Serbian A/V collective continue to serve up their joyously unpredictable brew
Formed and connected through graffiti culture and beatmaking, Serbian/Montenegrin collective TRAKA have developed a distinctive signature across three albums so far.
All released within less than two years, Start Taking Note, Maktub and MONSTAS paint a bewitching picture that fuses all kinds of flavours; beats, halftime, grime and all kinds of soundsystem ingredients in between bounce between each other wildly from tempo to tempo, vibe to vibe.
One moment we’re being hurled around the dancefloor, hot-shoe shuffling on the venom of a killer collaborating MC’s bars. The next, our third eye is being ripped open by swooping, sweeping cosmic blasts of pads and eastern strings. The moment after that we’re boosted and blasted by swaggering breakbeats and smothered in swampy, sludgy sub bass.
In the hands of others it could be too unpredictable. Undiluted chaos. But between TRAKA’s three studio men NMEE, C47 and Habra (the fourth member is their visual artist) they make it work. Weaving together otherwise disparate ideas with strong atmospheric elements and a sense of strong story-telling.
In the case of MONSTAS it’s a sense that’s so strong it’s tangible. Packing a powerful punch in just nine tracks and 30 minutes, it’s an album that transports you to a whole other world in a very short and intense trip. This is TRAKA’s unique musical universe as experienced from a guided tour on a greasy rocket driven by a grizzly captain, zipping you around so many planets you feel dizzy…
From the sombre, filmic allure of opener The Score to the rampant Latin finale Conquistador, MONSTAS is a psychedelic sensation that never sits still and never drops in momentum or focus. Whether you’re being pummeled by the lyrical damage of Warrior Queen, Killa P or Riko Dan or you’re being carried away on a cloud of pianos or bluesy, otherworldly distorted guitars, there’s an energy and consistency that keeps you locked and surrendered throughout… And leaves you bewildered as you come out the other end. Best served on headphones (and short enough to turn even the most modest of commutes or journeys into a full-on cosmic wonderful) it’s not uncommon to find yourself reaching for the play button again to check if what you’ve just heard was actually real.
Catching up with three members of TRAKA – NMEE, C47 and Habra – 1 More Thing learns that MONSTAS is a pivotal body of work for the collective as they tie together everything that’s led them to this moment musically and creatively. Sonically seaming together some of their oldest ideas with some of their newest techniques, it draws a line in the sand before a new creative chapter. Find out more…
So…. Is MONSTAS the end of a trilogy of albums?
NMEE: It’s a conclusion, so to speak of. We’re searching for the sound we want to make ,working out how we want to make it and how we want to define TRAKA moving forward. We’ve been going through a lot of older projects, some from as far back as 2017, and also a lot of newer stuff. Joining with MCs and making a collage of sounds and ideas. We want to pursue more of a dance vibe. The MCs have given us a lot more consistency and bring things together as we have lots of tunes which are quite hectic, some tunes which are three different tunes combined. We also did some amazing collabs.
That’s why there are lots of styles in the TRAKA pot. It’s consistent yet unpredictable.
C47: That formula will never change because of the habits we have working and how we approach this. Unpredictability will always be a factor.
NMEE: We just want to simplify things and make our music mix friendly and work for us as DJs.
Totally. Beyond that, what’s the concept of MONSTAS?
NMEE: So take the tune Tame The Beast. It’s a perfect fusion of all of us – C47 started it, Habra developed it and added a last drop and I had a mission to glue it all together. It’s basically four tunes together. That took us four months to finish. That big boy had 450 tracks in the Cubase project so it was a hard beast to tame! It was made during a strange time – on lockdown, all of us going through life challenges. So that was something that made us think about this concept and was a big story telling tune for us. Then Warrior Queen named her track Monstas. She delivered that name and we thought, ‘Okay there’s a theme here.’ We were fighting demons and trying to tame these creative beasts.
C47: Also it completes the trilogy – if you look at visual artworks of ours, it goes from a circle to the form of a head and then that head blows up and becomes the mess that you see on the cover of MONSTAS. It’s a contained package of visual sounds.
Love that. I want to touch on story telling tunes you mentioned. Conquistador is one of them for me. That’s a personal favourite.
