What do you get if you mix a bunch of musical talent, an original vision, and alcohol? Chances are it sounds something like Projekt Rakija. This band uses their enthusiasm and a mix of reggae, hiphop and electro, infused with Balkan folk to get you dancing. After playing at real-deal festivals such as Lowlands and Sziget, they have now released their second album Pump up the Radio. Rockstone spoke to one of the band members and creator of Projekt Rakija, Igor Sekulovic, about their music and the importance of alcohol for Projekt Rakija.

I was looking online, but I couldn’t find the history of Projekt Rakija. Nothing on how you guys came to be, really.
“That’s probably because it’s not an and-then-this-happened story. It takes a while to explain. It’s not your standard story.”

Go for it.
“I studied at the Rock Academy in Tilburg and when it was time for me to graduate, I really wanted to do something special. Something that had to do with my Bosnian roots, but placed in the here-and-now. I gathered a group of musicians to do a concert with me. Really just as a one time thing. Since I had no money to pay everyone involved, I took Rakija with me as a thank you. Rakija is an alcoholic drink my family feeds me when I visit them in Bosnia. Basically they get me drunk and then I’m good to go again. Anyway, I took some of the homemade Rakija with me, and we all got drunk backstage after the concert. That was when we decided to continue with this. Rather than just a band we were like a big family that anyone could join. That’s how we ended up with a cartoonist and a graphic designer. I thought it’d be cool to have some talented people working on our visual design.”

“Basically they get me drunk and then I’m good to go again.”

You guys toured the Balkan a few years back. How was it to play your version of their traditional music there?
“Fantastic. Really. It was one of those summers without plans. So I suggested we’d take on an adventure. If we could survive a tour through the Balkan, we as a band could tackle anything. It was super exciting, but nerve-racking. Turned out there was no need to be anxious about it. People were so positive. They thought it was so special that this group from Holland was trying to make something of their traditions. But no matter where we play, people are always so perceptive to our music. Something about it just works so well.”

It’s true though, the music is super catchy. Anyway, this year you guys were all over the festivals. What was the best one?
“That has to be Lowlands. Five minutes before we were supposed to go on, there were about ten people in front of the stage. And I could already see it being one of those shows where nobody really shows up. But when we went on, the whole tent was filled to the max. Halfway through there is song in which we kneel down to give the two female singers some attention. At Lowlands everyone joined in. It really was a party from the first second to the last note. Crazy. And super intense.”

The album Pump Up The Radio  was released last week. Are there differences between the debut record and this one?
“The previous album was born out of our gut feeling. We mostly just messed around, experimenting and trying different things. One time we got drunk, recorded these experiments and threw it onto an album. With the new record, we are much more aware about what works for us, and what doesn’t. We found out we tried hard to be folk musicians and we are actually anything but that. We really needed to find our own identity. There are now traces of, for example, hip-hop and reggae in our songs, that’s who we are.”

Rakija: ‘a fine Balkan spirit sure to make you get pissed hard’

Would you say that with Pump Up The Radio Project Rakija found their sound, and do you think that relates to how people react to the concerts?
“Oh for sure. We have found our sound, and people notice that. We now know how to bring people the songs and energy they want. Before we’d only get that kind of response when we played certain songs. It would sort of die down if we played slower songs. That’s not the case anymore. People seem to understand what we intend with our music. We are so much more comfortable now that we have found our own sound. And that happiness translates onto the audience.”

Is there a moment that, for you, really signified the making of the album? A story that really suits how this album came together?
“Everything we do really comes from ourselves, and what feels good to us. I think that really marks our new album. Everything on it feels right because we produced it that way. There was this moment in which we had to lay down the vocals. Harm (the other lead singer) and I decided to go into the studio together. Just us. But when we started, something just did not feel right. We took a break and recorded all the vocals later that day. It’s funny because we both felt the pressure, time equals money after all, but we really had to let it go until it felt right to us.”

I was just going to say the same, it seems as if you really thrive under the ability to create when it feels right. You mentioned earlier that Projekt Rakija also is home to a cartoonist and a graphic designer. You made it sound like that was also a matter of ‘it just felt right’. Can you tell us a little more about that collaboration and how the art projects came to be?
“When Niels (cartoonist) and Maurice (designer) joined the project, they first just worked on the website and the logo. But when that was done, they kind of steered into a creative direction that led to a comic book that featured caricatures of all of us. It worked out so well, we released it together with our first album. For the second album, Maurice started working with the concept of augmented reality. His idea was to take the vinyl, which is such a nostalgic medium, and bring it to life through augmented reality. They used the caricatures Niels drew, and created a story. To see that story, you need to download an app. This app activates the camera on your device, and if you point it to the vinyl it comes to life on your iPad or iPhone.”

Check out two pages of the comic book released with Pump Up The Radio: Comic Page 1  & Comic Page 2

Urban Dictionary defines Rakija as ‘a fine Balkan spirit sure to make you get pissed hard.’ And that sounds pretty great. For one it helped this beautiful project into its existence. Projekt Rakija is headed towards great things and we cannot wait to see what’s next. Cheers!

Wanna have the Projekt Rakija experience?

November 13 – Simplon, Groningen
November 20 – 013, Tilburg