Mar 13, 2023
By James Thornhill
Photography by Geoff Shaw
With the dreaded Brexit all but halting the active flow of music artists between the UK and the EU, discovering aural gems from outside of our Anglo-American cultural isolationism is becoming a tougher prospect. This is what makes Europe’s showcase festivals so vital in this climate.
Witnessing acts in person, live and direct, is still the best way to discover your next favourite band, certainly more so than trying to swim through the tsunami of new music online. In my experience, this sentiment is very clear at Slovenia’s MENT festival, taking place March 29th to 31st.
Taking place in Ljubljana, overshadowed by mountains, nestled in rolling greenery and with a postcard-ready Old-town, the festival represents a fiercely independent and innovative spirit, engaging with the weirdest of artistic ideas as normally as it does mainstream culture. In the past, the mish-mash of sounds has been a testament to a diversity of expression not found at many events in the UK. It will no doubt do that again.
This is a preview. One of those weird speculative pieces, guessing what might be worth watching at a festival that we are yet to attend. At MENT, it appears that most of the 77 artists on show are worthy of attention, as is always the way there. So let’s have a guess…
Sure, there is the stuff we know already. The awesome locations, some of the acts performing, the fact that Ljubljana is an incredible city, but this is a piece as much about what we hope will be great than we know will be. Read on…
The diversity and eclecticism on show puts many UK/US festivals to shame. There are the acts we know are great, like Warp records signings Wu-Lu who blend alternative hip hop with jazz, metal, punk, alt-rock and electronic music (and everything in the gaps) to craft an intoxicating live show. Ninja Tune’s PVA made one of last year’s “punkiest” albums from their dark electronic pop and Just Mustard is making a name for their shoegaze with industrial tinges, if they deliver live, as they do on record, they will be something to behold.
Avant-pop adventurer Mart Avi is an act we have seen in various guises, and his collaboration with Ajukaja, Estonian underground trailblazer and head honcho of the great Porridge Bullet label is more than intruging. Back at Sharpe festival in 2022, Global Charming’s globally rhythmic post-punk led me to declare them one of the best new bands around, if they continue to progress as they prepare album two, it is likely they will be a highlight.
Elizabete Balčus enthralled at the last performance UTR witnessed as she looped voice and flute and played vegetables as a synthesiser. Her take on electronic pop is high-art, avant-garde, surreal and essentially fun. We can’t miss that.
And what of the artists we don’t really know? All the line-up is worthy of exploring but some speculative picks include Slovenian alt-rock veterans Moveknowledgement who tap into nascent electronica and motorik rhythms of krautrock through psych swirls and shoegaze noise. Established French psychedelic pop adventurers La Femme, will no doubt be a huge draw as one of the most well known acts on the bill, and Plié’s assault of industrial beats, noise rock feedback and aggressive vocals sounds like something that can’t be missed, whether you want to or not.
Unschooling, seemingly one of French post-punk’s latest shinning lights, have a lo-fi pop charm, with complex guitar structures reminiscent of the best math rock material. All this, and the vast array of experimental, rock, electronic, jazz and neo-classical music on offer is what makes attending MENT such an exciting prospect. The reality is we haven’t, yet, properly discovered the band that is likely to be the highlight.
One of MENT’s strong suites is the exceptional cultural spaces where concerts take place. Take Kino Šiška, the state-of-the-art venue and place central to the Slovenian iive music scene since 2009 as an example, in contrast to the magnificent Metelkova City, a strange autonomous social and cultural centre with a unique vibe and aesthetic. It is a thriving hub of independent culture that is a testament to MENT’s connection to artistic expression and musical diversity across it’s multiple venues (Channel Zero, Gala hala, Klub Gromka and Menza pri Koritu). The festivals other spaces are none less impressive.
If that’s not enough, MENT has an indispensable conference connecting music industry professionals with new contacts and new ideas, with a particularly strong focus on the Balkan region. Whether it is an interview with Slovenian music promoter Igor Vidmar (responsible for bringing the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Nirvana, David Bowie, Rage Against the Machine, Prodigy, Kraftwerk, Bob Dylan, Metallica and Pearl Jam to Ljubljana), learning about touring the Balkans or professional advice on digital promo, the conference schedule is packed with essential information for artists and anyone with an interest in the workings of the music industry.
Find out about the whole thing (and find tickets) HERE