Introducing Vazda Garant - Diversity in Dubstep #11

Introducing Vazda Garant

Diversity in Dubstep #11

After visiting Ontario, Canada and Tokyo, Japan with the last two Diversity in Dubstep features, today we’re spending time connecting with tastemakers/ changemakers who call Belgrade, Serbia home.

I’ve been itching to get Anja and Sanja on FatKidOnFire for a DiD conversation for the last few months after initially highlighting the work they (and the extended collective) do in a column I wrote for DJ Mag last year. As Vazda Garant, the team represent all things UK underground sound/ culture with their events, mixes and community across Serbia and beyond.

I recently sat down with the both of them for what turned into quite an extensive conversation. The chat’s been lightly edited and condensed for clarity, but it’s one worth sticking with. Anja and Sanja were also kind enough to sort a mix which first debuted as the second hour of a recent FKOF Sessions show on Swu, which you can also bag in its own entirety. Enjoy…

Hey team, how you doing?! How’s your day/ week been so far? Stoked to finally be here. Anja: Hiii! I was in Stockholm for the weekend and caught a cold on one of the days, but it was really fun, nevertheless. I’m really happy to be here, now, too!

Sanja: Hello! I have just received the first record I did a design for, so I am over the moon! Tired and creative af haha!

Who, what and why is Vazda Garant? A: Vazda Garant is the “official” name for our crew of five, and we called ourselves that during our partying phase, so to say (did it ever end, though?!). We went out often and always together, and when we resolved to actually attempt to impact the local scene, it seemed the most logical to use ‘Vazda Garant’ as the name. We were that and nothing else. “Vazda” means something along the lines of “often” or “all the time,” while “garant” just means “guaranteed.” So, with us, a good time is guaranteed all the time!

S: I couldn’t agree more with Anja, times a million! 

How did the collective/ outfit/ however you term yourselves(!) come about? A: I guess we call ourselves a collective. Sanja actually joined last, but we bonded immediately – us two especially. I remember we bonded around music mostly at first because we have similar tastes. Over time, we just understood each other more. Sanja, for me, is a confidant: understanding, full of support and often drives me to get out of my anxious zone.

S: Collective it is but… Yeah, I was last to join the crew, but it felt like I was there from the start. Anja is like the nervous mom of Vazda Garant haha and also my best friend (my partner in crime when it comes to music and everything else). She is the most caring one in the group.

How did you both meet, and what was your introduction to the ‘UK’s underground’? A: I was a proper dnb head when we met! I guess we both were. I can’t really remember how or when this came about, but I guess the crew I hung out with at the time also knew Sanja, so we met at a dnb party. We only started truly bonding later on and I remember we shared our love for the rap group Problem Child, Kano, Skepta, and Novelist, which I thought was rare for someone in Serbia! At the time, I used to think I was alone, so when I met Sanja and I was suddenly never alone again. My first real big love was Noisia, but I got to discover the UK’s underground when I first heard Bad Company. dBridge is still one of my all-time favourites, and True Romance still gives me chills. 

S: It was back in 2013 at a party as Anja mentioned. We met each other at the right time I’d say, as we both realised we were into the same music, which is not very popular here. I think it all started with Chase and Status and then it progressed onto dubstep, jungle etc. 

If you can remember, what was the first dubstep/ 140bpm tune you ever heard? A: Wow, this is a good question, because I can’t remember. I used to like faster music, so any dubstep tune I’d hear would go over my head. I think the moment I truly started falling in love with the genre was when I first heard Commodo’s Space Cash EP. I started exploring Deep Medi a bit more then and just listened to all the artists on there.

S: Yes! Digital Mystikz’s Anti War Dub

What’s the community like in Belgrade, or across Serbia more broadly, for the type of music you’re fans of? A: Minimal! I mean, people still relate Skrillex and Nero to the word “dubstep,” so when we introduce ourselves as dubstep DJs, there’s perhaps a wrong idea. However, we’re not focused only on 140. I remember a gig when we strictly did 160-170 music and people went nuts. People here tend to ask first – “what kind of music will there be?” rather than “who’s DJing?” which becomes limiting at a certain point. There are very, very few DJs and performers in Belgrade for whom no one would ever ask – what do they play? But those people also got established through a certain channel or type of sets. 

S: Oh I thought that choosing a track would be the toughest question there, but yeah! Very poor in my opinion. There are really just a few artists DJs in Belgrade/ Serbia that match this vibe. I think there’s room to introduce this type of music to a wider audience, but for now there’s not enough curious people. 

