Melodrom: step from behind the curtain

The Slovenian melodramatic rock band returns with a new line-up and some exciting, fresh material. You can catch them live in Maribor on September 5th, supporting the Icelandic legends Sigur Ros

Once upon a time in Eastern Europe, bananas were a rare commodity: Melodrom strike a pose / Photo: © Jernej Lasic

The month of August saw the Slovenian band Melodrom re-emerge out of the shadows. After being absent from the live music scene for the past year or so, three gigs in Maribor, Ptuj and Metlika saw their sultry, marching electronic sounds return to the stage.

Their comeback also saw the group strengthened with two new members: Blaž Celarec replacing Matej Nolda on drums and an additional member, Sašo Vollmaier on keyboards. Together with the existing members of vocalist Mina Špiler, guitarist and programmer Matevž Kolenc, keyboardist Polona Janežič and bass guitarist Miha Žargi, the recent shows not only displayed a new line-up, but a ‘renewed’ band with fresh material and a visible assurance in their back catalogue.

In Ptuj – Slovenia’s oldest town – the band played outside in a small square at the foot of a church tower. Every layer, every note, every word cut through the open air, and with a simple light show it created a quite a mix of old cobbled streets, electronic sounds and eerie vocals. They worked their way through old favourites with confidence, and particular highlights of ‘Duet’, ‘Ko čakaš na večere’ and ‘September’ all sandwiched a new song, only debuted some three days previously. The new song is as yet unnamed, and it may be that it stays that way. At this stage the band believes that it suits an untitled nature. Mina says, “it’s about how we can sometimes predict what was going to happen and – even though there is no certainty of it – it already happens just because we ‘saw’ it happen”.

Photo: © Peter Gorensek

Behind their artistic, conceptual persona, lies an interesting story – not just another band who wanted to make it big – but a collection of talented musicians who initially started making music to accompany films and theatre productions, and only later moved on to live performances.

In their own words, if the contemporary Slovenian music scene was a bar, Melodrom are the Slovenian band that would be hanging around in the corner, talking amongst themselves. “Lazy yet enthusiastic, rational yet intuitive, lyrical yet decisive, optimistic yet cynical, present yet distant.”

Yet despite their own portrayal of themselves as introverts, they are by no means without their connections. Guided by the legendary Slovenian band Laibach in securing their first record deal, their links with Laibach remain today. Melodrom described Laibach’s role as that of godfathers in the band’s earlier days, getting involved after having heard a Melodrom demo on Ljubljana’s Radio Študent. The band also cite Laibach as one of the few Slovenian bands who had an impact both musically and conceptually prior to the group’s formation. The respect was clearly mutual, as not long after the Melodrom’s debut self-titled album was released in 2004, vocalist Mina Špiler was invited to join Laibach for a duet version of Rammstein’s ‘Ohne dich’: a remix that was made by Laibach on Rammstein’s request. Mina then later collaborated on Laibach’s 2006 Volk album, which eventually led to her becoming a regular member of the group later that year. Having since joined Laibach on many tours since, it’s clear that her move from soundtrack to stage was the right one.

A commendable yet unusual feature of Melodrom’s work is the seamless manner in which they switch between languages. It’s not uncommon to hear lyrics being sung in a non-native tongue and for them to sound just that little bit cringe worthy; as if not fully grasped, they are in the wrong hands and all meaning is lost. When asked about how the band relate to their music when they write or perform in a language that isn’t their mother tongue, Melodrom described how it was the process of making the music itself that dictated their choice of language. The majority of their music is composed first with melody and a beat, followed by the vocal tune. Mina explained that this vocal is often nonsensical – a sort of made-up language – upon which proper lyrics are then transposed.

This method is often the factor that decides the language, and one which often lends itself to English lyrics, due to the English language’s vocal sounds and propensity towards double vowels. 2006’s The Guide was written entirely in English, a move which the band says was influenced by gaining a record deal in Serbia and Montenegro, and the increasing popularity of online music sharing. With their potential audience widening, it follows that the band would want as many listeners as possible to be able to understand them. However when it came to the 2010’s Vse kar si pustila da leži na tleh, they took on the challenge of composing all songs in Slovene – a feat that was almost achieved, save for the collaboration with Chris Eckman on one track, ‘By the Bedlam Wall’.

This return to form marks the beginning of much more activity for Melodrom. Returning to the Laibach connection, Matevž will feature on Laibach’s cover of The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’, which is due to be released on Mute records in autumn 2012. A really excellent Slovenian reworking of the aforementioned Chris Eckman collaboration has also just been released, and is available for free download here. And a rather large support slot for Sigur Ros in Maribor on the 5th September will be the group’s next gig, which will most certainly mark the band’s step from behind the curtain and into the stage lights once more.