N: I had a ukulele playing friend of mine, Milan, doing some outro stuff for me. Then I was going through some samples, I got a nice loop which I cut up and it gave me that Latin vibe. I’m in Florida here where there is a lot of history of the Spanish invading. So it’s Europe meets Americas in the most negative way. I was also inspired by the movie The Mission as well.
Ah you can feel that! I’m interested in the evolution of TRAKA music and how you productions have become more inspired by DJing
Habra: We wanted to make our music more mixable – especially the intros and outros. We want to be able to play our music out more so that’s been a big focus of ours
NMEE: Habra and C47 have had bookings in Belgrade and got some bookings in Drugstore which is a Boiler Room HQ. It was a good re-introduction with the city. We played a show just before lockdowns started so it was a good way to come back.
C47: It was quite intense! I’m not just representing myself, I’m representing TRAKA so it’s a big responsibility. It was also the first time we properly combined the visual and live side.
That’s always been the intention of TRAKA, right?
C47: Yes. And now we are looking into how to develop that even more and have some new ideas. MC Swift has been very helpful linking and connecting us too.
NMEE: We’re making some very nice connections with our music recently. Slimzee has represented us on the radio. We have some Oddkut collaborations which we’re really loving and we’re stacking a lot of 140 things.
Habra: We got the stash.
MONSTAS must feel old to you then?
NMEE: Oh totally. I was done with this in 2021. We were tweaking things and doing final mix notes and then yes, it was done and we’ve moved on. We are working on the next level of material now. But of course we are very happy to be speaking about it to you.
Love the fact Warrior Queen gave you the title. How did you link up with her?
NMEE: Subp Yao gave us the intro but she’d heard our stuff through the Killa P and Riko Dan collaborations we’ve done.
C47: There is a bonus dub of Monstas. It’s a dub version which she originally spat over and we felt it needed more energy and vibe which led us to the Monstas you hear on the album. The original was too mellow. But her energy was so great.
Killa P’s energy on Straight Wheel Up is too!
NMEE: Yes. We love Killa P and he’s always very open to ideas. He’s so positive about the whole thing we do.
C47: Since the beginning. Even before we were TRAKA. That’s very inspiring for us.
NMEE: There’s more to come with him. Riko, too. We love Riko. We love working with MCs and vocalists like I said earlier. They bring a strong focus and consistency. When we come up with an idea, it doesn’t matter how far we spread our musical tentacles, we think about who might work best on it and send it to them. We also have something with Rider Shafique.
Can’t wait to hear that. What else does the world need to know about MONSTAS?
NMEE: It’s a resetting of bases and when it comes ot visual it’s the first time we’ve added a colour. There’s an orange line in the visuals.
C47: It was way more scary than it sounds. Which colour do we pick? How do we do that? It is a good introduction to what comes next. We are out of the black and white and moving into new ideas and ways of thinking.
How did you settle on orange?
C47: It’s electric!
NMEE: One of my favourite teenage albums was Invaderz Must Die with the orange on black. So there’s a little nod to that. That album, and The Prodigy in general, had a big influence on me. And also I’d like to add another thing about MONSTAS. We have the track Vodja which means Leader. But also we have Serbian slang where you add the start of the word to the end. When you flip it Vodja it’s Djavo, which is the devil, so there’s another beast for you…
Leaders are pretty beastly right now in the world anyway…
Habra: It’s very symbolic.
NMEE: Anyone who has to have a step above everyone should be approached with caution. And we have to mention that Habra has had a lot more influence on this album sonically and has helped to give the album a much harder edge. Especially on tame the beast. He made it theatrical.
Habra: I was digging the old tracks – especially the ones when NMEE was still living in Belgrade. I dug through those and found inspirations.
NMEE: We would have these huge 5//6/7/8 hour studio sessions and it’s great to hear some of that coming into our new productions. That sums up the questions we had with MONSTAS – how can we use the stuff we haven’t finished?
Habra: that time period was interesting. We had way more ideas but nowhere near as much technical knowledge. To take those ideas and remix them and make them work. It was nice…
NMEE: Using the old but melting it with additional new things we make. That’s exactly where MONSTAS is at.