Interview – Maja Cicic (Drum&Bass Arena/UKF)
Working for both Drum&Bass Arena and UKF, Maja Cicic has a vast experience of working with so many artists who operate under the bass music spectrum and helps to spread the word about so much fresh new music. We caught up with Maja for a chat about the work she does, how she got into the industry and tips for anyone hoping to do the same as well as insights into the latest from Drum&Bass Arena and UKF and her favourite events, artists and the tunes that mean the most to her.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do?
I’m A&R and Label Manager at Drum&BassArena, so work with artists on their releases, as well as curating our annual albums, managing all the uploads across our YouTube and SoundCloud channels, along with all the social media side of things and other miscellaneous bits! I also manage UKF’s social media pages and do a bit of copywriting for them as well amongst other things.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Drum&BassArena?
It’s one of the longest-standing brands in the scene actually – launched in Sheffield in 1996 by The Risky as the first online portal dedicated solely to drum & bass. From news, to D&BTV mixes, podcasts and events, it’s had quite an evolution since then with the label side of things really taking off for us in the last couple of years, along with our annual Awards ceremony as well as the channel having a consistent output. It’s been a real honour to be a part of the evolution of the brand the past few years! I used to listen to the podcasts and never dreamed I’d be in the position I am today!
How did you come to work with Drum&BassArena And UKF in the first place?
I’d wanted to work with them for a while actually… I did some research into AEI, which is the company they operate under, and it just seemed perfect for what I wanted to get in to. I moved to London from Australia in 2013 with so much passion for music and was hoping to crack into the industry, but it wasn’t really happening for me at the time… After a year or so I stumbled across an internship going at AEI so I applied, and the rest is history! I Will never forget my first interview and how much I rambled about my passion for the scene… Haha, bit cringe looking back, but I guess I did something right as they saw something in me and gave me a massive opportunity!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow a similar career path to yourself?
I think it’s important to think about who you would like to work for, and then focus on your strengths and think about what you could offer them. It’s one thing being an avid music fan, but understanding how to hone your skills is a major advantage and worth working on. I also think professionalism is key and presenting yourself as a reliable and respectable individual will get you far – ie. Don’t let the party side of things damage your credibility.
Chasing it all for the right reasons is important too. The D&B community is loving and supporting for the most part, but if you’re in it for the money you might be better off in another genre! Finally, perseverance is key – if you don’t get replies for a while or are knocked back a few times just keep at it, and keep showing your face and getting involved wherever possible. It took me a while to get to where I am today, and it took a lot of perseverance.
The latest Drum&BassArena compilation is out now. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Always a highlight in our release calendar, the compilation is a true labour of love. Always a tough one to curate as there’s soooo many releases in our genre every week alone, let alone spread across the whole year. It took us a long time debating and deliberating which tunes we’d get on there, but I think we captured a wide spectrum of flavours, which is what we try to do with each release and upload.
With each album we have a handful of exclusives and with this year’s edition we wanted to work with a few of the artists we’ve had an amazing year with (Kove, Brookes Brothers & A.M.C & Turno), along with some of the scene’s most inspiring talent (Simula & Bou, Kyrist, Kanine, Philth & Becca Jane Grey) and the result was again a diverse mix of tunes that we’re super happy with, which really reflect the healthy state of the scene at the moment.
The album is a real team effort and I’m always left in awe of our team when I’ve got the final product in my hands! Our immensely talented designer Jack Springbett never ceases to blow our minds with the entire design of the album as well, plus this year we had a wicked Booster Pack with a pencil case, some Sick Notes and a vintage cassette with the exclusives on it. Such a fun idea, and a wicked addition to the album.
What has the reaction been like for the latest installment in the series?
It’s been an overwhelming response really! We were #1 on Beatport’s top 100 releases for a few weeks, and stayed in the top 10 releases chart for weeks. Kanine’s ‘What I Said’ was added to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist as well, which was a great surprise. And just the feedback we’ve had from fans worldwide has been super positive so we’re stoked to see so many people loving the selection.
How big a part do you feel that social media plays on breaking an artist or track these days?
As irritating as it is, there’s no denying social media plays a big part in promo these days. I think it’s a combination of things though – often clips from events go quite far and end up stirring a lot of hype and interest in tunes and the artists playing them, but there has to be more to it in my opinion. I personally don’t think it’s healthy to focus too much on the social media side of things as it’s not right for everyone, and I’ve seen instances of it affecting artist’s mental health and causing a lot of anxiety if they aren’t getting the reaction they had hoped for. This can really cloud an artistic mind, so I really think artists should focus on their music first and foremost as that’s what will ultimately get them noticed and progress their career.
