Live Report: MENT Festival 2020

Live Report: MENT Festival 2020

An energetic, idiosyncratic, and incredibly illuminating experience...

It may already be February but winter still lingers like an unwanted presence. Nevertheless, even during this cold month, the sun shines in Slovenia where I arrive for MENT festival. The bitter wind against my face is surprising refreshing and my body cozy and content inside a warm fluffy coat. Already my creativity is surging and dancing about my mind like an excited child as I find myself surrounded by historical buildings, beautifully thoughtful sculptures, artistic walls splashed with colour and mountains on the horizon, pristine and dove-white.

Hard to spell but easy to fall in love with, Ljubljana is one the most charming and welcoming city’s you will ever visit. A city which is marked firmly on the musical map, this historic capital of Slovenia fully embraces the future of new music.

Nowadays, barely a month goes by without a few showcase events taking place somewhere around the globe, yet, MENT brings individuality and character to the table. Held across numerous venues in a monumentally picturesque setting, the festival is fast developing, reining in huge waves of new eccentric and exciting acts, inviting applicants locally and internationally to take part in both its conference and performance repertoires.

With the city’s Kino Šiška cultural centre as the main festival base during the daytime events and talks, most of the music took place in locations spread across the centre. The intimate settings of Orto Bar, casual confines of Gala Hala Club and the stunning Ljubljana Castle all provide hives of hype.

I have to admit... Russia is where it’s at. The diverse and alternative scene proudly made an appearance hosting a savvy vodka-soaked reception, then later treated us all to some wacky acts. Bands such as Moscow’s improvising fantasist Интурист / Inturist, Wooden Whales, and Gnoomes all displayed an intrinsic energy making this ‘Russian New Wave’ a riveting thing to watch and be a part of.

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Hailing from the very edge of the arctic circle, Wooden Whales brings the pinnacle of talent Russia has to offer. Their most remarkable feature is the voice and allure of frontwomen Svetlana. Skittish and full of spirit, her piercing folkish delivery confidently leads their waves of fantasy pop and shoegaze synths. Like a little pixie covered in glitter, she tip-toes around the stage, consumed by psychedelic elation.

The same can be said of Gnoomes’ passionate performance. Mastering multilayered electro, they create a powerful mix of psychedelic distortion, techno, and alt-pop. Fuzz-driven guitars shift in engulfing ripples, vigorously weaving between sharp melodies and augmented deformities, dragging you into a incoherent instrumental storm.

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Moving west across the map you get to countries like Austria and Italy who have just as much to offer when regarding female-fronted bands. Italy’s very own doe-eyed alt-pop princess Eugenia fronts the dreamy quartet Eugenia Post Meridiem. The timeless folk refrains carry her ethereal voice ever so delicately, floating around the Orto Bar like a feather.

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My Ugly Clementine equally offers a fresh and elegant approach. Brimmed with snappy pop melodies that twirl around the overflowing room, accompanied by equally joyful guitar hooks. These girls are made to headline festivals. Trust me.

Let's not forget Germany. Birthing the alt-pop jammers People Club, Berlin is yet another important spot for music. It’s teeming with variety and thriving with creativity, the perfect place for People Club’s resulting aesthetic, boasting lo-fi soul sounds and blending lyrical social commentary with a classic, yet modernised soul ensemble.

Lead vocalist Sarah Martin’s ruminative vocals cleverly picks apart powerful patriarchal themes in a poised manner, coloured with swung rhythms, slacker rock guitar lines and hypnotic juicy synths. Taking a cheeky and charismatic approach, they seem comfortable when it comes to engaging with the audience as they attempt to speak Slovenian.

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Of course I had to catch a hometown band. This was actually my first time seeing Black Country, New Road and I don’t even regret leaving it this long. These guys were worth the wait, confirming theories of them being the next in the endless string of great young British bands who are breaking out of the thrilling underground. The stupendously electrifying beings that they are, explode with new sounds, using a similar approach to Squid and Black Midi.

Instantly capturing each and everyone's attention, the band had us wrapped around their fingers from the very beginning. Through a misty fog, the outline of a violin and shape of a saxophone are mysteriously visible. Silhouetted figures stand fixed in their place, dotted around the small stage. Suddenly after counting the sixth darkened stature gazing out into the crowd, they burst into colossal metal riffs, mangled with frantic jazz freak-outs.

Two further notable acts to be discussed are ŠećeЯ and Blu Samu. Croatia’s sugar-plumb fairy aka ŠećeЯ (“Sugar”) serves in the form of fairy-tale folktronica. Walking into a darkened room with just a tall thin table with a laptop comfortable perched on top, Tena Rak appears bare-footed. Her silky voice is enhanced by experimental inclinations on acoustic guitar looped and layered together, oozing into a magnificent mess of a dream.

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Closing my MENT festival experience was Belgian rapper Blu Samu. Her intriguing raspy voice blended shades of soft soul and hard-hitting lyrics. Smashing funk, R&B, Brazilian rhythms and jazz into one, she reveals so many incredible aspects in her music. There’s something special about her presence that jerks your body into mimicking her every move as she jumps and sways.

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The crowd soon developed a character of its own as we move like water molecules flowing smoothly past one another, some eagerly pushing past to get a better glimpse. Before long Blu was in the waves of dancing bodies continuing to shout and spit.

With a Portuguese twang she politely asks everyone to get down to the floor. All immediately obeying her, we bow down as if she were royalty. Moments later everyone leaps upright with utter joy. 

Maybe the Blu Samu gig is one that encapsulates MENT in a wider sense; energetic, idiosyncratic and an incredibly illuminating experience demanding a full connection with all those involved.

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Words: Lauren McDermott

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