Marija Nikolic (aka N-tchbl), born and raised in Serbia. At the end of 90’s she discovered electronic music, thanks to her brother and first rave parties happening in her town at that time. Prodigy and Kraftwerk raised her to the whole new world of something that was not that classical like piano or guitar were at those times. It was a pure inovation in the world of music for her. In the times of revealing the differencies betwen genres, names like Deep Dish, Satoshi Tomiie, John Digweed, Sasha, Dave Seaman and Hernan Cattaneo brought the feeling that progressive house with a soft spots of trance inside was something that suits her the most. Collecting artists, trying to catch every second of it, going to parties to hear how ‘big names’ are doing it live’ she fell in love with it like with nothing else before!
After “breaking the ice” in 2006th on the very first party she’s played, many more followed. In 2008th she became a part of “The iFACE Agency” that collects the best house and progressive artists of Serbia. Besides of the fact that she’s played every important venue in her country for the matters of electronic music, with her unique sound she’s also the rare one from her country that gained international popularity very quickly. Playing in one of the best world club by DJ Mag jury opinion – “Escape” in Sofia – opened the door of the whole world to her, many inquiries followed. The list of the artists she collaborated and was supported from is rather impressive, to name just a few in here – Moshic, Oliver Morgenroth, Kintar, Faskil, Kliment, Dark Soul Project, DJ Tarkan, Mark Youssef, Mehmet Akar, Andrez and many more.
In March 2011 she became a resident of Frisky Radio by starting her own “Subliminal’’ montly show that’s still going on. Bringing her the opportunity to present the whole new side of deep and dark progressive sound, the female way. Progressive sound that made her fall in love with it back in the previous decade and let that sound never be forgotten.
Hello Marija. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. First of all, how are you and where are you at the moment?
Hi Suza! Thank you for the invitation to hang out with virtual coffee, at least like this. I’m good which I wish same to you, I’m looking at cloudy morning over Belgrade and I really, really don’t want to go to work, but well, what must be done it’s not so difficult. 🙂
There are many factors that affect on artist’s perception, apart from his music, social media are increasingly present today. We know that you are not part of them, you don’t work often live, you are very mysterious… Can you tell us why you decided to be “hidden” from the public? Did anything affected such a decision?
There is no excessive mystery here, that moment of pull-back happened because at a certain moment the dice were put together in such a way and it made it easier for me that my choice, which had been floating in the air for some time, was exactly like that. At the time when, after many good years for progressive in Serbia, clubs that we all loved are slowly starting to close or the owners are turning to some music that will bring people who “drink some other drinks” to be politically correct, I was somewhere at the end of psychology studies and received an offer for a job in the profession immediately after graduation, and even then it was clear to me that it was an offer I could not reject. And that was it, here is the year that showed me that my choice was good then. Anyone who decided to live from music didn’t go well through 2020 except for a few big names, and for me there was work over my head because of this general crisis that disrupted us all in some way. So there is no mystery, just rational thinking and using the moment in an adult way, everything, everything that is important to me in life that year coincided and it would be stupid if I acted differently. The last packing of suitcases was in May 2011 for a performance in Beirut, and it was really, really good, except that the civil war in Syria started that night, which had been rumored for a long time, so the people who left Damascus for the party were left with another foreign borders. I will explain later that this international story somehow started from that part of the world, and it just fit in with me, to share that final moment with the people there. Soon after that, I withdrew from music in general and dedicated myself to graduation and already in the fall I started to do a very serious and responsible job. I left only my Subliminal child to grow because being part of the roster of a Frisky Radio is not something you just give up on like that, unlike social media which honestly was never my cup of tea, it was as easy as putting out a cigarette. The tenth anniversary of the Subliminal, which listens to thousands of people every month, is proof that music still finds its way and can be loved and spread further from the backstage, I am honored because there are only a couple of us on Frisky from all over the world that we have maintained continuity for so long and celebrated that famous “ten”.
If I’m not wrong, your first performance was in 2006. Do you perhaps remember what equipment you used then and what your DJ setup looks like during the performance. What is the most important piece of equipment for you and which players do you like to work on?
Oh, I remember, the first very first public appearance, was Virtual DJ, not even on a laptop but on a computer with an all CRT monitor. 😀 After that, there was everything, Pioneer 100, then 800 as my favorite and unsurpassed Pioneer, so robust and surgically precise, then “thousands” became the club standard and the first ones that support USB began to appear, although I stayed with disks to the end. I liked to turn on the lights on the case and drill on the disks looking for the next track, it has a special charm. I still follow what is happening on the equipment industry and a lot has changed, now I’m not even sure I would know what all those buttons are for. Although it comes like a bicycle, once the skill is mastered, the direction is quickly caught. By the way, for the most important part of the equipment behind the monitors, I emphasize a good pair of monitors, if that doesn’t work, the set can’t be controlled well. Many people neglected that, and that really drove me crazy when it happened, and with a player and a mixer, a person manages if he knows what he’s doing, everything was done just to have a good time.
