MENTal upbringing

The Best small festival in Europe pulls it off yet again

January is comfortably my least popular month. After the Christmas holiday time off enjoyed with family, never ending lunches and even longer dinners filled with laughter, January arrives like an abandoned dog on a rainy day, soaking wet and ugly with begging eyes full of despair. I would easily vote to erase the son of a bitch outta my calendar. No make that my entire life. Once and for all….Yet he comes back again. And again. Reminding me of a times past. Reminding me of a new boy on a block that keeps ticking. And the page is turned. Here we go again.
Thankfully January also means start of a new music season. And what better start then a brand new MENT. Slovenian showcase conference now in it’s fourth year has been an eye opener. One of several music conferences of it’s kind, Ljubljana’s MENT has firmly established itself as peoples favorite. Fans and music industry professionals are making it a must in their calendar so no wonder festival was voted the Best small festival and Best indoor festival in the past year. With such high praise and more accolades to follow I headed to Ljubljana full of expectations.
Wednesday opening night started with usual welcoming speeches and generous open bar. Then the live program started and I dived into Kino Siska Katedrala, a first floor cca. 1000 capacity venue where NESESARI KAKALULU were already at it. It being a delightful jazzy compositions heavily influenced by African melodies and rhythm. More James Brown funk then wonderfully off your trolley Mimika (incidentally Mak Murtic band has not yet appeared at MENT which no doubt was noticed by powers to be by now).Nine piece band sounded tight and clearly enjoyed themselves helped by six backing vocals frantically dancing,chanting, singing and enticing the crowd to move along with them. Slovenian Africa band ? In 2018 these things are possible. Possible and encouraged. Crowd was by now getting warmed up. And I smiled.

NESESARI KAKALULU | Photo by Masa Gojic

Downstairs Russian GLINTSHAKE has already started. Small Komuna venue was packed to the rafters (or ventilation shafts to you and me) and sweat was pouring down my back. Crowd was hypnotically following every move of a frontwoman Ekaterina Shilonosova as if in trance. And trance has more to do with these guys then psychedelic punk rock. When you listen to GLINTSHAKE words like new wave, avantgarde and jazz spring to mind. Yes Ekaterina does a fine job conducting the procession, and the band eats out of her hand. I for one am gagging for some real guitar sound. One can only hope.

MENT is a gathering of independent music scene artist but that does not mean no stars or anticipation. First of those materialized in the shape of ALGIERS. Atlanta based band have a big sound and a big show. Atlanta born “Londoners” have two albums behind them and it seems that The Almighty Himself has hash tag them because band has gone into stratosphere in last 3 years. I guess Matt Tong (ex Bloc Party) has something to do with that. Drummer added a new dimension to the band’s gospel from the ghetto. Franklin’s soulful vocals and Lee’s psychedelic somber guitar have been given a free reign while Matt and Ryan (bass) kept a tight leash on proceedings. Their music is inviting and lyrics full of social (in)justice themes longing for a much needed exorcism. Most definitely a band to see. I hope next time the band engage with crowd tho. That personal touch was missing which left rather strange feeling. Guess it happens to us all sooner or later.

ALGIERS | Photo by Masa Gojic

A quick refreshing beverage later (ok more then one) Slovenian electro pop band NEOMI was in full swing and judging by the happy faces doing a good job of it. Cute. Really. Tho one look at the inevitable stairwell and the sweat broke my skin for the untold time. And before you start singing that old chesnut (!) it was not just the stairs. Old friendly fella selling traditional ex-Yugo pastry, or burek to those who know what I’m on about, has strategically positioned himself at the foot of the stairwell. At this point I’d like to say that I bravely looked away and hurried upstairs to that long awaited YOUNG FATHERS show.

YOUNG FATHERS | Photo by Masa Gojic

And they did not dissapoint. Scottish band launched into their set with force and brutality. From their Mercury Awarded album “Dead” hip hop to a much refined pop-gospel orientated “White men are black men too” one thing is sure: relentless beats and loops and never ending energy. Crowd went wild and now started climbing the stage in hordes, wide eyed punters hungry for more. This is unreal.
Sucking that amber nectar out of the bottle, I ran the series of events in my head. Bligh me, it started alright. Two more days to go. Cold sharp air draged me out of my dream like thinking. Outside crowd evrywhere was drinking and exchanging show impressions with others. Then I spotted a familiar face. I walked back and mumled nervously:” Meat burek”. Biting into the warm pastry carried me away thru time. Old fella just stood there smiling.

Thursday was a busy. Workshops and panels to attend, people to see, contacts to make, food to eat…. I looked forward to Thursday evening. My much needed desire for a guitar rock band was about to be fulfilled. Orto bar was the place. A newly added venue the MENT family with two rooms slightly away from main drag of Metelkova. The old army barracks was hosting several clubs as usual. Location was perfect, city centre, and Orto was only 5 minutes away. Cool, let the games begin.
Rock in Croatia has been in elevation for a while now. And although Croatia specifically has embraced the new genres and music, as evident when visiting one of many seaside festivals in the summer, rock has been and still plays an important role in everyday life in this Balkan country.
I for one was chuffed to bits. First time I have listened to M.O.R.T. it registered with me instantly. There is something magical that sort of stays with these guys when on stage. Just a feeling that grabs you and won’t let go. This is a band with distinction. Rock but so much more. They list various influences like Beatles, Nirvana, Ramones, Jack Kerouac and others but it is their unique approach to writing that separates them from others. Mainly unknown outside Croatia they have an impressive following counted in millions on YouTube alone.
But the most impressive these guys are when playing live. Subject of their songs are everyone and everything: from infant love in “Nina” to politically charged “Steal soldiers”. And Orto bar witnessed an absolute peach of a gig on Thursday night, so much that long after they finished crowd kept shouting and whistling for more. What a band. A must see !

