Reach Out for the Stars

Slovenian capital recently hosted their third annual music showcase and the conference – MENT in short. This report reveals the ins and outs of one of the youngest and most important festivals of European music

Music business in the 21st century is a multi-billion pound fine tuned machine. Physical sales,streaming and downloads are pushing down the new boundaries and it has never been more important for “a little guy” to find a common ground, a helping hand, a professional support usually reserved for the best out there, big record labels and their clients. For a number of years this kind of platform for up and coming artists has been gaining a momentum in Europe and many cities have join the call for action under a unique banner: offering a key exchange and networking platform for European music and its artist. Budapest Showcase Hub, Moscow Music Week, Eurosonic Noorderslag and Tallin Music Week just a few from the list.
Last week however, it was time to head to MENT in Ljubljana. Capital of Slovenia has in recent years witnessed a major shift with local government standing by and playing an active role in supporting local artist. Ljubljana has always been a rather vibrant cultural hub championing diversity so staging a conference/showcase European festival was just a matter of time.

At the festival opening night ceremony artists and managers freely mingled, promoters and record labels exec swapped pleasantries all in anticipation of the first of the many bands. Among some sixty artists the great honor of starting the proceedings fell to one of the bright lights of local scene KOALA VOICE. Garage indie popsters are formidable live band led by singer-guitarist Manca Trampus infectious smart melodies and seventies pop rock beats. Thinking Bjork and B-52 gathered at the house summer party. And as the DIY mag said, one to watch.

Next one on the Kino Siska big stage are incredibly entertaining duo from UK HEYMOONSHAKERS. And what a live performance. Andy’s raw blues guitar and emotionally charged lyrics are cleverly supported by Dave’s human beat boxing and the result is a spectacular new music form identity, one that keeps you moving on and on. Judging by a huge number of Youtube hits these guys are not on a move but heading right up on an express train. Hugely enjoyable and a must see.

Considering my background lays in a somewhat heavier faster sounds I am really enjoying myself. Surprised with my own acceptance of the bands so far I head downstairs to a much smaller venue still grinning with joy. Either music here is really that good or someone’s put something in my drink.
Smaller venue is club like space with exposed ventilation pipes. My kind of venue. Small and sweaty. And the Norwegian rockers SAUROPOD like it too. Trio from Oslo kick into proceedings from the word go, and everyone joins the chorus of moving bodies and moshing heads. Alternative rock grunge that evokes some of the finest of its kind. Think Nirvana and Pixies. Nice. Me like… Me like a lot.

Back upstairs on a big stage TONY CASH from Estonia has got the crowd going. Post Soviet rapper frantic movements is getting the local crowd dancing manically. Enough for me to succumb to my thirst desires. Well what has to be done…

Following day starts early, with mornings meetings and conference program in full swing. Speed networking with European music festivals reps and Kevin Cole of the KEXP fame the highlights.
Evening brings more live shows but this time most of shows are taking place in the former army barracks in a city center. A vast military compound is divided between several live venues each independently run. Something of a Copenhagen’s Christiania together with the inevitable graffiti and posters announcing new gigs.
If I was in a doubt what to check out first, my MENT app was not. Or to put it lightly I was led on to my next show by the organizers cleverly putting together one after another great band in a same club. GALA HALA is the name of that club and by God they did not disappoint.
First on were great STRAIGHT MICKEY AND THE BOYZ , groove tornado from Belgrade Serbia. From the start to finish this is a rock band with attitude, desire and means to deliver.

Straight Mickey are dynamic furious trio of great musicians who draw influence from various styles of rock squeezed into distinctive and full of character expression. Passionately moulding hard rock, punk, hard core, funk and even avant jazz, directions and styles are merged in an intoxicating scent of good spirit raging with progressive ideas and fierce energy. Stonking !

Helped along with rather good and cheap choice of beverage, I move nowhere. Hell, beer is cold and refreshing and slivovitza is..well delightful. Anyone who has not tried the plum brandy and the Balkans gift to the World is a poorer for the experience. Mark my words.
So while still in awe of the glorious noise still reverberating around me THE JACK WOOD start their magical garage blues. Hypnotically gyrating in front of the crowd Sasha the singer quickly gets the crowd following her every move. No surprises there: known for her work with another great Russian export, Pussy Riot, Sasha leads us to another world, a parallel dimension in this dark and twisted game of cat and mouse. Oh boy, this is getting better and better. More, I say more !

I hear THE ILLS post rock from Slovakia are having great time over the courtyard but I ain’t moving. I can’t. This place is rocking tonight. You know, divine intervention, or something. Do not want to break the spell. And the next band on is a reason too.
RAKETKANON are from Ghent in Belgium. Raketkanon have a likeness for naming their songs after people. Like Anna, Harald, Ibrahim. Apart from that they seriously rock. Their sludge psych rock resembles a marriage of Melvins and Butthole Surfers. Bass synth and deformed screaming vocals at the center of it. This guys are rocking the cage tonight and the club feels upside down. No, it ain’t the drink. And the rest of the crowd will bare witness to it. Amazing band and an incredible live show. Do yourself a favour and check them out next time they’re in town. And get ready to ride that rocket.

Friday and the last day of this amazing gathering. Over my morning coffee reminiscing my experiences of the past two days. Buzzing. But no rest for the wicked. Early conference and more networking. More coffee followed by more beer. Heaven I’m in heaven…
Mayor’s office organised working lunch. Meetings. Glastonbury, Exit, Les Trans Musicales…
I have decide since it is the last day to try and see as many acts tonight, kind of redeem myself and give others a break.
So CRVI (worms) start the proceedings with Nirvana intensity, MC5 energy and Captain Beefheart prowess. Over in town SEINE made up from members of Vlasta Popic and Straight Mickey raised the bar somewhat and promised another great night is upon us. After their punk acoustic set we’re moving across to some female fronted territories with GUSTAVE TIGERS (HUN) punk psychedelia, ZEN (CRO) post rock shoegaze, and excellent Austrian duo WHITE MILES, stoner blues rock that will not look out of place on any self respecting rock radio stations. Russian SPASIBO impress with youthfulness and intensity while Slovenian hip hop MATTER kept the crowd begging for more.

And many many more. Impressions ? Too many to name. One thing is clear as a day: European live music is alive and well. And it is out there. All you have to do is reach out and give it a try. MENT and similar showcase events are not just needed but a welcome necessity. Maybe we are spoilt somewhat in the UK. Bands and gigs galore on every corner. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a local guy who traveled 80 kilometers to be there. To my question why he made the trip, he replied:”Man it’s rock and roll. I would die without it.”
Don’t let it die. Reach out and rock hard.