Tag Archives: slovenian music

KONTRADIKSHN Achieves Immortality In New Video For “027”

As Slovenian electro-rock trio Kontradikshn embark on a European tour, the group releases a new video for the song “027” from their debut album, “Reframing.” From the song’s rousing refrain:

“Time. Endless. Check your code.
Time. Endless. Start Again!”

I asked vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter Petar Stojanovíc, who is 27, if the song is a reference to that mythical age at which the music world lost many icons, including Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

“You are really close,” Stojanovíc told me. “The song is about avoiding death. It’s about my fast living a few years ago, actually long gone now. So a few years ago I wrote this song in a wish to survive 27.”

Congrats to Petar for turning his life around. The video features lots of eye candy in the form of odd camera angles, digital displays of synthesizers zeroing in on the number “027,” a mysterious star logo, and enticing glimpses of the band in action. Stojanovic describes the experience of shooting the video:

“The creative team was brought together in a day or two, and it took us one day to record the video,” he says. “We played live underneath the song, because we wanted to capture the ‘true’ feeling of us looking exactly the same as in concert. Much fun, but we were exhausted after shooting, as it took us more than 30 takes of the same song over and over again.”

The band, a self-proclaimed “touring machine,” will hit stages in Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Poland and Croatia over the next five weeks. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Europe, check them out!

In the meantime, check out the video for “027” below:

finis

Slovenia’s KONTRADIKSHN: Hope, Cynicism, And The Eternal Drama

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 who are from Slovenia, a place many people hadn’t heard of (until 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, live drums, 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.

“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, 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.” Petar Stojanović 

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.


Doubt and Discovery
Themes of cynicism are present on the album, but the underlying idea is one of hope, along with the irony you might expect from self-aware artists living in the shadow of political change.

From “Neverland”:
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, 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 and cyncism. Yet the album’s elements of hope and faith in human nature and in oneself and the importance of friendship dominate.

From “Free”
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 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 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, 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 Ljubljana, 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 necessary to overlook the few unfortunate drug references on their debut album to enjoy it. Still, the music is all one needs. For both audience and artist, 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 an imperfect world. In times like these, artists are left to cultivate hope and optimism, in spite of adversity. For example, even on a relatively dark album like Reframing, Stojanović’s optimism overwhelms.

From the moody and mysterious “108 Hours”:
There’s no mistake from your past that you’ll forget, 
But why would you want to? Embrace the human in yourself.
There’s no absolute value when you feel, and you feel
The eternal drama is here to heal you. Just say:
‘I – I’m 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.

finis

Cutting-Edge Electropunk From Slovenia

Listening to Karmakoma’s debut album “Imagination and Mechanical Metamorphoses,” one gets the idea that life in Slovenia is tenuous and difficult. Slovenians have lived in constant uncertainty for centuries, with their tiny country at the mercy of invaders and imposed rule. Only in 1991, as the former Yugoslavia fell was Slovenia’s new constitution ratified; in 1992 Slovenia joined the United Nations and in 2004 it was the first post-communist country to join the European Union.

The album’s performances give the impression of authentic edginess, not the manufactured theatrical edge of artists who grew up in comfortable surroundings. An email exchange with the band’s leader Enej Mavsar does little to dispel this notion. Though amiable, he steered me away from political discussion other than expressing frustration with the status quo in the form of church scandals, and social and political corruption (though Slovenia rated a modest 35/175 at www.transparency.org , discussion of political misdeeds is common in the media and in gossip, according to “Culture Smart: Slovenia,” by Jason Blake, 2011 Kuperard).

But enough about that. Karmakoma has managed to package a madhouse worth of crazed energy into a ten song album that will rock your socks off.  Mavsar’s lyrics and vocal style convey a sense of desperate urgency, which the pulsating synth beat and big-sounding acoustic drums drive home. From the track “Ctrl-Alt-Delete:”

Karmakoma has managed to package a madhouse worth of crazed energy into a ten song album that will rock your socks off.  Mavsar’s lyrics and vocal style convey a sense of desperate urgency, which the pulsating synth beat and big-sounding acoustic drums drive home.

Protect yourself/Keep away from the windows/Defend your friend/From the leader/We are crazy animals, but better than to be a machine/We are lazy animals, but better than to be a machine

In 1979 when David Byrne of the Talking Heads sang in “Life During Wartime” about staying away from the windows, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that it was theatre. In the case of Karmakoma, you can’t be so sure, given Slovenia’s history of turmoil and because it’s a young nation still experimenting with modes of governing.

Formed in 2011 by Mavsar and his friend, drummer Benjamin Kovač, Karmakoma also features Miha Škafar on bass, guitar and synth bass when they play live. Their influences are for anyone to hear; it was British and American music that inspired Mavsar growing up:

“I prefer foreign music,” Mavsar explains.” Okay, there are songs and artists who made an impact on me as a child and later in high school, some Slovenian bands whom I still like today, mainly coming from the 80’s punk scene which was very strong and diverse here.” Mavsar’s favorite genre in high school was grunge, “and it stayed with me forever,” he says. “I have to say we are all into very diverse music, from classic to hardcore punk like Black Flag to bands like Can or Trans Am or dance music, which we also produce.”

