NiSu brothers are Dejan Shobot (dj Loptica) and Milan Saitovic (dj Jazzysad). Music is their family and jazzdance is their last name. Their sets draw inspiration from all over the world and mostly intertwine jazz, funk, soul, fusion and disco. I first heard them live at the closing party of the recent Nisville Jazz Fest. The warm August evening couldn’t have had a better soundtrack – we traveled from Brazil to the Balkans, across musical decades and genres. Who says you can’t dance to jazz?
Who are the NiSu brothers and how did it all start?
Dejan: Let’s start by saying that we are not brothers. I think it’s been about 5 years since we started releasing music together. We share the same passion for music. Milan can tell you more, but basically he contacted me, we became friends and after a few drinks I came up with the name. “Nisu” in Serbian means “are not”, I wanted our name to be memorable but also with a sense of humor. I’m from Nis (Ni), Milan is from Subotica (Su), so we played with words as we experiment with music.
Milan: We met at the Nisville Jazz Festival. At that time I was working as an organizer of the festival workshops. We share the same professional ethic and over time we became friends. We started talking more about music and finally came our first gig together as NiSu brothers in October 2014 at Truba Café Niš. Since then we have been promoting the jazzdance culture in the Balkans.
How did each of you discover music?
Deyan: I was the first child in the family and everyone paid a lot of attention to me, especially my uncles. I started listening to music at their house parties in the 70s. They gave me records. Then the first record player, more records, parties, and here we are – 49 years later, I’m still discovering music.
Milan: My father was an architect and while he was sketching he was listening to jazz, so I was listening and absorbing too. In 1995 I received a cassette tape of Guru’s album “Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1”, an album that is rich in jazz samples. It changed my idea of music, it created in me a desire to create such music.
What is music to you?
Deyan: It’s been a very important part of my life since I discovered it at a young age and it hasn’t left me since.
Milan: My whole day runs to the rhythm and aroma of jazz beats – from morning tea to the evening glass of wine (laughs).
How do you share the creative process of making music as a DJ duo? What are the difficulties and positive moments?
Dejan: I played in a band in the mid-nineties with the idea of making music, not just playing it as a DJ. It wasn’t always easy, but I enjoyed it. Now I record every idea that comes to me, playing the chords on an acoustic guitar. I haven’t shared them yet, maybe Milan and I will record something together in the future.
Milan: We are definitely planning a collaborative project, releasing music as DJs is just an extension of our musical taste. We are musicians first and foremost. The very nature of jazz is to change, evolve and adapt to the circumstances of its environment. European elegance and technique. African movement and rhythm. The American way of making a statement and presenting yourself. I’ve been producing music since 2009. I worked first for Parov Stelar’s band and then for other artists. I have the opportunity to travel a lot, meet and collaborate with different artists. Jazz has a universal language and performers can easily communicate in it.
How much do you improvise during your sets? Have you ever played something completely different from what you had planned at the beginning?
Dejan: It really depends on the venue and the crowd, and the amount of music I bring with me. I can compare it to cooking. There’s a recipe, at least the basic way of preparing something. You know it’s going to taste good, but you can always spice it up a bit or add some unexpected flavor. Being predictable and obvious is boring.
Milan: If I’m not constrained by the format, which is more and more common lately, I like to release my remixes that are not officially released, and you can only hear them at our parties. Right now the big trend is turntables as well as vinyl sets. But I believe you can experiment with different formats. Every bass player plays a different guitar and has different strings on it. In the same way a DJ is not just a DJ if he plays on vinyl. Jazzdance is freedom of expression and I love that freedom. I don’t like restrictions when I play music. I only get restricted when I produce music.
What are you listening to at home lately?
Dejan: A lot of music. The new Chip Wickham and Malcolm Strachan albums (to name a few), every new record I buy whether it’s a 7″ or a 12″, all the selections for the sets I put on Mixcloud.
Milan: Serbian classical music is inspiring me to be creative right now. I host two radio shows, on Jammmonite radio and Cassette radio. The first one promotes Balkan jazz and the second one promotes jazz music from all over the world. I listen to a lot of music every day. Technology has allowed us to easily reach the music we like.
The album you can always come back to?
Dejan: There are many, I don’t think I can pick one in particular. There are a lot of records that are older than me, but I’m just discovering them. There are albums that I can’t listen to anymore. And there are records that I hear differently over time, regardless of musical genre.
Milan: Guru – Jazzmatazz vol 1-4.
Tell us a bit more about the music scene in Serbia? How has it changed in recent years?
Dejan: I’m not a critic, so maybe you won’t get the answer you expect. There are bands and musicians I like and support, directly or indirectly. Some amazing artists in Niš too, mostly independent. I don’t want to name anyone in particular, but I think it’s important that artists are respected and treated as professionals. It is also important that the performers themselves respect and support each other as much as possible.
Milan: We need better organization of non-commercial music festivals, as well as quality networking and promotion. Chaos is not good for either artists or publishers. Artists need to be educated because many are not aware of their rights and obligations to publishers.
Among other things, you both work with one of the biggest jazz festivals in the Balkans – Nisville Jazz Festival. What’s the one thing a stage manager should always carry with them to survive the festival madness?
Milan: Good health and gaffer tape. (laughs)
Something people don’t know about dj Loptica?
Dejan: They best ask me because I have no idea what they know about my alter ego.
What about dj Jazzysad?
Milan: I have a degree in textile and fashion design engineering, as well as sound design and music production.
Watermelon or melon?
Dejan: I like both, as long as they are locally produced. Chilled, of course. I just bought a melon, the first one of the year (laughs).
Milan: Cantaloupe Island of course! (laughs)
(*wordplay – Cantaloupe Island is a Herbie Hancock jazz standard, and cantaloupe is also a type of melon.)
interview and photos: Sofia Hussein for Dinya
cover photo: Mateja Jeremi Zuks