Name: Nico Stojan
Occupation: DJ / Producer
Labels: Katermukke, Upon.You, URSL
Current Release: Twisted Manners
Musical Recommendations: DJ Three and my homie Acid Pauli!
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
When I was 16, I started mixing with two turntables and using them as an instrument. A year ater I already had my first gig. I was into hip hop, funk and soul, so I tried to go to London to buy rare records I could play in my sets.
I started DJing at Bar25 and it changed everything. The Bar25 was a place in Berlin where you could go during the week to to go either to the restaurant or just have a drink and sit next to the Spree. Later in the evening, you could go watch an independent movie in the small open air cinema or just hang out and listen to some tunez. At the weekends it was a place where you had the chance to leave all your responsibility outside to go wild from Saturday night until sometimes Tuesday … the club didn't stop. It was very special and so much fun. No authorities. It was just joy, with lots of lovely friends and people from around the world. Nowadays people complain about the tourists in Berlin, but to be honest, a place like the Bar25 wouldn't have been so interesting without all the different people from around the world! I think Berlin needs the visitors who come to experience the Berlin club scene - otherwise there wouldn't be so much different stuff going on every weekend in such a variety of amazing places.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own style?
I learned playing the clarinet and the saxophone, playing classic music and jazz. Later I started doing hip hop, listening to funk and soul and r&b. I think I am pretty much open for a lot of different genres in music. I like playing old stuff, new stuff, a bit of this and a little bit of that - always with the vibes of my hip hop background.
The older I get I try to break my patterns a bit more. I think my musical background makes it even more easy for me to understand different music. But when I produce my own music, I guess it's sometimes a bit hard to know what I really want … Often, the result is making me happy. And then again, sometimes it's just crap and I start something new.
What were some of the main challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
When I started DJing as a hip hop DJ, I was using two turntables with Shure needles and a Gemini scratchmaster mixer and I really tried to use the turntable as an instrument. Like I said, to play a really fresh set you needed to play unique records. Today everyone has access to almost everything cause of the digital world. That makes it easy for everyone to be a DJ or lets say a selector … For me that means I have to make more edits which I can play in my sets or to produce more music which I sometimes don't want to release. It's good to have some stuff that only my best friends and I can play.
How do you see the relationship between the tools you're using and the creative results – in which way do certain tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity?
I think using the CD-Js with Serato made my dj-sets a lot more comfortable, cause the turntables used to be more and more out of pitch during the last few years - no club is making an effort to service them … So I was always trying to correct the mix instead of connecting with the people.
Could you take me through the process of preparing for one of your gigs, please?
I am often taking my last sets and add new tracks to it … So it's a nice balance between old and new tracks … I also have folders that have certain names like for example 'funky & groovy' ,'classics' or 'trippy stuff'.
How would you describe your approach to building a set? What are some of the characteristics that define who you are as a DJ?
I think its very important for me to catch the vibe and try to create a good feeling. Of course that's not always possible, because DJs are not machines and I am also sometimes not in the best mood and then can't let my happiness wash over to the people. But it's very important for me to find a balance between playing for me and making the people happy. These things more or less go hand in hand.
It has today almost become customary to radically change pieces in the act of mixing and to increase the creative input of the DJ even to the level of the actual composition. What's your take on that and in how much do you make use of these possibilities yourself?
I use Serato. The pitch in time is getting really good and I sometimes look up with mixed in key where I am and where I could go next
It is customary for many DJs to also produce tracks of their own, thereby lifting the former 'division of labor' between the two. You, too, just released your first album. How would you compare the two – producing and DJing – in terms of allowing you to express yourself? How does your work as a DJ influence your studio productions and vice versa?
Two different pairs of shoes for me. Studio time does not really influence my DJing. I often do edits I can play in my sets, but I do them with my laptop, for example on a train or plane while I travelling.
You mentioned that, with your album, you wanted to create something "more musical" and "more demanding" compared to just releasing a collection of club tracks. Does that mean that there is a certain degree of musicality doesn't work in a club?
Of course you can play a bunch of the tracks from the album but the album was done without any dancefloor ambitions. An album for me is something I want to listen to at home or on my headphones. More something to relax or just let play while doing other things. Just totally non-progressive music.
I know that Twisted Manners had a long and winding history. Can you tell me just a little bit how you managed to keep the tracks so coherent over such a long period of time?
'Blue Hour' was the first beat I finished ... the working title was 'Montpellier' … I knew that this track was meant to be on the album so whenever I felt that I did a potential album track I was simply adding it to the folder. Last year I had almost everything together and wanted to round it up and make it sound warmer. So I went to the studio with some musicians and we filled the gaps and added some organic stuff …
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality?
Everyone should do what he likes. No judging, not too much thinking, just feeling and trying … That's basically it. The best way is to relax and feel yourself getting channeled with the frequencies and heal yourself with the music. It so powerful!
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What's your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
The PR company I worked with was very important for the album and they did a very good job, so I think its totally worth it to use PR companies to reach more people with your music. That is what I want … making people happy with my music!
It is remarkable, in a way, that DJing has remained relevant for such a long time. Do you nonetheless have a vision of DJing, an idea of what it could be beyond its current form?
The only thing I sometimes miss is that people do not really DJ that much anymore. It used to be an art, mixing tracks into each other. The sync button is something I don't use cause then I should call my self a selector rather than a disc jockey. I still like the sentence “what is a DJ if he can't scratch”?
Find out more about Nico Stojan on his Facebook profile.