What Karmakoma brings from the punk experience is throbbing beats, lyrical repetitions with shouted vocals that are expressions of frustration with the status quo, as well as the assertion of one’s right to be heard. The very definite dance music influence comes in the form of the pulsating electronic bass lines and poppy synths that are sure to inspire listeners to hit the dance floor. Members of the group also DJ, so this is no surprise.

The song “Cabin Fever” features a manic beat and Mavsar’s powerfully visceral vocals, and lyrics that depict life on the impossible-to-navigate edge of reason. It really has to be heard to be appreciated.

Leave me out (stir crazy) lack of luck (stir crazy) ghost for a friend (stir crazy) night and day (stir crazy) I’m late to stay (stir crazy) I’m not insane (stir crazy) Leave me out (stir crazy) not guilty (stir crazy)

The chorus features a repeated plea to a friend for the support that becomes a lifeline when things stop making sense.

I’m on fire/I’m on fire/I’m on fire/walk with me/walk with me

Commercial Barriers

After Mavsar and Kovač formed the band in 2011, they took the project name from a Massive Attack song at the last minute to join a competition. “Well, I had to find a name quick to apply for a show,” Mavsar explains. “I remembered a Massive Attack song title which I thought sounded good; there was no philosophy at the time. But I see how the name is applying to us in different ways.”

Since their formation, the group has played in “Belgium, England, Austria, and all over ex-Yugoslavia,” and plays frequently  throughout Slovenia.. Airplay support has also been strong, starting with Airplay on Radio Student Ljubljana in the nation’s capital, leading to airplay on the national Radio Slovenia and on national television, a program called Aritimija. Still, the barriers to reaching truly massive exposure are formidable. “We are like many other Slovenian artists ignored by other radio stations, which are all commercial,” explains Mavsar.

Analog Dreams

Mavsar spent a few childhood years in music school, and continued as a self-taught musician encouraged by his mom, who bought him his first guitar. In addition to guitars, Mavsar contributes keyboards and programming to Karmakoma. Drummer Kovač’s skills should not be underestimated; the presence of live drums (he plays to a click track in his headphones) is a powerful factor that sets Karmakoma apart from electronica artists who rely on programmed drum beats. Kovač is also largely self-taught, with a few years of music school as a child behind him. The duties of sound design for the group falls to both men.

Karmakoma’s sequenced sound is driven by a Mac laptop. “For now we just use soft synths, (samples) and a computer,” Mavsar writes, almost apologetically. “Real analog synths are pretty expensive for us but we would like to use some on the next album or in the near future.” To accomplish this, the band members balance day jobs with frequent live performances.

The album, recorded throughout 2013 and released in 2014, was produced and engineered by Petar Stojanović at his studio. The year in the studio was a deliberately measured approach to the recording process. “We wanted to have no deadline, to work slowly,” to allow for the members’  schedules and to create something they would be satisfied with, he says.

Like the music they take their inspiration from, Karmakoma’s lyrics feature impressionistic illustrations from the human condition, based on the responsibility of each of us to each other, as members of the human race. From the tune “Bona Fide:”

Oh man, heavy days, dead weight/I have almost lost my mind/you came, bona fide/nothing like a great heart installed, I am saved/why should I run, brave is the man who stands/I can only make you laugh and put you on a pedestal

Inspired by a love relationship, the song’s message is an optimistic note in an album that features a lot of lyrical realism, even cynicism.  When asked if the new songs he is working on now will be in this optimistic vein or focus on desperation, Mavsar replies “I guess I know (what you mean) when you say I am a man of despair,” he writes, followed by an emoticon wink. ” I still don’t know which songs will (be) on the album. As I see it now it will be very diverse.” The recent release, “Remiss” from earlier this year is a dreamy departure from their more aggressive sound (linked below at you tube).

Karmakoma represents the new Slovenia, of creative, peaceful dissent, of having the courage to be oneself in the face of stifling traditions, of reaching one’s potential through the power of music. The famously angry old school punkers that inspired Mavsar often let optimism and humor break through, a lesson that is not lost throughout “Imagination and Mechanical Metamorphoses.” Given the bands’ engaging sound and the ambition of the members, it’s easy to be optimistic about Karmakoma’s prospects. With the support of the right label and the right combination of the lyrical and melodic hooks they’ve already mastered, Karmakoma may well break through the barriers keeping them from making Slovenia less of a mystery to fans of alternative rock around the globe.

(A big “thanks” to Sienna for introducing me to these guys!)

http://karmakoma.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/karmakomaband?fref=nf
https://soundcloud.com/karma-coma-1/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-D25B9vkLUM
https://twitter.com/K4RM4KOM4