Profound, spacious, and dramatic. This is how I describe Russian sound.
There’s melancholy but also “live-ness”. Often there’s a moodiness, an underlying glumness to the sound that feels like it’s echoing a rougher Soviet past. Surely, the experimentation factor and dynamism are at the core. But most importantly there’s a freshness, a lack of skepticism, a joy in frenzied sounds and textures that can make even the most common musical arrangements feel like you’re listening to them for the first time.
Like most of Russia’s history, the music is complex, sometimes uneasy and always seems to leave questions unanswered. It is the narrative of unrequited love, anguish state of life and waiting for the better times. But also passion and desire of enjoying life in all its expressions and excess. It is all going to the extremes: “everything or nothing”. Have a look at the Russian coat of arms, the two-headed eagle is looking at two different directions. In my opinion that’s an eloquent metaphor.
The communist past has definitely made a significant impact. Usually countries with oppressive forms of government find ways to escape reality. People generally seek shelter in music and other forms of art and this can be easily traced in the Russian culture. The late 80s was probably the golden era with Soviet electronics. Composers from the USSR were making electronic music for years and their sounds are peculiar. During Soviet times most of the Western music was forbidden and considered “dangerous” by the authorities. People in Soviet Russia used X-rays as alternative records to listen to the music they loved. Soviet music was distributed by the state and released on state-owned record labels. All state-approved records from any genres were released on Melodiya. Today it represents sound recordings from several generations of composers like Boris Tchaikovsky, Sven Grünberg, Mikhail Chekalin, Yuri Morozov, Igor Len. Eduard Artemyev’s soundtracks for the movies Solaris and The Stalker are a masterpiece of Soviet Russian synths and electronics:
The electronic music industry established quite late compared to the Western countries (there was not such a thing as music industry in Soviet times). After the collapse of the Soviet Union the situation started to change. In the 90s there were labels like Exotica, Kama Records, Citadel Records, Izhitsa Records with producers like Rя/Ба Mutantъ whose eclectic sound and revolutionary musical approach keeps inspiring the current generation of artists.
In the last two decades the desire to experiment has resurfaced. The new generation of musicians and producers looks for new sounds and creates its own. The international music scene is paying more attention to them compared to the past and this proves that the Russian electronic music scene is alive. However, I also feel that the artists needed an approval from some international institution (like the first Boiler Room in 2014) or the opportunity to play somewhere outside of Russia to realize this fact.
Electronic music mostly emerged within independent micro-scenes across the country. I would mention the lo-fi label Gost Zvuk from Moscow. They are doing their own thing with a clear idea and aesthetic releasing only Russian artists:
There are also ambient and dub techno labels like Space of Variants:
as well as Martin Schulte’s Slow Beauty:
In the last years there have been more events, clubs, sub-scenes, diversity in the audience and overall more impact. There are venues like Propaganda (Moscow) which has been open for over twenty years, Gazgolder (Moscow), Rodnya (Moscow), Stackenschneider (St. Petersburg). I would also mention Synthposium Festival (Moscow) which brings together Russian artists in interdisciplinary forms of arts blending electronic music and technology. There is also a scene outside of the main capitals with Sklad club (Nizhny Novgorod) and Studio (Perm) which mostly invite Russian artists.
During one of my visits in Romania I came across a TV channel about Romanian folk music. The video showed people in traditional costumes, dancing and singing in the backyard of a house in the mountains. I realized that this spirit is still echoing in the young generation of music lovers and parties in Romania: striving to dance and enjoying is in their blood in the most sincere way. They have a great sense of community. If you happen to attend an event with a Romanian DJ playing you will notice that most of the audience is Romanian and they are there to support. Romania managed to create their own signature in electronic music and it all started internally. They supported each other firstly within their country, creating their own labels, online magazines, producers, booking agencies, events and kept the same spirit when their sound was brought abroad.
In Russia there is not a strong sense of united scene. Perhaps because of the tardy growth and professionalization, the remote provenience, the means of its promotion, the language and alphabet have always made Russian music uneasy to access. The young generation of electronic artists works quite independently from each other. They have their own interests and probably that’s the reason why it is hard to define a cohesive internal music scene. I don’t see this as a limitation but perhaps this aspect slowed down the process of getting the current Russian music identity recognized internationally. I would emphasize that the amount of Russia-based online music media writing also in English is still small. Calvert Journal is doing a good job in focusing on the current generation of producers but this strangely seems to escape the ears of far too many promoters on the national soil. Although there are some enthusiasts who have tried to change the situation in the regions outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the music scene is still unexplored.
Lately, I have seen more Russian artists moving abroad to cities like Berlin or NYC and probably their integration into a more international scene has raised the curiosity and interest by labels and promoters outside of Russia. However I noticed more Russian visionaries emerging. Artists should share music, ideas, dreams, step outside of the comfort zones, explore other regional scenes and connect. Event organizers should start focusing on inviting more of their local artists to play rather than giving priority to international guests. I honestly feel that if all the players start supporting each other things will develop because it is hard and less fun to make it alone.
Featured Image: medvedew.me