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Down Under and Dirty
From Serbia to Australia to Newport Beach, MacBook-toting mash-up master Dirty South leads geekdom’s charge into clubland
Electronic dance music has become the body language of the globe, spreading out from the onetime club capitals of New York and London. Top producers hail from the likes of Brazil (Gui Boratto), Argentina (Hernan Cattaneo) and Sweden (Sebastian Ingrosso), but the dance renaissance in Australia, in particular, has been pronounced. The rave-fueled 1990s in the United States and Britain seem to be happening anew in the Ecstasy-crazed ’00s of the land down under. (Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper dubbed the continent’s appetite for E “the highest in the world.”) Clubbing there has taken on major-sport status, with the world’s top nightlife brands, such as Ministry of Sound and Gatecrasher, taking up residence in Australia. It’s no wonder the country is home to some of today’s more-inspired labels—including Stomp and EQ Recordings—and some of its top groove-music producers.
Chief among the latter is Dirty South, a.k.a. Dragan Roganovic, a leader in the new wave of dance artists who are just as at home behind computer monitors as they are behind turntables.
Roganovic earned a name for himself earlier in the decade by taking other people’s music, mashing it up via software and creating bootlegs for other jocks. But by 2006, his original productions, including “It’s Too Late,” spread worldwide like a digital virus. In 2008, when he put together a two-disc compilation for the respected Toolroom Knights mix-CD series, Roganovic was already a star on the global DJ circuit. He recently remixed U2’s “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” and he’s on a North American tour this fall, with stops at Pacha in New York, Rain in Las Vegas and, on Nov. 19, Giant in Newport Beach. For perhaps the first time, an Australian is getting top billing on a domestic super-club tour.
“There has been good music in Australia all these times,” Roganovic, 31, says, “but because we are so far away from everyone, people possibly forget about us. It took a while for people to notice all of my work.”
Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Roganovic and his parents left their home country in 1992, after the rise of Slobodan Milosevic and just before the Bosnian War broke out. As a teenager in a new land with a foreign tongue to learn, he found solace in the alphabet of sound, making music via tape-deck edits and eventually with computers. “I was 13 years old then,” Roganovic says, “so it was a tough time leaving old friends and coming to a new country where I didn’t speak the language.”
Mash-ups provided easy access to the world of contemporary music-making: Original beats and lyrics are unnecessary, but creativity still reigns. Mash-ups are the perfect entrée to remixing and making original club tunes. For Roganovic, a mash-up provided access to British dance-music kingmaker Pete Tong.
“One of the mash-ups that I made back in the days was Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’ with Madonna’s ‘Music,’” he says. “That mash-up was quite famous, and it ended up in the hands of Pete Tong, who played it on his radio show [BBC Radio 1’s influential Essential Selection] in the U.K. It was quite a buzz for me, and that was my first play on Pete’s show.”
In the linear, sometimes-maddeningly repetitive world of big-room dance music, mash-ups can provide familiarity for dance-floor stragglers and integrate the more accessible sounds of the radio. “I still make mash-ups for my DJ gigs,” Roganovic says. “Sometimes I do it live during my sets; sometimes I do these edits on the computer.”
Where contemporary dance music’s founders were raised on hardware such as Roland drum machines, Akai samplers and Moog synthesizers, Roganovic is part of a newer generation of dance-music producers that pretty much knows only the computer as the baby daddy of sound. In the 1980s and ’90s, dance music evolved through creative use of samples and digital effects. Today, producers who can also program code, swap out internal soundcards and memorize the shortcuts for music-making programs have a great advantage. Thus, younger dance-music stars such as Deadmau5, Morgan Page and Dirty South have risen to the top of a scene once dominated by full-time DJs. The geeks have inherited clubland.
“My world is computers, so I am kind of a music nerd,” Roganovic says. “I use Logic [software] to make all music, and most of the stuff happens on my MacBook. I travel a lot, so my best option was to learn how to produce on the laptop, and that has been the setup that I’ve used in the past two years.”
The sound Roganovic gets out of that laptop is resonant. As heard on his Toolroom Knights mix, Dirty South recalls the soulful, progressive house of Washington, D.C.’s Deep Dish; the dark, tribal grooves of D. Ramirez; and the synthetic momentum of Deadmau5. His is a highly accessible style—not too dreary, not too cheesy, not too pop.