MENT 2020, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 5-7 February | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, February 21st, 2020  

Neighbours Burning Neighbours

MENT 2020, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 5-7 February,

Feb 14, 2020 Web Exclusive Photography by Katja Goljat, Matjaz Rust, Kaja Brezocnik & Urska Boljkovac Bookmark and Share


Two flights and a bumpy, fear-filled landing into Ljubliana doesn't scream "connectivity"! Travelling from the UK didn't feel all that connected to the Slovenian capital - no physically or ideologically. But all that was quickly erased by MENT, an event that is so much more than an "industry showcase".

It's unpretentious, friendly and connected vibes creates a true sense of collaboration, a challenge to Anglo-American cultural isolationism and something bigger than political posturing. MENT is the "European project" in its truest sense - borderless, free and endlessly innovative. In this case, it is about music, but the ideals are so much more.

For this little Englishman from Little Britain, it is an event that highlights how badly wrong our superiority complex and exceptionalism has it. With just a few bands from UK shores playing the event, and often the most hyped on show, there is bafflement as to why we are insisting on diminishing our "exceptional" musical output by opting to detach ourselves from possibilities.

Nestled in rolling greenery, and overshadowed by mountains Ljubliana, and its postcard-ready old-town is situated at the perfect crossroads for Russia, the Balkans and western Europe to convene. A city where Empires and ideals from history collide, its audiences are fearlessly independent in spirit making MENT more about exploration and commerciality, and the weirdest ideas are engaged with as if they were the most accessible of pop music. The mish-mash of sounds is a testament to the diversity of expression not found at many events in the UK.

Even the most populist sounds in this setting feel political, even as UK/Austrian political punks Petrol Girls blast their punk slogans Gromka (Metelkova), there is an on-going air of defiance across the event.

This air runs through both the conference (the panel with multi-media young Serbian upstarts Hali Gali for starters) or the fact that much of the main musical activity sites in the free, autonomous Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre, an old army barracks with a history of artistic self-determination, to grasp what MENT embodies.

Such is the smallness of the venues, and the rush of excitement we only catch mere glimpses of hype bands Black Country, New Road (one of the UK's most interesting new bands) and Belarussian post-punks Molchat Dolma, who are set to get UK reissues of their albums soon. MENT is a collage of glimpses and sightings to piece together and unpack.

Lofty ideas and ideals aside, MENT is still essentially about the music. This is our unpacking of an exceptional festival:

Russian interference

There's a regular buzz around the "Russian New Wave" at these showcase events, that doesn't simply come from the free-flowing vodka at their receptions (kindly put on by Moscow Music Week) but from the genre-busting intrigue of the acts.

The music on show displays an inner turmoil, an air that artistic expression isn't just a right but an essential part of existence for these performers. Cultural differences, rather than hindering the experience, in this case, makes everything more exciting.

Take Jenya Gorbunov's member-fluid Moscow project Интурист / Inturist, in the wonderful Kino Šiška which offered a free-flowing set from their two excellent albums to date. The exceptionally tight band fracture and mend elements of free jazz, Roxy Music's art-pop, no wave funk, post-punk and, even, Gong's sense of drugged-out exploration, all within the confines of danceable tunes.

Inturist

Inturist

With a rhythm section that did just what was needed to keep the groove, albeit, with insane flourishes of inventiveness, the saxophone and guitar took on free reign to ebb and flow wherever they saw fit. Constantly funky, regularly baffling and insistently hypnotic, in full flow Inturist is one of those bands you need to see.

Hindered momentarily by sound issues, Perm based psychedelic alchemists Gnoomes weaves a rich tapestry of sound to nestle in during their show in Klub Gromka. The repetition acts as an aural sedative that somehow manages to just prevent a drop from consciousness. A perfectly rendered swirl of shoegaze, kosmische rock and coldwave electronics they made a transcendental noise.

Gnoomes

Gnoomes

Another Russia offering seemingly from another plane of existence was Wooden Whales. Theirs is a sound from the literal ends of the Earth, Murmansk, that sits on the extreme northwest of Russia at the edge of the arctic circle. The band play like a rock band, always on the edge of "rocking out" (to use a cliché) but there is something bleak and cold in their delivery, that delivers an austere beauty. They are where they are from, in essence, if they had come from Manchester this would be very different.

