Taking place over the course of three days in the capital of Slovenia, the quaint city that pays tribute to both its western European cousins and it’s Eastern European roots, the MENT Festival, one of the region’s most vigorously curated musical showcases for new talent, brought together dizzying amount of bands, artists, industry people, and most importantly, sounds that left my ears buzzing for days on after.
I really had no idea what to expect and why would I. I’ve barely dabbled in Europe, yet alone East Europe, and hadn’t the keenest sense of what was bubbling in the music scene out there. It was in fact, this uncertainty, this ambiguity that enticed me the most when I was invited to attend the festival on behalf of beehype – the global music platform run by more than 90 music journalists, bloggers and DJs from around the world – which I’ve contributed to since its birth in 2014.
Besides the headliner acts that opened the festival, the impassioned post-punk gospel of the US bred Algiers and the cathartic alternative hip-hop of the Edinburgh troupe Young Fathers, this was a festival about discovery, and that tingling feeling when you hear something for the first time and your ears are opened up to a whole new world. And boy was there a hell of a lot to discover.
Evening one commenced at the city’s Kino Šiška, a multi-purpose space billed as Ljubljana’s Centre For Urban Culture, who also had a hand in organizing the festival that was in its fourth year. After meeting some of beehype’s fellow correspondents, wonderful like-minded folks from all corners of Europe (with the exception of myself and the United Arab Emirates correspondent) it was time to indulge in the musical offerings of the evening, jumping between the first and second floor of the building from one act to another, with the occasion outside break for conversation. My first discovery: Glintshake, the Russian new wave post-punk outfit, led by Katya Shilonosova, who’s simply a force of nature on stage, evoking David Byrne at his kookiest and leading a performance that jumped from razor-edged upbeat post-punk jingles to engulfing psychedelic jams with ease and acute precision. You could not wipe the shit-eating grin off my face.
After expert sets from the two headliners mentioned above, ending with a gaggle of sexually charged fifteen-year-old Slovenians charging the stage and relishing in their youthfulness alongside Young Fathers, we made the long trek home, taking in the mood and anticipating what the next day might bring.
While the weather outside on day two brought forth a persistent drizzle of rain it did nothing to dampen the good vibes and buzz from day one. The previous day was an appetizer compared to what the next two days were promising so after stocking up on burek, a traditional Serbian baked filled pastry and yogurt (which the seller charmingly pressured me into buying), watching a few Beehype hand-picked music videos from around the world, and picking up a friend at the Slovenian Cinematheque, where renowned Russian experimental artist Alexei Borisov was performing with some of local scene’s avant-garde artists, I ventured again into the unknown. Or more specifically, the sprawling urban squat known as Metelkova Mesto – one of Europe’s largest squats born out of an abandoned army base, where over the course of the next two nights, four music venues would be simultaneously holding concerts, each packed to the gill with hungry patrons. Local hippies were cooking curry dishes on repeat, reefer scented the air, and graffiti and sculptures plagued the buildings like a bad trip. It was all overwhelming at first but once I got a handle on the back and forth goings between the venues it was game time.
While there wasn’t a sour sound in the whole evening – from the sax-infused instrumental post-punk of Sheep Got Waxed out of Lithuania, to the dogged ramshackle charm of Belarus garage rockers Weed and Dolphins, who had me in stitches between their highly catchy shambolic melodies, and even Kate NV – the solo sonically pleasing J-pop stylings of Katya Shilonosova (of Glintshake), two acts stood out from the rest.
The true contenders of the evening were the Amsterdam noise rock troupe Blue Crime, whose infectious, riotous blend of guitar rock and dream pop were mesmerizing and Russian outfit Shortparis who blindsided me with a theatrical powerhouse performance and sound that was really unlike anything I’ve heard before – Russian chanson falsetto melodies interlaced with industrial new beat and new wave aplomb – an explosive combination. By far the tightest performances of the evening.
