Identified by MTV as one to watch, and with a new album under their belt, the band are keen to explore the international market in 2013
Balkan beat is a rowdy, raunchy concoction of a music genre, popularised by the efforts of acts like Goran Bregovic, Fanfare Ciocarlia and the well-known New-York based band Balkan Beat Box. Here in Denmark, it remains something of a stranger to the mainstream despite its increasing popularity in underground music circuits.
This may well change though, thanks to the efforts of a band cited as one of the greatest up-and-coming acts in Denmark by MTV, the critically-acclaimed Danish/Serbian outfit Tako Lako, who in their own words are “more than just another Balkan Beat band”.
The Copenhagen Post caught up with three of the band’s members – harmonicist Andreas Broby Jensen, bassist Philip Zubin Hormozi Køppen and multi-instrumentalist Malene Brask – for a quick chit-chat following the recent release of their eagerly awaited debut album, Through the Mud.
First and foremost, for all the people who don’t know you guys, who are Tako Lako?
Jensen: Tako Lako is a band that plays psychedelic gypsy beat; that’s what we choose to call what we do. It’s a pretty mashed-up type of music. We combine heavy beats with a psychedelic acoustic vibe.
Køppen: So far we’ve been known mainly for our live shows, up until releasing our debut album, Through the Mud.
How did Tako Lako come to be, how did you form ?
Køppen: (grins): Well Andreas was on a inter-rail trip, maybe you’d like to elaborate on that?
Jensen: It all started on an Inter-rail trip many years ago. Our lead singer Ognjen and I went through Europe- Serbia and Monte Negro especially. On the tour we bought some instruments- a drum and a small keyboard thing; a melodica is that what you call it ? It was very chilled, very relaxed – we just jammed on the long train trips- we sat in the coupe and jammed
Køppen : Which must have been really annoying for the other passengers
Jensen (laughs) : For some yeah, some did think it was cool to have a private concert. We weren’t really a bad it was just for fun. When we came home to Denmark we thought it would be fun to go further with our music,; we started bringing people together. In the beginning Oggie wasn’t singing- he wanted to be a percussionist. We got a better percussionist who was trained- even though Oggie insisted on trying the percussion.In the end we got ourselves a pretty good lead singer (laughs)
Køppen: Personally I got into the band since I was really drawn to the complexity of the music. I’d played a lot of rock before that and I wanted to try something new
Did you know any of the guys before ?
Køppen: I went to high school with Andreas, the classic story
What about you Malene, how did you get involved ?
I went to school with Phillip (Køppen). He invited me to a concert which I remember really well- I was drawn by a bunch of gypsy balkan dudes who were playing really well and I though that I’d really like to be a part of this.
Tako Lako, the name; where does it come from?
Jensen: (grins) I think it’s a bit of a coincidence. Tako Lako means ‘so easy’ in Serbian. We started out brainstorming with names. [Vocalist] Ognjen [Curcic] came up with it – it looks good written and maybe people can remember it. It also reflects our music. Our music is kind of complex, but we wanted to turn it into something that is comprehensible.
Køppen: It’s a name you cannot categorise, much like our band – it’s completely movable contextually, which reflects us as a band. Tako Lako has changed a lot. I mean Tako Lako can be everything.
Many people would call you a Balkan beat group, for the sake of classification at least. What are some of your main influences, if any, within Balkan Beat?
Jensen: Of course, at the beginning, we were very influenced by the Balkan wave, by Balkan beat. Bands like Go Gol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box, Shantel and so on. In time, however, we changed – particularly over the last two years. We found our inspiration from bands who are not related to the gypsy genre as such.
Køppen: The thing with Balkan is, we all adore it, but it’s not necessarily full of substance and meaning, especially lyrically. So we feel that we’ve added an extra element of meaning to the genre through Ognjen’s lyrics.
So what does Ognjen sing about typically?
Brask: There are some themes on our CD, particularly family traditions and coming from Serbia. Ognjen’s family comes from Serbia. He knows how it was in the war. He also knows what it means to be left out.
Køppen: It’s also about the past and the clash that one’s past represents for the future.
A bit like discovering one’s own identity perhaps?
Køppen: Exactly. In a way it’s about our own story as well. The battle that we’ve been through. We’ve been compared to other Balkan beat bands, but we’re trying to find our own place.
Your album Through the Mud has just dropped. Gaffa has given it five out of six stars. You must be pretty happy with it. You’ve been performing since 2008. What took you so long to make an album?
Jensen: Two years ago when we made our EP, we decided we’d wait a while before making an album. If you listen to the EP, you can tell that something is happening, but it’s not finished yet. It just took us a while to find a sound that we can all agree on.
Køppen: The thing is that we’re really busy as a live band. We’ve had a lot of gigs over the last few years and have been really busy despite us not having any recorded material (laughs).
Brask: At the start we almost only worked on our live performances because we just love being on stage. We really love it! We wanted to see how far it could take us, so that’s where our focus was, but we also had to find a bit more substance in our music. We needed time to become more of a unit.
I’m sure you’ve had many good gigs in the history of Tako Lako. Is there a jewel in the crown of all your many gigs ?
Jensen: Roskilde 09 for sure. It was very emotional for all of us. One of the things you say as a band is “We want to play at Roskilde Festival” We did it, with over 5000 people packed in an arena that was meant for 2000.
Køppen: It was manic ! Mind blowing ! The security dudes almost had to close down the stage because there were so many people.
Denmark has been a pop-reliant nation for a long time now. What has it been like for you to face this barrier a Balkan outfit ? Has it been difficult to get people to latch on to Balkan beat?
Køppen: Definitely yeah. That’s why our album is titled Through The Mud – we’ve really fought for this. Getting our music out to the important people has been really difficult- we’ve been told there’s no market for Balkan music. We’ve really fought for what we believe in though and we haven’t given up. It is a pat on the shoulder when we get to perform at a Pop festival like Skanderborg and we can get the crowd to sit down and jump start.
Jensen: Signing for a label like Sony is also a huge pat on the shoulder- It tells the music industry something about us.
Brask: A couple of years ago we actually thought about being a bit more mainstream just to fit into the Danish market. It went wrong though- our heart wasn’t in the music, so we stopped and went back to our original style. The market has to accept our songs and work with us so we can the music out to people.
Where do you see yourselves in, say three years from now ?
Jensen: We definitely want to expand out of Denmark. A dream would be to become the GoGol Bordello’s of Europe.
What are you up to now then?
Køppen: We’ve got a busy schedule this autumn. The plan is to focus on the Danish market to see how far we can take Tako Lako, promoting the new album and so on. Next year we’ll head south, into the German market and of course the UK.