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Serbia’s Real Good Guys (interview) -

Reported by Tristan Ingram on January 23, 2009

“Berlin has a great reputation amongst young people in Serbia, especially those young people who love art, design and music. So many of them go to Berlin just to see and experience the city. London is also popular, but it's perceived as more of a mainstream destination by most people here.”

As well as being one half of hotly tipped nu rave/ turbo folk mash-up duo the Good Guys, Andrija Kovač, 24 is the creative director behind Exit Festival’s alternative dance arena Happy Novi Sad, and as such, is superbly placed to discuss European, as well as Balkan club culture. And kicking off the year with a live Good Guys performance alongside Hot Chip and Terence Fixmer in Novi Sad, he’s equally well versed on the minutiae of both environments.

“New Years Eve was fantastic, it was our biggest gig so far,” Andrija enthuses, “It was a big city-sponsored event for about 4000 people. To be honest though, Al Doyle, from Hot Chip, played a minimal set right after midnight, which was something the crowd didn't like that much, so the people went wild when we started right after him, with our pumping rhythms, guitars and distortions. - Everyone loved our set and we got a lot of compliments for it on our Myspace page,” he smiles.

With over 30 productions under their belt (ranging from 70s style folk trash to high energy nu rave stompers) and a fast developing video show, the pair are looking outside Serbia for 2009, with their youth a considerable advantage for getting round Serbia’s still relatively isolated visa situation.

“We want to continue making tunes and play our live acts for people as much as possible,” Andrija continues. “We are in a position where we really need promotion and touring the world would be a great way of gaining it. As for the visas - we are young, we are still students, so we get most visas without any problem.”

Keeping him relentlessly occupied at home though, alongside the Good Guys is his design company and his role planning the Happy Novi Sad stage, one of the key locations for Exit, and Serbia’s growing alternative music scene.

“The Dance Arena is one of the biggest electronic music areas in Europe if not the world, and their line-up is a little more 'commercial' than ours, but has to be because they have 25,000 clubbers raving there,” Andrija points out.

“Happy Novi Sad stage is a much smaller stage with four thousand people capacity which means we’re able to experiment more in terms of giving people something they can't hear on the dance arena - more intelligent, modern, progressive view to the electronic music.”

Names who’ve graced the stage in recent year’s include Berlin’s Anje Schneider and British radio legend Annie Nightingale, who’s much anticipated performance didn’t go to plan.

“2005 was the worst year for weather we’ve ever had, it was pouring with rain for all four nights of the festival with thunderstorms too,” he recalls.

“Annie Nightingale was supposed to headline the third night and we had to cancel her appearance because of heavy rain and strong wind. The DJ who played before her could not play at all because his records were flying off the turntables 20metres to the area behind the stage. It was total madness,” he shudders.

Exit Festival talk aside, Andrija’s main passion remains the Good Guys, as he’s quick to point out.

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): What was the initial vision for the band, Musically and in image terms?

The Good Guys: “We wanted to create something different, something we both enjoyed and something that no one else did before; to make music we both love and enjoy, without any particular genre boundaries. We both like energetic music with a lot of 70s and 80s influences and lots of funk spilled over heavily compressed beats and tight sounds. We both knew the music must sound perfect and it must make you wanna’ dance. Then we wanted to go a step further and do the same thing with video, so every tune has it's specially prepared video, and our live act consist of our songs in-sync with interesting video. Our performance feels like a movie - it has opening titles, the movie itself, and the closing titles. We started building our image around it, caring about every single detail: ie the way our Myspace looks like, the way we dance on stage, the way we communicate with the people through our art, music, clothes.”

Skrufff: How significant is the name? It makes me think of a war subtext: ie good guys and 'bad guys' . . .

The Good Guys: “The name really popped into our heads, without any serious
brainstorming behind it. We had a couple of ideas we were considering and then Bojan came up with 'The Good Guys' because it sounded like it came from a movie, and we decided to keep it. I think the name is really important, it has to be different, understandable, but it must be easily remembered. Also, it's important that people can relate to the name, because in that way you gain popularity and publicity.”

Skrufff:  You describe your location as 'former Yugoslavia’ on Myspace: why do you prefer that description to Serbia?'

The Good Guys: “Hmmmm, I never really thought about it, I think when we were signing up for Myspace, there was only an option for 'former Yugoslavia', you couldn't pick Serbia separately. It doesn't really matter. The whole world is a country and information is easily accessible these days through the internet.”

Skrufff: Many thousands of people lost their jobs following the Balkans war and NATO bombings, what are people in Serbia's attitudes towards the West's current economic crisis? how much Schadenfreude are people sensing?

The Good Guys: “Serbia is also suffering from the world's economic crisis, and will suffer even more in the time to come, so it's the same like in the west - people are losing their jobs, the economy is on hold, inflation is getting worse and worse.”

Skrufff: I know Serbia's been relatively economically isolated: how easy is it to get musical equipment these days?

The Good Guys: “It is a little isolated economically, but it's really a big country, our capital Belgrade is a city of 2.5million people, so you can basically get everything you want. Yes, piracy is at large, but that's mainly because of the low economic living standards rather than economic isolation. I mean, kids don't have a couple of hundreds euros to spend on legal software, legal music downloads, or musical equipment on a monthly basis. We try to use all the money we earn from our performances for getting new gear - new synths, controllers, etc.”
Skrufff: How much difference has EXIT made to Novi Sad and Serbia?

The Good Guys: “It's made a huge difference, really. Everyone in Serbia knows what Exit is, and a LOT of people from around the globe know about Serbia mainly through Exit. I've hung out with some people from New Zealand who were shouting 'Serbia is the best, Exit is the best!' That's really a fantastic thing, having that great, positive publicity all over the world instead of bad, political marketing from the past.”

Skrufff: What do you make of the English- and their drinking habits?

The Good Guys: “Well, the guys love to drink, and there's nothing wrong about it, really. But you should ask us about Serbian drinking habits too.”

Skrufff: How about English girls compared to Serbian girls: many Brits adore your girls compared to British girls: are you the opposite?

The Good Guys: “I might be subjective, because I love British girls. But Serbian girls are pretty, too. Some say that girls from the Balkans are the most beautiful women of the world. It makes sense, because of the great mixture of culture and genes over the centuries in this area.”

Skrufff: Are you planning on staying in Novi Sad long term?

For now I don't have any plans on going abroad. I am happy living here, I have an exciting job and feel like I am doing something important for my country.” (Download the latest DJ mix by The Good Guys here)
(The Good Guys, live at Exit Festival, July 2008)

Jonty Skrufff (