The evening got looser with some small talk and commonality found among the Slovenian youth – mainly herbal indulgences and wine bottles – before catching the tail end of Romanian synth drum duo Karpov not Kasparov’s set (who really win on name alone) and the dank dub vibes of local Slovenian act Kali Fat Dub. Shuffling off to bed by four in the morning I figured there was no way the next evening could top this. Luckily for me, I was gravely mistaken.
Awaking a bit ruffled and disoriented, Ljubljana greeted me with a full-on blizzard, as snow as thick as my fist fell from the sky. Giddy I was. After a shameless breakfast feast, I made the long trek back to Kino Šiška, both to enjoy the city under a blanket of snow (this was, in fact, my first snow adventure of the past year) and to mentally prepare for my speech I was giving at the beehype conference later that afternoon, where I would be giving some anecdotes on the Chinese music scene. I’ve pretty much blocked out all of what spewed from my mouth in those few minutes but I can attest to the wonderful speeches gave by my fellow beehype correspondents and how language informs music around the world. A photo shoot, a bus ride, and a finger food massacre underneath the Museum of Modern Art later, I was ready for round three.
The evening kicked off at the Gallery Kapelica, where Alexei Borisov performed with cellF – a neuronal synthesizer, the first autonomous so-called “wet-alogue” electronic instrument. Basically transmitting what the Borisov was improvising to the neurons as a stimulus, with the neurons responding by triggering analogue synthesizers. Seriously mind-bending stuff, which Alexei was more than happy to chat about afterward as well as give his thoughts on the experimental scene in China (shoutout to Junky).
Deciding to check another two venues off the list I caught a bit of theremin virtuoso and singer-songwriter Dorit Chrysler, as well as the endearing and poppy (perhaps emotionally manipulative) Slovakian dream pop outfit Tolstoys at the Old Power Plant, before heading to the beehype stage at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum where I managed to catch two astonishing and distinctive acts. First, the vocal and double bass duo Maniucha & Ksawery who combined jazz improvisation with the traditional songs from the Polesia region in Ukraine – a brilliantly executed set that combined so many different aspects from, storytelling to preservation. Also, full marks for Antropoloops from Spain on concept alone – combining remixing, ethnomusicology and data visualization – as the producer drags and pulls together sounds from across the world and time in real time and pulling back the curtain on producers everywhere, but more importantly finding the commonality found in musical and cultures across the globe.
From there it was back into the mad mad mad world of Metelkova Mesto, where I once again dived head first into what MENT had in store for me. From the lo-fi rock and roll slacker rock allure of Croatian outfit Svemirko, to an energetic dare I say, off-the-hook set from Croatian trap lords High5 (they have a song were they list off their favorite doctors of pop culture and it’s as awesome as it sounds), to the instrumental math rock jams of Polish group Niemoc, every band were in top form this evening.
Top marks to Czech shoegazers Manon Meurt, a band that I have to imagine is one the cusp of hitting it big, who gave an emotionally charged set that hit all the right notes and transcended all cultural boundaries as well as Lucidvox, the all-girl psychedelic rock band from Moscow who set the place ablaze with their folk-tinged neo-garage rock and roll that felt larger than life. Once again, I’m delighted at what seems to be the new wave of rock and roll out of Russia.
The night ended with getting nice and blitzed to the techno space rock of Freakin’ Disco, a madhouse concoction of psycho jazz and instrumental power rock. Maddening fun I tell ya and the perfect close to the festival. The cherry on top was the glazed-over faces of the delegates and musicians the next morning at breakfast, proof that we survived MENT Festival.
At an age where I can’t even be bothered to see what’s relevant anymore in the world of music outside of China, I was glad to have the MENT Festival turn me upside down, shake me loose, and remind me that there are bold new sounds happening all around the world for those interested enough to seek them out. And I’m sure as hell going to seek them out now. What more can I say? MENT Festival – you blew my mind.