The two labels under consideration here are both based in St. Petersburg - and frequently the subject of attention on FFM. The reason for our enduring interest is straightforward enough. One of these enterprises - Subwise - remains admirably unpredictable in its core aesthetic while the other - 56 Stuff - is home to many northern exponents of glitchy, broken structures. In a word, both Subwise and 56 Stuff are guarantors of pleasant, understated surprise. As 2011 comes to a close, a quick reconsideration of both projects is somewhat overdue, primarily in order to address their end-of-year publications.
Unpleasant chillout, downtempo, and lounge music
56 Stuff, in business-like fashion, have just released a new compilation entitled "Not So Easy. Less Quiet." That peculiar designation is something of a wordplay, in that this new CD is designed to both mirror and subvert an earlier album, published approximately twelve months ago: "Easy. Slow Quiet." By the label's own admission, the first collection was given over to a "slow, even chilling" style. The editors at 56 Stuff now hope to prove that they're also capable of championing" unpleasant chillout, downtempo, and lounge music."
Irony - itself a key component of surprise - is in no danger. The discrepancy between city life and anything comfortingly "chilling" makes that same irony especially useful.
This kind of self-mockery, in the name of constant reconsiderations and reformation, is understandable if we remind readers that 56 Stuff continues to be fronted by Yellowhead, a passionately committed musician and manger for the entire project. Aware that his physically demanding, under-appreciated efforts might be one day be his undoing, he - on one site - now defines his ultimate career goal as "posthumous fame." A remarkable sound and video artist himself, Yellowhead "authors texts, draws pictures... and so on." Arrogance is nowhere to be seen.
Furthering this attitude is colleague Denis Davydov, who - until recently - was known to us primarily through his moniker of Shtukk. His official biography and manifesto at 56 Stuff now take a dramatically simple form: they're an entirely blank piece of paper. Unwilling to guide or force audience responses to his craft, he has decided to say absolutely nothing.
I like it here in the forest very much...
If we then cheat a little and go in search of Mr. Davydov's scribblings elsewhere - say, on Twitter - we find two recent events that are discussed with special enthusiasm. They are a planned (long-term) flight to India and some recent days spent in a noiseless forest. "This is the third night I've spent under an open sky among the fir-trees. I like it here very much..." A removal of grim, goal-driven urban praxis works in everybody's favor. Especially when it occurs amid the humbling dimensions of Russia's natural majesty. Chutzpah doesn't stand a chance.
Pavel Doronin (Scaly Whale)
A related escape from adult, urban grind is always evident in the work of St. Petersburg's Pavel Doronin, aka Scaly Whale. A long-time fan of lo-fi, 8-bit, and other underfunded kinds of minimalism, Doronin shows a consistent affection for the tools and tales of the past. He runs not into the forest - or to India - but seeks an alternative to today's pragmatism through the charming naivety of youthful fantasy or sci-fi. Since, however, these melodies and narratives are penned by an adult, they are colored by some trademark self-deprecation. Flights to the moon - or beyond - are not considered that seriously...
Music today has become an element of spatial design - or the backdrop for other activities (Scaly Whale)
Similarly fond of otherworldly references is the downtempo electro-pop of Roman Skarednov, who is otherwise known as ABC Galaxy. He is from the city of Izhevsk, which - on the level of national stereotype - is associated with very heavy industry: Izhevsk is specifically connected to major arms manufacturing. Skarednov has been making music in this smoke-filled location since his early teens, beginning - as any proud local - with lo-fi and analog experiments using late Soviet hardware.
Eventually he would be associated with a number of musical projects in town, unified by their overarching desire to produce "romantic music of a good vintage, 'cynical' IDM, and experimental downtempo." Future dreams were gradually fashioned with some antique tools. And a dash of cynicism.
If we look at Mr. Skarednov's networking profiles today, we find a new mission statement. It only takes us further from earthbound pragmatism, in flights of increasing fancy: "We believe in reason - and take pleasure in it. Sometimes, though, we (reeeealy!) give in to our instincts." And then a related list of "Likes" brings mere confusion and wild imagination: "Paradoxes, Senselessness, Fantasies, Contradictions, Mathematical Laws, Common Sense, The Absence of Common Sense, Brunettes (most often...), Surrealism, Dadaism..."
And thus, in conclusion, we can see that there's much common ground between the team members at 56 Stuff. They use irony, glitchy sonic "hiccups," and self-deprecating nostalgia in order to plot a directionless course away from any level-headed, grown-up enterprise.
Subwise Records is an independent netlabel, also based in St Petersburg, to whom we've turned on many occasions - for a wide number of reasons and releases. Now, as when the label began, it specializes in electronica from new or little-known artists, often from northern Russia. The three Ukrainian lads below are a rare exception.
The project’s various venues online usually contain a small paragraph in Subwise's native tongue, sketching these endeavors for the uninitiated. Turned sometimes into English, that mini-text becomes a little longer, no doubt due to a lack of perfect synonyms. Given a quick buff and polish, the English paragraph then reads as follows: “SUBWISE unites musicians who write experimental electronic music – together with some other genres, too. The organizers at Subwise used to publish recordings that had a rather ‘hard’ sound, but now they place an emphasis on softer works. That does not mean to say, however, that things are any less interesting!”
An emphasis on softer works
Two new releases from Subwise show how "softness" goes hand in hand with stylistic variegation: any risk of pathos is constantly removed. As an introduction to the label's wide range of fashions and "mini-genres," we could first focus upon the young Ukrainian trio from Sumy, called Relorg. One of its members - Artem Yatsenko - is already well known to us in his other, more experimental guise as Enko.
Here he is joined by Oleg Reshetov (guitars) and Aleksei Boiko (bass/keyboards). Committed to a wistful, "post-rock, indietronic ambience," these musicians are busy with gallery and concert performances - both in Sumy and Kiev. Their current material on Subwise is dedicated, on a thematic level, to issues of absence and departure: "Green Angel," "Divided by Two," "Esc.," and "To Bid My Farewells." The romance of being somewhere else is quietly pondered.
Even more removed from overt, goal-driven praxis is the project Reyz. Here we find no name, hometown, age, gender, or center for discussion on social networks. The most anonymous material of all is also the gentlest: Reyz's newest recordings - entitled "Vibes" and aided on occasion by Kazakhstan's Jahzoviy - are built upon delicate, lounge-worthy patterns of abstract hip-hop . There's neither haste nor haughtiness anywhere. Even the author himself is seemingly absent, unwilling to make any kind of strident statement.
The glitchy, fractured rhythms of 56 Stuff run parallel to an avoidance of loud, even cocky PR. Both that label and Subwise admit to a fondness for soft, chillout textures. The quietest, "least" promotional of all these recordings - from Reyz - has no supporting materials whatsoever. It even refuses to explain who's playing. And so a universal desire to flee adult adventure (or arrogance) runs side by side with the occasional discordance of some "unpleasant chillout and downtempo." The worrying efforts invested in escapism create a flat or nervous note from time to time.
Retreat from St. Petersburg's cold and cramped streets is obviously a pressing, even upsetting concern. Dreamers are rarely left in peace; hence the peeved expression.