Their dream-pop is standard enough but singer Svetlana's voice, evoking something from regions not easily understood, floats operatic above the noise as she emotionally delivered a sermon from the soul.

Stadt's
confrontational synth show proved yet another side to the new Russian underground, his complete committal to the shoe evident in every pained line and movement. The darkest possible synthwave battered through Channel Zero as Friday melted into Saturday.

STADT

STADT

Global psych

Gnoomes weren't the only exponents of a healthy global psych scene on show at MENT. Where the Russian's delve into deep, hypnotic trances, French three-piece Slift excelled in the more bombastic end of psych-rock. During their set at Menza pri koritu, the krautrock rhythms are also present, but Slift are riff-lords playing at breakneck speed throughout. Interlocking guitar solos, layered fuzz and driving rhythms made for a sense of classic rock augmented for mind-altering trips.

Opening the night in Komuna (part of the Kino Siska complex) Turkish band Lalalar confound concepts of genre with a psychedelic swirl of electronics, samples and fuzz-guitar. It's funky, it's cold, it's exotic - what is it really? They presented psych music as electronic pop and vice versa. Playing with pure energy, whatever this was, it was delivered with complete conviction.

Rock's not dead

While "weirdness" came as standard at MENT, it was also fertile ground for rock music, in its more "traditional" forms, although as with the rest of this festival even this found itself in new, interesting guises.

I'm told, reliably, that Slovakian oddballs 52 Hertz Whale weren't performing at full capacity, slightly tethered by stage space and fatigue. If that's the case, then at full whack they must be one of the most engaging acts on the circuit. Their amped-up, melodic take on melancholic rock created an intense performance packed with euphoria and grit.

52 Hertz Whale

52 Hertz Whale

Emerging from the fertile Rotterdam art underground Neighbours Burning Neighbours proved to be another essential band from the city. Klub Gromka was reduced to a mixture of stunned looks and forced dancing as they laid waste to the venue.

The highlight of the festival, like Alica Breton Ferrer's other band The Sweet Release of Death, they find beauty in violence and meaning in strangeness. With an air-tight rhythm section, dual vocals and guitar scrawls they created a collision of NYC no wave, the chaotic freeness of Liliput/Kleenex, the distorted charms of Sonic Youth, and the rhythmic otherness of Fugazi, with abandon and obvious love for the noise they create.

Playing effortlessly in-sync, each member performing at the peak of their powers it is madness that this band has only existed a year. Completely vital stuff.

Local favourites 7am drew a big, enthusiastic crowd and peddle the 80s/90s alt-rock thing well if a little predictably. Dinosaur Jnr from Ljubliana, a Slovenian Teenage Fanclub - you get the picture. Polish band Trupa Trupa is a far more complicated picture to draw, as they take to the stage in Ljubliana Castle

Having seen them as a three-piece in January, their usual fourth member added even more complexity to this enigma of a band. A singular type of rock band, that exist in our understanding but also just outside of it, their pained vocals dance with a vibrant rhythmic backdrop, crushing walls of noise and psychedelic pop melodies. When their violence dissipates for calm, they hit heights of engulfing beauty. Every audience I have been in watching Trupa Trupa has left stunned, gasping for more but not fully understanding why - that is a special kind of band.

Trupa Trupa

Trupa Trupa

Also, wrapped in the opulent confines of the Castle, down a spiral staircase Austria's Bernhard Eder created a swirl of strange pop from organ, samples and echoed guitar. With the ambition of In Rainbow's era Radiohead, Pink Floyd at their most floaty and Elliot Smith's most pained, emotive songwriting, something is interesting there, but it doesn't quite hit home. None the less, from ambition, comes greatness and there is something to watch as Eder progresses, if his talents and ideas come truly to fruition he is sat on something incredible.

Those snippets of experience don't actively cover the whirlwind of MENT or its wider context, but for those not there, they do their job of exposing the musical wonders of a connected Europe. 

 

 




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