Meet the Serbia & Montenegro audio / visual crew fusing far-out beats and graffiti operating across Belgrade, Montenegro and Florida…
Four core members and a variety of affiliates and collaborators, three years of creating, thousands of miles between them, one intoxicatingly grungy, despicably grimey, deliciously unpredictable melting pot sound: TRAKA are the latest unique force of creative nature to fly out of the YUKU stables.
Brought to the label’s attention from fellow Serbian artist Missin, TRAKA (which translates to ‘tape’ in Serbian) first made themselves known to the world beyond Belgrade with their debut EP Start Taking Note in January this year. Eight tracks deep, the release was a mini album in weight, shape and intent and the title track featured MC don Killa P. A track that keeps on giving; Start Taking Note is one of the collective’s earliest tracks and has recently been blessed with an exceptional video from award winning Serbian director Dusan Petkovic. Treat your eyes and ears…
New videos aren’t the only thing the foursome have dropped lately. Just eight months after their debut EP comes their debut album. Entitled Maktub, it’s an even deeper dive into the crew’s primordial brew of deeply dug samples and trippy, head scratching sound design.
Featuring the likes of Riko Dan, Subp Yao, Chrizpy Chriz, Maktub is as psychedelic as it is gully, it’s uplifting as it is dark. Tense, unique, unclassifiable and inspired by the street culture they’ve been painting and immersed in for years, we caught up with a few members of the collective to find out more…
NMEE: We come from Belgrade and are all from Serbia and Montenegro. Right now I am based in Florida. I came over here just before they closed the borders. I slipped through.
Are you missing the crew?
NMEE: Well the way we started the project it made us feel connected more than ever before. We got signed by Yuku, through our Serbian friend Missin. We had a show in a big club in Belgrade the night before I flew here.
C47: That was our first and last gig, the turnout was great. The people loved it and they mention it a couple of times. I’m looking forward to when we can play again.
What were your backgrounds before you all started collaborating?
C47: Before we started all this I was in the scene, doing a lot of graffiti more than producing. When NMEE heard my tracks he told me I needed to more and how I should do it. He’s years ahead of me so I still listen to him. For real, he’s my muse in this game.
NMEE: It’s a cool friendship. Before this I did production for some radio stuff, stuff in the scene, things for Universal Music Serbia. I’ve used my NMEE alias doing stuff with Future Collective and beats for some local artists. We also have HABRA, who is also one of the core members. We met each other in fourth grade.
You all came together a year or so before lockdown. This has given you a focus over the last 18 months, right?
NMEE: Oh yeah definitely. The opportunity emerged for us to really focus on something and we haven’t stopped for a day. We’ve built a routine between us. It was a very introspective time, so we stayed low key and cooked up beats.
C47: It was brewing over a year, maybe a year and a half before corona. Then we really started working hard during the time on lockdown.
Wise time investment! There’s a whole other side to Traka isn’t there? Big up the graffiti members!
C47: I do graffiti with another one of the crew, ZVRK, our main visual artist. We met at uni. I knew his work already so we hung out and painted and become good friends.
What’s the graffiti scene like in Belgrade?
C47: Montenegro doesn’t have much of a scene. There aren’t enough people here to sustain subculture. But Serbia has been going strong for 20 years in graffiti and music. The graffiti scene is very diverse, you have artists, bombers, train riders, street writers. We have a lot of internationally known crews here. It’s cool.
NMEE: It kinda developed with rave culture over here in the mid 1990s. There was a very famous Prodigy show that inspired and kickstarted a lot of things and that’s when things started to happen electronically over here. Of course you know the Exit story, we’ve seen UKF at Exit many times! With graffiti we have this excellent melting pot of old post-Soviet architecture, we have the old traditional Serbian values and this layer of beautiful graffiti over the top. It’s a great melting pot of time and culture.
Like Traka music! There’s a lot going on in the mix…
NMEE: Well I have to say that C47 is the main man for sampling, he’s always in the crates and he has the knowledge. I’m more the guy who might go out and sample birds signing and weird things like that. Then we bring those together. HABRA is the main guy for sound design, atmospheres, basslines, all that crazy stuff. We all have our special skills and we share and bring them together and pass them around all adding our own twist each time.
HABRA: We all have our total creative freedom to do what we like and make what we want to hear.
Your tracks start somewhere but always end somewhere entirely different. Would you say that’s down to how you work collectively?
NMEE: Maybe, but I think it is more down to the fact we get bored of standard procedures and formulas of music, so we would do that anyway even if we all worked in the same studio. I’m the one who brings it all together and finishes and arranges it all.
It’s got a real mixtape flavour with all the tracks streamed together. I guess that’s rooted in the name Traka. That translates to tape, right?
NMEE: That’s correct. It does have a mixtape feel. We want to make listeners feel like they’re at a live show. Hearing those connections between the tunes and the transitions between each chapter in the story.
What’s the story of Maktub. I think it translates to destiny, doesn’t it?
NMEE: For us it translates to ‘it is written’, which is a graffiti joke, of course. But for the story, we just wanted freedom of expression. It was made in hard personal times. It was a mental lockdown just as much as physical. Maktub was an escape from reality.
C47: We were online every day, sharing ideas, discussing tracks. We were all isolated from each other in different countries but, if anything, the lockdown gave us more time to communicate and share and develop our ideas. We had all the time we needed.
NMEE: We would hang in different houses if it wasn’t for lockdown but the same mentality existed online anyway, just more focused.
Just ahead of the album you dropped a video for an earlier tune Start Taking Notes. How did you link up with Killa P?
C47: He was the first MC for me to lure us into the dubstep and grime scene when we were kids. When we started working on tracks from around 2017 we needed some vocals and I saw Killa P put up a post asking for producers to hit him up. I thought fuck it and he got back to me. So that happened. The track is like two or three years old, then we switched the beats and now we have this video. I love working with MCs – you send a beat to five different MCs and they will all come back with something different and none of it will be like how you imagined it to be. I fucking love that.
The video is a work of art!
C47: It was so immense. It took five months of preparations for the shoot. The director, Dusan Petkovic, is a very talented guy. It’s a crazy story. Last year he was here in Montenegro on a summer holiday where we met. We then met in Belgrade and I said, ‘I know you do videos, we have this track, would you consider doing something with us?’ He listened and was like, ‘Oh my god it’s Killa P’ and he jumped on it. He started bouncing ideas around, he hit up the dancer. They had all this prep and choreography. It was a long time in the making but we love it so much. He’s out of this world.
NMEE: He’s a very famous director here and did a lot of things we saw when we were growing up in our teens. He’s won seven awards in the Cannes Film Festival. He’s crazy talented and it’s an honour to work with him.
C47: The minute he heard Killa P’s voice he wanted to work with us.
The unifying power of grime. So we’re chatting just ahead of the release. That limbo between completion and release. It’s a strange feeling isn’t it?
NMEE: It really is. We only semi introduced ourselves with our first EP but it was very nice to see support from guys like Noisia on Vision Radio and we’ve had support on BBC Radio 6 by Tom Ravenscroft so we were humbled by that early support and the album is the next stage of this. it’s exciting.
What comes next?
NMEE: We have the next EP ready with three MCs, which is eight tracks, then we’re working with some guys from our local scene and always combining lots of different sounds. Always too, we are looking for MCs. If you’re an MC hit us up on Instagram. We love working with MCs. Shouts to Riko Dan, shouts to Killa P, shouts to all of the crew and our friends in Belgrade and shouts to everyone who supports us.