Upstairs in a smaller venue DOGS IN CAVALA were entertaining lovers of surf rock with their latest music. Belgrade trio looked very comfortable on stage and were loving it. But time was to move downstairs again where ELVIS JACKSON was delivering their unique fusion of punk rock and reggae to many who stayed waiting patiently. Slovenian band has recently celebrated 20 years since forming and looked every inch an establish act with experience in playing live shows evident on the night. I was happy to see them live finally although I am not sure as to where these guys head to know. Slovenian punk rock scene, I was told, has been in decline what with fans rather opting for established dance acts. Hopefully there’s happy resolution because they deserve it, and it would help the scene too.

ELVIS JACKSON | Photo by Pia Klancar

First floor venue was hosting an excellent surf rock trio from Belgrade, THREESOME, a band that must have fallen out of Mr Tarantino favorite playlist. Think Pulp Fiction and you will understand. Awesome, confident show from a band that managed the ultimate: play their brilliant surf rock on the beach in California. Oh yeah and they liked it, of course. More I say more !
Over at Metelkova SSHT were noisely throwing the toys out the pram. And thank God for that. Ghent rockers in your face show was brutal and sincere… Ssht watch out, it’s SSHT… And after midnight it was time for DJ’s and dance acts. CHUI impressed with their jazz improvizations but SHORTPARIS were an absolute belter. Their mixing of electronica and post punk noise was clever, invigorating and at that time of the night much needed. Amazing.

THREESOME | Photo by Pia Klancar

So was MARY ANN HOBBS who really don’t need any special introduction. A veteran of British radio, a student of John Peel’s life philosophy, a woman extraordinare. DJ. Artist. After that quick intersection we ran into Channel Zero club, just in time for Croatian KALI FAT DUB. Oh my God, is there an end to this crazy night. Live and direct is what this collaboration between two DJ’s from Slovenia and Croatia is all about. Singing and dubbing about life as it is at the centre of the band’s idea and they deliver it just as it is: raw and in your face. Bloody superb !
That rounded off the Thursday night. One more happy punter in a taxi home. After already mentioned burek of course. Hallowed by thy name.

MARY ANN HOBBS | Photo by Masa Gojic

KALI FAT DUB | Photo by Ales Rosa

Friday morning came slow and rampant at the same time. Sonic blast of whiteness blinded me as much that I instantly reached for my sunglasses. Felt like saying turn that light off ! Only the The Dude upstairs has decided to unload tons of snow on Ljubljana and it was not going to go away. Not that quick anyway. Admittedly it did look serene and peaceful. I knew that feeling. Once upon a time it was a reality for me. Not anymore. Yep. Serene and peaceful.
Knowing what an busy day lays ahead I headed back to the Kino Siska, our hub where events galore were taking place. More workshops and panels, coffee and talks with some amazing people.

Evening kicked off with a bang: DORIT CHRYSLER. Queen of theremin was incredible. For someone who never experienced this kind of show it was just pure class. Amazing. Entertaining. Ace.

DORIT CHRYSLER | Photo by Kaja Brezočnik

Orto bar was once again a place for lovers of firmer sound. And by God the bands delivered it. Austrian MOTHER’S CAKE delivered one of the best shows of the entire festival. Prog rockers psychedelic one off trips were sublime. The tree piece commanded the stage and the crowd albeit that crowd was eating out of their hands. These guys raised the roof with such ease it was almost unbelievable. Amazing sound. Amazing band. Watch this space. These guys are going far.

Croatian COJONES followed in the rich vein of their predecessors, beautiful distorded guitar sound was perfectly complementing frontman Bojan’s deep bluesy voice while the rhythm section thundered in the background. Their latest album Resonate has taken their direction more left field but the band has so much in their tank I think they have only scratched the surface.

WE BLESS THE MESS | Photo: Nejc Ketiš

And while stoners thundered downstairs punk rock act from Portugal delivered his positive look on life despite all that suround us. WE BLESS THIS MESS is a band that Nelson Graf Reis presented on his own. Solo shows are not something he’d run away from. This punk artist come record label director come promoter has cross the World in the last 18 months singing to audiences as varied and different as the crowd gathered tonight in Orto bar. Heavily tattooed artist’s look is in sharp contrast to his songs proclaiming love and peace to all on Earth. Heartfelt and engaging. Bravo!

Best of the Rest: Serbian IGRALOM take on seventies rock mixed with African harmonies, Belgian GURU GURU and their math core noise, Croatian trap lords HIGH5 and many many more that just came along and made this fabulous event better, grander and shinier.

HIGH5 | Photo by Bonino Englaro

At the end what else is left to say ? There are many many fantastic artists all over our beautiful planet. The best and the most honest way for them to make their stand in the public arena is to be allowed to showcase their material, at the conference like MENT or pub down the road. But they need to be given that helping hand. Which brings us to the grassroots and those small clubs so vital to the real genuine music industry. No x-factor style nonsense. No meddling with artists creative work.