“I can barely do any kind of comparison between the two forms of performances as a DJ and Live PA. As a DJ I am trying to find the right “strings” to connect with people on the dancefloor. But as a live performer my instincts take me to a completely different level” – Ivan Komlinovic

Zagreb born Ivan Komlinovic has had a career spanning 20+ years in electronic music. His eclectic but techno-focused DJ sets have made him a household name on numerous festivals and parties across the region, also with many releases for prestigious labels under his belt which implies that the studio is also his natural habitat. Ivan has kindly allowed Decoded Magazine permission to feature a full-length video recording of his live set on November 10th from Future Sound of Zagreb Festival which is run and promoted by Damir Cuculic who has been involved in some ways with electronic music since day one in Croatia. Damir was a TV reporter working with the brilliant Irena Scuric on a Show called “Top DJ Mag” back in the 90s. Future Sound of Zagreb takes place once a year at Boogaloo Club, Zagreb. But this year it was different with 25-30 DJ’s across 3 floors and for the first time on the line-up was a headliner who does not live in Zagreb; Umek.

However, Umek’s story is still very connected. As a very young underground techno DJ he was always happy to play in the city of Zagreb. “Some of his very first gigs were in the same clubs as mine. Even though our music paths went different directions, I am always happy to see him. We’ve known each other for 20 or more years.” said Ivan. For FSOZ he played two completely different sets; an Electro set as Zeta Reticula and a Techno set as Umek.

As a little back story for everyone I’ll briefly explain how I first met Ivan. I was kindly invited to Trogir, Croatia to cover Moondance Festival this year by owner and promoter – Pero Brčić (Pero FullHouse/Skeptik). My flight from Birmingham was delayed and unfortunately had to spend a night in Munich until the next connecting flight to Split was available resulting in me missing the first night of the festival. Pero had a long night prior to me landing so he arranged for Ivan to meet me at the airport joined by Avoid aka Vladimir Acic. On the short drive to the hotel and in high spirits for a few drinks (on Vladimir’s behalf) he filled me in on the night before and Ivan also explained to me his studio setup/hardware based live set he was booked to play on that night. You can read the full review of Moondance 2018 here.

Reflecting back on Ivan’s background its apparent music is and always has been a staple part of his life. He started to DJ when he was 17, but how long before then did he become involved with the house and techno scene? Not so long at all he told me –

“I listened to some electronic music but not house or techno. The truth is, I had no background in any underground form of dance music until I ended up by pure accident at Under City Rave in Oct 1993. The war was going on in Croatia and everything new was a really big deal. I had weird emotional overlaps at the same moment I entered the old tunnel “Gric” where the rave was on. I had never seen such dress code before. People were dancing in the weirdest possible way. I had the impression nobody speaks to each other, which looked pretty weird but also attractive to me since most of my life I was a little bit introverted. To make a long story short; My decision to become part of this, whatever it was, came only a few minutes after I experienced the monstrous sound system firing out such powerful beats, extremely reduced lighting systems with lots of strobes and fog. That was the moment.”

Ivan went onto tell me a fun fact. The promoter of Under City Rave is the same person that runs Future Sound of Zagreb Festival. I asked Ivan about the city’s nightlife and clubbing culture and although Ivan lives in Zagreb he is an extremely busy guy. “I am not the right person to give an objective impression on this. I rarely go out unless I have a gig in Zagreb, or something is happening that I can learn from. I know lots of things happen every weekend and clubs have various programs so it is highly possible that most of the random visitors to the city will find something interesting to see or hear” Ivan explained.

From learning the crafts of DJing Ivan went onto explore music production, with many releases to his name, and then onto sound engineering and mastering. He is now employed as a sound engineer at a studio that mostly produces commercials and content for children’s television with daily tasks including recording voice talents, sound design, recording foley effects, ambiences, atmospheres, ADR, mixing processes, normalisation of audio by specific standards depending on medium or TV/Radio and so much more. Also, on the side he’s involved with audio posts for corporate movies and documentaries. An interesting project he mentioned to me was a documentary about a guy in Zagreb who plants trees incognito –

“This is filmed and directed by an old friend of mine, Dalibor Platenik. He’s a nice and humble guy who wants to make the world a better place. If it is possible for me to contribute to his ideas that can do some good, I feel like I am obligated to do so. You know, the world is a pretty brutal place and if there are anybody with courage and an idea to change it in small, tiny baby steps, and my knowledge, skill or any other capacity could help, I feel it is part of my mission to do so” Ivan said.

