It’s no coincidence Dirty South’s savagely popular 2010 debut record shared the same name as his label, “Phazing.” The 35-year-old’s propensity for making bold changes anytime he sees fit may spawn from being a lifelong peripatetic. Born in Serbia, the DJ/producer resided in Melbourne from age 13.
This was until he began touring the globe - three times over - setting up a personal studio space in California along the way, and making monthly visits to Las Vegas for his residency at The Strip’s posh über club, LIGHT. Redefining himself – by means of physically relocating and musical journeying alike – is Dragan Roganović’s joie de vivre.
“Downtime is usually work,” says Dragan from his LA studio. “If I’m not in the studio or on tour, then I’m doing research on learning how to do filming or the latest technology. So I’m always immersed in work.”
Dirty South lives in paradoxical worlds. In one, he stays locked up in his private work space for two months on end, which he loves emphatically and speaks of as a creative spa retreat. In the other, he’s in constant motion, eager to learn and ready to change his sound and career path—often on a whim—making the beatsmith a pimp-status sage of professional phasing.
“Uncertainty drives me,” asserts the producer. He speaks as if thriving off unpredictability is as common as finding loud speakers in a nightclub. “If I knew I was going to be successful, then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. You go with your passion though, and I usually go with my gut feeling, which has so far been right all this time.”
It’s an earnest statement, free of ego or clouded vision. “I think work is my vice.” Dirty South doesn’t watch TV, or have time for sports or experimentation with drugs. “I do like to have a drink like the next person. I see it as relaxing and getting into the zone.” For artistic zealots like Dirty South, sampling unknown music and projects comes naturally, especially since his clean-nosed journey to the top has snagged him two Grammy nominations and heaps of bookings globally. The only thing he does sample is music – in large doses.
Enter Dirty South’s fresh new LP, titled With You. “I’m actually filming a movie for the full album.” These surprising words - “filming a movie” - roll off the DJ’s tongue easily. “The whole package is going to be a full visual and audio experience. Kind of like a short film combined with the album.” Adding another checkmark to his rap sheet of titles, Dragan will also be directing this fortuitous foray into celluloid dance music. “It’s probably one of the biggest projects I’ve ever done in my whole life. I guess by making something different, if I were going to do it I should do it all the way.”
The self-taught musician, producer, DJ and filmmaker’s album With You, takes a departure from many festival-worn, “throw your hands up,” releases of the past. For starters, every track on it features vocals. “I think the inspiration came from wanting to evolve from what I’ve been doing for the last seven years. I got into filmmaking, so I wanted to bring the two worlds together. Make electronic music you can watch at the same time. The influence came from cinema. A lot of songs on the album are very cinematic – you could see them in a movie – so when I finished the album the inspiration came to make an actual movie for it. I’ve also wanted to do filmmaking for the last 12 months, and that might’ve inspired me to make that kind of music.”
A happily married man, Dirty South drew from just a few of his own life experiences to create the movie, which he describes as “a love story with a twist.” With many tracks already finished and production for the film starting in March, Dirty South not only orchestrated every record on the LP, he also wrote lyrics for each song, played the instruments and followed it up by scribing the screenplay. “I recorded this whole album in my LA studio, and everybody on this record came into the studio with me to record and then left. None of the music or lyrics was made outside of the studio – I didn’t leave the studio for two months, which was a pretty amazing experience.”
Multi-talented and motivated with laser-like focus, Dirty South rattles off some of his self-appointed duties for the project: “Directing, casting and editing. Obviously, I’ll be doing all the sound design. The music is already finished of course, but there are bits and pieces that I’ll need to score in between.”
Some people are born with the creative gene. It’s in their DNA like blue eyes or a receding hairline. While most kids were playing Spin the Bottle, a teenaged Dragan was playing his own version game of spinning. “I was into R&B and rap when I was a kid…these mega mixes that were a medley of all your favorite songs put together. I’d think, ‘Oh wow, this is cool. I want to actually learn how to do this.’ I was in high school and I had a personal PC at home, so I went to a friend of mine who gave me all this Kraft software for music.
I learned how to use it and remake all these medleys. Once I learned how to do that I went on to the next step that slowly evolved into learning how to play keyboard, program drums, guitar, record vocals, write songs, etc. It was a long process if you’re not traditionally trained. But as a young kid who couldn’t afford music school, you have to work with what you have.”
All his hours of astute self-training meant little to unsympathetic mom and callous young pals. “My mom was like, ‘What are you doing?’ Dragan reflects on the early days as a dedicated adolescent harboring DJ dreams. His brother, who is a drummer, could empathize. Dirty South works with him on his other band project, Ruben Haze. “He actually played drums on some of those records,” Dragan says of his bro. “We have a full album pretty much ready.
I try to involve him anyway I can since I think keeping music in the family is important.” This is why Dragan caved into his mother’s wishes at first, but the siren sound of beats and bass were far too tantalizing. “I actually started off going to university for computer science. My mom was pretty pissed when I left to pursue music and wanted me to go back to school. She didn’t understand what I was doing, nobody understood. Even my friends at school would laugh at me.”
No one is laughing anymore. As for those friends who teased him, the steadfast spinner hangs with a different ilk these days. His tightest spinner comrades are “ [Sebastian] Ingrosso and Axwell,” says Dragan. “We’ve been DJ buddies for a long time, between gigs and at gigs and so on. They’re just fun good people. Even if they weren’t DJs I think we’d still hang out.” Still, when it comes to advice, Dirty South relies on his opinion first and foremost, “even if someone else may not like it. You can’t please everyone,” he accepts. “I do talk to a bunch of people – friends, management and so on – to get more of an outsider perspective and feel for things, but at the end of the day I am my best and worst advisor.”
This doesn’t mean Dirty South is a power-crazed, fire-breathing Dragan. He’ll be the first to admit that feeling afraid is part of the creative process. “I definitely have fear, especially the butterflies that come when you’re not sure what’s going to happen. Even before I play a show, I have those things. I’m only human. I see the vision, whether it’s the album or the film, and whether people are going to like it or not is out of your control. The second you don’t have these fears though it’s time to change your profession.”
Dirty South won’t be switching his chosen career path anytime soon. At this moment he’s planning the logistics of bringing With You on the road. “I’m going through the design of it all now, and planning everything. It’s possible to have a traditional DJ set that I have been doing and also bring in a new live set, which is a mixture of live performances and visuals.”
Until his album tour is ready for the stage, Dragan’s live sets can be experienced monthly in Las Vegas at his LIGHT nightclub residency. “At the clubs, I have a specific sound I like to play,” he starts, detailing the method to his live sets. “That also translates into my festival sets. If it’s a really big club, it’s closer to a festival set; if it’s a small club, it becomes a little more intimate.
For instance, during one of my tours I wanted to go back to the smaller NYC clubs because that’s where I began, and my sets can differentiate a bit because it’s deeper, but the energy is still there. It depends on many things – who’s playing before you, who’s playing after you. Usually festivals only allow you 60 minutes to play, so you have to keep the energy up and interesting during that time, but you also don’t want to spoon feed the audience by giving them the biggest hits that they would’ve heard the whole day. It’s a balanced act and as a DJ it’s your job to do that.”
There’s no need to categorize the man who claims, “When I made this album, I never thought about genres or styles. There are a lot people who just do their thing in one of house’s subgenres, but you get really caught up in all that… it’s whether you like a song or don’t like a song.” The only thing we can expect when it comes to Dirty South is the unexpected. “It's just music to me.”
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