Monday 15 June 2015

Alen Ilijic - Red Faces - Stone Upon Stone Festival, Nis, Serbia

Alen Ilijic
The work of Alen Ilijic divides opinion. He is polymath, composer, musician, artist and prolific thinker. His formative years were spent in England studying film music at City of Westminster College but home is now Serbia where he completed his education in composition, orchestration, electronic music and sound engineering at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade. During his studies in London, as a singer-songwriter and guitarist, Alen Ilijic formed the band Zealot and immediately made a big impact on the British underground scene as well as secruring himself a deal with record label BMI.

Alen Ilijic - piano
In the run up to Alen Ilijic's appearance at the inaugural Stone Upon Stone festival (17/04/2015) I had the pleasure of sharing his home and hospitality, alongside his wife, Milica. This gave me an insight into the bubbling creativity that drives Alen Ilijic, he pins his improvised and highly personal expression on sheet music that is heavily annotated and is a work of art in itself. Ilijic is a born innovator and it was both refreshing and electrifying to be near him. His love of English culture made him both an excellent translator and companion in my journey through the culture of Nis.

The 45-50 minute performance by Alen Ilijic at the Nis Symphony Orchestra hall was a real odyssey. It was adventurous and uncomfortable, it made some people feel so uneasy that they walked out, never to return. The stage was cast in a sickly red light, which played a claustrophobic refrain even before the music started. In fact it was silence that challenged us first, Ilijic stood stock still, only the rapid fire of camera clicks interrupting the tense air. The manifestation of his internalised thoughts flowed through into his fingertips and we too checked our own inner compasses. His hands lifted, swatting imaginary flies as though he was decomposing before our very eyes. What followed was other-worldly and although there was no hint of black magic here was a man possessed.

To think of it simply Alen Ilijic's performance consisted of two halves. The first with piano and second with guitar and amp. There were broken oohs and aahs which escaped the piano as Ilijic perched above it. It was the now which weighed most heavily, broken pieces of language exhaled from the mouth, the slash, the choke of the deep red light. We were held, it suffocated, the rhythm of our mouths gawped like fishes yet there was no sound from the audience. The scream and the words from Ilijic made us uncomfortable, one hand rolled across the piano while another fluttered under his chin. He whimpers as though calling for a mother or father, he was an animal. This is not a dream this is an awake state, a panting which threatens to tumble out all our emotions from within our guts.

Alen Ilijic - Red Faces
The music and theatre that erupted from the second half was a rapid fire of asymmetric popcorn firing in a pan. The amp becomes a instrument of torture as well as pleasure. Alen Ilijic's guitar hits us in waves with a pulsating gamut of sentiments. There is love and there is embarrassment alongside thoughts that make us feel uneasy. Is it acceptable to enjoy someone else's pain? I think about stopping the performance, I care about the man, I worry that he is unwell and on the verge of breaking mentally and physically. Then he rides his guitar like it were a surfboard and our red faces have smiles too.

We all walked out into the fresh April air stunned. We had just all witnessed and shared a period of time that none of us would forget. There were those who were weak at the knees and those that were trying to make sense of themselves. The last piece of red was the blood that caked the fingertips of Alen Ilijic. His commitment to the cause was never in doubt.


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