There are few DJ nights that inspire fierce loyalty in Belgrade like Kisobran, an indie party which celebrates turning 10 on December 1 with a big bash at Drugstore. This is partly because ever since its humble beginnings, when it drew only a couple of hundred guitar music fans, Kisobran has always been more than just a party where you could lose yourself to the Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Mac DeMarco, The xx and other bands beloved by Pitchfork’s snooty critics. It is also much more than a place where Belgrade’s artsy kids of all stripes come to be themselves, in the most disinhibited way possible.
Throughout its 10 years, what set Kisobran apart was that in an increasingly alienating city; it was a community where anyone interested could take part and feel at home: in designing elaborate stages, creating VJ sets, designing tickets, taking photos or organising exhibitions.
Kisobran’s cult strengthened with the opening of its first permanent temple in 2015, the Zaokret cafe in the now trendy Cetinjska nightlife district. The café is run by Kisobran’s current (informal) leaders, Marko ‘Marun’ Radojkovic and Ivan ‘Junjior’ Ojkic, who have spent the better part of a decade preaching Kisobran’s gospel of creativity, openness and love of urban culture.
Speaking about Kisobran’s beginnings, they remember how back in the late 2000s Belgrade’s club scene was fiercely divided according to music tastes: turbofolker vs. EDMers vs. Rappers. Indie music enthusiasts did not have any nights for themselves.
“It was a need for a very small group of people in town, who did not have the how and where to have fun. Indie kids of our age did not have a party for themselves: so Kisobran created a bubble for a few hundred people… and thorough the years we grew up together,” Radojkovic explains.
As both Radojkovic and Ojkic are quick to point out, they were not part of Kisobran at the very beginning: it was Ojkic’s elder brother, Goran, who joined forces with several other like-minded DJs who separately only drew in a few dozen people a night. As Ojkic explains, the idea was to create a loose confederation of like-minded people under a single brand to try to draw in larger crowds.
The plan was a success after a few years. Kisobran – ‘Umbrella’ in English – mushroomed and drew in thousands of revellers to its big parties. However, the focus has always been less on the crowds than on a special aesthetic.
“We never intended for it to be a mass party: I always wanted it to be for 300 people who all love the songs that I love. There were personalised tickets, custom created VJ sets and stages. It was our way to show and do something different,” Ojkic explains.
This approach drew in not only many fans but also dozens of collaborators from Belgrade’s creative circles – designers, musicians and visual artists – who chipped in with their works and ideas.
Ojkic stresses the importance of ‘different sensibilities’ within the Kisobran collective for its success: “We created different activities: photo workshops, VJ nights… and other affiliated DJ nights. Through the years, we worked with many people in the city. We always thought it was a privilege to be able to do it and we did it with our hearts. We were all students and did it as a side job, with little intention to profit from it financially. However, when we needed for it to be financially sustainable – things worked out.”
This ‘bespoke’ approach continues even now. “Each Kisobran party is organised by at least fifteen people: animators, visual artists, photographers, guest DJs… No one is there just to do a gig but rather because they like it. For many of them that was the start of their creative careers. Many see our party as an extracurricular activity beside their work and a place to have fun – even if they may have moved on musically,” Radojkovic says.
However, as with every art collective, there has been the inevitable ebb and flow of people. Many Kisobran alumni decided to pursue other projects and careers, often abroad, like Ojkic’s brother, which left Radojkovic and Ojkic in charge.
“The two of us prioritised this side of our lives over studies or other careers: we didn’t see it as a hobby. I always had higher expectations… and didn’t do it just for myself,” Radojkovic explains, for Ojkic to conclude: “From the start we approached it as work, but just without the money.”
Now in their early thirties, Belgrade’s high priests of indie are adamant about continuing. Although there are fewer Kisobran-branded activities compared to a few years ago, there is still a lot going on in the community. The Zaokret café has expanded one floor above to Sprat, a craft-beer focused tap room, and Radojkovic occasionally performs and records heart-felt songs on the ukulele as part of his side project Benjd (a pun on the word ‘band’).
They have witnessed much change since starting out 10 years ago and note that the boundaries between different musical crowds in Belgrade are more porous and there is less sense of an ‘indie kid’ identity in Belgrade. These days, young clubbers could go to Kisobran and a turbofolk party on the same night. Thanks to greater global connectivity, teenagers growing up in Atlanta, Brighton and Belgrade have access to the same music and culture at the same time, and consequently there is less sense of discovery and wonder about music. Lastly, guitar music is almost dead, while trap currently dominates the urban underground culture.
Although they admit that bridging the age gap may be a challenge in the future, they are working hard to give a platform to young voices with Kisobran, just as older members gave them one. They also want to make sure the thrilling bubble of creativity Kisobran created ten years ago keeps improving.
Radojkovic sees it as their mission to keep “filling the [cultural] gaps that exist in Serbia”.
“We want 50, 100 or 1,000 people to have everything they need in Belgrade and see it as the best city in the world. If we live in a bubble – and everybody does to an extent – we may as well make it better. It is easy to say that everything here is bad and is falling apart and that you want to leave… well, for those who don’t leave in the end, we want to make this bubble amazing.”
Episode of my Pokretaci podcast with Ivan and Marko in Serbian
Kisobran’s 10th birthday party is taking place at Drugstore on December 1. Doors open at 10pm, advance tickets can be bought at the Zaokret cafe, Cetinjska 15 and cost 400 dinars (3.5 euros) and 500 dinars at the door (4.5 euros)
This article was published in BIRN’s bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.