perfectly. This is essential if you want to have exciting sets and change different styles and grooves.
Be true to your music
Never ever play any music you don't actually like—or something you're not sure about. No matter the genre, no matter the tempo, before putting that record in a record bag or file on a stick ask yourself this: do I love this piece of music? Does every single bar resonate with you? It can be groove, melody, break, vocal or all these elements that are truly your choice. Playing what you honestly like allows your character to communicate with the crowd, and that's essential. Even if you can't define your style, what is special about you will come through—but only if you're true to the music you choose.
Dig dig dig
You never know where and how you will find a super special track that fits your sets perfectly. Go through all the possibilities; as with all good things in life, it takes time and patience. Some of my favorite records I found on the street and they cost €2! Some of the craziest rarities I discovered in Beatport Charts by DJs considered totally uncool in my circles. Also, just as with record shops, you need to dig digitally: don't limit yourself with one or two online stores; search for your music everywhere.
"DJing is like love making: it can be all acrobatic and technical, but if there’s no magic between people it’s just not good."
Know your magic
There’s many different approaches to DJing. You can be a great selector, a real digger, an expert in one style or a technical God in the booth. But it is perfect sense of timing and a lot of empathy for what is happening on the dancefloor that makes you a great DJ. In the end, the technical side is not crucial at all, so don’t rely too much on that. You never know when the equipment might fail and you’re left with basics. It is the moment when you have to use your own magic to make things work. There was this one party with DJ Harvey in Miami when only one turntable was functional and he was playing records one by one. And he pulled off a great party! DJing is like love making: it can be all acrobatic and technical, but if there’s no magic between people it’s just not good.
Record and listen to your sets
This helps a lot! Sometimes the energy of the party completely distorts the memory of what and how you played. Most of the time a set only makes sense at a specific moment which is totally fine, that’s what the magic of DJing. But if you listen to it again and it really sucks, just think of what you didn’t like and try to do it better next time. Sometimes you're so energized by the energy in the club that you come up with crazy ideas during your mix and they actually work! I record a lot of my sets and listen at home and analyze what happened.
Go out of your safe zone
Although practising is necessary for technical skills, be careful not to become a professional bedroom DJ. The more you are at home on your own or with your couple of friends in the studio, the less you learn about the interaction with people and the actual experience of DJing. Go out there and play! Take any opportunity to DJ in public. Whatever it is—a wedding, a commercial event, house party, your cousin's birthday, shitty local bar —that's the only way to learn what DJing really is. Circumstances will never be perfect—the sound will always be different, you will always have different people in front of you and there's a chance you discover you're not the next techno superstar, but the best wedding DJ in the world!
"There's so much creating and not much greatness.......It's not a crime to be just a good DJ."
You don’t have to make music
Back in the Ancient days it was believed that all art is created when a Muse (a supernatural being) visits the artist and brings him or her ideas. For those who create, it's that feeling you have in your stomach right before the alien jumps out. If you have never felt that a Muse visited you or that you have some sort of an out-of-body experience that is totally beyond your control while you're making music, just don't do it. Don't do it because technology allows you to; don't do it to get more exposure as a DJ; don't do it because everyone else is doing it; don't do it because it's cool. Do it only if you feel you have to do it; do it if you feel something is haunting your soul; do it if you feel like you’re not yourself unless you create. Look deep inside yourself and ask the question: is this really what I’m made to do? Otherwise you're contributing to the white noise. There's so much creating and not much greatness. It is utterly unfair and even disrespectful to do something with wrong motivation and expect people to buy it, play it, enjoy it, believe it. If you’re unfair to yourself in that sense with a bit of ambition on top it is a secure path to unhappiness. It's not a crime to be just a good DJ.
Header: Marcella Zanki
Portrait: Viktor Shekularatz
DJ photos: Benny Gasi