“Tree guy is an urban ninja that planted 560 trees all over Zagreb. All by himself. And he’s done that the last 30 years. I could not be immune to that and a minimum contribution from me was to help a friend to tell his story about a true local hero to the world. The title is “Man and the tree” and in 2019 it will be presented on various documentary festivals both local and international” he further added.

Now we know a little more about Ivan let’s move on. The idea of taking a few pieces on the road from his hardware-based studio had always been in the back of his mind, but only as a concept. However, in 2015 Pero booked him for Moondance Festival as his very first live act performance on the main night of the festival, and to be sharing the stage with Octave One.

“It is so foggy right now, but also clear in my head” he said to me when I asked for him to recall the experience.

“Pero is an extremely proactive and brave dude. He had no problems with booking me for my first time playing live at his festival. I still have no idea what was happening in his head to do that but it ended well. Better than any rehearsal I did prior to the festival, and I did hundreds of them. The first few minutes I was almost paralysed, but soon after I focused to my instruments and what I needed to do to make this whole thing work. I know the stage as a DJ but this live PA thing is a different beast. Almost no connection even though output is pretty similar to crowds. I still see Moondance as the home of my live act and probably the most important project I was ever involved with.”

Having the opportunity to perform on the same stage and also witness some of your heroes would be a dream come true for any aspiring artist or performer. Ivan gave a few words on his experience watching over Octave One –

“I still have no clue how they do it so good. Two guys working their asses off with the most impressive kit you can imagine in the club. It really is something. They performed for the first time in Croatia in 2014 about 300 meters away from my parents’ house. The same place my music taste for the Detroit sound developed. “The living Key” on 430 West is still my favourite Octave One release which I bought in 1997 in Black Market store (Vienna). In 2014 I had no idea I will play my first live PA ever on the same stage with my heroes. This shit does not happen often. I guess I am a pretty lucky guy. He then went onto share with me fun fact number 2 –

“I still have my copy of “the Living key”, I still play “Black on Black “and sometimes “Divisions”. If you see Lenny and Lawrence, tell them it would be cool to hear them performing this gold live.”

It was from that particular night which made Ivan realise that live performances are the most direct way of presenting your music. Although after his set at Moondance this year he commented on how draining a live performance is. So, which aspects of performing this way does Ivan favour the most?

“Can you imagine a scale from 0 to 10?” he said. “Let’s assume we have some kind of emotional content as a unit here. It does not matter what kind of emotions you have or feel doing your thing. As a DJ my range can be 4 to 7. Objectively. Obviously, 0 is nothing, you feel nothing. As a musician it does not happen. You’ve got to feel some happiness, anxiety, sadness, pure euphoric energy. It depends on many things but music is the most important factor. As a live performer it goes up to 9 (let’s assume 10 would be impossible to achieve) and it is never under 6. It is intense.

Any second can be an ingenious moment or disaster, it depends on so many factors. If you add another thing to the momentum; it is all done with your creative work exclusively on the same instruments you are using in the studio. Sometimes, after some mistakes you can really feel like shit, but when things are right and you hit 9, you may get a real deal boner, like McGregor facing Floyd Mayweather on the weigh ins haha. Adrenalin hits while performing and moving the needle on the scale from 8 to 9 is probably what I favour most.”

Ivan went onto further explain “As a DJ I always stay true to my personal music taste but I also find ways to connect to the crowd in some ways and I mostly improvise to keep that connection and to take as many people as I can to some kind of journey through musical aesthetic that I would love to feel on the dancefloor. Things are different when performing live; much more things are planned in advance. Much more details can go wrong but I also create arrangement in the moment. I change every track pretty radically from one live performance to another. If you look closely at any of my live videos you can see I barely ever have any kind of interaction with the crowd. Not that I don’t care what is happening outside but I have a completely different state of mind while live performing. I try to visualise every single track I am going to perform weeks ahead. Trying to test some big or small changes in my head way before testing them in the studio. When on stage I need to find a way to apply some of the techniques, ideas and methods I visualised and tested before. Not many elements are fixed.