Do you think that this has replaced by the more traditional music business ways or do you think that they can work together when it comes to promoting artists and their tracks?
They have to work together I think. Otherwise we’ll be left with an industry with zero substance just chasing numbers and popularity. Look at artists like Break and Calibre who have zero social media presence – their focus is on their music and their labels and I think a lot of the time people get too caught up in the whole likes and numbers game that it can discourage proper creativity and may have adverse effects on mental health. The traditional side of things is still alive and well though, and networking and getting yourself amongst the scene and getting your music to other artists or industry people is still important.
Drum&BassArena has put on a number of live events over the years, what have you got coming up?
We’ve had a wicked summer so far! We just finished our run of Summer BBQs, which spanned London, Birmingham and Brighton this year with the likes of A.M.C, Bryan Gee, DJ Hazard, Simua, Bou, Kove, Brookes Brothers, Harriet Jaxxon, Ulterior Motive, Benny & Shimon, Rockwell and loads more. So pleased with how they all went down, and just feeling very lucky to work with so many talented people.
We’ve also just come back from a truly epic final edition of Outlook Festival in the Fort with a Drum&BassArena boat party that featured Artificial Intelligence, Zero T B2B FD, Philth and Visionobi, as well as a tunnel party with Alix Perez, DLR, Monty and Visionobi, which was seminal business. As for future plans not much else I can reveal just yet!
What has been your favourite so far?
Tough question! Our Outlook boat party and tunnel party this year have to be up there. Our boat party got washed out due to rain so they moved us to the bottom deck of the boat and it turned into this intimate Boiler Room style party with every DJ just rolling it out and a super positive and friendly crowd absolutely having it. It went from us being worried the boat wasn’t even going to go ahead, to something really special that exceeded all our expectations.
As for the tunnel party – we’re talking Alix Perez, Monty, DLR & Visionobi in Pula’s underground network of tunnels, which were built in WW1. The selection each artist brought was so so surreal in that setting, plus having the likes of SubMarine, Sustance and all the family in the booth dancing and loving it just as much as the crowd was so special. Proper pinch myself kind of moment.
Curating our D&BTV series has also been a serious highlight for me. From Randall, to Break, to SpectraSoul and Ulterior Motive – we’ve had some wicked D&BTV sessions over the years, and will have plenty more to come!
Would there ever be any chance of a Drum & Bass Arena/UKF festival or even a touring version featuring the cream of d&b acts?
We’ve had tours in the past in Australia and throughout Europe, so wouldn’t rule that out again! As for a festival, never say never I guess! We often have stage takeovers at festivals (UKF had one at Let It Roll this year with a mega line-up) so it’s definitely something you can expect again in future.
If you could put on your own festival, who would you choose to play and why?
Oh gosh, how much time have you got? Just to name a few… Randall, Calibre, Alix Perez, Jubei, Skeptical, Digital, GQ, Trex, Fixate, Monty, Kyrist, Sherelle, Break, Doc Scott, SP:MC, DJ Marky, FD, Sully, Artifical Intelligence – the list honestly goes on and on…
What has been the best club night you have ever been to and what made it so memorable?
London’s Rupture events are always really special because it feels like the days you hear about, but weren’t around for. I missed the hey-day of jungle in the UK so Rupture feels like the closest thing you can get to that these days. Just proper stripped back, raw vibes in a dark room with a crowd who know their shit and who are making the most of every minute.
Outside of D&B there’s a dubstep night called System run by Vivek, which has to be one of the most unique club experiences I’ve ever had. Vivek stands by his system (which he built himself with his family) all night, fine tuning every track that plays through it. Back at their seminal events at The Dome in Tufnell Park the events would sell out with minimal promo, no line-up announced, people coming in from all over the UK because they knew what they were in for. The sheer power of that sound system and the way it rattles through your entire body is actually insane.
In your opinion, what do you think makes a night special?
I’m a sucker for an intimate vibe with a banging sound system. There’s something unbeatable about feeling a room erupt in a sea of roars when a certain tune/ mix is dropped, and it’s a vibe you can only really create in a smaller space, unless you have a serious sound system. Proper attention to sound quality can really elevate an event for me as you’re hearing the tracks the way they were intended to be heard.
