Russian Round Up n ° 2 – Russian review n ° 2 of July 2020
This is the second in a new irregular series about what’s happening in the Russian alternative music scene. As readers of this publication are probably sick to death to hear, the Russian Federation is a hotbed of interesting and different music. We said it in the first piece but COVID has hit hard and, without the kind of media support that even a battered UK and European music press can provide, relies heavily on word of mouth recommendations – and personal contacts and interests established over the past 5 years by John Robb others. We are happy to be of service to you in this regard. So dig.
The first to report is a very enjoyable and sometimes exciting new album from Rosemary Loves a Blackberry, Diana Burkot’s alter ego. Burkot is an incredibly productive Moscow-based audiovisual artist and activist who has – to my knowledge – protested with Pussy Riot, drummed the late great Fanny Kaplan, played advanced electronics in the shopping streets, and drummed down the Moscow River. on a pink inflatable. Unicorn. It’s not a softie. And Weirdberry, his new LP, is his best and most accessible to date. Weirdberry abandons the oblique, sometimes distant melodies and abstract song structures of his previous records for a more chic and big screen approach. And Burkot’s voice also dropped a register, which gives this record a much more direct feel. Some tracks, like the wonderful “Hysterics” and “Summer”, are his intriguing, choppy take of a funky deranged lounge pop sort. It’s no longer music blaring in a bedroom lab. It also doesn’t rely on many minor chord changes; which means it’s much more direct and engaging. Many of these new cuts are real pop songs, not alluring soundtracks for the trendy Moscow set.
The brilliant label Ored Recordings deals with field recordings of traditional or “village” music from the vast hinterlands of Russia, often with an eye and trans-Caucasian, or Circassian music in particular. (A few years ago my mate Dmitry and I wrote on the label in another place…) Their back catalog is definitely worth diving into. The label has so far stuck to its guns of not producing music, seeking instead to “minimize the label’s influence on an informant.” The change comes in the form of a release of Jrpjej, the first album produced by the label. Why? Well, Timur Kodzokov, one of the founders of Jrpjej, is also half of Red Recordings. Jrpjej is a “post-traditional” interpretation of the music of some Circassians who have rediscovered their musical roots. The next LP, Qorror contains “healing, wedding and historical songs as well as electronic drone, hip-hop and dance elements. And the main track of this remarkable record, Кхъуаом иорэд (Song of the boar hunter) is, (to borrow an old phrase from John Peel), an amazing piece of music.
A complete change of scenery with the latest release from St. Petersburg label CANT, led by brilliant maverick Zurkas Tepla. Mr T’s emails are always a joy, full of mental anecdotes and often impossible requests. Personally, I have never been disappointed by the sonic detritus caused by his surreal worldview. Tepla once sent me a video of him deconstructing a university videoconference live… What his fellow delegates thought about it is another matter. Anyway, the third (or fourth) release of CANT (even the bloody label can’t be decided) is: Разводы (marbles) by Zumvo, aka Sasha Artemyev. Artemyev is, apparently, a “magnetic recording and vinyl electroplating engineer who plays records and tells stories.” He also likes his sour folk, and is kind of a “cheeky rascal.” And this music is a gloriously stunned and sampled ride through what he has in mind. Some leads are disarming; for example “The Mad Pilot” takes a fall baseline and throws it in a trash can with lots of samples discarded. Those who liked the 90s releases of Money Mark or Barry Adamson will find a lot to like here. In general, I would buy anything with the Tepla or CANT buffer, as it looks like everything and nothing.
Dark / Experimental Moscow Jazz The RIG went ahead and released their debut album. We had mentioned them in the first of this series, they are yet another manifestation (or mutation) in the constant merry-go-round of Moscow’s incredible alternative jazz scene, which boasts powerful players such as Anton Ponomarev’s BROM. The RIG, interestingly, generates a tremendous amount of decibels for a mostly unamplified and sometimes folkloric band. But then they boast of restless talents such as ГШ / Glintshake and Inturist’s Sergei Khramtcevich on baritone sax; who is supported here by Alina Petrova on viola and voice, Maksim Shutikov on double bass and Oxana Grigoryeva on sticks. I’m going to be clear and say that jazz as a whole is not my thing, but I really like jazz right now from Moscow (see things like Baritone Domination). And this record is no different. It’s a good listening, the pronounced folk elements generate a lot of space (a space also thanks, I think, to a very good rhythm section which allows the other two licenses to thrill). And there is a distinct emphasis on the melody. But like many of their Moscow jazz buddies, they make music that is restless, curious and open to anything. Fans of The Ex can dig that. In fact, The Ex can dig that …
Stop the press, ГШ / Glintshake releases a new LP. It is called Гибкий график which means Flexible hours (I suspect this is another “Modern Russian Businessman in Joke” from guitarist Jenya Gorbunov…). The LP is based on a set of improvisations recorded and edited between 2017 and 2020 and follows a killer live LP starting this April (Live in DTH Studios) that flew under the radar of many people.
Their last two studio releases (2016 ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ (Oesch Magziu) and the years 2019 Польза Advantage) are among the best records made in Russia over the past decade. This new version continues their journey from pop to interior space. ГШ / Glintshake concerts are a brilliant business that often hinges on an impulsive overhaul of their squeaky, catchy post-punk pop. A few of these experiments were recently performed by Kate Shilonosova on a radio show and they looked magnificent. The LP is released on July 17th. If you like an ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ style Floyd side collision, Soft Machine debuts, a bit of Gong (it’s the flute coming back) and the chops and Black Midi attitude. and the other acts of Speedy Wunderground are swapped… then this is for you. This is what groups might look like if they really committed to it.
Check back here on July 17th! https://glintshake.bandcamp.com/album/–3
In addition to the new ГШ / Glintshake release, there’s more from the ever-productive Moscow label Incompetence which shows its obsession with creating a hybrid of Detroit and Moscow through weird electronic sounds. This itchy, too short track is by Директор Всего (the Managing Director) and is called “Business Lunch”.
Belarusian in Berlin, Chikiss has a new record on the way, titled Между временем и ленью / Between time and laziness. As someone who’s heard it throughout, I can say it’s a superb collection of distorted electronic pop songs, generously muffled by its signature sensuality and not a little quirk. This main track Будет всё хорошо (It will be alright) is a tribute to the Russian rockers of the 80s НОЛЬ (No or Zero). Everything – including the video – is done in Chikiss’ secret lair in Treptow. She is truly a remarkable artist.
This month’s latest edition is the last of the multi-production musical Behemoth, Dmitriy Peitsch, from Motherfathers and Ninja Glam. I always love to listen to his scuzzy dance music. Not content with just one version, Peitsch contented himself with releasing two: the two old 2016-7 live sets receiving an upgrade and exchanging that typically uncompromising thud in Moscow. As Dmitriy mailed it: “It’s mainly 4 upstairs 135 bpm acidic techno called Born in ruin and electronic punk / noise called Party favorites“. And they do exactly what they say on the box. Techno in particular is a fabulously messy slice of messy unswitched hedonism.