Tracks I am going to perform live are decided right before I start and if I change my mind while performing, I just do it. Most of the changes were also predicted as alternative options, but not all. Man, it is so different than what I do as a DJ. I can barely do any kind of comparison between the two forms of performances as a DJ and Live PA. As a DJ I am trying to find the right “strings” to connect with people on the dancefloor. But as a live performer my instincts take me to a completely different level. I disconnect from the venue, crowds, weather, temperature. Pretty often I feel the need to move away from everybody right before the start of a performance. Then I usually visualise once again what part of my most intimate music world I want to share with the people that are willing to spend minutes of their lives listening to what I have to say. I am almost totally detached from anybody and anything while performing except my instruments, tools, and my other, imaginary self in the sweet spot of the dancefloor. Man, it is a different world. I am constantly thinking about possibilities that I have to express different things out of my head by using tools in front of me. It is kind of an obsession.”

Now you have an idea behind the thought process of a live performance juxtaposed with a DJ set its now time to get technical and take a close and detailed look and what studio gear Ivan incorporates into his live sets. Kit includes –

– Elektron Octatrack mk1
– Elektron Analog RYTM mk1
– Vermona Mono Lancet (Monophonic analog synthesizer)
– Dave Smith Instruments Tetra (4 voice analog synthesizer)
– Din Sync Re 303 (DIY TB 303 exact replica which Ivan built by myself)
– AGKW Oktakontrol (Dedicated Octatrack faders/buttons control unit)
– Elektron Analog Heat (Multi-functional analog distortion/filter processor)
– FMR RNC (Analog compressor)
– Strymon El Capistan (Tape delay unit)
– Zoom CDR 70 (Reverb/delay/chorus which he uses to create reverb)
– Whole bunch of cables and PSU units

Ivan explained “the central unit in my live setup is an Elektron Octatrack which is an extremely powerful piece of kit you can use in so many different ways. I personally use it as a main sequencer, processing unit, sample player and audio hub. A drum machine, Vermona Mono Lancet and DSI Tetra are connected to four Octatrack inputs processed in the unit. Summed and sent to Track 8 which is used as a master track with another stage of compression and Hi Pass filter assigned to scenes.

Octatrack is also a main sequencer that takes care of Vermona mono synth and DSI Tetra. Different patterns and banks on Octatrack start different patterns in Analog RYTM (with different patterns, different kits, settings, performances, and scenes which are recalled on AR. I usually have some basic rhythm structure memorised for every pattern and everything on top I play/record or program live).

Tetra also has program change options so from pattern to pattern I recall patches on Tetra too. A nice addition to design some own patches is 3rd party editor from Code knobs. Also, a great help is AGKW Oktakontrol. The guys from AGKW designed a fader unit for Octatrack which is built like a tank. I love it. It gives a real mixing feel on stage and in the studio. Obviously, Octatrack is capable to do a lot more than I use it for but I decided to limit my actions with one specific instrument only to the most essential, for the result I am aiming for.

Effect and processors are pretty much self-explained; Analog Heat is where I signal from Octatrack. I use it as a processing unit that gives some special flavour with controlled saturation and also as a master analog low pass filter. It is invisible until you bypass it. Then you realise how much sound it gives. It’s an amazing, underrated unit from Elektron. I was a reviewer for this one and when they gave me direction for how to send it back, I told them they can take the unit from my cold dead hands and I send them cash rather than return the unit haha.

From AH, signal goes to FMR RNC compressor and then to mixer. Individual outs from AR I use to send wet only signals from individual drum elements (send to El Cap delay or Zoom reverb…). The Same as I do with Cue outs from Octatrack.

The 303 is connected directly to the mixer and it is not sequenced with Octatrack. I use a built in 303 sequencer and AR as SYNC unit (play/stop, clock).”

I was almost sure in knowing the passion Ivan has he would be expanding on this set-up in the future. “You just reminded a hard-core drug addict there is some good heroin on the streets” he said jokingly. “I recently decided I don’t need anything more to perform on this level. But you never know what the future brings to you. Really, right now I think I have my perfect setup and all investments are concentrated to some improvements in the studio.”

It was very informative having Ivan talk us through his live set up and hopefully shine some light on what the difference is between being a DJ and a live artist. Now you can watch Ivan put it all together live via the YouTube video below. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the set as much as we did.

Photo Credits: Sasa Struk and Denine.eu

About the Author

UK based former DJ and promoter, co-owner, director, writer & creative at Decoded Magazine. Studied at the University of Wolverhampton graduating in Graphic Communication & Typography (BA Hons). In house video editor and avid MMA follower with a keen ear for dark, twisted, hypnotic, tribal progressive house and techno.