The DJ plays Dejavu

Who is the DJ? What is the DJ? Hang the DJ? In case of “Dejavu” and its initiator Ivan Krželj, there were many “last nights” indeed, when this DJ saved lives. Still does… every once in awhile.

In 2002, or about that time, Krželj decided to comprise his club events into something that would stand the test of time – something that would bring together past and present and the ever-beloved future (that never properly is). By 2002, post-rock and electroclash scenes were just letting loose full time – all of a sudden many were hooked on glitch and the laptop culture, while on the other hand there were analogue blippers who decided to crash away from the digital (im)-perfection. Of course, the electroclash scene mixed individual artforms and DJ-ing into new divine decadence. I never really payed much attention to the genre itself – up to that point, Ivan was one of the DJs that stepped away from the regular hit-song circuit. His vision of hits was intertwined with the obscure – all of a sudden, somewhere in Zagreb the DJ started playing “Dejavu”. With a variety of synth-pop, electro, indie, new wave, no wave, industrial, avant-garde, neofolk or abstract back and forth, “Dejavu” gained a considerable following, attracting audences both old and new. In the meantime, Zagreb even got one of its first proper electroclash media darlings – then-duo called Lollobrigida. In the following years, the hipster culture spread its wings and continued to nurture its own blend of arrogance and exaggerated kitch-fashion chic.

Not that it all sounds just as exploited and hearing Adult’s version of “No Tears” for the 459309th time on the dancefloor is just causing further rift closer to dismissing it forever, but it helped maintaining the idea of “Dejavu”, an imaginative place where nostagia and actuality continually meet for their friendly loudspeaker killer track exchange. I first met Krželj around late 1998 – at the time he was already three years into his radio-programme called “Wave FM” (started in 1995 with one of Simple Minds’ songs). The place was Radio Student, at the time, people seemed like hanging out there, exchanging CDs in the main. Late 90s were still innocent times – CD-Rs just started and everyone saw it as a dream come true. We all started exploring this CD-R culture, Krželj in particular was one of the very first people I know who was able to transfer an old vinyl record onto CD-R. All of a sudden I was hanging out there every week, either listening to “Wave FM” right on the spot and exchaning music with him. We discussed various ideas and it was Krželj who gave Narrow (my former duo-project with a friend called Robi) its first proper public exposure – either via radio or live performance, at then-still active Lapidarij club, in front of a bemused, confused audience. Robi and I were part of his “Wave FM” 100th show anniversary held in Lapidarij (this event also featured Le Cheval, the provocative theatrical group and a guy called Alen reciting poetry. And of course, the music selections featured in his radio shows. While many DJs share identical taste in music and more-less the same vigour, Ivan Krželj’s attitude and communicating skills as a DJ, whether intentionally or accidentally, managed to reflect on the mood of the clubbing audience. At some level, Ivan does play it safe but that’s the actual mean little trick he performs by hooking up people through irresistible spine of ultrapopular hits interspersed with a lesser known, indie-scene’s (dark) side. All of a sudden you could hear songs you believed never had the chance beyond personal collection’s prison walls. Ever since his early 90s days at Mobilus Club and later on at Lapidarij (where he hosted “New Way Of New Wave” evenings), it was Krželj who helped reviving people’s interest in music that due underground scene’s decline on the verge of the new century, rapidly vanished – “trendy” became a necessary prefix to everything, from “pop” to “power-electronics” and you could hear it in most novelty acts’ stuff screaming with plasticity. With most late-80s/early 90s alternative music presenters gone or giving up (or staying in the shadows), Ivan remained to the present day. Parallel to his work at Lapidarij, back in the late 90s, there was also Tomi Phantasma who maintains his DJ profile to the present day with “Twilight” (then known, and far better, as “Twilight Zone”). Ivan and Tomi seem to be polar opposites of the same thing. Tomi provides “music for the masses”, while Ivan less keen on the commercial DJ factor provides something that is more “large ladies with cake in the oven”. Although it shouldn’t be a matter of clan, somehow both camps brought their tiny air of elitism.

DJs are known for their mixture of enthusiasm, arrogance and sense of competition among themselves; there is selfishness about music information, in order to keep it to themselves but also keep intriguing the outside world with its fragmentary bits. And all of a sudden, 12 years later, “Dejavu” became a fragment of itself. In the meantime, Krželj had established Muzikfantastique, sort-of summary under which all of his events hold up – besides “Dejavu”, there is also “Gute Nacht Berlin” focusing more on the grey area of drone, white noise and bleep.

Between 1999 and 2001 in search of particular identity, the idea of “Dejavu” suddenly turned up, from a song “1982” by Miss Kittin and The Hacker – and it served as the ideal platform for this new event, given full reign at then well-established independent club, called Mochvara. By 2002, exploring more recent affairs (among them the International DJ Gigolos’ and Ersatz Audio catalogues respectively), “Dejavu” rebuilt its profile and offered new club goers their ideal night-out haven. Trash electronics echoing along good old Hi-NRG, Eurodisco and EBM anthems, providing an amazing playlist of music memories and novelty acts.

SD: What band or individual from the music world is on your mind the most these days? IK: Yesterday, the postman delivered a wicked French compilation, “So Young But So Cold”. It’s full of early 80s French underground artists. I gave it several spins in the CD player.

