Our second questionnaire / interview for the upcoming compilation Ex-Yu Modular Electronic Vol. 1 is with the core members of Girls Next Gulag, Belgrade musicians Dobrivoje Milijanović and Vladimir Riznić, who have, earlier this year, released their first record The Best of Opium House Vol. 1. 

Born in Belgrade, 1981, Dobrivoje Milijanović designs sound for stage events, and creates electronic music and interactive sound sculptures, both at home and abroad, especially focusing on the intersection between science, sound and technology. He is also known as a member of collaborative noise/dub/techno project raum.null.

Vladimir Riznić (1980) is Belgrade born and based software developer and modular synth enthusiast. More than 10 years active in different music/performance projects, involving both innovative software and embedded hardware in art. Within his several ongoing projects Chien, Falling Elevator Music and Girls Next Gulag, creates dark and gloomy atmospheres with the colorful wires and cables of his modular synths and guitar pedals.

Tell us something about your beginnings. When did you first start collaborating?

Some early starts of GNG were in late 2016. Only members were Dobrivoje and Vladimir, who shared a passion for weird, heavily layered music. During 2017 and 2018 they worked on our first release, one that got lost along  the way, but left us with the name of our genre – Opium House. In December 2019 Draško joined the band, worked mainly the vocals, but started showing great proficiency with some esoteric circuits and modules that ended up in front of him. Before and during the lockdowns of 2020 Miladin (bass guitar) and Mirkodose (percussion) joined our weekly sessions as well. 

How did you get into modular synthesis? Can you tell us a bit more about your current set-up?

Vladimir got hooked back in 2009, mostly through the DIY subforum on MuffWigglers (now ModWigglers), which provided some central pieces of his growing system for dirt cheap, in exchange for inhaling solder fumes and hunting components. His main modular passions are digital oscillators and buttery filters.

Dobrivoje joined him a few years later when he and Chris formed raum.null and realized they could spend money on expensive well-sounding shit.

Our working setup is itself modular in nature and is always changing, depending on the session. Some of the more important modules we use are Noise Engineering’s Basimilus Iteritas and Manis Iteritas, Maths (obviously :D) and XAOC Belgrad filter. We figured out early on though that if we start a new track with modulars, while nice, it will not progress much, so we usually try to build the basis of the track with other tools, mainly the Roland’s boutique x0x line and/or Elektron Octatrack & Digitakt. After this, it is usually straightforward to use the modular, to add depth, nuance, and weirdness, we might use it to generate an evolving oscillator swarm drone, or some hissy or snarly percussion, or even double (triple?) track a 101 sequence, using some complex oscillators and filters. Also, other key elements are different dub lines, mainly consisting of modulation, delay and reverb effects, and have proven central in our ability to produce dirty and smokey ambiences.

GNG’s “The Best of Opium House Vol.1” might be the most thrilling record I’ve heard in the region during 2021. Where does your inspiration for the pursuit of this particular hybrid of oriental sounds, dark lounge and dub come from, and what are your plans for the future with this project? 

The inspiration comes from  a combination of different influences, mainly from the music and art of the ‘90s. On the other side are the irrational need to create something that is heavily rooted in the decaying local culture, and the very endemic mix of hysterical joy and deepest sadness. We stand on the shoulders of dead giants, and we play with their bones.

We are always making new GNG music, slow and steady, the next release is well on its way, and we hope to be able to release it on vinyl by the end of this year. Apart from that, and this compilation, we are working on two remixes for people gathered around the Belgrade Dubs label.

You are also involved in other projects, such as the “Falling Elevator Music” (you guys must be the unheralded kings of weird project names!) and the “Belgrade Subharmonic Ensemble” (with Milan Antić). How was it working in the restored Radio Belgrade’s Electronic Studio? Would you say that drone is (your) religion? 

The names you mention actually didn’t make it to the book of the weird names we keep 🙂

Electronic Studio residence was an interesting experience for all three of us. We spent three plus three nights in the studio recording material, and a day in urban field recording, to get some emotional sounds on locations ranging from an abandoned concrete factory hall to concrete yards of New Belgrade’s brutalist buildings. Synthi 100 is a moody instrument, and most probably has always been. By today’s standards it is severely limited and clunky. It smells like a grandmother’s cupboard. But it sounds full and deep. Its filters have that amazing diode-ladder bitterness that is unlike the character of any other “famous” filter. Between several drone sessions we even got to create some heavy techno loops on it, and layered with 808 beats. Too bad they didn’t end up in the final radio show because of the editor’s concerns with techno music in the experimental broadcasting slot.(sic!)

Drone is not our religion, but isn’t it weird that most of the religions have some form of droning practices? Droning has, on some levels, always followed the human race, and we really like exploring that part of the collective (sub)consciousness. 

Can you tell us something about your track “Sveverb”, from the upcoming Popscotch compilation?

“Sveverb” was born out of a jam session, like most of our tracks. The lyrics for the vocal lines were written on the spot, and have an embedded homage close to our hearts. One of Draško’s special abilities (aside from pulling all-weekend raves in Berghain) is that he can at any time improvise beautiful multilayered vocal melodies, while usually obfuscating or giving additional meaning to them. We try to avoid nostalgia whenever possible, but something about this track always felt deeply sad, yet calming.

How did the entire situation with the pandemic  affect your musical / professional life?

GNG did great – our sessions were strangely productive, and the strangest shit came up from the primordial soup of noise. And it still is – it seems that we got connected to a reservoir of the weirdest sonic shapes and dramaturgies, which makes it possible for us to transform any shitty sound into a musically functional array. We even produced a mantra – “Trust the Process”, and we often repeat it when we start getting worried about the direction we are going in. So those were the good things. The rest will require years of therapy. Not sure if anyone in the world handled this extended half-lockdown travesty well, and years ahead will show just how bad it was.