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Zarkoff: On Post-Modernism, Philosophy and Croatia’s Big Bellies (interview) -

Reported by Tristan Ingram on February 25, 2009

“The big belly thing? I don't know if could you really say that it has a specific cultural meaning. It's just the fact that a lot of people here, especially men, aren't concerned with their appearance at all.

Though Croatia’s often achingly beautiful coastline is increasingly hyped as the new Ibiza, a stroll down most beaches will quickly reveal an abundance of big bellied local men, proudly flaunting their tummies with naked abandon

“Maybe it's a leftover from socialist non-fashion culture, you know, that attitude of ‘we are all the same, looks are not important, honesty and hard work are real values; the ones that matter, blah, blah blah . . .” Croatian EBM producer Zarkoff theorises.

“Socialism lasted long enough in Yugoslavia to educate an entire fashion-free generation. And then there's the traditional rural attitude that fat is beautiful. In a society where peasants were hungry many times in history, in almost every generation in fact, having a belly symbolizes abundance and well being.”

As a long term kung fu fanatic 28 year old Zarkoff is himself decidedly svelte though he’s careful to avoid passing judgement on his less body conscious Croatian peers.

“The western model of the beautiful body has only started to catch root here recently,” he continues, “Aesthetic values are of the least concern for an average 50 year old man here, which is understandable, but when you see young guys walking around like that, it does makes you wonder how happy can a person be looking like that?”

Body dimorphism aside, Zarkoff (real name Sasha Rajkovich) is as happy referencing philosophers Beaudelaire and Aristotle in his conversation as he is punk rock, reflecting his eclectic interests and tastes. An obsessive user of original synths he’s also quick to distance his music from the newfound popularity of analogue synths in pop music, as propounded recently by the likes of Franz Ferdinand and their ilk.

“Today’s postmodern culture is reaching high velocities of trend rotation, and from the position of someone standing outside this spinning vortex, it is very hard to take trends seriously, especially when they start repeating themselves in ridiculous forms and contradictory combinations,” he says.

“This is like the random mutating evolution theory; On the one hand you get to see all the specimens which aren't sustainable; those that are too weird to live, but they still do, for a while,” he chuckles.

“It is fun to observe these ‘new’ genres, sometimes it irritates me and sometimes it makes me laugh. The entertainment industry really works as this Darwinian mutagen that tries all the tricks and combinations until they hit something that proves successful and then you get massive copy and paste production. But the way the industry recycles movements that were essentially critical towards the established world order, like the punk movement for instance, into a benign stylistic feature that bears no more meaning whatsoever . . . That's disappointing and it proves that non conformism is losing the fight.”

“When you strip the punk movement of its original context and meaning and leave just the fashion part of it, you are turning rebellion into money (to paraphrase The Clash), and that's what's happening all around us,” says Sasa.

“Having said that, I am aware that I preach a lot, and I'm sure it can be irritating, but I don't impose absolute authority to my music or lyrics,” he says, “Everybody's wrong sometimes,” he chuckles.

Big bellies and pop culture aside, he’s chatting to Skrufff today to promote his new single Commodore, a high energy, EBM style stomper out now on Adriatiko Recordings.

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Starting with the new single Commodore: what’s the idea behind the track?

Zarkoff: “It's a part of a new EP called Passions, and that's exactly what it's about. I'd say it's very much dance floor oriented. I was aiming to create a bodily feeling of arousal and stimulation for the listener. The synths used on tracks Passions and Commodore are almost irritating in timbre. I am trying to simulate the corporal feeling of passion, or as the talented young Serbian writer Tobich Tobich would say: "milde-sorte pain".

The question is really about how that feeling fits into everyday behaviour and conventions. So the squeaking and harsh synths are restricted and controlled by tight repetitive rhythmic parts and I tried to express this struggle with the arrangements of the songs. This EP functions as a conceptual whole. Passions represents the intellectual aspect of the subject, Commodore the emotional, and April, with its syncopated, heavy rhythm, the physical/natural aspect of the passion phenomenon as a part of the eternal game of life.”

Skrufff: How do you write generally; where and how do you find inspiration?

Zarkoff: “Usually I program or find a synth sound that inspires me and the first connection with any rational idea I get usually evolves into a song. And ideas come from books, films, various pieces of bizarre information, science, religion, the occult. Dreams and psychedelic experiences are also important for me, though' I don't really remember them as clearly as I used to; it takes some discipline. So music grows with a certain feeling that evolves into a message.

And usually I compose music very fast, maybe in a day or two, and then the lyrics can take up to a week to finish. And then I need 2 days for recording and mixing. but this EP was basically compiled from different periods, it wasn't created as a whole, so you could say it evolved for 2 years.”

Skrufff: Your music has a distinctive 80s feel, how do you view that decade, in terms of influence?

Zarkoff: “The 80s are an age of myth for me. I don't really remember them; I was just a kid, born in ‘81. The technology of the time was very raw, the conversion from electric to electronic was taking place, the hippies fucked off finally with their new age shit, you had cyberpunk literature that was able to predict the next steps of progress in fine detail and very correct, which I find astonishing, the big electronic mind was starting to shape... but I don't know if this 80s label has anything to do with the actual 80s anymore, like I said before, it's just a stylistic remark now. It is a name for a certain style of music, that doesn't sound cool or polished or blasé (don't know if there's a word for it in English, but you know what I mean), it's still a bit naive and innocent.”