You’ve promoted shows for a few years now, how did you get into event management? A: My dad used to be the manager to one of Belgrade’s most famous clubs in the ‘90s. I think I got my management and event organising genes from him! I honestly always wanted to be a part of the scene. I also have perfectionistic tendencies (and by tendencies, I mean I am 100% a perfectionist haha!) and can’t always let things happen to me. I know that’s bad in various situations but I’m not stubborn. I just like to take things into my own hands, and I was greatly encouraged by Vazda Garant while we were still just going to parties. We always wondered what it’d take to start our own parties, and we spoke it into existence. I, luckily, knew Illaman and Sumgii from before and their experience also helped everything go smoother than a first gig would. The gig itself was amazing, but there were a bunch of small disasters here and there that showed us what we were getting into. We haven’t organised an event since 2019, but I want more. I definitely want to try bringing new and exciting music to Belgrade.

S: For myself, it’s like I always wanted to hear something like that here in Belgrade, and (of course) to find ways to become a part of it. So it’s very, very stressful but in the end nothing can compare to the overwhelming feeling when you’re at the party and after it’s done. Now when the corona thing has finally calmed down, we are very enthusiastic about bringing more amazing artists.

In your promotional experience, what makes for a successful show? A: Getting people on the list haha! Jokes aside, the performer being friendly and cooperative is crucial. Belgrade’s nightlife is unique in the sense that you’ll always find a friend. If you book someone unfriendly and distant, the crowd can sense that and quickly scatter elsewhere. Additionally, location is everything in Belgrade. The more interesting it is the better. We often see people attaching themselves to an event based on where it’s held.

S: People who are open to experiencing new sound. I think the one we’re into is destined to be the biggest banger, but we just need the right crowd. 

Of the artists you’ve brought to Belgrade, who’s been your favourite (and why)? A: I don’t want to pick favourites, but I will! It’s definitely Illaman and Sumgii, who were our first ever event in 2017. Like I said, I knew them from before. They’re both awesome people, very fun, kind, and incredibly talented. We’ve always cheered for them to get bigger and more popular because they deserved it. They were also very understanding about the fact that it was our first event and were helpful without even realising it (maybe)!

S: We need to pick our favourite haha! Like Anja said, it maybe wasn’t our best party because it was our first one, but yeah, for me too Illaman and Sumgii in 2017. Just thinking about that time when we were preparing everything for them, hanging out before the show, seeing them perform… It was so damn amazing. Just answering this question make me wanna do it again!

For anyone who’s not been to Belgrade before (myself included!) what venues or soundsystems are worth knowing about? A: Drugstore is a unique place. It reminds me of a gate to Hell, but in a good way – does that make sense?! It’s dark, gritty, and very interesting. There are numerous rooms to visit, they even have a garden area for summer parties, and something about it attracts people no matter the season. I love Ljubimac, which isn’t an all-night place, but carries the spirit of Belgrade wonderfully. The staff are kind and fun, the music is versatile, and the location is central and highly appealing.

S: I’d have to say Drugstore as well. Everyone knows that Belgrade is world-famous for its nightlife; we are open-minded as people and like making friends. There are numerous parties going on every weekend, but the UK underground scene here is almost non-existent. 

How did you both get into DJing? A: I think we were always curious about it, but never had the nerve because we thought we needed a lot of money to pay for equipment. Two of our friends from Novi Sad (one is a famous DJ there, Double B) encouraged us to do our own gig, and we got booked for an event called Ritual Fest back in 2018. We were, essentially, thrown into the fire with it. That was a slightly awful gig as we didn’t have time to practice and we were really anxious about it going well, but it was received much better than we thought. I got way too scared which may have seemed like I was angry, but I was just trying to keep my sh** together! I do feel like we still have a lot to work on in terms of being DJs. Or maybe that’s just me being a perfectionist?!

S: DJing has always been something that seemed so strange to me, but on the other hand, also very intriguing. 2018 was a groundbreaking year for us and it was a disaster. I was finally able to hear something I was really into, and the fact that it was coming from me made everything seem so surreal. 

What’s your process for putting a (live or pre-recorded) set together? How do your ‘live’ DJ sets go, pre-planned or go with the flow or? A: What’s nice about the process is that we come to each other with music that’s so similar that it’s almost intuitive. We used to practice sets before we just relaxed and realised we can do without that, because our choices were very in-tune. Occasionally, we send each other tracks before a gig or a mix to say “this is the vibe I want.” As soon as the vibe is determined, we come to each other with USBs full of stuff that meshes well together. I appreciate that Sanja always shows me new music during the process of getting ready for a mix. We use that same intuition for live gigs – we just know we’ll match each other’s energy because we always do. It hasn’t let us down so far.

