MENT 2023, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 29-31 March, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, April 16th, 2024  

Just Mustard

Just Mustard, PVA, Wu-Lu, Moveknowledgement, Global Charming, La Femme

MENT 2023, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 29-31 March, 2023,

Apr 14, 2023 Photography by Lead Photo: Kristjan Stepancic Web Exclusive
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The last time UTR visited MENT and Ljubljana in 2020, something was in the air, aside from the cross-Europe connectivity and exceptional music, the world came to a standstill (we all know why!) For this reviewer, the promise of what “normal” could be was echoed by memories of a festival that was so much more than an “industry showcase”.

But had I built it up to something more, some mythical nirvana because of everything that came after? The expectations for this festival were huge, but could it deliver? Thankfully, the answer is YES…

The same unpretentious, friendly and connected vibes flowed, the same expectionally curated line-up challenged any idea of Anglo-American exceptionalism in music, and it provided a sense of collaboration that we are often missing from Brexit Island these days.

Ljubljana, is a historic city with a forward-thinking attitude to culture. The spaces the festival takes place in are testament to this. The contrast of Kino Šiška’s state-of-the-art cultural space, and Metelkova City, a strange autonomous social and cultural centre, could not be more pronounced.

In fact, the squat-punk vibes of Metelkova’s multiple venues (Channel Zero, Gala hala, Klub Gromka and Menza pri Koritu) make it amongst the most unique, surreal and vibrant places to witness live music on the planet. The old, graffiti-strawn, military barracks is packed with interesting spaces which operate away from the normal laws of the city. A trip into Metelkova at night is bizarre and entirely thrilling.

With a packed schedule of conference events before the music, MENT was a blur of ideas, sounds and visual delights that we are somehow piecing together. This was our MENT 2023:

Wednesday 28th April 2023

Straight off two trains, two flights, and one taxi journey, visiting four separate countries, I arrived just in time for the opening ceremony in Kino Šiška (after the speeches but in time for the sounds) with tiredness a major factor.

Despite the vibrant historical and cultural landscapes of the region, there is still a tendency for local artists to look Westward for its musical cues (the UK and US often lead the way, still). You can travel to see bands not dissimilar to ones we see all to often at home. Immediately, MENT challenged this orthodoxy with Estonian “folk” duo Puuluup, who played with the concept of the genre drifting into pure pop while distilling the traditions of their home country. It was unexpected. Talharpa laden with effects, and looped sounds created a collision of contemporary and traditional, while the duo (Ramo Teder and Marko Veisson) played with a sense of ease and fun, leading the crowd to dance.

Downstairs, Latvian four-piece Nesen, barely talked to the crowd but their dense post-rock intrigued in a different way. Theirs is a post-rock with an emphasis on the “rock” (even at times veering into metal), a mesh of big riffing and often contrasting synth lines. Whilst not reaching the aural peaks of the genre’s greats, the band, cutting shadowy figures in front of black and white spacey visuals, delivered. The interlocking, ethereal vocals lift the performance into dreamy territory that offset the doses of heaviness.

French psych-pop collective La Femme veered very close to cliche, but avoided it with their cherry-picking of the best bits of French music culture - Ye Ye, new wave, techno and blending them with global psych and 60s beat. A decade on from their magnificent debut album Psycho Tropical Berlin, they are one of those bands big in Europe, that the UK (and US) is clearly missing out on - they could, and possibly should, be huge.

La Femme (Photo by Tina Stariha)
La Femme (Photo by Tina Stariha)

Led by four synths at the front of the stage, drums, various guitars and percussion, they performed in a haze of adrenaline, sweat and fun. Sure, some of the performance was exceptional cheesy (playing a keyboard like a guitar is never not going to be lame) but it was big, unapologetic fun and they delivered in a big way. At times its like Serge Gainsbourg jamming with Devo, others Marie et les Garçons covering LCD Soundsystem.

Even the switch to Spanish for tunes off their latest album effort Teatro Lucido, is effortless proving La Femme is a pop band without borders, without genre barriers.

Thursday 29th April 2023

The first full night of music kick started again in the main hall of Kino Šiška, first with an uninspiring set from Fran Vasilic before one of the few UK acts playing, Wu-Lu, illustrated effortlessly why they are one of the best bands in the world right now.

Wu-Lu (Photo by Andraž Fijavž Bačovnik)
Wu-Lu (Photo by Andraž Fijavž Bačovnik)

The Warp signings captivated with a louche vibe and insane musicianship, concocting a style of their own. Rooted in alternative hip-hop they veer into moments of heaviness, like Deftones filtered through trip-hop, and even switch into a pure dub reggae jam. They shifted jazz rhythms, alt-rock bombast, punk energy and the groove of downbeat funk, never losing sight of what makes them a unique band. Honestly, faultless, Wu-Lu is something special.

