Urban Soundtracks: Ljubljana According to КУКЛА

 

Slovenia sits in a unique category of countries, where the majority of non-Slovenians have two popular, yet superficial, understandings of it. One half assumes that it is littered with blokes in Adidas tracksuits with bottles of booze at their lips full time, while the other sees it as a more pleasant version of Austria… without the creepy basements. Somewhere between those two axes lies the true answer, but it would appear that neither tourists nor Slovenians themselves have really decided on the matter. One of its most famous exports, Slavoj Žižek, even says that those who prefer the latter of the two are racists, but the first one just doesn’t seem to reflect reality. Somehow, I think the answer resides with КУКЛА.

КУКЛА, aka Kukla Kesherović, is currently one of Europe’s most imaginative artists. Her electronic pop offers more questions for people when addressing Slovenia and its capital, Ljubljana, than it answers. So much more than a musician, she is also a director. You cannot begin to understand her work until you understand her visual work. Operating in the reality that stands between an imagined past and an uncertain future, her music disjoints the prevailing understandings of Slovenia, to offer a completely distinct vision which operates as a ghost of the past residing in the present. The result is one of the more fascinating artistic contributions in the Balkans right now.

We spoke to her about these imaginations of what Ljubljana is and she gave us one of our best mixes yet. Enjoy!

 

There is an almost nauseating image promoted abroad about Ljubljana that is overly manicured and sanitized. However, we really get the impression that the city is a bit darker than most Westerners assume with your mix. Want to explain what you wanted to convey in the mix?

Well that is called tourism. I really feel like Ljubljana is becoming a city for the tourists exclusively. Since the rent went up so high it is practically impossible for people with lower or average income to rent a decent apartment. The city centre is quite polished and it is becoming more and more generic – similar to other western European towns – but 10 minutes away from the city centre, into the suburbs, there’s the other Ljubljana: the agricultural country life Ljubljana, filled with fields and farms. There is some urban life in some neighbourhoods around the city centre but nothing tragic, nothing very gangsta. It is not Belgrade or Russia, and it is very small. In the summer when all the students are gone home, Ljubljana seems quite empty. There are only weirdos, summer storms and tourists left.

I wouldn’t necessarily call the mix darker, let’s say more diverse. I wanted to show Ljubljana as I see it, so this is my version of Ljubljana or maybe the Ljubljana I would like to live in. The city can be quite boring and the scene not so very refreshing but I am an optimist and that is how I chose to compose this mix ~ focusing on the interesting artists.

The mix kind of starts and ends with rain- songs about rain. It rains a lot here. I also wanted to include the artists who I think are making progressive music and are expressing their own voice, views, identity, emotions and style. The mix starts with Irena Tomažin’s beautiful, beautiful song Jablana; it really enchants the listener. The magic is followed by a remix of a 90s girl band song made by Vito Scagnetti. I like how it reflects it’s own country and pop culture in a funny but in a very groovy and contemporary way.

Then we hear a song by Blaž, the wunderkind of electronic music here; I am waiting for him to get really BIG. He also co-produced the album Emirates by N’toko, the rapper on the song which samples not only Žižek but also the legend, Ali G (“Back to Slovenia!”). I identify with the song quite a lot as it has a specific viewpoint on our country. This album is great because besides being critical it is also very self-reflective and that’s what I really appreciate: Don’t be a bitch to others before you are a bitch to yourself. Then you have less bitching around to do. To make a long story short, after the great music by Kaki, Darla Smoking, Buraza, Širom and others, the second last song is a 90s hit, a peculiar collaboration between a very good alternative rock band called Demolition Group and the biggest pop diva Helena Blagne. Together they created such a beautiful and sensual song, it fills me up with emotions every time I listen to it. I see it as some kind of Slovenian version of Where the wild roses grow (Kylie Minogue & Nick Cave). Last but not least the mix ends with my song Crne oči because shameless self promotion. 🙂 Also I think my work is a hybrid between almost all of what I mentioned above.

 

There is a hilarious sample in one of the tracks from Žižek saying that Slovenians that call themselves central European are racist. It kinda hints to the hybridized identity of Ljubljana: one part European, one part Balkan. Is this something Ljubljana sits comfortably with?

It is actually the attitude of the whole country about whether we are part of the Balkans or not. The Slovenians tend to be very Austrian, very western and I find that quite funny, the desperate need to be “pure” or more sophisticated like the northern neighbours are. Even though people from other ex-Yugoslavian republics are a big part of the population and have a great impact on the culture and life here. On that note I would like to mention a song I forgot to include in the mix, Menendes Brothers ~ Ja sam sagradio ovaj grad (“I built this town”), I think it tells what needs to be said about both sides.

This is not a case just in Ljubljana but in all cities across the country. When I came to Ljubljana from a smaller and more xenophobic town, I was very surprised how the Balkan kids created their own subculture, it seemed like it was some kind of a resistance to the xenophobia in the country and also a celebration of their own identity. That is what I generally miss about this country and this town, the authentic expression and valuing of our own identity. Not all West that glitters is gold.

 

Often, music that finds acclaim from outside the obvious places (Britain, USA, Canada, etc.), either has to mimic Western aesthetics or be “national” music. Do you struggle to develop your own voice that does not fit into either of these categories?

I have noticed that and I think too many artists are still trapped by the thought they have to sound like somebody else, as if they have to fit a trend.

I don’t struggle, not in that sense. Only once I tried to make music like others do but I couldn’t make it any other way than I do it and I do not feel bad about it. My music is my story, it is very introspective and even I am often confused by the music I make because I cannot categorize it. I realized long ago it is very specific, as I am. Not fitting into a genre or a trend of course requires thick skin. I cherish all of my influences and my mixed background, since I am a love child of the Balkans (including Slovenia there, hehe) and some of my ancestors were nomads not so very long ago, so I think that fluidity combined with the rich heritage affects my work. I grew up listening to MTV but also to Vlah lullabies that maybe a thousand other people in the whole world know, so my work is a world I created, combining both and it is the only world I can live in inside this world.

 

What’s your most fucked up Ljubljana story?

Lately, all the after parties, where I’ve seen the young creatives and their friends slowly becoming addicts. That really saddens me.

But there’s a particular one, once we were almost hit by a car in a park by the river around midnight. We were having a party and the police were chasing a guy who madly drove into us, so we had to literally jump away. He passed by us, stopped under a bridge, left his car running and ran away. It was like the stories you hear about New York, right in front of our eyes.

Track Listing 

  1. Irena Tomažin ~ Jablana
  2. Mr Gucci ~ Dež
  3. Blaž ~ Air Finally
  4. Buraza ~ Deček
  5. N’toko ~ Optimist
  6. Kaki ~ Looksmelltasteheartouch
  7. Matter ~ Jedla zvezde
  8. Cyam ~ Monk
  9. Darla Smoking ~ Big Bug
  10. Širom ~ Maestro Kneading scream of joy (I included the last third of the song)
  11. Your Gay thoughts ~ Vet vexing rose
  12. Nika Perunović & Gregor Zemljič ~ Ljubezen je tovarna
  13. Demolition Group feat. Helena Blagne ~ Dež
  14. КУКЛА ~ Crne oči