SD: Where does all this love for listening to music come from? IK: I’ve been listening to music before I could walk. I remember spinning 7” records on my mom’s gramophone when I was four. I remember listening to an old radio, trying to mix in a song by Demis Roussos by playing it along on a vinyl 7”.

SD: There are rumours that you can’t even enter your own room because of the enormous amount of vinyls and CDs you’ve been collecting all these years… IK: Yes, that is true. I’ve been sleeping in another room for a while now, and I’ve also been thinking of moving into a bigger apartment, so that everything would be in one place. Sometimes I wonder who shall inherit this pile of sonic treasures!

SD: Have you ever thought about making your own music, inspired by influences? You have had a few of your own musical experiments in the past, can you tell us a bit about that? IK: Of course I thought about it. I even managed to get my hands on a couple of instruments. Last year I started taking private piano lessons. Who knows what might happen with that? About 15 years ago, as the first PCs were becoming popular, I experimented in sound processing programs. Some may recall the project titled “The End Of The Beginning The Beginning Of The End”, for which I packaged the final CD releases in covers filled with sea water. Through a series of music and art projects I’ve collaborated with H.C. Boxer, the Le Cheval theatre group, as well as the poet Alen ŠpaniÊ. Furthermore, I’ve been an active club DJ for over 20 years, as well as the music editor on Radio Student 100.5 FM with my own show “Wave FM”. I have to remember all these club programmes and radio shows. I have to mention club nights in former Mobilus and Lapidarij clubs called “New Way Of New Wave”, as well as “Dejavu”, which started in MoËvara exactly ten years ago, and alongside those, intimate gatherings through programmes such as Gute Nacht! Berlin and De?Mode, from which the “Musikfantastique” endeavour arose.

SD: What would you say defines a DJ – a stage approach or technical know-how? IK: A DJ must love music and sound above all else, feel both the music and the mood of the audience, and communicate with the crowd, take right actions with the right emotions every moment. The technique is something that a DJ acquires for many years.

SD: Since all these years you have showered us with fresh music daily, how come that in clubs we always hear the same songs? How successful would you say you are regarding presentation of different content? IK: The DJ must spin as the crowd dances. However, thanks to many enthusiasts from the (especially underground) music scene, there is always hope, and it’s up to the audience to decide what they like and what they don’t like. For example, the biggest radio influence for me were Dinko Bažadona and Damir Tiljak. Among my generation, there’s noone who hasn’t heard of “Izvan Struje”, “Future Shock” or “Skrivene glazbe”.

SD: Ten years ago you started your own DJ event called “Dejavu”. For the last ten years, we can clearly witness a multitude of 80s “revival” sounds – where does all this 80s obsession come from? Are the 80s the ultimate be-all and end-all of the music world, undisputed so far? IK: This is logical. In the 80s I was a teen, absorbing music and music news like a sponge. My thirst for music was unquenchable. In the 80s a lot of revolutionary things happened, especially with the expansion of the independent music scene.

SD: How solid a story will “Dejavu” remain? With the lightly sarcastic caption “been there, heard that”… Regarding this, is there anything at all today that sounds different and new? Can one, through music, avoid all that has been done earlier? IK: “Dejavu” was envisioned as a return to the past with a look toward the future. It’s somewhat of a retroactive audio-visual happening. New things have been popping up all the time ever since humankind appeared on the planet.

SD: Can you name one band that introduced / innovated some change in sound at the threshold to the 21st century – and that it’s not “retro”, “synth-pop”, “shoegaze”, “no wave”, “industrial” et cetera? IK: Sigur Rós.

SD: Who do you love to collaborate with the most? What are your experiences and impressions regarding the audience and the rest of the “scene”? IK: I love young, lesser known bands which are uncorrupted and have soul, balls and heart.

SD: Is there a “scene” at all? Is there some common denominator within Croatian/regional underground music, or is it all just an illusion? As part of your club shows, you have also organized live acts. What criteria do you use when selecting performers? Can you tell us what performers you chose and what attracted you to them? IK: It’s difficult to speak of the local and the regional underground scene today. It all boils down to individual attempts to revive something we had experienced 30 years ago when the current and the vibes were something entirely different. Today the majority only looks after themselves, and back then, people would have given their lives for the scene. As I said, I am into uncorrupted souls, “outside the current”.

SD: Meanwhile, you started a new club show, “Synth-pop abeceda”. What is this about and is this segment of “Musikfantastique” different from the rest – especially from “Dejavu”? IK: I would like to educate, and I wish to present as many unknown names, both old and new, as possible. The show is expanding and trying to transfer the spirit of the good old days to these younger generations, within these recent club happenings.

SD: Where do you see yourself in the next ten years? IK: I’d like to see and hear myself behind a DJ mixing desk, just like today, with even more fantastic music for fantastic people.

SD: What is your ultimate #1 album that you would take to a deserted island? IK: When all is said and done, the queen is dead.


The interview conducted by 1/2 with a big warm thank you to Goran Gregor for translation help.

Images: Sigur Rós image detail borrowed from an internet source
(author unknown at the time of publishing), Alain Delon (1965) from a legendary record cover
Ivan Krželj photographed by Zagrob

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