A few days ago we published some material on the significance of a certain theme in Russian and Ukrainian rock music: endurance. An ability to outlast various intrusions from the outside world becomes more important and prestigious, even, than any display of chic. Playing constantly, if not insistently and "despite everything," becomes the most heroic gesture of all.
That stance creates a particular relationship to the issue of time. Western, hedonistic celebrations of the here and now are rare in the Slavic canon. Good times are sidelined by tough times. Here we offer four examples of some rock ensembles both central and "peripheral," both young and experienced. All have new work to show. Despite their aesthetic differences, they all share a certain attitude to time's slow, inexorable movement.
7B, as we've mentioned before, are a well-seasoned outfit originally from the southern town of Voronezh. They've been playing long enough to justify the following kind of PR material: "There aren't many fans of quality Russian songwriting today who've not heard of 7B and their frontman Ivan Dem'ian." The band's resulting and lengthy discography is then attributed to a combination of destiny and diligence.
National holidays are no guarantее of rest.
"It all began one snowy evening, when the future leader of 7B was going home from work - to his rented apartment in the village of Talovaia. All of sudden, he changed his plans and ran off to visit a friend. That same friend happened to own a guitar; thus was born the first song of 7B..."
Almost ten years have now passed since those first songs and this month sees a ninth work in the band's catalog, an album with the rather grand title of "Olympia." The recording's working title, however, was much simpler: "Zhivoi" (Alive). The lyrics of that earlier title-track, offered here, speak both of a stubborn work ethic and a resulting, stoic view of time's passage:
"I'm not afraid to think of death... It makes no difference if there are angels or demons - a skeleton or some final dance. I just smile and stay silent. It may be time to leave, but I'm not going..."
I just smile and stay silent. It may be time to leave, but I'm not going...
That dismissive attitude towards fate - after Dem'ian first invokes it! - took on a particular importance recently, well after the song had been written. Dem'ian, away from home one day, claimed he was accidentally locked into a fifth-floor apartment - by some acquaintances whom he was visiting. As evening approached and the singer was expected at a local concert, he decided to tie some sheets together and climb out of the window...
Sadly - as we see - the quality of post-Soviet bedlinen leaves much to be desired. Dem'ian fell almost at once from the highest point and, according to doctors, was lucky not to be killed.
The singer says, despite such good fortune, that he constantly feels unlucky, and mentions various car thefts or parachute accidents as evidence. Over time, his health is worsened by a job that leads to fifth-floor adventures and the envious gaze of car thieves; Dem'ian's own doctor has told him to curtail that lifestyle - and yet the value of his craft and/or calling is only heightened by deteriorating events. Why? Because the singer insists: "Writing songs is not work. It's destiny."
Again we return to the constant interplay between fate and free will. They relate to one another as follows.
Writing songs is not work. It's destiny
Time in the sense of a changing (worsening!) situation or ongoing biography is rejected in favor of a state attained through penmanship and performance. Once reached, that state erases all notions of time's movement; Dem'ian - because of his craft - rejects issues related both to encroaching age and even death itself.
Such is the (harmful) romance that inspires many a Slavic collective faced with difficult work conditions, a fickle public, and tiny wages.
Take, by way of illustration, the youthful band TGDM from Kiev, who have just managed to produce a three-track EP that's available for free download. Their web venues provide no texts or statements of consequence, so learning more about the ensemble can be difficult. One needs to drill down further into the private pages of band members Semen Kazakov, Lina Lomakina, Egor Pogrebniak, and Artem Khrustalenko.
On Kazakov's page at Vkontakte, for example, we find the (semi-ironic?) statement that "I pour all kinds of booze into myself, simply in order to remember who I am." That line, in actuality, comes from Russian nu-metal outfit 7 Rasa (aka Seventh Race) - from a song entitled "Armageddon." It gives voice to a locally specific worldview: self-awareness and grand self-destruction walk hand in hand. The resulting state has little time for the passage of time.
