The band Eyot has so far celebrated its 15th anniversary with concerts in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš. In the city where this four-piece band was founded in 2008, the concert was held on March 26, 2023 in the expected place – in the hall of the National Theatre in Niš, where five years ago we had the opportunity to listen to the band on the occasion of the ten-year jubilee.
With the help of one adjective, how could we describe the impression that this ensemble left on the audience on a spring Sunday evening on March 26? This can be done as follows – Eyot in Niš was unshakable.
One word is certainly illustrative, but with the help of two we already tell the story: while being unshakable can suggest a certain tense mood, a result that is achieved with a lot of sweat and effort, these guys were completely relaxed, and (yet) unshakable! What else can you expect from a band that performs in their own city, where the audience includes their closest people? How can you be hesitant when, between songs, and after enthusiastic applause, a faint but confident child’s voice breaks through, “Bravo, dad!”, to the delight of the audience and the best possible encouragement to the father-musician?
The reasons for being relaxed and unshakable lie not only in the fact that they address “their audience”, but also in the fact that Eyot has reached such a unique musical expression during its 15 years of existence, that the self-confidence demonstrated by this quartet is a natural consequence of their continuous development. Almost from the very beginning of their career, Eyot overcame the local borders, both with their skill and the successes achieved on the international music scene: one of their albums was recorded and produced by the great Steve Albini; they collaborated with members of the group Portishead; Eyot released albums for international labels and made numerous European and Asian tours.
The worldwide affirmation is not in contradiction with the special relationship that the band establishes with its city: when Eyot performs in Niš, it has a special significance for the musicians as well as for the local audience and is almost considered a holiday.
Eyot’s musicianship itself reflects the complex, permeating relations of global and local, as well as high and popular culture. The band’s creativity unites the jazz expression and influences of classical music with elements of rock and alternative music in a way that does not resemble the genre combinations that, for example, could be found in the work of bands from the ECM catalogue. Thus, the concert at the National Theatre represented another confirmation of the interaction of different cultural worlds in Eyot’s work: in the temple of high culture, the powerful, howling sounds of Slađan Milenović’s electric guitar are heard, and the audience who are seated equally enjoy the melodic solo parts of Dejan Ilijić on the trail of jazz, as well as in the strong dynamic ascents of the rhythmic section of Marko Stojiljković and Miloš Vojvodić, ascents that compel the listeners to get up from the theatre seats, and perhaps jump out of their skin, shaken by the musical energy.
Eyot in Niš confirmed the confidence in their own, fifteen-year-old musical vision, presenting the audience compositions from five releases. Since it is about an opus that could already be considered voluminous, the jubilee concert, as expected, opens up a discussion about this band’s work, its characteristic features, as well as new vistas. The setlist appropriately provided us with an opportunity for this kind of reflection.
The concert of Eyot in Niš was opened by the tracks “The View Through The Blurry Window” and “How Shall the Dust Storm Start?”, which are characterized by typical musical repetitiveness – it is, to a greater or lesser extent, present in all phases of their career. However, a certain contrast to this feature of their music was presented by the tracks that followed: “Linen” and “Dodola” from the last album “557799”. These compositions feature increasingly innovative musical landscapes opened by the guitar effects of Slađan Milenović, as well as the more progressive bass lines of Marko Stojiljković. The audience reacted to the newer compositions with equal enthusiasm as to the songs that can almost be considered Eyot’s hits, such as the track “Drifters” performed in the middle of the concert.
The musical identity of the band – a completely authentic style that we recognize in a fraction of a second when, say, we hear it on the Radio Belgrade program – is underlined in a special way in the last part of the concert. After the song “Horizon”, after which the band’s first album is named, and which even after twelve years represents a fresh illustration of the musical vision of pianist and composer Dejan Ilijić, the “official” part of the concert ended. An “encore” followed, which can hardly be called that, because it was implied to that extent that the musicians also gave up the mannerism of leaving the stage and returning to it theatrically: the guys simply stayed on stage to play two more compositions. Thus, the track from the last, 5th release of the band – the title track “557799” – was found between the songs from the debut album – the already mentioned “Horizon” and “It’s Time to Go Home”, with which their concerts often end, from symbolic and objective, music reasons.
The mantric and atmospheric nature of the music, rhythmic and expressive, and imbued with a clear reference to the Balkan musical heritage, was presented at the concert as a thread that connects the artistic aspirations of Eyot in all periods of their career.
What was the response of the Niš audience at the jubilee celebration? We are in a full National Theatre, despite the fact that the concert has not been aggressively advertised in recent weeks in this city. We don’t have much, but we have that kind of (local) patriotism. The audience was expectedly warm but surprisingly concentrated on the music itself, full of respect for what they were witnessing.
“They say no one is a prophet in their own land. But, you see how it can be the opposite”, Branislav Dejanović, program editor of the Nišvil Jazz Festival, jokingly said in a conversation after the concert. It is an impression that not only accurately describes the atmosphere of the concert, but also comes from the right address. The career of the Eyot started to increase after their performance at the Nišvil Jazz Festival in 2009, where a recording was made that will afterwards help the band arrange performances on major worldwide stages. That early performance in the Niš Fortress had one important feature in common with the concert that took place on March 26, 2023 – the support given to the band especially encouraged the inspirative musicianship, and we hope that it will also serve as a “springboard” for band’s future creative ascents.
Optimists say that the Niš music scene has been on the rise in recent years. Regardless of whether this optimism can be considered coherent, it is certain that the Niš scene has someone to look up to when it comes to playing music with all your heart – on world stages, but also in your own city.
I am convinced that Eyot is a band that will assure us in the next fifteen or more years that it is possible to live locally and create globally.