A quiet corner of Gomel, Belarus
This week sees the birth of a new label from an ancient location. More specifically we have in mind the appearance of Absurde Records, which has come quietly into being from the streets of Gomel, Belarus. The disparity between these novel sounds and their storied context is extreme. Regional settlements here are so old that linguists can justify at least six etymologies for the town's name. The most common of them involves an ancient Slavic word for "hill," which is substantiated in twelfth-century manuscripts. Before that date, there's much theory and little proof.
Not long after the earliest documentation, Gomel would become a medieval fort and then - thanks to those lofty walls - a stable trading center. Some of the original buildings are still on display, granting Gomel a rich combination of pre-modern structures and concrete examples, so to speak, of Soviet industry. Today the city is home to more than 400,000 people - one of whom is Mr. Vlad Ignatyuk. He has just launched a new tech- and deep-house label by the name of Absurde, which he both introduces and qualifies in the pithiest terms. "The main goal of this label is to promote, improve, and deliver high-quality music."
The goal is to promote, improve, and deliver high-quality music (Absurde)
The project's logo - as shown in Mr. Ignatyuk's profile here - is a small wind-up bird. When considered together with the label's self-deprecating designation, it seems that Mr. Ignatyuk is both hoping for and doubting the likelihood of success. The idea that music can be produced and "delivered" to order, particularly with the efficiency of a clockwork mechanism, appears "absurd." It seems romantic, praiseworthy, and yet somehow impossible. Nonetheless, this promising endeavor goes ahead, working against both chance and business norms. The streets of Gomel certainly provide some excellent examples of endurance.
One might even conjecture that the French spelling is designed to foster another double significance, that of continental chic and, conversely, decadent Gallic demise. Whether the project blossoms or stutters, suitable imagery is in place.
We offer here a couple of tracks in Ignatyuk's profile from the debut release, a collaboration with Sweden's Alveol (aka Ludvig Cimbrelius): "Tenderness." We already know that additional publications will be forthcoming soon from Alla Farmer, Combinator, Lazzich, and Frunk29, all of whom have been celebrated loudly on this site before. There's much to look forward to in the dignified struggle against fiscal norms and daunting distances.
Equally active in the same style - yet maximally far from Gomel - is the Dust on Boots label, together with its sister organization 26 Tea Drops. Those kindred projects both center on Khabarovsk, which is roughly five thousand miles from Moscow by train and relatively close to the Pacific coastline. Together Dust on Boots and 26 Tea Drops, who often share webpages, promise listeners a collection of "deep, dusty, electronic, analog, fuzzy, and groovy music."
Lest that be insufficiently precise, a few more lines of PR can be found from a very reticent organization. We offer tracks here from five professionally related DJs, but they, too, almost without exception, have no textual materials on offer. Harmonies and hard work take the place of idle chatter.
26 Tea Drops tell us, (at least) once more: "We offer analog, deep, and dusty hose music. It's designed for those moments when you're walking on the beach or in a forest, maybe on the high street, and you're really trying to get inside your head. That's the kind of mood [and situation] in which our material makes perfect sense. We mean the moments when an artist closes his eyes and feels nothing but the music... that's our style, too. We'd like to grant your ears the same sensation!"
This romantic sketch begins with a concrete location, such as a forest, but soon moves in favor of a happy, homeless mood. Impressions and atmospheres have no address. For that same reason, dismissing 5,000 miles as they do so, the folks at Dust on Boots and 26 Tea Drops declare: "We're cosmopolitan people. Geography is unimportant to us."
Should we wish to see that vague hedonism in more concrete settings, at least one of these Pacific DJs gives us some specific facts. Anton Guzalo is one of the project's resident performers, working often with his brother Alexei. Together they declare their shared fidelity to "classic, sometimes obsolete groovy house. The kind that combines deep, ambient sounds with crisp percussion."
On one social network, Anton defines his preferences as follows: "I Like... a proper groove, some drama in the music, together with subtle significances, and a good mood. I Hate... pointless kitsch, not to mention irritating, envious, and dopey individuals. I Recommend...that people remain true to themselves, no matter what." There's scant arrogance on display here, especially when Guzalo ends his self-analysis with a brief and modest phrase: "I Know... that I know almost nothing."
The sound of sunshine - brightening a grey day
When Dust on Boots first appeared in 2007, the project offered listeners some desktop wallpaper showing a pair of suitably dirty hiking boots, with a mountain top vaguely visible, somewhere in the unfocused background. That large image came together with an inspiring call to conquer life's "dusty" peaks, one at a time. The resulting combination of diligence and modesty has gone down very well with listeners both at home and abroad. We offer some of the comments here: "This is moody stuff - like sunshine brightening a grey day. I like your sound policy!"; "Everything is really nice. I've been listening all day!"; "Nice vibe. All the tracks are cool. Thanks!"
In many ways, the city of Khabarovsk symbolizes a lot of what makes Russia such a romantic location. Needless to say, the issue here hinges upon matters of scale. Khabarovsk is home to more than half a million people - all located so unimaginably far from the nation's European territory that a mere 20-mile drive will take you to the Chinese border. A few hours by train would even make it possible to swim in the Pacific Ocean. No matter how large the city grows, it will be dwarfed by all that surrounds it.
Nature does a fine and humbling job of overshadowing human endeavor.
Consequently this city and its romantically inclined labels almost seem to benefit from their address. In other words, Khabarovsk's isolation overshoots anything resembling "inconvenience" - and everything seems fantastically far from Moscow, in several senses. The region's history only feeds into this positive, yet paradoxical state of affairs. A brief sketch helps to set the scene.
There was, perhaps, nobody here at all(!) until the fifteenth century, when Chinese explorers began to investigate the natural resources of the area. Over time, river trading was established and the future site of Khabarovsk itself began to seem less cut off from the outside world. It was only two centuries later that Russian cossacks moved closer - with one eye on the Chinese accomplishments. A place of no apparent worth was starting to look promising indeed - and thus territorial claims began.
As with Gomel, the early days of Khabarovsk began in the form of a military outpost. Fledging trade needed to be protected with high walls and big guns. With similar zeal - yet lacking firepower - the staff at both Dust on Boots and 26 Tea Drops do much to celebrate and promote dizzy hedonism in Russia's Far East. Just as Vlad Ignatyuk's work in Belarus is called "absurd[e]" and turns to self-mockery, so the activity on Khabarovsk's dancefloors is tinged with irony. There's much in the city's location to dissuade people from creating modern, arrogantly marketable sounds and yet it is, perhaps, precisely because of these distances that the need for noise emerges in the first place. Emptiness nurtures a louder voice.
"Geography is unimportant to us," say these two, twinned Pacific labels. That phrase implies that geography is important to most people of the area - and is likely to dishearten them, too. For that reason alone, the work at Dust on Boots and 26 Tea Drops deserves a round of applause. A loud one, so people can hear.