Cohesion And Chaos: MENT Festival 2023

A showcase channelling the zephyr of rebellion...

The successes of any modern music showcase are of course determined by an extensive criteria, but a general actualisation in this field seems grounded in the essence and encouragement of discovery itself. We find new music, hope to lose ourselves in it along the way, and arrive back home inspired. My time at this year’s MENT festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was characterised early on by the tantalising airs of orderly chaos; the soaring freneticism of its lineup across the board grounded only by the strongholds of the Slovenian capital’s alternative music community. Like the graffiti splatters adorning stonework in the old town, MENT takes the archaic foundations of the past and calls forth the promise of a vibrant future for new music, and indeed all creative exports, for the Balkan nations and beyond. This freshly laid path of promise outstretching curiously before me, to Ljubljana I excitedly ventured.

Having flown to Venice to catch a minibus eastwards, I arrived early Wednesday evening – enough time for a quick and revitalising shower before eagerly setting out to sample MENT’s opening night of performances. A swift taxi ride took us to Kino Šiška, once a cinema and now the leading modern concert venue and creative hub in Ljubljana, its upstairs sporting the larger Katedrala Hall, and downstairs the more intimate Komuna Hall. The forecourt, lower and upper lobbies had already packed out with a substantial and growing number of expectant attendees – a regular confessed they had never seen it so busy – all loitering in wait for Southern French band La Femme

[La Femma – Tina Stariha]

Given it was their first time in the country, the extent of their fanbase here was vast and most definitely impressive, an immense euphoria sweeping the hall maintained by the band’s characteristic psychpunk, electropop-leaning jams. The venue’s mesmerising lightshow notably lended to the music an otherworldly aesthetic quality, in perfect harmony with the band’s sharp white double-breasted attire and stylised nods towards sixties/seventies Parisian je ne sais quoi.

Following their set’s finale, I headed downwards to Komuna for Latvian art rock outfit Perestroika, their bold and anthemic repertoire littered with tongue-in-cheek, post-Soviet commentaries, injecting delightfully outlandish quips like “Welcome to Persia in 2104!” – set to a sonic palette of glam and prog.

[Perestroika – Marcel Obal]

Due to a rather temperamental mobile phone battery situation, my journey from Kino Šiška back to the hotel was lengthened somewhat through attempts to navigate the sleepy city centre ‘off the grid’. Feeling lost and a tad foolish, I tried to convince myself this was simply the best way to explore the city, and in all fairness it certainly prompted a firsthand appreciation for Ljubljana’s littered 24-hour Burek stands, which guaranteed a steady supply of fast foods and inebriated late night guides to kindly direct me back on the right course.

My sense of direction now bolstered by a prior lack of such, the following day began with a journey into the gorgeous (and now daylit) old town. Residing on the river Ljubljanica – the dividing line between the city’s commercial and historic districts – the three bridges quarter sported picturesque scenes of assorted cafe’s and baroque facades, flaking stonework at each corner juxtaposed with contemporary resprays by a seemingly infinite supply of budding graffiti artists. It’s seldom shown in a positive light, but for my money the various murals lended an honest character to Ljubljana’s identity, gesturing further towards its burgeoning alternative scene who simply want a future marked by their own creative stamp.

The evening’s proceedings commencing once again at Kino Šiška, we caught a rip-roaring set from young Hungarian singer/guitarist Uche Yara, prowling rock attitudes with innovative modern twists, followed swiftly by UK Warp Records signee’s Wu-Lu – their confident and eclectic set cross-pollinating rap tropes, punk energy, and achingly gothic moments along the way. 

[Wu-Lu – Andraž Fijavž Bačovnik]

A bus took us promptly from Kino Siska to Metelkova, a former barracks of the Austro-Hungarian Empire then Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army, turned-squat and alternative culture mecca. Graffiti-laden and gracefully crumbling, the historic site sports multiple music venues, and the tantalising rafter-hung remnants of rebellion sway in time with the beat. Metelkova would play host to many shows across the coming festival nights, so promptly I found myself pinballing between two main musical strongholds. 

The first was Menza Pri Koritu, entertaining a stark set of unfettered angst from illusive Slovenian post-punk outfit Svojat, the frontman’s guttural wails ricocheting from tattered wall to tattered wall – the audience an absorbent force in steady growth, eventually packing out the venue’s close quarters. Following shortly were Estonian garage rock veterans Zahir, tearing anthemically through ‘Nice Parking, Asshole!’ at their set’s exposition, and maintaining a driven energetic prowess throughout.

[Unschooling – Matjaz Rust]

Across the courtyard at the packed out Gala Hala, French band Unschooling’s angular, dance-inducing jams elevated all in attendance, while back over at Menza the enigmatic Speedy Wunderground signees O. delivered an enthralling set of effect-drenched saxophone atop belligerent drumbeats, the majority of their repertoire awaiting much anticipated commercial release. My night met its eventual finale with the undisputed kings of heavy, Lithuanian outfit Plié, their cutoff-clad frontman prowling back and forth on his self-imposed runway with each ear-splitting backbeat.

[Plié – Matjaz Rust]

Friday evening arrived and I excitedly ventured across the river to Cukrarna, an old 19th century sugar refinery, now an art gallery and function space, hosting an array of acts for MENT’s closing night. First came the Hungarian harbinger of doom iamyank, his hypnotic,  cyberpunk-leaning set fused with heavily fuzzed guitar and blistering, cacophonic drums. Following swiftly, South London trio PVA took stage in Cukrarna’s cavernous main gallery, towering ceilings and white concrete walls granting a brutalism to their characteristic blend of post-punk, disco and acid house. I caught a short glimpse of Slovenian krautrock four-piece Moveknowledgement – their psychotropic tones outstretching into an infinite horizon of haze – before bracing myself for the rainy walk towards Metelkova for the festival’s final stretch.

[PVA – Maša Pirc]

Arriving at the squat, a soaked-through rodent of sorts, I made a beeline for the warmth of the tightly-packed Menza Pri Koritu to find Serbian band Klotljudi‘s frontman triumphantly waving his microphone stand skywards to a driven, disgruntled pulse. Hopfooting to and queuing up at Gala Hala promised a spectacle of heavenly noise from deafening Irish shoegazers Just Mustard, the subtlety of their front’s enigmatic vocal a gorgeous juxtaposition with their glide guitar’s enthralling fuzz. To top off the night’s heavy jams came Macedonian outfit Lufthansa, their innovative, idiosyncratic post-punk unleashing shattering false lullabies paired with moments of sheer obliteration; their flailing frontman giving the essence of Ian Curtis in a bucket hat.

[Lufthansa – Saša Krajnc]

Aquatic visuals bringing tides of sonic fusion gestured towards the night’s gentler end; a dose of psych pop-leaning genre-mashing at Klub Gromka from collaborative Estonian duo Ajukaja (Raul Saaremets of Röövel Ööbik) and leather-jacketed Mart Avi was indeed a welcome spectacle prior to the rainy walk back. Neck a tad sore with suspected whiplash, but head positively filled with elation and inspiration, my time at MENT had come to its end. This is truly a showcase that channels the zephyr of rebellion present in Ljubljana’s thriving alternative and artistic communities, and defiantly gestures towards new European voices entirely deserving of a wider audience, in the Balkans and beyond.

Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown
Photography: As Credited

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