Thursday, December 23, 2010

Is the musical genius and story teller Novak Askovic of the Serbian band Evidence a procrastinating neophyte or a strategic genius?

My search for the heart of Serbia leads me to a studio in Belgrade, where I am to meet with one of Belgrade’s most promising young musicians; Novak Askovic, just 23 years old, who’s already managed to leave a mark on the local music scene, and is now putting Belgrade on the musical map of the world. But this world-mapping is going far too slow, according to some observers. What’s keeping Novak?

For a few moments I stand in front of a unmarked door. Then it opens.
     “Come in,” says the handsome young composer generously, “I was just working on a score for a movie.”
I had secretly expected to find empty booze bottles strewn about and the familiar scent of weed hanging like a mist over the mixing tables, but no, there aren’t even ash trays. Novak doesn’t do drugs, doesn’t drink, doesn’t even smoke.
     “I do music,” he says shortly.

     “What’s this called?” I ask as suspense, thrill, careful confidence and sensual tension slowly build up. Synthesized strings sway over a clean snare and a deep, almost ska-base. The frivolous melody is carried by a plucky piano riff.
     “It’s the score for a movie that doesn’t have a title yet, so my score doesn’t have a title yet either,” says Novak concentrating on his screen, searching from folder to folder through his master pieces.
     “Scoring movies, is that your main occupation?
     “For now I pay the bills with creating scores for movies and theatre productions. Soon we’ll be able to live off pure inspiration. A movie score augments visual images, but music in its purest form must be vivid enough to evoke images on its own.”

I’m mostly into classical music but even though Novak’s creations are a little out of my league, I do recognize quality when I hear it.
     “I love classical music too,” says Novak, now leaning back into his chair, holding his hands behind his head, “But classical music is old. It’s been done before. I make new stuff, just like the classical composers who you like did. People like Mozart, Bach and Shubert didn’t get big from doing what everybody else was doing.”
In a split second I inspect his experimental studio. The only synthesizer in the room is a old Yamaha that looks like it has seen the rise of House in the eighties. Over a slot it says, “Insert floppy here.” A yellow post-it note says “London called.” Who’s London, I wonder.
     “Do you ever make House?” I ask intelligently. Novak snickers. “It takes five minutes to make ten minutes of House,” he says, “Everything you need for House is a side-chain, sprinkle it with beeps and gimmicks and you got yourself a House hit. House is poverty. I’m Dubstep, drum-bass, all that. Everything is experimental.”

Novak Askovic
Musicians struggle with the issue of money everywhere, but musicians from a challenged economy, such as that of Serbia, must always have been at an unfair disadvantage. Instruments tend to cost an uneven fortune to folks who have no idea where their next meal might come from, and when they’ve finally saved up enough to buy an instrument, their economic disadvantage makes it difficult to seek out musicians from other cultures and study their work. Now that music in made mostly on computers, it doesn’t matter anymore how old the computer is (creating a piece on Windows 92 will sound the same as one made on Vista, it’ll just take a bit longer).
“We’re no longer bound to genre or even location, for that matter,“ says Novak cheerfully. “Through the Internet I can listen freely to music from all over the world, and adapt what I like and reject what I don’t.”
His phone rings. Novak mumbles short commands in English and disconnects.
“Vienna,” he says as if I’m supposed to know what that means.

     “Can you explain the title Hormon (Serbian for Hormone)?” I ask as Novak changes the track. “Listen,” he says. “If I have to talk about my music, my music would be inadequate. I’d have to become a writer, like you.”
     “There’s Prodigy here,” I note. Novak politely concurs but then explains that Bach is also not in every violin concerto, just because Bach wrote some.
Then I hear it. Where Prodigy sounds mostly intrusive, Novak stays harmonic. Prodigy expresses mostly discontent but Novak’s piece carries desire and passion. When the haunting vocals of Bojana Racic kick in, I’m sold and drift off into a lucid trance. I see caravans of camels towing Joseph off to oblivion; Cathy cry out for Heathcliff over the windy moors, and 47 Ronin weep in anguish over their dead Daimyo.
     “My music tells stories,” explains Novak helpfully. “Each one of my pieces has what I call a movie-moment; a harmonic climax that will absorb the listener and trigger visual images. In Hormon I use a Shamisen, a Japanese instrument - you can even hear the clash of swords - but the harmonies are still western.”

Chakra unfolds into something distinctively Arabian. “Do you think that Serbia’s 400 years of occupation by the Turks makes it easier for you to adopt Arabian sounds into your music?”
     “What? Which Turks?” he replies wildly. “No you’re wrong. I also don’t incorporate yodeling or the MacDonald’s theme song, unless of course I find them musically striking. I scrounge the global music scene for unusual sounds and musical oddities and incorporate them based on their musical merits.”

     “How come you’re not all over YouTube?” I ask. I tried to do some preliminary research but all I found were two songs that were uploaded years ago. “I made those when I was eighteen,” says Novak. “I’ve evolved since then. Now I tell stories and people should take their time to listen to them. They’re worth it, I can promise you that. I don’t want to create entertainment for bored people. Slow is better. Quick release gives you a quick but short career. I want my music to make a permanent mark. To stay there for years and years. I gave Chakra to one person and now it’s all over Belgrade, clubs and radio stations.”
     “But isn’t that the dream of every musician?”
     “There’s no money in publishing music. Money comes from live performances. The dream is to have people look for your music because they saw you perform live. We’re waiting for the right moment. We’re producing an album for Serbia release, but we‘re waiting until everything is just right. Launching a project such as this must be carefully planned. So that’s what we’re doing.”

     “Is the musical climate of Serbia receptive of your kind of music?”
Novak stares at the floor for a brief moment. I can see I hit a nerve. “The musical climate in Serbia is still maturing. We’re the only group in Serbia that performs this kind of music live. But we’ve done DJ performances in Croatia and all around Serbia, and live performances at festivals with LTJ Bukem and Roni Size, both phenomenal artists. Future performances are scheduled all over Europe. A record label from Belgrade named IndieRecords published a CD, named CCBit. Evidence contributed a number named Blato (Serbian for Dirt). But it’s real Dubstep,” he warns as he leans over and hits enter.

     “Aren’t you afraid that your right moment might never come?”
     “No-no,” laughs Novak. “The right moment is not something that comes falling from the sky. The right moment is something you create, just like a musical composition. I spend 60% of my day composing music and 40% communicating with publishers and festival boards. The right moment is when you’ve created a storm and then cut the ropes that tie you down.”

     “Who was that guy?” I mumble as I step out of the studio into the windy city. Ahead a grey Belgrade dons colors in the dawn. Behind me rises the basso drone of yet another Novak Askovic creation. I promise myself that before I’ll process my notes I’ll figure out exactly how I got this interview. Until I do, and probably after, I’ll live on in the realization that I’ve been moved like a pawn by a multifarious genius half my age.

Novak Askovic: composition, key boards, production, DJ
Srdjan Adamovic: production, DJ
Nenad Bradas: production , MC
Bojana Racic: vocals

Evidence on line:
My Space:


  1. Nice one my friend. I would like to add, that it's always a pleasure to play music with Novak, and hang out...

    Keep the funk alive.



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