Any examination of All Tomorrow's Parties will probably begin with a geographic reference: the band is based in Tashkent. And, according to a related logic, the musicians themselves speak predictably enough of some local challenges in a recent interview: "Tashkent has its own, unique problems. Then there's the fact that Uzbekistan itself offers no real opportunities for breaking out - to a more professional level. That situation is going to remain unchanged for a very long time, despite the fact there's a real demand for what we do."
Tashkent has its own, unique problems for musicians
The people responsible for this collective complaint are Vadim Tikhonov (guitars/vocals); Wladek Sheen (guitars); Ruslan Tikhonov (bass); and Eugene Smatrakov (drums). Additional assistance comes from Alexey Polyakov and Alyona Che in the realm of studio expertise and graphic work. This relatively large team channels its efforts into a melange of "garage rock, post punk, and psychedelia." Much noise is made in the hope of some result.
Local success has thus far been found in small venues and Central Asian talent competitions; All Tomorrow's Parties would like to move upwards and onwards. Even the band's promotional materials include a note of critique with regard to regional possibilities and prospects: "The group is currently unsigned because rock music in their country remains an underground phenomenon. None of Uzbekistan's recording companies have ever sponsored or promoted any rock artists."
A recent conversation with the webzine Snapbox helped to flesh things out. "We took our name from the Velvet Underground and people, as a result, may think we're just party-goers. Nonetheless, if you look closely at the content of our lyrics, you'll see that things aren't so sunny! We play songs about things that really concern us." Two thematic emphases seem to suggest themselves: "We can sing about having a good time or get people to feel some genuine anger about the world."
Any great romance of post-Soviet society appears to have fizzled out: "Those genuinely exciting performers who appeared here in the 1990s have faded into the background. Nobody has replaced them yet. As far as Russia's concerned [next door], there seems to be a period now of hope. People should grab this opportunity with all their strength and help the music industry to develop [anew]. There is a potential; it's just a matter of time. We mean the time that's needed for everybody to start taking music seriously [again]."
Songs of a desperate love and a big Russian heart, constantly beset with pain
That tension between a worthy cause and insufficient tools is, perhaps, what inspired the semi-serious moniker of Bad Samurais. More importantly, this is a side-project of the widely respected northern alt-rock or nu-metal ensembles Sakura and Psikheia, so we're clearly in Saint Petersburg. Fronting this collaborative effort is Sergei Gerasimov, who speaks to the press of "classic Russian rock set to hip-hop arrangements. These are new forms for a proven content. By that we mean songs of a desperate love and a big Russian heart, constantly beset with pain."
Like All Tomorrow's Parties, so this Russian outfit also looks with disappointment to the present day - yet with hope to the future. "We haven't done anything special over the last year! The best things are still ahead of us - and that's what is most important." In an unpredictable work environment, pleasure is taken from the creative process, rather than from any specific goal. Consequently (and paradoxically), even failures can prove to be useful. "All these experiences are proving to be positive. The whole experiment [of Bad Samurais] is interesting."
Those outlooks and themes have - once again - a specific, local resonance: "Our music is intended for Russian listeners," says Gerasimov. "Our creative plans are [simply] to grow and develop."
Walking away from modernity. Maxim Popov of A Model Kit (Moscow)
If All Tomorrow's Parties and Bad Samurais express doubts about domestic careers, then the Moscow endeavor known as A Model Kit makes for fitting company. Maxim Popov, the lone individual behind this project, weaves some very fragile piano instrumentals around a thematic core of Icelandic locations and legends. These sounds need not only to be coaxed from cultural obscurity, they're unusually timorous, too. The tracks we offer here have been substantially amplified.
A second chat with Snapbox has thankfully added more context. In short, the failings of musical society, so to speak, prove the beginning of some unexpected optimism. Dissatisfaction with public existence leads to private potentials. "There are lots of things I'd like to learn about. Nowadays, when there's no real need to exert yourself physically in order to be heard by somebody, a new and valuable opportunity emerges. You can spend more time on self-improvement. You can spend more time on experimentation and a deeper understanding of what you're doing."
You can spend more time on self-improvement
This validation of philosophical goals, rather than of anything material, leads to an intriguing question. Maybe music, within an ailing post-Soviet context, should not consider profit its raison d'être? "I reckon the main problem of Russian music today is the lack of a proper developmental process... The main tendency today is merely to copy whatever has been invented - long ago - in the West." Profit and popularity are chased at the expense of private, philosophical gain. "I reckon it'll always be more interesting to make your own music than to perform it live. I used to play guitar in a high-school band. The sensation of being a 'superstar' in that setting will suffice for a while!"
Any attempt to satisfy one's desires, once and for all, will prove fateful, if not fatal.
The same tricky interface of private and public goals has reemerged in a side-project of Nachalo Veka (from Volgograd), known as Nikomu. The vocalist for Nachalo Veka is Alena Sergievskaia, who recently announced the publication of a net-single, available through Kroogi. It came with a Russian-language text that spoke of Sergievskaia's ability to operate on both sides of a modern folk register - siding with primetime pop and/or a more lyrical, plaintive tone. She tried to assuage fans worried by the possible connection between a solo project and her band's supposed demise. Hopefully self-expression had not fallen victim to financial pressures in the outside world.
"Hi! We've got some news. We continue to adore folk songs - and we'll keep singing them, too, But that's not the point of this letter... Over the time that we've been in Nachalo Veka and making records, the world has changed a lot. Records themselves have become ancient history and people no longer listen to music as albums. We've stopped doing so, too, but - all things considered - that's absolutely fine. As a result, we've prepared a 'non-album' for you. You could also consider it the first chapter of our 'non-book'! We hope you like. We do!"
Songs dispatched "to nobody"
That single has now become an EP, with the addition of a third track, "She Dances" (Ona tantsuet). It comes with a few additional statements in Russian, too: "Times change, people change, and music refuses to stand still. That, of course, means that everything changes for the better!" Put simply, improvement is alteration - and vice versa. The experiences of All Tomorrow's Parties and Bad Samurais are colored by the local failings of a regionally specific market. The notion of some unidirectional musical "career" cannot always be taken seriously. As a result, both A Model Kit and Nikomu turn to a non-urban context for inspiration; places without people are more inspiring.
Likewise, those two latter projects also find philosophical solace and/or benefit in a folkloric heritage, seemingly for a range of reasons. That pre-modern, rural setting is home to a sung tradition of self-worth within the endless changes and challenges of northern nature. If modern musicians are looking for a heritage that speaks to their contemporary woes in an unpredictable world, then the places and people of Slavic folklore may be a fine place to start.
And we should not forget that the stage-name chosen by Alena Sergievskaia - Nikomu - means "To Nobody." The assumptions of social progress are questioned from the outset. Better, as Maxim Popov maintains, to see composition as a form of self-improvement, conducted in a fickle setting.
Alena Sergievskaia (Volgograd) and the face of change