Zagreb is smaller than you imagine. Despite it being the capital of the country that managed to finish third in their first World Cup, the city’s population is less than a million. That’s hard to believe with their amazing music history. During the late seventies and early 80’s, the city – along with Belgrade – provided Europe with one of its most dynamic and forward-thinking music scenes, with bands like Film, Azra, and many others calling the Croatian capital home. In contrast to so many rock bands across Europe, they actually sought to challenge societal norms and dominant currents in music; which has had a lasting effect.
Very much part of that lineage, Side Project is a band that has carried on the desire to challenge pervading conventions. Started by Luka Vidović and Anja Papa, the band’s duel vocals and taste for an atmospheric sound recall the XX’s debut album; but there is far more there than just another moody sounding act. They tap into that overwhelming sense of emotional dread while simultaneously offering beautifully delicate vocals. Their appeal stems from the multiplicity of emotions conveyed in their music. They seemingly never allow you a moment to pause on one emotion before posing another question to you. They’re young, they’re really nice people, and they should be your reason to listen to more Croatian music.
They kindly spoke to us and provided a deadly mix that works as a brilliant intro to contemporary Croatian music.
Thanks so much for the mix. It is really full of a lot of gems of the Croatian music scene. How do you think that it explains your relationship with Zagreb? What does your mix say about Zagreb?
There are a lot of talented artists in Croatia, but unfortunately, only a handful of people appreciate their talent. Most of them end up in Zagreb. Here we have a mix of talent from all over the country but the scene here is tough as well. Underground artists don’t get enough attention because of regional ‘pop’ music. It goes without saying that our relationship with Zagreb, and all the artists currently working in Zagreb, has always been a very sweet and supportive relationship. Since there’s no one who’s letting us have our space in the media, we just end up supporting each other and collaborating, just doing as best as we can.
As I mentioned above, the mix really has a lot of quality local sounds for anyone unfamiliar with Croatian music these days. Zagreb has long had one of the best music scenes, particularly the post-punk scene from the 80s. Do you find your music inspired by a lot of Croatian acts? Or, more non-Croatian acts?
We were always more inspired by international artists. 80s pop music, new wave and post-punk were always the most influential genres for us. We really like retro stuff, so we take a bit from it but make it our own. Unfortunately we were never really that influenced by Croatian music since the most popular music from that time isn’t really our thing. You’d have to dig just a little bit deeper to find gems like Dorian Gray or Nezaboravan San O… Dorian Gray was pretty popular back then but I think they’re still very underrated. We were never that inspired by them, since we got into them just recently, only after we kind of formed our sound to what Side Project is today. But the 80s were very fruitful, not only for Zagreb and Croatia, but for the rest of the region as well.
Aesthetically, your music has a sense of dread and urgency to it. Likewise, your videos have very dystopian visuals to them. What inspires this sense of horror?
Just stuff that happens to us. We have both been through a lot, as have our friends and families. That’s mostly what we write about. Even though some of our songs sound pretty light, if you really concentrate on the lyrics, you realise just how dark they are. Maybe sometimes you can’t really understand the specific situation we’re talking about, but our lyrics are worded in a way that even if you have no idea what we’re talking about, you can still feel the emotion we felt when that certain situation was happening. That’s really important because we’ve had really specific and weird situations happen to us and not everyone can relate to that. But what people can do is relate to the emotion and maybe apply what we felt to their situation. We, as listeners, always appreciate being able to relate to a song and feeling less alone because you know for sure that someone else feels that way too. That’s why it’s important to us, as musicians, to be able to let other people know it’s going to be fine, and inspire and motivate them as well.
Lastly, you guys seem like you’re progressing really fast. You’re a young band that is handling the studio work for your album while making something pretty mature and original. What do you see your next steps being?
We’ve become really ambitious lately. We’ve always been ambitious but we took it to the next level. There’s so much we want to do. We’re opening for Milky Chance in February and we’re going to have a big solo show in Zagreb soon as well. After that our plan is to play as much as we can all over Croatia and maybe take our shows abroad too.
We’re really thankful that we’re so inspired all the time, as our album came out only 2 months ago. We can’t stop working on new material and we already have a bunch of new songs, which will probably end up being scrapped, as always, since we continue growing fast as time progresses, but that’s just our work process. There’s a lot of other projects we want to do other than Side Project. We’re already working on remixes for a couple of regional artists, but we want to try producing for other artists and expand our work further – we’re still figuring things out. We’re just enjoying the things we have now and we take every opportunity given to us as that’s the only way to make being in the music industry in Croatia work. We’re proud of what we do and we’ll continue to do our best to satisfy our needs and to make the listeners happy with what we give. And we have so much more to give.