S: When it comes to doing live sets, we definitely go with the flow. We would just decide on the BPM we’ll be going for and the vibe we’re into. We are incredibly synced and that is something that’s never changed – since the day we first met. 

Talk us through the mix you’ve put together. It’s got a bunch of wicked material inside! A: With this mix, we wanted to follow a kind of three-act structure. The first part, or a sort of intro, ends with Kercha’s Mental Ballast, and that’s when the action sequence starts – from Bukkha’s Badda Den Dem to Alix Perez’s Lifeline, the battle is in full swing. After that, it relaxes. I like to visualize sequences with each mix, and this one gave me the most ideas. It’s like a TV show episode – look for trouble, prepare for trouble, get into it, and then resolve the consequences. Does that make sense? Also, Zha’s Mumbai is one of my favorite tunes ever and I wanted to put it in the mix. Shout out to Zha!

S: We do like open the set with some slower rhythm, like­ ­­Eva 808’s Drip Drip, while slowly turning them into bangers like Opus’s Sharpie and Ourman‘s Namarie. I love the fact that we can mix these 140 BPMs with Boddika’s Wavelights. I like to finish with some calming dub lullabies like Kodama‘s Bliss

What does diversity mean to you? A: To me, it means acceptance. Having people of all walks of life in a place that brings them together with music. I don’t like seeing one type of person or one type of genre taking over the scene – where’s the fun in that? The world was never just one kind of thing, or black or white. If we look into the shades of grey and accept them all as equal, we’ll be fully free; creative and brilliant minds aren’t restricted to just one kind of people. 

S: Diversity to me is a celebration of all possible individualities you could ever think of. I think it makes us stronger and more beautiful in every way. 

How has diversity in your community changed (if it has?) over the last 18mo? A: I must admit that I don’t know. I think it hasn’t but that’s my point of view. What it looks like from my perspective is that the pandemic killed the desire for diversity and made people miss the basics, which is also fine (and expected).

S: I think that scene-wise, nothing significant has changed, but people are more eager to go out and have fun now than before. 

We first ‘met’ through Enada and the Dynamics platform. How did you first connect with Deana? A: I was a part of a Facebook dubstep community and saw Enada’s comment about potentially creating a database of womxn artists and DJs. I asked VG if we should apply, and with a resounding ‘yes’ we replied to her comment, got an email back from her, and then ended up on the Dynamics website. It’s truly been amazing since then, and while FB groups have thousands of comments each day, stumbling upon Enada’s started to feel like we were in right place at the right time, or better/ simply said: fate.

S: Yeah, Facebook was the intial link for connecting with them. We had the opportunity to learn more about other women in this scene and I am really glad to know that there are others out there doing something in this field. I’d love to meet up with Enada in person one day and hopefully have a show together at a festival!

What more can we, as a community, do to support and promote diversity in 140? A: 140 grows, continuously, but what still needs work is the encouragement of diverse artists to participate. I know well-established stars don’t have time (some don’t want to give it?) to listen to every newcomer’s work, but I think it’d mean a lot to someone like us to be heard and given feedback. It’s normal that more and more people want to hear from womxn in music, and I love that. The thing is, the scene isn’t always controlled by audiences – but also by organisers. If a well-established event organiser says “I’ll book this guy for the tenth time” the audience will say “sure.” But as soon as someone new steps on stage, there will be skepticism.

I’d say event organisers are the key to giving audiences what they like, but in new forms. It’s just important that they’re open to that, since not many are. We’ve found ourselves giving up fights because no one wanted to listen, and it was heartbreaking. I wish I had a better answer on how to promote diversity but from this perspective, the organizers and managers should be the ones getting more educated on various artists and genres, not just the artists.

S: I’d like to see more opportunities given to women without any second guesses. There’s a lot of people producing this music at the moment, so I believe it has the potential if the right people click at the right time and decide to make something great. 

If you could give the next generation of womxn some tips or advice about getting into music/ ‘the industry’, what would your advice or tips be? A: Support is crucial. And I don’t (just) mean from a local or city-wide group of fans, I mostly mean support from a group of close friends that believe in you. Even if your parents say “good job, we believe in you” , you’ll know there’s someone giving you wings. Also, it’s OK to move on from the things that made you, as long as you leave them in such a state that you can always come back. Don’t burn bridges, and don’t take small acts of support and kindness for granted is the point.

