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The First To Know

Lida Hujić, author of the biographical cultural studies volume, discusses her documentation of the rise and influence of MTV Europe and the Hoxton scene

Being foreign is always a great way of seeing ordinary things through extraordinary lenses. This basic anthropological truism has turned in Lida Hujić’s case into her personal motto. Born to Yugoslavian parents, but growing up in Paris, Hujić went back to her homecountry as a teenager. In 1987 she joined a revolutionary radio station that went on to influence an entire generation of people, then turned into a maverick TV presenter and eventually moved to London.

A few years after witnessing the rise of MTV Europe, Hujić found herself once again at the beginning of something small, yet new, adventurous and destined to become very influential, the Hoxton scene. These tales of underground scenes and scenesters who went on to influence different industries – from music to fashion – prompted her to research the matter further in her recently released book, 'The First To Know'. Part autobiography, part social study, part cultural history, the book is a tale of dichotomies and an in-depth analysis of the paradigms authentic-fake, hipsters-wannabes, innovators-adopters.

Dazed Digital: What prompted you to write 'The First To Know'?
Lida Hujić:
Originally the book started with a paper entitled “Geek Chic” that I did while working in marketing. The paper focused on the formation of a premium consumer. The inspiration behind the research mainly came from the people I was hanging around with, the East London scene, so the knitting club Cast Off, Rachael Matthews and Mei Hui Liu, and the Parisian equivalent of this scene. I realised these maverick businesses and people were somehow rebelling against specific trends and against products with emotional slogans that didn’t actually mean anything to consumers.

DD: “Omladinski Program” was a pioneer of free speech and openly criticised the system, how did you get involved in it?
Lida Hujić:
I joined “Omladinski Program” – meaning “youth program” or “youth radio” – after turning 18, in July 1987. Omladinski ended up being super-influential in Yugoslavia as editor Boro Kontić was a sort of John Peel or a Malcolm McLaren in communist times, and discovered a lot of talents. The reason why we became super popular was that we we had a pirate station mentality but we broadcast the programme on national airwaves. We read the NME and the Melody Maker, we played music from different scenes such as techno and we were really counter-culture. From radio I got onto television moving onto a programme on TV station Sa3: the programme I hosted had never been done before since it brought the West to Sarajevo with regular interviews with foreigners.

DD: A part of the book is dedicated to the London Fashion scene, to the sartorial experimentation of club nights à la Kashpoint and to new designers such as Ashish, Cassette Playa and Marjan Pejoski, what does style mean to you?
Lida Hujić:
Style is something creative, it is not something that you follow. Having your own style means being open-minded and curious. I was always of that kind of mind-set as I had an unconventional upbringing. My family is from Yugoslavia, but I grew up in Montmartre in Paris. My father studied journalism at the Sorbonne, but also worked as an artist and knew Salvador Dali; my mum was a scenester and a photographer’s muse who inspired me a sense of individual style. Whenever I went back to Yugoslavia I was different because I had this strong Parisian influence and while I was in Paris I was exotic because I was Eastern European.

DD: What’s the main aim of the short films in the visual library of the book site, complementing the text?
Lida Hujić:
They actually do more than that since in some cases they feature unseen and rare footage, turning into amazing documents from very precise times. The Kashpoint film for example is the equivalent of looking at the early days of The Blitz or of the punk scene since it features a small amount of people who ended up being very influential. That film shows for example Gareth Pugh’s first catwalk show and designs by Mei Hui Liu, who set the tone for the next generation of Hoxtonites.

DD: Is there a new shift already towards an innovative scene?
Lida Hujić: In the last year I’ve spotted in London a big change, with events of spoken word being organised here and there and book clubs buzzing underground, so this is definitely a tangible scene. I went to see some funky people at the Jazz Cafe and at Kings Place and, while each of them was delivering a different style of words since some of them were reciting political pieces while others opted for a funnier genre, they were all making statements about society. Maybe, finally fed up with bling bling, poltics and reality TV, we are now looking for something more meaningful and I think the spoken word could be it. That’s new and perhaps it will make an impact; maybe we will soon have people replacing in this way more vapid forms of entertainment.

DD: Who is the ideal reader of your book?
Lida Hujić: People interested in ideas. I guess the best way to describe my book would be as The Tipping Point by Michael Gladwell-meets No Logo by Naomi Klein-meets Barbara Cartland. The First To Know is indeed a compendium of my personal story, of politics, history and marketing forces, that’s why I describe it as a book for people interested in ideas, from students who are into media and culture to business and marketing professionals.

DD: The book has a sort of cyclical style since it starts and ends in Sarajevo: what has changed in your homecountry since you first experiences at Omladinski?
Lida Hujić:
Rather than getting commercialised our scene turned into the anti-war movement, so we were part of a radical change that turned into War Child and that peaked with the anti-war gigs in Sarajevo with Bono and Pavarotti. Because of the war, destruction, political anarchy and corruption, commercial television, bling bling and vulgar programmes, we sadly moved towards a culture based on money, gangsters and bigoted ideals. So we almost ended up living in a sort of Orwellian state with Big Brother overtaking people’s ability to think. While I hope this won’t last, when I finished the book I didn’t really see many young people reacting to all this.

The First To Know is available online and from selected shops and book stores such as Artwords, Foyles and Rough Trade in London and Colette in Paris.