Ilija Rudman is a Croatian DJ and producer. With an honestly unbelievable studio set up. He was around long before the annual festivals turned his homeland into a party destination. His strictly analogue sounds appearing on a huge array of international labels as the Noughties “Nu Disco” boom took off. Still flashing an enviable work ethic, NuNorthern Soul released Ilija`s latest single, Tears To Sound, on February 16th. Complete with a characteristically Deep remix from Chicago House legend, Ron Trent. He also has a new album of material ready to go on his own Imogen imprint. Where he takes a musical diversion to come on all slick, Soul and Boogie. Mixing up influences like The Isley Brothers, Maze, and Mtume, with head-nodding downtempo Techno.
Where are you currently based?
I am based in Zagreb, now. With my family and studio.
Where is your hometown?
My hometown is Karlovac. A small town near Zagreb. Around 40 km away. I still love to visit my parents on a weekly base there.
What made you start DJing? Was it a particular DJ, party, or piece of music? How old were you?
Well, a bit of everything you`ve mentioned. I was 18 and it was a party in my hometown. I was lucky to know one guy who returned from London – DJ Quest – and he started to throw parties in this small town. But his experiences at London`s Ministry of Sound, where he used to spin sometimes, gave him fresh perspective, and he brought back loads of great records. Up until this point I had not really been into Electronic music, but after, I started to be obsessed with “organic” side of Electronic music.
Quest introduced me the Svek label and, I got completely into it. I never knew that electronic music could give so much joy and happiness. I have to say that if it wasn`t for Svek, I would not be doing what I`m doing today. DJing came very naturally. I started to go to London regularly. To Croydon’s Swag Records, where I found the first records that shaped my collection.
That`s a bit of a co-incidence. I actually grew up in Croydon, and know Swag pretty well. The “home of Tech-house”. Though my allegiances where more with Big Apple Records on Surrey Street Market. Did you know Dave Mothersole?
Yes, Swag was my first experience of actually getting the records I really liked. Sure, I know Dave. Richard Grey was often there. I knew Paul and Liz well. Gideon Jackson had studio on the first floor. The entire building was just music hedonism all the way.
Can you give me a favourite Svek release? And why?
There are many, but the one that got stuck in my brain and always paralyses me because of all the great memories is Sunday Brunch`s Midsummer Night. It was an anthem of free, innocent life for me.
When did you start making music? What inspired you to do so?
I was making music very early. I had bands and all that stuff. But was never satisfied with the team work. So I started making music alone at the same time DJing got my attention. Things clicked really nicely, and I released my first record in 1999 . It was unreal feeling back then, to be able to do such a thing. On my own. The feeling remains magic to this day.
What equipment did you have then? What are your favourite pieces of gear now?
At that particular time, I had an Emulator E 64 – which I still have today, a Juno 60, Reason Software and a Roland TR 505 drum-machine. I dropped all software, very quickly, and went completely analog. The “Analog Studio” has become my real passion and I`ve spent years building it. It`s finished now, to a level I only dreamed of. So these days I`ve got back to enjoying creating.
My favourite pieces of gear, I Would say, the EMU II, Polyfusion Modular, EMU EMAX Sampler, Jupiter 4, Prophet V and lot of Outboard, such as the URSA Major or EMT and my beloved MCI 542 D Console from 1981.
Where and when did you that mixing desk? It looks amazing!
Ah, the MCI 542 D? I got it from Hungary, where the National Orchestra was using it! They got it from the U.S.A., where only 250 units were made. These days there are only 50 in working order in the world. It was in bad shape when I got it. I had a technical team of three professionals restoring it for a year! Mine is now pure gold. Factory new it would have cost $1,000,000. It`s similar to a Neve – which people might be more familiar with. Quincy Jones mixed Michael Jackson on an MCI. All the majors used it, for artists like Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Elton John, too many to mention. Brian Eno used one. Mark Ronson – who can afford any desk he likes – recently bought one. It weighs 800Kg. As much as a car!
Is the “Analog Studio” for hire? Are you working with, producing, any other artists?
It`s a private studio. Not really available to hire. It is, in a way, my church.
Was there a scene in Croatia at the time? Did it revolve around any clubs, record shops, DJs in particular?
“The Scene” back then couldn`t really be called a “Scene”, as it was just a few people doing this. It was very early for Croatia. Very early. There was a shop or two, but you couldn`t count on them to be informed about a wide range of music. They were into Techno mostly. A little bit of House. There was one guy Marijan Felver, who was really something special. His nights were called Stereo Studio. That was the only place at that time that was really building something. You could feel it. He brought London to Zagreb and it was epic. I would like to mention as well DJ Eddy Ramich, who was doing a party called Kontrapunkt Nights and that was another shining light in Zagreb. On the production side, there was Petar Dundov and that was about it. All these guys are still here today, alive and kicking. Which is saying a lot in itself.
