If Dirty South, aka Dragan Roganovic, had a vintage song as his theme, it wouldn’t be Marvin Gaye’s Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home). Australia’s jetsetting superstar DJ hates carrying luggage. And so he buys fresh clothes along the way, leaving the old behind – including (presumably) hats. “I do the whole socks, underwear, T-shirts, jeans [thing] and just do it on the road and travel light,” Dragan says bashfully.
This month the Melburnian electro-houser, who in March hit Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, will play closer to home at Creamfields Australia 2012. Dragan doesn’t DJ often in Oz due to his global popularity (he’s regularly placed in the DJ Mag poll), although he joined Stereosonic 2011. Last year the DJ estimates that he slept in his own bed for around three to four months in total. “I just built a new studio in Melbourne, so I’m trying to make it more balanced and spend a little bit more time here, doing production. But, at the same time, I still have to tour. So I’m juggling it, as hard as that sounds – I’m not complaining!” Dragan’s dog is barking merrily in the background.
The guy who helmed 2011′s Walking Alone (with Those Usual Suspects) was born in Belgrade, now Serbia’s capital, emigrating to Australia at 13. Here, he’d develop an interest in turntable culture. Initially, the enterprising Dragan experimented with mixing on tape decks. He also mucked around with bootlegs, honing his production skills. Dragan, who chose his hip-hoppy handle ‘Dirty South’ because it sounded ‘cool’, built his rep on remixes. Pete Tong declared his 2006 reinvention of Evermore’s It’s Too Late an ‘Essential New Tune’. But Dragan also disseminated cred original tracks like Sleazy via the local label Vicious. He released Let It Go (featuring Melbourne R&B veteran Rudy) on Axwell’s Axtone Records, the two subsequently teaming for Open Your Heart. Indeed, Dragan gets a kick out of collaborating, lately issuing Eyes Wide Open with German Thomas Gold and Kate Elsworth.
Today Dragan’s ever-evolving style, captured on several mix-CDs, is frequently summed up as ‘big room house’ – perfect for a festival such as Creamfields Australia. How does the DJ define his sound? “It’s mysterious,” he says with dramatic effect. “Bottom line, I like to do emotional stuff. I don’t mean like ‘crying’ emotional, but just [putting] ‘feeling’ in the music – like, there’s nice chords and intensity, [I'm] using cool vocals… It needs to mean something, even though it’s dancefloor-friendly. I don’t get into making those quirky, funny records.” If anything, his is “emotional house music”.
Dragan had a monumental year in 2011, starting with his attending the Grammy Awards with Axwell. The two, who tweaked The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition, were nominated for ‘Best Remixed Recording’. Dragan was previously up for the same award with his rework of Kaskade’s Sorry. Then, he lost to Benny Benassi. This time fellow Creamfields Australia headliner (and, together with Sebastian Ingrosso and Julie McKnight, Dragan’s collaborator on How Soon Is Now) David Guetta took the statuette for a Madonna remix. “I was there with Axwell. We were holding hands, praying that we’ll win. Obviously we didn’t, but that’s OK (laughs). It was cool to be there. It’s great to be nominated a couple of times – it’s pretty good. I guess I’ll work hard and it might pay off in the end! But, at the end of the day, it’s not always about awards. If the people like the songs, that’s the main thing.”
At any rate, Dragan’s services are in high demand. Three years ago he remixed U2′s I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight and The Edge e-mailed him, full of praise. When Dragan remixed Diddy Dirty Money’s Coming Home, the iconic rapper himself phoned. “He rang me a couple of times – we spoke and he was really happy. I actually freaked out when he called me ’cause, you know, it’s Diddy! He had great feedback. He loved the remix. The way it ended up happening was that he was so into the remix that he wanted to do some extra vocals. I gave him some feedback – what I thought he should write or sing or rap. In the end, I made a new version with extra Diddy vocals. So that was pretty special.” This year Dragan has already remixed Miike Snow.
In 2010 Dragan inevitably launched a label, Phazing Records, with the tune Phazing (remixed by Tiësto). “It’s going great – 2012, I guess, will be more focussing on that, signing new acts and releasing my own music through that as well. It’s gonna be interesting – and a fun year for me.”
Dragan has spoken of “eventually” presenting an ‘artist’ album. Is he any closer? “Ah, the magic question,” he teases. “Yes and no. I am continuously working on new music. As it stands now, it’s a lot of singles – just putting out singles and collaborations and remixes. I’d love to sit down and take three to six months off from DJing, but that seems rather impossible right now. So I think it’s gonna be singles, as we are right now.” His fans want EPs over albums, he reasons. “Kids don’t really care anymore. They just wanna hear new music. It’s gonna take six months for you to release a whole bunch of music – people are gonna be like, ‘Ah, c’mon, hurry up!’ But the singles and EPs concept works, so I’m happy to continue that. It gives me a timeframe to release stuff more frequently.” Like Monsieur Guetta, Dragan has even ventured into pop production, contributing the post-dubstep Anything to Example’s Playing In The Shadows. (“He’s a really cool guy,” Example said of the Aussie.)
Dragan has his own predictions for EDM. “I think everything is about energy – everything is getting more and more energetic – so it’s just gonna get more and more and more crazier and energetic. That’s where it’s heading… I mean, you can look at dubstep – that’s just getting really aggro… but, hopefully, not too aggro because, like I said, I like a bit of emotion in music. It’ll be nice if there’s a balance. There’s gotta be a balance – always.”
Local industry figures who have dealt with Dragan for years maintain that he hasn’t changed at all. He’s genuinely humble, gracious and easy-going. And Dragan has a quick – and warm – sense of humour. How does he stay grounded in an OTT scene? “I think it’s all about personalities,” Dragan suggests. “This is how I am. Whether I was doing this or not, this is how I’ll be.”
Dirty South, who named Creamfields Australia’s Alesso as his 2011 ‘Breakthrough DJ/producer’ in DJ Mag, is planning a special festival set. “I have a bunch of new productions and new songs and I’d like to test them out at Creamfields and see how the crowd responds. And, of course, I have the classic tracks and all that and new edits and a couple of tricks here and there. I think it’s gonna be fun – and I really can’t wait. I always love playing Australia. It’s homeground. It’s always fun.”
Click on the link to listen to Dirty South Presents: Phazing Radio Show April 2012