In 2008, you became part of the “iFace” Agency, which brings together the best progressive house artists in Serbia. How important was that to you at that time, and can you remember who was on that team back then?
Yes, it also came somehow out of the blue sky. From someone who makes music as a hobby, suddenly my name is on flyers with the suffix of a booking agency. I had a serious stage fright that literally paralyzed me, the first two performances in Mamol with iFace were something I remember gladly, but it was really hard for me to overcome the nervousness. By the way, iFace was founded by Alexandar after leaving Kinetic Vibe and then he joined the rest of us, Stefan Djordjevic and Marko Nikolic were permanent when I joined the ranks, then Ascaloon from Subotica, Federico Epis from Uruguay, Danny Way from Croatia .. .There were a couple more people later but not to drop anyone I will focus on the members who were most common in the line up. Each of us had a personal sound different from the other and again we acted good together, and then we all went somewhere spontaneously, I was not the only one who withdrew, I stayed a little longer.
After performing in, one of the best clubs in the world (according to DJ Mag), “Escape” in Sofia, many doors opened for you and many inquiries from all over the world followed. Was that perhaps your springboard for further career advancement?
Those who have followed the underground progressive scene may remember from that period of the Beattunes.com portal which was actually my first real springboard as far as the foreign market is concerned. A small large community of underground artists from all over the world, the forerunner of radio stations and podcasts which we know today, in 2009 started my first podcast called “Devotion“, which was later broadcast in parallel on Pure.fm radio. Those sets were something primordial, there was no one to worry about the rating and the number of auditions, everyone could hardly wait for new episodes because all the artists were equally good. Moshic, for example, had his exclusive podcast there and only there, never on any radio. And in fact, that’s where it all started, that’s where the fan base of that deep dark progressive that I was in at the time started to be built, so … I can freely say that I was the only female artist. Lebanon, Syria and Bulgaria are the countries where the fan base was by far the largest, so Escape came as my first foreign performance where I barely broke that, okay, let’s try that too … and then the door opened on its own. The only thing I may regret a bit is not responding to the invitation to work in Stereo Montreal, I was really upset to go so far at that time, but well, I could do that and the self-invitation is enough satisfaction. Escape was an unreal club, the best space and sound I have ever heard. Also their Cacao Beach at sea, the six-hour set there I will surely remember in its entirety for the rest of my life, the sunrise with Frangellico – Beautiful Nasheed playing at that moment and Martin Garcia approaching me and congratulating me on the set. I don’t need anything real anymore, it was completely okay for me to retire then, that morning. 🙂
What is your view on the progressive scene in Serbia over the past few years?
If we are talking about the past few years – it seems to me that something is finally moving. And for that most credit, I would say, goes to Deviant Deep Sound and you. Before that, if we exclude a few often appearances on Tube, one night on CDE and some at Barutana, everything else was for another world. Thank you DDS and all of you for finally seeing some other beautiful names with us, so that we don’t have to cross borders to listen to them. And just about when everything went great with some events in 2019 and at the beginning of 2020, then it happened this what is still happening to the world. I hope that you will continue where you left off and that all those behind-the-scenes announced names and events are waiting to happen, I am looking forward to and don’t give up! Just now our beautiful progressive is back in town, hold it now and don’t let go.
Would you say DJing is more or less of an art form now as opposed to when vinyl was the only option?
There is a little truth here, although art is too difficult word for me, I would characterize it more as virtuosity. The turntable and the first CDJs didn’t leave a lot of options for maneuvering the tapes, I personally like that raw style of mixing, long transitions, keeping the bits from moving, perfectly fitting the end and beginning of the track just like someone made them without mutilation and without effects. Effects and progressive I don’t really like. There were no loops, there were no samplers, it didn’t say how much BPM there is and there is no Sync button on the equipment, here are some clean strips and see what you will do with them. Now it’s all completely different, on the one hand it’s great because I’m a big fan of technology and I like to see all those glowing buttons around the performers and follow what they will do with them and how they will use them, and on the other hand I deeply respect that classic style of mixing, possibly capturing a loop of an outgoing song for the sake of a softer transition and that’s all that’s enough for a good flow in the set. Now 4 players in the booth are standard, or 4 decks on the Tractor, there are many options in Ableton, and we used to barely get those two players. 🙂 I respect both, some environment is ideal for me. However, there are not many who deserve to carry the title of virtuoso, something that has made me crazy lately is Subandrio’s set for your stream, it is an unreal skill and a perfect combination of classic mix and using all four channels in the best possible way, that it doesn’t burdens but looks so easy!
Do you have a vinyl collection? And if so, do you know what that number is and are there some records that had an impact on your musical direction?
Honestly, no. I am a child of cassette and walkman and no matter how special vinyl was, it was never at hand or in my collection. I still keep the cassettes in a few larger boxes. I try to find some good and favorite editions in the .flac version, I already have a large collection there. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to have vinyls, I have a deep respect for all collectors because that’s how it all started and I’m glad that some labels still decide to publish releases on vinyl as well.