Who has delivered the best set you have ever seen?
Too many to recall, to be honest! Andy C has blown my mind on multiple occasions throughout his XOYO residency, I’ve had really special moments with Marky, Skeptical, Alix Perez, Doc Scott B2B dBridge, DLR, Randall, Calibre and loads more delivering really special sets, but there’s honestly too many to mention here!
Most recently Skeptical’s set at Outlook with SP:MC, DRS and Fox on stage on the Void sound system was really something special.
Which artists and tracks are you feeling at the moment?
I’m loving all the deep, raw sounds that are coming back thanks to the likes of Total Science, DLR, Kid Drama, Trex and Ulterior Motive. Plus the deeper side of things from Monty, Bredren, Alix Perez, Grey Code, Madcap and loads more.
The scene is in a really healthy state at the moment. So many special dubs flying about, it’s great to feel such wicked energy from everyone.
Also love seeing all the OGs like Chase & Status, Shy FX and Digital continuing to absolutely boss everything they put out! Everyone seems particularly inspired at the moment and it’s exciting to be a part of.
Which newer artists could you recommend for us to check out?
Not new artists but Total Science, DLR & Hydro are already making serious waves with their ‘The Sauce’ alias. Dogger is also smashing it – his debut with Mindstate and Liam Bailey was incredible. Proper soulful vibes! Also loving bits from Visages, SubMarine, Particle, Charli Brix and more. As mentioned before there’s so much good music floating about.
What do you look for in an artist?
These days there’s so much talent flying about it’s difficult to keep up. I listen to sooo many promos each week and just react to tunes that move something in me, but also think it’s important there’s a scope for versatility, as certain sounds can get very saturated very quickly. Along with that I think passion and drive are important, and that their heart is in it for the right reasons.
What was the tune that got you hooked on drum & bass and how did you get into the scene initially?
I grew up in a coastal town in Australia near Sydney called Wollongong and we were getting into electronic music through happy hardcore, breaks and electro. I guess my first experiences with D&B were actually through The Prodigy as my brother and sister loved them so I was exposed to them at a very young age.
We made the transition from to D&B through early Pendulum and Sub Focus, and that sparked something in a few of us and we started chasing D&B raves in Sydney. It didn’t take long before I was totally obsessed and started thinking about moving to the UK to get amongst it all.
What is your favourite ever track and what is it about it that makes it so special?
Impossible question to answer really… I don’t have just the one! Too many have shaped my musical journey, but I guess if I have to name one right now then Calibre & High Contrast’s Mr Majestic has to be up there though. Always stirs such emotion in everyone no matter when it’s dropped.
Why do you think that drum & bass continues to be so strong as a genre as every year passes?
It’s because of all the passionate fans who have such a thirst for the music. It can be a relatively niche genre at times, but the energy and passion from those who live and breathe it keeps it thriving. And obviously all the artists who keep pushing the sounds and standards of production to new heights.
What is up next for Drum&BassArena And UKF for the rest of this year and into 2020?
We’ve got some more wicked releases lined up for Drum&BassArena, along with our full-length documentary ’20 Years of Drum & Bass’, which is by far one of the biggest projects we’ve ever embarked on. It’s taken a long time to put together, but it’s something we’re incredibly proud of and really can’t wait to share with everyone.
As for UKF we’re celebrating 10 years of the brand all year and have even more incredible releases lined up with artists who have helped define the brand over the years. Plus there are some other forthcoming projects I can’t say much about just yet, but keep your eyes and ears peeled!
What have been some of the undisputed highlights of your career so far?
Undisputed highlight has been getting to know the community and now not only working alongside people I’ve admired for years, but being able to call them genuine friends now as well. I’ve met so many special people through this music, it’s all still really quite surreal at times.
Also, getting to curate the channel with tunes I’m in to has been a true privilege for me as I used to be the one playing my mates tunes and always seeking out IDs and to now have the opportunity to do that on a global scale is pretty damn cool.
I’ll never forget when Digital & Spirit started emailing me and sending me their tunes. I honestly couldn’t believe it. All I’ve ever wanted to do was share good music with those around me, so to have artists I have infinite respect for trusting me with their music is something that means a lot to me.
I’m a music journalist based in the U.K. with a love for bass music in many forms from drum & bass and dubstep to hip hop and grime. Always looking to check out new music as well as digging back for the classics and attending as many events as possible.