With a quick trek to Gala Hala over in Metelkova City, I arrived just in time to catch the end of Global Charming’s set, who I enthused about at last years Sharpe festival, and their rhythmic post-punk, again proved why.

Every time I see Slovakian/Czech producer collective Sam Handwich (yes, look past the terrible dad pun name) I get something slightly different. This time, they have refined their downbeat synth-pop tunes into something intoxicating, treading the same lines as Alt-J or James Blake, with a serious knack for melody and danceable rhythm, without heading too far into dancefloor heaviness.

Back in Gala Hala, the night continued with a run of exceptional indie/rock music first with LeLee’s joyous rendering of classic indiepop (the twee, jangle-pop version and not the industry trying to pass basic pop off as something else). There was a radio-friendly catchiness, but with a loose, punk rock spirit, that harked back to a time when the pop-melody found in indie was dragged through its rough edges. French post-punk band Unschooling are again drawing from the past to create something intriguing. They could be like any number of post-punk revival bands - those expected “angular” rhythms are all too present, but with a clear need to push boundaries and great musicianship they added a complexity to the arrangements that veered into math rock territory. Turning complexity into danceability is no mean feat and Unschooling managed it.

Before the haze set in and memory became something to grasp at, Lithuania’s Plié gave Gala Hala a pummelling it will never forget. Through a basic framework of hardcore and metal, they had a daliance with genre rules, mashing in industrial, electronic, post-rock and avant garde influences into their relentless onslaught. Shouting confrontation vocals completed the picture. Plié is a band that needs to be seen live to get what they’re about.

Plié (Photo by Matjaz Rust)
Plié (Photo by Matjaz Rust)

Friday 30th April 2023

With Plié still ringing in our ears, the intensity was ramped up again by Hungarian composer iamyank, who has worked with many styles since his 2001 debut album Une Notte. What he delivered in new venue Cukrana came from his new post-metal tinged work from latest album Láttam a jövőt meghalni. Centred on stage with a bank of electronic kits, guitars and bass, flanked by two drummers, iamyank led a dark sermon drawing from the darkest corners of ambient music, techno and experimental metal to deliver a colossal wall of noise. Blast beats, crushing bass and surging electronics with no let up. Perfect noise showing what heavy music can be in an experimental sense.

Ninja Tune signees PVA followed and brought a different but no less intense energy, with their post-punk electronic pop. Debut album BLUSH, was one of the 2022’s highlights, and live those songs take on a new life, as truly “live” experience with its ups, downs and imperfections. Crafted from synths and live drums, PVA showed that electronic music doesn’t need to be a slave to technology and can still fuelled by humanity. Despite the acid and techno inflections their kinetic energy is pure pop, a run of dancefloor bangers with heart.

PVA (Photo by Maša Pirc)
PVA (Photo by Maša Pirc)

The second of our Moonlee records viewings from the festival (the first being Lelee) Moveknowledgement lowered the intensity to a dream-like float. Two decades in, I’m ashamed to say this was the first real exposure I’ve had to the Slovenian stalwarts. With a set focused on 2022 “comeback” album Lying Cobra the four piece connect a line directly back to 60s avant-garde psychedelia and the dawn of German kosmiche musik, finding a groove in repetition and swirling atmospherics. They presented power in subtlety with minor complexities in the analogue synth playing, motorik beats and guitar feedback doing the work of creating a hallunicatery state for all present. Moveknowledgment made big waves with seemingly little effort.

Running through an intense rain storm back to Gala Hala, I arrived just in time for Ireland’s Just Mustard. Is there a better new live rock band, right now? Their billing as a “shoegaze” band is to do them a disservice, their multi-layered sound of driving backbeats fighting with pure, inventive noise is something else. Melody, rhythm, catharsis - it is all driven outwards from their guitar manipulations touching noise rock, industrial, alt rock and, yes, shoegaze. Part Slowdive, part Throbbing Gristle, part Big Black, part the Vaselines, it was a mix that throw up more questions than it answered. With the lush, cooing vocals of Katie Ball sprinkling sweetness over the dark turbulence of the music, Just Mustard is an enthralling live act. At MENT they proved why the Cure personally chose them to open for them - they are simply that good.

After that the intense, disjointed post-punk performance of The Psychotic Monks, that played with everything from gender roles to the idea of song structure, seemed like a good place to leave things before a 5am taxi to Venice to fly back to the UK.

iamyank (Photo by Maša Pirc)
iamyank (Photo by Maša Pirc)

That was another MENT, it’s one of the best festivals around, without a doubt.


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