Your music has been broadcasted on many world radio stations, and after several mixes on Frisky Radio and recording of the prestigious set of “performers of the week”, in 2011 you became a resident on Frisky Radio by launching your own monthly show “Subliminal”, which still going on. How much has your sound changed through the mixes or do you try to stay consistent all the time to some rhythm by which you are recognizable?
I don’t really try at all, it’s my natural state. Simply, no other direction twists my stomach and provokes the reaction of absolutely my whole body as progressive, and there is no money and fame that could ever make me turn to some conditionally said “more expensive” direction, never, for nothing in the world. For me, progressive is the most expensive and invaluable thing and not everyone can understand it and it should stay that way. Variations existed only in the sense that some period or set would be more deep, some very dark and fast, some on the verge of trance, the next melodic … But there was always something recognizable that indicated that the set was mine and not from another performer. With me, you will rarely hear things on sets made by, say, Hernan or Guy J, although I love both of them immensely, everyone can do that, and we will hear those tracks hundreds of times on various sets, I’m bored. From time to time, I eventually insert an old one from the archive as a reminder, but not a new one. But that’s why we shouldn’t be surprised by Divna Ljubojevic, Ofra Haza, a soundtrack from a Middle Eastern film, recently Bozo Vreco in collaboration with our phenomenal neighbors The Provincials, lute, duduk, bansuri, piano or violin … I like to dig up songs which have a touch of that some orient and something a bit exotic and even spiritual and then it reminds me that I am the same one from the beginning and that everyone who follows can say aha, this is her set.
How hard is it to profile yourself as a female DJ given that men are more represented in this industry?
I will answer here based entirely on personal experience, although it may not coincide with reality – I did not feel that trouble. In fact, I still don’t know how it all happened the way it happened, easily. The world of DJing, which was a rarity especially at that time, is no longer today and I am glad about that. On the other hand, today there are so many DJs probably because of the availability of music and various equipment, today there is enough software and controller and here is a DJ, we saw that especially during lockdowns a little bit some new DJ streaming something on YouTube. It is easy to appear but it is not easy to survive. And it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. If you don’t stand out, it’s equally difficult for everyone, so everyone should have their own personal stamp, and then there are no mistakes. No copy of Nicole Moudaber, no copy of Heidi, no copy of Amber Long, one is BLANCAh, they all have something on their own, they didn’t become big because they are women but because they built something recognizable and it is appreciated and respected and will undoubtedly find an audience and get the support of colleagues and clubs.
N-tchbl as a producer – have you ever considered starting to work on a production?
I had those moments only because I listened non-stop that I can’t break through if I’m not a producer, so it comes to your mind like everything that repeats again and again. Then I realized that I don’t really want or have ever wanted to be anything special and that my “breakthrough” has exceeded all my desires and expectations, that I just want to enjoy music, so if someone else is there, they should I like that, okay, I’ve always done sets to please me, I don’t think about what kind of reaction it will cause. And it’s completely fair for me to leave the production to someone who does it well, and for me to compose my stories by choosing tracks from the series of offers and not manage to use even a per mille of what I collect during the month, especially lately, there are many good producers! I do some personal editing of some songs mostly for the intro or outro of Subliminal and that is my maximum engagement in that field.
Would you advise new artists entering the stage to try the same route as you?
For sure. My main advice all these years is – don’t sell your soul to trends, music will, if it is honest, surely find its way, even without social networks. I believe that now it is the main type of promotion because there are many more DJs and those who would like to be, so it is probably harder to break through, but the real and primordial one certainly comes to the surface from time to time. Be loyal to yourself until something tightens your stomach and turns it upside down – it’s not right. Don’t agree to the average, don’t copy others, don’t look for music in hype charts and top charts, go further and deeper, find yourself and what lies for you and do it honestly and with all your heart and surely someone will notice you.
And for the end, is there anything outside of music that you’ve been drawing your attention to lately and that you could share with us, art, literature, nature, or anything else?
Previous year took away for me the greatest passion to which I normally dedicate every free moment, and that is travel. Nothing fulfills me like a short reset somewhere else and so many of them remained unrealized and planned last year. I can freely say that I miss it much more than parties, although they know how to tie those trips to some good progressives in the area. In the absence of real walks, I often watch walking tours on YouTube, many times I virtually “visited” some cities again, especially in Sicily and Italy in general, remembering some carefree days, the best ice cream on the planet, cheese that spreads, canola and Neapolitan pizzas, grandmother and grandfather sitting in the street watching passers-by leading their talks. I’m learning Italian, I think the universe has sinned a lot about me not being born somewhere on the shores of the Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean seas. I have been tirelessly exhausting Spotify since it arrived in our little province. I cook, I think I cook really well. 🙂 And that’s it, I’m in the profession most of the time and it really requires a reset from time to time and I hope it will let us travel again soon, I miss it a lot.
Thank you once again on this conversation.
Thank you, beware until all this around us passes and keep progressive! Let it be your bequest. Greetings to the whole team from the forefront of all progressive events. 🙂