Skrufff: What’s the attraction of synths to you personally?

Zarkoff: “I love them, I have some nice vintage pieces in my collection and I use them a lot, they have a special character, each one, and as a producer who started out with computers and then turned to synths later, I can say that a good synth can save you a lot of trouble later in the mix, and you really don't need to tweak it so much to get a good sound. Using software synths always requires some additional fine-tuning, except when you're really lucky and hit the sweet spot by chance. This doesn't apply to cheap digital synths, they mostly sound awful, and most VST instruments are better.

And I also love funny gadgets like the Stylophone, I always try to find where I can use them. It's very captivating once you get into synths, they are essentially just computers connected to speakers, with limited possibilities, but games with  limited rules grow into most complex human creations, like chess, for example. So you can make whole symphonies with a simple set of programming possibilities. The complexity lies in their combinations; it's a fascinating game.”

Skrufff: I know you visit Berlin quite regularly: how do you see the city in terms of musical influence in Croatia? How much attention do Croatian people pay to what's happening in Berlin, London, or France?

Zarkoff: “Croatian culture is traditionally very open to German influences, Berlin is a common destination for young people here; we have really cheap flights with Germanwings so it's pretty easy to get there now. London is a little  pricey for our standards, as is Paris, so I think it's less common to travel there, but the influences are somewhat present. There are about 4.5 million inhabitants in Croatia and it is estimated that there is as many Croats living abroad, including 230.000 in Germany. In fact Berlin is one of the biggest centres of Croatian emigration, so you can imagine what sort of an cultural influence this is. And Croatia was always a seafaring nation so we had all sorts of influences here, but I'd say that the German influence was, and still is, one of the strongest. Everyone has relatives in Germany. That saved a lot of people during the war, including me. But when we speak of electronic music, the UK tech house scene left a huge influence on Zagreb, but that was more because of the DJs coming over to play here.”

Skrufff: How has Croatia being affected by the global economic crisis: have you noticed any changes (on the club scene or in general?)

Zarkoff: “Apart from the natural gas crisis, nothing special, no. People who had only gas heating really had a bad week, it was very cold and the heating was reduced, not nice at all. Experts predict that Croatian economic growth will slow down, maybe even stop for this year, so we can expect a slight stagnation, nothing dramatic. This region is always in some sort of crisis, so I don’t think we’ll experience anything new. I would even say that Zagreb scene is going through a small revival, there are new places, new events. I hope they will survive this tough period. I think that the crisis thing is being hyped up beyond proportion, but I don’t understand for what purpose – and that’s a bit scary.”

Skrufff: Why do you prefer to focus on playing live instead of developing yourself as a DJ?

Zarkoff: “I like my own music better then everything else. DJing is a completely different thing from producing and playing live. The DJ is a very postmodern concept of musical collage ‘artist’ that is involved in a game of recombination on a large scale. It is linear in its nature, tracks follow each other, sometimes it’s possible to combine them, of course, but that’s more of an exception. The DJ is replacing all the authors in the role of Master Selector, it’s almost like a shamanic function, and as the society tried to regain some of the lost paradise, some of the pre-agricultural orgiastic innocence, DJs got established as the ones who make it happen on a good night out. I respect that, but I don't see myself in that role.”

“The musician is, on the other hand, probably the oldest kind of artist in our civilization. He is manipulating the very fabric of existence, coding vibrational sequences. The entire universe is coded in vibration sequences.  Aristotle believed music to be the most abstract of all arts, in the sense that it is not mimetic, but I think quite the opposite. It is the least abstract of all arts because it doesn’t use signs at all. It does not mean anything else but itself, and it is directly affecting our emotions and thoughts. Sure emotions and thoughts are also vibrations of a sort. And as a musician, I expose some of my physical, emotional and mental vibrations/states that sometimes I’m not even aware of until the creative process forces me to rationalize and conceptualize them. So the process of communicating this live, to an audience, is the completion of the cycle.”

I externalize some ideas, make a piece of music that is more or less connected to it, somebody recognizes some familiar patterns in it, receives also some unfamiliar information, interprets it and responds. In response I also recognize something familiar and we exchanged some energy directly.
I don’t worry about exact interpretations of the lyrics, or even of the musical content - Baudelaire said that the whole world functions through a big misunderstanding anyway. But creating music is the most direct expression, at least it’s the way I see it.”

Skrufff: What do you make of the constant hyping of Croatia as 'the new Ibiza': how realistic is it?

Zarkoff: “I’m not sure is this is completely realistic. I think that it would be best to have a balanced touristic offer on the coast. It is huge with all the islands taken into account, and there's quite enough room to present different things, for families, clubbers, nudists, nature lovers, whatever. But it would be quite possible to have a region that is a 24-hour party zone, why not? Croatian people are big hedonists and I think they are quite hospitable, trying to make foreign guests feel at home. This is not just for reasons of profit; hospitality is traditionally very important here, and this is a tradition that I like very much. Plus Croatians love to dance. So all that's lacking is the support from the government institutions that finance tourism.

I would prefer to go somewhere and spend every night in a different small club than every night in a big one, but in most places on the coast this is the case – There’s one big club in town and if you want something else, you better have a car. But it's improving slowly.”

Passions/ Commodore is out now on Adriatiko Recordings. (Zarkoff on Myspace)

Jonty Skrufff (