Also, don’t be afraid to promote yourself! Truly, we’re sometimes too shy and don’t want to bother people but putting our foot in the door and saying “hey, we’re kinda here and matter, too,” was what brought us here in the first place. Get out of your comfort zone – if there’s someone on the local scene that you respect or relate to, write to them. If they end up being rude, you can go back and strategise who else to approach if you have a thing worth promoting/listening to. How do you know it’s worth the promotion? You have friends that hype you up, and mostly, you absolutely enjoy the sh** out of it.

S: I saw a video on TikTok recently about a women-only club somewhere in England. I was impressed by how it all looked like – a bunch of beautiful women enjoying music and living their life. The first thing that came to my mind after seeing it was: safe. I think that they should be focusing on being their true selves, rather than allowing others to give them unsolicited advices. 

What’s your ‘usual’ (ignoring the current pandemic/ lockdown) day like; how does everything fit together? A: I mostly go to work, spend an hour or two outside after that, and then come home. It’s not that eventful, to be honest. I hang out with my boyfriend when we have time off work.

S: My day begins with music – who could tell, right?! I work as an Illustrator for an animation studio and I have a side hustle as a graphic designer. I love enjoying walks after work as there’s a forest nearby.

Who are your heroes (musical or otherwise)? A: I am a huuuuge cinephile, and my heroes are mostly from that world. I admire the South Korean director Bong Joon Ho (who directed the award-winning movie Parasite) because of how he creates worlds in such detail; his vision is incredible. Akira Kurosawa is another, because he lived and breathed stories and storytelling, which motivates me to write my own stuff, read more, and be creative. I admire Hans Zimmer because all of his work shows how music is integral to storytelling and description.

S: Most of my heroes are coming from the world of art. I’d have to mention Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who left an incredible impression on me, and American artist Keith Haring.

Outside of music, what makes you happy? A: For me, it’s writing. I work as a content writer, which comes easily for me, but I also write my own screenplays, short stories, scenarios, whatever I can think of. I also really like video games, to be honest. I relax the most when I turn on The Sims (which many may not claim is a video game, but what do you know?) and I’ve recently gotten into mysteries. I’m trying to solve Twelve Minutes at the moment, and plan on going back to Disco Elysium soon.

S: I cannot imagine my life without drawing or making art. Sun makes me happy and I love to be on the go. I am planning on getting my first ever graffiti done with my boyfriend soon, so I am really excited about it!

Where can people find you online – and any final words or shout outs? A: Shout out to the underground crew from Novi Sad – Double B, Kontakt, and Kick Kong. They’re our brothers from other mothers that we haven’t seen in a while (mostly because of the pandemic.) I am mainly on IG, my @ is @anniemoonvg. Otherwise, @vazdagarant on IG and on FB, Soundcloud, and Mixcloud. Thank you FKOF and Wil for the interview – this was really fun and I can’t wait to check it out. Special shout out to you, of all people! 

S: Yeah, you can follow us everywhere Anja mentioned. You can find me on Instagram, Behance and Tumblr (@bastardshark). Special shout out to Traka, a collective from Serbia, and also to the crew from Novi Sad. Thank you for giving us this opportunity and we can’t wait to have you guys here!

Click to DOWNLOAD (149MB)

Track list:

  1. EVA808 – Drip Drip (Reflective Nikes)
  2. Las – Trippin’
  3. K-LONE – Deluxe
  4. Zygos – Jamais
  5. EVA808 – Oyuki
  6. Opus – Snidey
  7. Kercha – Mental Ballast
  8. Bukkha feat. Killa P – Badda Den Dem
  9. Glume & Phossa – Hatchet
  10. ZHA – Mumbai
  11. HØST – Baghdad Bop
  12. Alix Perez – Lifeline (Original Mix)
  13. Opus – Sharpie
  14. Sleeper – Le Goonz (Original Mix)
  15. Ourman – Namarie
  16. Ivy Lab & Rocks FOE – Dark Horse
  17. ALXZNDR – Section 7
  18. Samba X Chokez – Ghastly
  19. Yoofee – Czeck Mystic
  20. Boylan – 2 Hours Sleep
  21. Boddika – Wavelights
  22. Piezo – Cala
  23. nickname – Thinking of U
  24. Formless – Hidden Realm
  25. Commodo – Deft 1s
  26. Kodama – Bliss

Share your thoughts on the chat with Anja and Sanja from Vazda Garant via the footer below or get in touch with FKOF via email or Twitter.