Interview – Transcending Genres: A Journey from Ljubljana to Berlin with Tzena

by the partae

From its early beginnings in Ljubljana to Berlin, Tzena has made a name for himself in the European underground scene. Praised for his genre-transcending sets that take listeners on a journey, his music brings positive vibes with an energetic yet elegant style. Tzena sits with us to open up about his story, music philosophy and dreams in this interview.

The Partae: Thanks for being with us, Tzena. The first question is about your name, where does it come from?

Tzena: It’s an anagram of my name Nace (pronounced Na-tze), a kind of Balkan wordplay that involves replacing syllables. At the time, I thought it might be a clever idea, as I believed that foreigners would find it easier to pronounce than my actual name. As it turns out, it’s quite the opposite so I’ve been considering a name change somewhere in the back of my mind.

The Partae: Tell us about your journey as a DJ. How did it start and how did you develop into what you are today?

Tzena: Well, it might sound a bit cheesy, but my journey into DJing started before I even knew what a DJ was. As soon as I got my first iPod or MP3 player, I just always wanted to plug it into some speakers and play music to friends.

Then, in high school, things took a turn when one of my closest buddies bought a DJ controller, at the time we were into mainstream EDM. I started feeling left behind: “He’s going to be a DJ and not me?”. I vividly remember thinking, “I’ve watched many DJs at parties, and I bet I could do it better. I want to do this!” But making the big move wasn’t easy. It felt like DJs were from another planet, and I had no idea where to start. Until one day, I walked into a store, bought a controller, and just like that, I was a DJ – at least in theory.

We started spinning at birthday bashes and high school parties, you know, the usual stuff. Slowly, I started discovering new music and expanding into different genres like tech house, techno and deep house. After high school, my sound horizons expanded as I started going to raves and parties in Ljubljana, mostly Klub K4. Since then, I began collecting records like a maniac. At that point, I didn’t know yet other DJs playing vinyl in the Ljubljana scene. I relied on this website called Decks to order new records each week – a bit of techno, a sprinkle of Romanian minimal, Kerri Chandler re-presses, whatever I could find.

That’s when I started connecting with the Slovenian scene and I found myself immersed in a more underground rhythm. Francesco Del Garda and Nicolas Lutz were two of the artists that I first heard at K4 and it was a transformative experience, not just for me I think, but for the entire scene.

The Partae: You are now based in Berlin, why did you decide to make the move? Was it primarily for your DJ career, or are there other motivations?

Tzena: Yeah, it’s been on the cards for a while. At first, I was hesitant because I was worried about losing my identity in a big, chaotic city like Berlin, you know? We were really building something solid back in Slovenia with Luckison. But then the pandemic hit, and I also got together with my girlfriend, who was a big part of the decision. Plus, I felt like I was stuck in Slovenia – not making much money, no other career prospects, and lacking inspiration for digging or making music. Berlin offered a fresh start with various opportunities. Living with just my girlfriend also meant fewer distractions and more time to focus on myself and my music. It was definitely the right move for me.

The Partae: It’s interesting how the music scene is becoming more genreless, drawing influences from different styles. Yet it’s somehow important for a DJ to categorize or label their music for the audience. How would you describe your music with three adjectives?

Tzena: Honestly, the tracks that inspire me the most are the ones that defy easy categorization. They blend genres in ways that make you go, “What even is this?”.
Moving beyond genres, some adjectives describe the essence of my music and my approach to making it.

The first would be “smooth”. I don’t even know if this is a real adjective for music, but it is something I like to maintain while playing.
Another one is “positive”. There’s this happy vibe in house music that I try to capture. It’s like the foundation. Overall, I’d say my music has a general aura that leans towards the light rather than the dark.
Oh, and I’ve been hearing people describe my music as “elegant” lately, which I think is pretty cool. So, let’s go with that – elegance.

The Partae: Let’s now talk about your methodology in making music. How do you discover new music? Are you more of a record store person, or do you rely on online platforms?

Tzena: I do a bit of both. Living in Berlin now, I’m lucky to have access to such a variety of record stores and I should definitely go digging more often. Sometimes I’ll have a week where I hit up all the shops, and then I might go a couple of months without buying anything. It varies. But yeah, I try to take advantage of being here.
Of course, I also search for anything online, it’s a mix of different platforms and online stores: Discogs, Beatport, Juno, Decks, Bandcamp – whatever I feel like that day. Lately, I’ve been getting into new releases more. There’s been a surge of quality and originality of production in the last couple of years so I get to play a lot of newer stuff.

The Partae: How about your live performances? Do you have a specific method when you’re prepping for a set or do you prefer keeping it more spontaneous? 

Tzena: For me, one of the joys of DJing is figuring things out on the spot. I need the crowd in front of me to see what they react to before starting to put all the pieces together. Of course, I do some prep at home, especially with new records. But mostly, it’s about listening to tracks, understanding their vibe, and knowing how they start, how they end and how they flow. I tend to group tracks into different categories: Beginning of the set, big-time escalation, something in between etc.. That’s it. If I try to prepare too much at home, it just messes with my mood and somehow nothing works! Things come together better in the moment. That’s just how it works for me.

The Partae: You are part of the label Luckison together with other emerging Slovenian artists like Mayell, Mornik and Kosta and Tim Kern. Do you see the label as a platform for international exposure, or is it more of a casual project among friends?

Tzena: It was always more of an experiment than a serious project. The first couple of releases were just our own productions with no names. Whenever we felt like something was ready, we put it out but we didn’t really put much info out there, just a stamp on the record to see what happens. International exposure or not, the attitude was always meant to be casual.

The Partae: So, do you see the LuckIsOn leaning more towards releases or gigs?

Tzena: Definitely more towards gigs, and parties. The label is more like a safe space where to put music out there. We released other artists too. We had a release with some talented mates from London called Felon5 and we’ll have more with other artists in the future. We have to come across something truly interesting and unique – something fresh that hasn’t been heard before – that’s when we’re interested. Otherwise, we’re not actively hunting for music to release. If something falls into our lap and it feels genuinely cool and fresh, then we go for it. But we’re not in a rush to put out records just to keep things active. If we have something, great. If not, that’s fine too.

The Partae: And for you personally, do you prefer the production side or playing gigs?

Tzena: Personally, I’m still more of a DJ than a music maker. Playing music is what I enjoy most. But I do love being in the studio too. Both take a lot of time and dedication, especially if you’re juggling it with a day job. I enjoy both, and I started producing more so I could make tracks to play live. That’s how it all started to get more serious. So yeah, I’m more of a DJ than a producer, but they go hand in hand for me.

The Partae: Where do you see yourself playing in Berlin or Europe in the future? Any dream venues or festivals?

Tzena: I had a bucket list moment last year at Closer in Kyiv, Ukraine. Played there in February 2023: Incredible club, with amazing people. They’re struggling now due to the war, but they’re still doing cool daytime parties. Also, Robert Johnson in Offenbach (DE) has always been a dream spot. In Berlin I feel really comfortable at Hoppetosse and Club der Visionaere. Sometimes I forget how much of a dream come true it is to play there. There are plenty of clubs or festivals that I could name, but there are so many cool spots all over the world that it’s hard to single out any particular one. If I can just manage to play out regularly that’s a dream come true on it’s own!

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