How has the scene in Croatia evolved? Is it bigger, smaller? Have the people, clubs involved changed?
It`s booming now in Croatia. “The Scene” is big. Looks huge at first sight. Everybody is infected with Electronic music. Some fashion. Some trends. I`m not sure I`m impressed with everything that`s going on, but there are some strong points that are recognised worldwide. The festivals happened and Croatia became a classic summer spot for partying holiday makers. Some of those festivals have been going for over ten years. So some of it is tourism and cheap thrills, but of course there are exceptions and some of the small boutique festivals have wonderful selectors and vibes.
Do you play at any of the festivals?
Yes, I do. Love International and Dimensions, so far for this year.
Do you have a regular DJ Residency?
Yes, I do. Once A month in Zagreb. Doing an Imogen label night, where guests are invited. So far we had Charles Webster, Don Carlos, Phil Cooper, Kai Alce. It`s a place for music lovers and dedicated to a specific sound.
Are there any “landmark” Croatian records?
There are quite a few, but I would like to mention only one. Ilan Kabiljo was ahead of his time. He was an originator and such a talent. I repressed his Expressions E.P. from 1991, on my Imogen Recordings. That would be my landmark record.
Are there any local artists and DJs we should look out for?
As I mentioned, I love what Petar Dundov is doing. I also like how DJ Felver is spinning.
Your first releases were on your own Red Music label? Is Red Music still going?
Yes, my first 12“ was on Red Music. It was my first experience of releasing stuff on vinyl. Red Music does not exist today, but it lasted for ten years and nineteen releases. A lot of well known artists appeared on the label. For example: Spirit Catcher, Greg Wilson, Random Factor, and PBR Streetgang. Still to this day, I am often asked about that label. Which I guess is the sign of a job well done.
You seemed to be super prolific at the point when the “NuDisco” thing took off. Recording for Rong, 20:20 Vision, Instruments Of Rapture, Bear Funk, Italy`s Rebirth, Under The Shade, and Tirk. Remixed Chaz Jankel for Electric Minds. An explosion of small labels. Have you slowed down at all?
Yes, it was a crazy time for me. I was doing this organic / analogue sound, more played than looped, so at the time, when this so called „NuDisco“ arrived, my productions were in high demand. A lot of people and labels were asking for music. I was very lucky to meet good people back then, and was very lucky to release my stuff on such great platforms. This gave me the opportunity to work with some of my absolute heroes. That was and still is an amazing feeling.
Talking of heroes, what was it like working with Robert Owens? How did the collaboration come about?
It was spectacular feeling working with Robert’s voice. Unfortunately we were never in the studio together. My friend Simon Tappenden – who I signed to Imogen, as Ourra – brought in his song featuring Robert’s voice. I was so impressed with it, that we signed a record deal and I made three completely new mixes. My speakers never sounded so nice until Robert sang. I met Robert in London at a gig in 2015, and it was a real meeting a hero moment .
Do you have a favourite Robert Owens track?
It`s hard to say, but I would go with A Love Of My Own by Fingers Inc. Robert Owens, Ron Wilson and Larry Heard.
Your new single is out on NuNorthern Soul? How did the hook up with Phil Cooper happen?
I`ve known Phil for really long time. From early on at The Garden Festival. I was always a fan of his selections and we remained in contact over years. I produced a record for him before, but for his other label, KAT. In this case, I had three songs ready, and I was looking for a good home for them. I sent them to Phil and he replied really fast. In a day or two.
The single`s been remixed by another Deep House hero, Ron Trent. Do you have a favourite Ron Trent track?
One day, Phil contacted me and said, “Look I`ve got Ron Trent interested in remixing your stuff.” It was unreal, that this was happening. I have so many favourite Ron’s tracks that I cannot pick one (laughs).
You also have a new LP ready to go. Will this also be on NuNorthern Soul, or on your own label, Imogen?
My third album, Paradigma, is set for release in April. On Imogen. There are seven songs, completely different from the music I usually produce. It`s a very exciting time for me.
What`s next for Imogen?
Next is James Perri. An artist from Chicago, also known as Jimi Polo. He`s signed three tracks to Imogen. Tracks he`s kept safe since the 1990s. The E.P. is called The Moods, and it`s a real discovery. It`s a huge pleasure to have it on Imogen. In 2019 I`ll release his album, with twelve songs. The Moods E.P. will be out in March. Then it`s my album, Paradigma, and after that something Darshan Jesrani from Metro Area.
Can you give me a current top five? Where your musical head is at right now?
I`m discovering James Perri`s unreleased stuff from all the DATS he gave me. This producer from Istanbul is very fresh and interesting – Kerem Akdag. The new stuff from Darshan Jesrani. Sasac. There`s a certain vibe I love about his music. Byron The Aquarius` stuff.
Thanks for having me in this conversation. It was a pleasure.