Monday 25 May 2015

Stone Upon Stone Exhibition, Nis, Serbia

Lepa Brena Apartments and Alen Ilijic
Most festivals and gig write-ups require a back seat attitude to allow their readers the prefered perspective. On this occasion it is impossible as the Stone Upon Stone festival in Nis kicked off its 4 days of fare with an exhibition of sketches and artwork from these very pages. This new festival on the European music calendar was founded by musician Dejan Ilijic and poet Dalibor Popović, and proved  a great success in an age where fresh new music and ideas aren't necessarily embraced by the wider public.

Alen Ilijic
You'll excuse my first hand experiences and revelations amongst this post as this was my first time on Serbian soil and I was wide-eyed with wonder as I rolled up before the Lepa Brena apartments in Nis on the 15th April. It was a lucky break, for I had been thrust straight into the hands of composer Alen Ilijic and his wife, Art curator Milica. There was a chance to immediately slide straight into the remnants of Tito's communist legacy, fascinating to find social 'towerblock' housing flourishing as children played in the courtyards and sounds of the city drifted into the high-rise's open window.

Milica Ilijic
Not all is rosy in the garden and Serbia sits under a cloud, many of the people suffer due to corrupt hands and the legacies of the war as Yugoslavia broke apart. It is the perfect location for positive minds that are fertile with ideas and fuelled by injustices to create a new festival such as this. The people I encountered along the way were generous to a fault, embracing a stranger such as I and taking them to their hearts. Kebabs and Rakija were aplenty and in the Ilijic's hands English was continually spoken and a kind or informative word was never far away.

Mauk - Dragan Miokovic
Although I'll be writing about the acts I sketched and experienced  over the coming days the Stone Upon Stone festival started with our Art Exhibition (14/04/2015). Housed in the splendour of the Hush-Hush lounge bar in the centre of Nis, this is a popular hideaway from the throng of the main city streets. On the walls were paintings of Daria Khulesh, Andre Canniere, Oren Marshall, Seb Rochford, Mihaly Borbely, Jake McMurchie, Pete Judge, Michael Janisch, Tom Mason, Vincent Payan, Dejan Ilijic, Jacqui Dankworth, George Crowley, Peter Lee, Steve Pringle, Larry Bartley, Ferg Ireland, Jim Barr, Benet Mclean, Thea Wilsher, Melissa James and many more. All were sketched live on the London Jazz scene and include drawings of the band EYOT who were captured in my sketchbook when they played at the Jazz Café in March 2014.

Bojan Randjelovic
The tiller of Hush Hush is held by legendary bon viveur Mauk or Dragan Miokovic in the house formerly owned by Bata Anastasijevic, who remains one of the greats in Serbian jazz. Mauk keeps the welcome warm and wet with a plentiful supply of Rakija, the waspish plum brandy. It was the perfect place to meet people and I got the lowdown on the Serbian creative scene from artist Jovana Mitic.

Vladimir Djordjevi
After a few fortifying brandies I gave an interview to Vladimir Djordjevi and Bojan Randjelovic who were making a documentary about the Stone Upon Stone festival. Nis was a hive of creative minds when you looked close enough and is a place worth visiting if you're prepared to scratch the surface. Randjelovic is a case in point, not only is he handy with a tripod but is also a member of infamous Nis punk outfit Novembar.

Dragan Videnovic
There were many faces to sketch within the 4 days, 3 nights and 6 bands
but one who immediately made an impression was journalist Dragan Videnovic from Zona Plus TV. His English was impeccable especially since taking a brief sojourn in London with the BBC and during my interview on Zona Plus there was depth and knowledge on both the wider international scene and the burgeoning music scene right under his nose.

Dalibor Popović
Nis is a difficult place to launch a new festival, especially one that skirts on the fringes of jazz as the famous Nisville festival has flourished here since 1981. There is an appetite though amongst younger listeners for a new sound, one that is epitomised by the Stone Upon Stone festival. Now that the hard work has been done by Dejan Ilijic and Dalibor Popović we are ready for the years ahead. It will be a force for creativity with new acts pushing through and established bands willing to trial new music for audiences ready to fly by the seat of their pants.


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