I pour all kinds of booze into myself, simply in order to remember who I am
Kazakov then goes on to add another one of his favorite quotes, with a dash of irony: "There are no incorrect viewpoints, only those that differ from our own." Creative masochism is not open to argument - or, if it does suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, it'll only feel better about itself.
Another example of this outlook: Saratov youngsters Nice Cliques, also responsible for a new single: "The Room." It joins their other freely-available material. The first line in the band's new, self-penned promotional texts complains that they've has "fallen victim to a state of almost complete oblivion, thanks to record companies, reviewers, and listeners, too." The musicians' opening salvo is directed against the people who'd make it possible for them to even be musicians.
Yet this self-destructive swagger is a pose that's wilfully adopted. Baiting the public is certainly a good way to make oneself a "fated" outsider. Aesthetically, due to a multitude of various, ever-changing influences, Nice Cliques place themselves "on the edge of schizophrenia, even verging on paranoia." One might say that phrasing has validity within behavioral contexts, too.
The group is a foursome: Ivan Il'in, Anton Solodkii, Roman Makarov, and Aleksandr Kashev. They like to draw lots of parallels with collectives from the UK, but the local press seems keener to compare them with domestic colleagues, such as the excellent Bajinda behind the Enemy Lines. Friends and neighbors sense a local connection to a local aesthetic.
The same, as we see, can be said of the quartet's overall worldview.
And that brings us to Zilpert, an offshoot of the Moscow band Tinavie, who are very adept at creating a Western sound - from the middle of the Russian capital. How does this side-collective view its artistic calling - especially as it develops over time?
The band is named after frontman Dmitrii Zil'pert, who has also played with Netslov; they've just announced the release of a debut album, entitled "11." The title refers both to the number of songs on display and the forthcoming year - in which the songs will hopefully garner public attention.
Mr. Zilpert recently declared: "We've just finished and published the CD. Of course, it would have been nice to say all this back in 2008, when we'd actually planned this event. But, as they say: Man proposes... and God disposes." Echoes of Dem'ian's fatalism can be heard here, but thus far we're lacking any subtext of sad "destiny."
Gratitude is more evident than grim determination.
Man proposes... and God disposes
The musicians currently helping Zil'pert are Dmitrii Ageev, Aleksandr Lifshits, Artem Pyl'nov, and Valentina Manysheva; the overlaps here with Tinavie are several. Together these five individuals produce songs that help to explain further the relationship between professional, domestic, and divine timetables.
We, in other words, learn a little more about the connection between songwriting, daily life, and the hand of God! From casual whisper to verse to epic narrative...
It transpires that the earliest of these eleven songs was written when Zil'pert was a mere sixteen years old. "As a result, you could say that the album has become something of a 'Greatest Hits' collection for a certain period of my life... Precisely these eleven songs, despite the big gaps in time between them, have become dear to me - for various reasons. They've created such a wonderful past that I'd really like to share them - so that I can go on and start a new project."
These eleven songs have created such a wonderful past for me
What we find in these thoughts is the conviction that songwriting itself creates an alternative sense of time. In difficult surroundings, it creates an enduring state that permits forgetfulness; a worsening timeline (or personal biography) is replaced with a simple state of being.
It almost seems a kind of painkiller.
For Zil'pert, the same ongoing to commitment to songwriting allows him to perceive a happy constancy; bliss is closer than oblivion! In both cases, though, music plays the identical role of a non-linear condition. It is hard-won, and if your social surroundings do not allow for uncomplicated creative work, as in the villages around Voronezh, that same musical "condition" is only valued higher still.
It becomes a precious, elusive object of desire.
In the cases of both Dem'ian and Zil'pert songs are held to be more important that any temporal passage. Such as a lifeline.
Biographies, according to that same rationale, are lived out in service of a superior experience. This is high romanticism, indeed. In the closing words of one Englishman, from the foggy home of such ideas: "Music is a princess; I'm just a boy in rags. I would gladly spend my life carrying her flags..."