Thanks to technology, the world is a smaller place today than ever before. A couple years ago I had a chance that wouldn’t have been available even 10 years ago, to report on a band called Karmakoma from Slovenia, a place many people hadn’t heard of (until in 2016 when they asked “where?” regarding U.S. first lady Melania Trump). I loved the experience, and now I find myself with the extraordinary luck to report on another band from Slovenia – the electro-rock trio Kontradikshn, who are friends and stagemates with Karmakoma.
Kontradikshn’s debut album, Reframing, features intense, powerful electronic music worthy of attention. It’s industrial electronic rock, with an energetic sound that is at times macho, other times quirky, with aggressive synth riffs, pulsing synth bass, techno break beats, and fiery vocals. Kontradikshn is essentially a rock band with progressive drum n’ bass leanings that uses synths instead of guitars (at least in the studio), to create an effusive, passionate mix that’s as irresistible as it is danceable.
According to all sources, they’re a powerhouse trio live – their setup features the efforts of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Petar Stojanović and guitarist/bass synthesist/computer whiz Matej Plešej, lots of live and sequenced synths, as well as live drums by Anže Kump that drive the beat. Their on stage setup features prominent use of the electric guitar, including amplification by the notorious Marshall Stack, while computer support is provided by a MacBook Pro sending and receiving MIDI data to and from Ableton Live.
“Music was forever a part of my life. Although no one in my family was a musician, they kinda liked the idea of me playing an instrument. So I started playing clarinet when I was 7 years old. A bit of music school and orchestra until I was 13 or so.” Petar Stojanović
Doubt and Discovery
Since their 2010 debut playing clubs in and around Slovenia, their reputation grew and in 2016 they completed a tour through a number of former Yugoslavian states. The group has enjoyed radio airplay on Slovenian National Radio Program 2, including of the single “Memory Dump” as well as frequent airplay on smaller stations. Currently Kontradikshn is touring Slovenia and beyond, promoting the new disc. And wherever they go, they bring a party and lots of noise. These guys like to have fun.
Themes of cynicism are present on the album, but the underlying theme is one of hope, along with the irony you might expect from self-aware artists living in the shadow of political change.
Slow down, think for a bit
World ain’t moving so fast, just listen.
Don’t you dare, leave her alone.
‘Cause you know how it feels in the dark, now.
Sit down boy, take a sip
Universe doesn’t need another prick like me
Work hard, do good
But be good to yourself (in the morning).
Stojanović’s life changed dramatically at the age of 11, when his father passed away. Friends, family and music were available to help ease the pain and doubt. Channeling the forces of loss and change in his life, Stojanović found inspiration and hope in the study of various instruments, and found that the way out, as they say, is through.
“Music was forever a part of my life,” he says. “Although no one in my family was a musician, they kinda liked the idea of me playing an instrument. So I started playing clarinet when I was 7 years old. A bit of music school and orchestra until I was 13 or so. Then I quit the whole classical thing and went for the guitar – yeah, the guitar and a bit of piano. Started my first band when I was 15 and played in numerous bands until now. Then I quit university and concentrated only on making music and music production. Kinda went my way, rebellious in a way.”
In the song “027” Stojanović, who is 27, gets confessional:
Holding on, wanting my special line,
That keeps me back on track.
Keep it on, realizing, life is never ending,
So let’s keep sharing, baby.
When I hit the bottom, I miss that peak.
Must confess, that it makes me weak.
A journey of self-discovery is a frequent theme of rock artists (usually spread out over several albums) and it’s true here, as Stojanović wrestles with hedonism to seek relief from pessimism. Yet the album’s elements of hope and faith in human nature and in oneself and the importance of friendship dominate.
Inside of me, there’s a storm again
So I seek for release
Inside of me, I still believe,
That inside of me there’s no shame ‘cause I feel again
Inside of me the only one that lives, Inside of me.
That storm inside of Stojanović comes across in a very definite way, lyrically, vocally, and melodically. One particularly intense moment comes at the end of Evacuation, when the vocals and lyrics veer into decidedly frightening Trent Reznor territory. Stojanović’s favorite synth is another indicator. “My favorite piece of gear is actually an analog mono-synth (the Novation Bass Station II) that arpeggios and bass-lines are played on. And tweaking its filter section really gets the grit.”
An Emerging Kontradikshn
The members grew up in a medium-sized suburb of about 20,000 people on the outskirts of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, not too far from the similar suburb where Karmakoma’s members were raised. In 2010, Stojanović and Plešej, friends since the age of 15 (they’re both 27 in 2017) formed a few bands until they settled on the current name and approach, playing 20 shows or so. With the addition of Kump as a permanent member on live drums, things began to get serious.
“With previous members, we joined numerous competitions and battles of bands, just to get some gigs and our name out there,” Stojanović says. “Then we got more and more known and made a tour with Karmakoma. After Anže came into the band, things got more serious and better. He really brought fresh wind into the band.”
Around the same time the band was formed, Stojanović’ built a recording studio, the same studio where Karmakoma’s debut was recorded. He explains: “I have a small project studio in my home town… recording bands and artists around the country, with which we started to kinda get noticed in our country – like a local scene that (got more and more attention) from other parts of the country. It’s kinda cool to work with different people and feel the cumulative spirit.”
The band’s sound was developed both in the studio and by participating in the robust club scene in and around Slovenia, including at Klub Kocka in Croatia, DemoFest in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ChannelZero venue in Llubjiana, and others. The band’s diverse influences point to a cosmopolitan array of sounds, from Stojanović’s faves: TransAM, Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy, Turing Machine, Justice, Aphex Twin, to those of Plešej: Korn, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson, to Kump’s influences: early on they were: Korn, Slipknot and Nightwish, and more recently Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams, and Prince. At 20, Kump is the youngest member of the band.
Clearly, Stojanović, Plešej and Kump relish their roles as musicians; perhaps it is easy to overlook the few unfortunate drug references on their debut album. Still, the music is all one needs. For both audience and listener, music can combat depression and apathy; we’ve all experienced the lift in mood a familiar song can bring. Multiply that by 1,000 when hearing a band you admire play live, in an arena with a powerful PA and pulsing lights, along with other fans.
Musical tools are now readily available virtually anywhere. In a world ruled by capital, we are called to make projects of ourselves. Self cultivation is a reasonable response to the challenges of a world governed by scarcity. In times like these, artists are left to cultivate hope and optimism, in spite of adversity. Even on a relatively dark album like Reframing, Stojanović’s optimism overwhelms.
From the moody and mysterious “108 Hours”:
There’s no absolute value when you feel, and you feel
The eternal drama is here to heal, you. Just say:
‘I am gonna be okay, I’m gonna be okay
It feels, it feels right.’”
There’s no denying that musical technology has been a positive force in giving a voice to artists around the world. Contrary to the dark dystopian view of machines taking over, the sonic art of Kontradikshn demonstrates that in the midst of loss, pain, frustration, nihilism (fill in the blank), electronic musical tools are empowering people. Writing, performing, listening and dancing to music and poetry is healing and cathartic. After all, music is an important feature of the eternal drama.