James Gui caught up with SUTRA / СУТРА after their lineup at COMMON MULTIVERSE INITIATIVE to talk about their group, their collectivist ethos, and the future of music in this hyper-capitalist era.
James Gui: Who is SUTRA, and what kind of artists comprise SUTRA?
SUTRA: SUTRA is a multidisciplinary rave platform founded in Belgrade, Serbia, by Žarko (aka SAUD) and Dorian. Two of us are the core of the operation, but we are lucky to have an extended group of DJs and producers dedicated to future-oriented electronic music fighting under our banner. It’s a collective of many different sensibilities and backgrounds united by the conviction that electronic music should be intense, dynamic and unpredictable. We remember the future shock we experienced when we first discovered electronic music and we would love to share that excitement through all our activities.
JG: Part of the ethos behind SUTRA is “aggressive optimism”, reaffirming modernism in “this postpostmodern cultural muck”. How has your work and ethos either persevered or changed during the pandemic?
SUTRA: It’s been challenging, to say the least. We’ve had some bad luck (last minute cancellation of our rave with Air Max ’97), some good luck (somehow we managed to grab every last chance to throw a party before the clubs closed on multiple occasions), but the main thing is that our wider cultural strategy has been proved to be on the right track. The pandemic keeps cruelly reminding us of the importance of collectivist politics and dangers of individualism.
Fighting the pandemic is a global modernist project par excellence, and for most young people, this is their first such experience. It will be interesting to see the impact of these experiences on future political and cultural work of generations growing in forced isolation. One of the main lessons we’ve learned, having to give up on foreign bookings, is that we should put even more emphasis on local talents. Our audience, our beautiful tribe, has given us their trust, so we can finally put on successful events without the big foreign (usually western) name on the line up, which is a rare blessing on our scene.
JG: You’ve mentioned capitalist realism in previous interviews as part of what’s been eroding the “concept of future”, a phenomenon that SUTRA actively is fighting against. I’m assuming you’re familiar with Mark Fisher; were his writings an inspiration for the ethos behind SUTRA? What other thinkers have inspired you?
SUTRA: Our work is somewhat informed by writings of cultural critics (especially those who’ve been closely examining electronic music and its scenes: Mark Fisher, Simon Reynolds, Kodwo Eshun etc) but we insist on the primacy of praxis over theory. Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach is perhaps the biggest constant influence, something of a credo. Also, we are far more influenced by non-theory writing: modernist Yugoslav poetry, especially that of Branko Miljković, and religious and esoteric writings from all over the globe.
JG: Given what we’ve experienced in the last year of the pandemic, any thoughts on the future of rave culture?
SUTRA: It’s very difficult to give any prognosis at the moment; there are too many moving parts, the process of vaccination has only just started, and we’ve yet to see the truly horrible economic consequences of the pandemic and how they will be dealt with. We can only confirm what we already know: rave cannot be confined to ‘professional’, ‘entertainment industry’ enterprise. The whole bloated industry with agencies, ridiculously overpriced first world DJs and such has been exposed as unsustainable, so we’re continuing to look for different ways of operation not conditioned by capitalist modes of cultural production.
JG: Do any of your artists have upcoming releases that we should pay attention to?
SUTRA: We definitely need to bring attention to forthcoming releases from our good friends, madly talented N/OBE from Zagreb and Cuban Chamber of Commerce from Belgrade, who both have upcoming EPs on labels we follow and respect. Aside from that, SUTRA has been working together with our dear Ustanova crew from Slovenia and VOLTA from Croatia on starting a new label called Borba (meaning “fight” or “struggle” in all of our languages). We have been working for months now on the inaugural compilation which will exclusively consist of works by regional artists, in what we hope will be a vital effort of championing overlooked talent from the Balkans. The plan is to have the compilation ready sometimes in the early summer!
JG: How was your experience at COMMON?
SUTRA: SUTRA is purposefully keeping its streaming projects at a minimum; there is an overwhelming quantity of streamed sets so we are trying not to add too much to the noise by carefully choosing where to participate. We immediately felt strongly drawn to the Currents.fm initiatives because of our shared views and our COMMON urge to restructure the overly individualist, western-centric underground scene into something more collectivist, grassroots-powered and sustainable. We thoroughly enjoyed curating and prepping our planet’s programme as well as watching and listening to countless hours of other collectives’ works. It truly feels like an honest initiative that connects people in novel and sincere ways and we are proud to have taken part in it!