Modern Challenges, Old Solutions: Birdy Oo, Jars, Eeva, and Re1ikt

Eeva (Moscow): "Seven Inch" (2011-2012)

Despite being based in Moscow, the members of Eeva are more likely to be found elsewhere. They are often on the road and/or the subject of discussion on Western blogs. Take this representative observation from a US neophyte: "I came across Eeva a few weeks ago while browsing Bandcamp.... They're a Russian band I don't know much about, but I'm really digging what I hear. Russia seems to have a pretty decent scene, but everything I've heard coming from there is very heavy and chaotic... so it was nice to find something with a bit more groove to it." Disorder and disaster lack appeal, it seems.

Leaving aside those telling adjectives of "heavy" and "chaotic," we might stumble into similar - and equally kind - comments elsewhere. "This is a post-hardcore group from Moscow, Russia, who find inspiration in some US bands of the 90's. Imagine a mix of feedback, dub-reverb, and hidden aggression." For a closing simile, the author suggests that the overall sonic effect of Eeva might be likened to "a pad full of venomous snakes."

Feedback, dub-reverb, and hidden aggression

That enthusiasm is voiced in a multitude of small venues for the work of four young Russians: Nikita Rozin, Serezha Chernik, Sasha Chernik, and Stepan Obraztsov. A brief overview of their collective webpages would produce little in the way of extra information, since - as mentioned - they're frequently obliged to tour and travel. Constant movement makes regular interaction tricky. The band's Facebook account, by way of illustration, is almost entirely taken up with notes relating to a recent tour. Those same scribbles begin in a happy register: "Today we all got visas. Nothing can stop us now. See ya soon!!!" 

First-class travel remains unlikely.

Eeva, out of gas en route to Berlin

The journeys always take place on a modest scale and budget. Much work was needed for a twelve-date trip several months ago around a handful of venues in Central Europe. There's a delicate balance (or dubious relationship) between miles traveled and benefits gained; it's audible in another comment. "Our records have been sent to the pressing plant. It looks like everything fits our travel schedule pretty well. 400 copies!" Such, it seems, are the only (meager) means of making a profit en route. Passion and a certain gypsy romance are overshadowing any thoughts of long-term security.

For that reason, when problems do emerge, they can be terribly frustrating. So much is already being sacrificed: "We need help with the f***ing tour!!! PLEASE give us contacts!!!" And, even after those matters are finally organized and things run smoothly for a few days, the return home is no guarantee of peace or quiet. Funds remain tight and minor hiccups can cause major headaches. The following remark appeared not long ago Eeva's Bandcamp page: "Sorry for any inconvenience. We ran out of free downloads some while ago..."

We need help with the f***ing tour!!! PLEASE give us contacts!!!

The cost of endurance trickles down to the lowest, most fundamental level: even the most basic functions need to be well-greased with a few pennies, day and night. Yet still, come what may, the band members hold stubbornly to some demanding principles: "We're never going to charge money for downloading our music!" Romance triumphs over rationality.

Jars (Moscow)

The same issues and commitment are evident in the career of Eeva's colleagues, the Moscow band known as Jars: Anton, Konstantin, Sergey, and Leonid. (Their stage-name comes, apparently, not from English, but from the French word for "gander." Go figure.) The obligation - or fantastic desire - we see in Eeva to tour far beyond common sense led to a recent quip from Jars themselves. "We should call this our 'I Can't Feel My Legs' tour. We played a f***ing good show, but we're very f***ing cold." There almost seems an inverse, borderline masochistic relationship between discomfort and achievement.

The worse things feel, the more they're worth suffering.

We should call this our 'I Can't Feel My Legs' tour

The challenges faced en route to laudable pain lead to considerable gratitude whenever things do go well. Not long ago, a series of concerts by Jars was crowned with a 320-word post, expressing endless debt to a wide range of friends, colleagues, and family members, without whom little would be possible. Professional pressures - thanks to this network - can sometimes be shrugged off with bittersweet humor, since we know how much sacrifice is actually required: "According to the latest trends, we've decided to split up. The reunion is scheduled for next week!"

Once again in an overlap with Eeva - the fans of Jars tend to draw parallels between their favorite Moscow noise-makers and various US outfits of the 1990s. The band members themselves, though, are more inclined to self-deprecation. Visitors to their web resources are much more likely to encounter self-mockery than arrogance or the PR rhetoric befitting an international marketplace. For example, one of the current contact addresses for Jars is "dontwannavisityourshow@gmail.com."

Slight confusion at a recent Jars concert

Continuing that same dark streak of humor, the band has even taken to advertising its gigs by placing Post-It notes next to dog droppings on the Moscow sidewalk. It takes a very high level of commitment to match or counter that "vigorous" pessimism. If an ensemble is willing to shoulder considerable physical and financial discomfort, they probably need a sense of humor - operating on the same scale.

For this reason, arguably, we come across bands like Birdy Oo, founded in the capital a couple of years ago. The threesome (Arseny, Gulya, and Vanya) draw upon "elements of noise, punk, and J-pop." Despite that enthusiasm for the neon jollity of J-pop, the band actually opt for Korean culture in more direct ways, since several of their songs have been written in that language. Whatever these hopeful international moves suggest, the sound remains wantonly lo-fi and small-scale. In the same, self-deprecating manner, nods towards a US surf tradition - in "Bikini" - are marked more by trebly distortion than by any West Coast panache.

We've got some awful problems with our recording device at the moment

The band's knockabout style deliberately undercuts their cultural reference points. Excessive confidence is never a danger from a trio that tags its own output as "Asian 4-track portastudio sounds." Distant yearning and cheap tools come together. One recent post at Vkontakte noted: "We've got some awful problems with our recording device at the moment. We're waiting to get hold of a second device... maybe it'll resurrect the first one!"

Birdy Oo (Moscow): keen to be seen

As these issues of time, energy, and dwindling wages appear widespread to the point of universality, are their any local forms of inspiration to keep despair at bay? Might there be domestic metaphors or sources of motivation that would work better against an international downturn in the music industry? One intriguing example comes from neighbors Re1ikt in Minsk, who are leading exponents of Belarusian post-metal.

Whilst the band has played widely in support of many Slavic mainstays of the rock scene - across Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia - they still include a large number of domestic, specifically Belarusian folk motifs and symbols within their catalog. Comfort and confidence both result from those semi-mythical tales of endurance, spun in nearby villages many years ago. "We offer a modern take on Belarusian traditions and culture."

We'll be singing our songs exclusively in Belarusian... It's a beautiful language

That standpoint, designed to shield oneself against future challenges, is increasingly rooted in the past. The first stage of the band's "progressive retrogression" is to sing - with pride - in Belarusian and thus refuse the modern, homogenizing tendencies of Russian-language performance. Long after the demise of socialist media, Russian remains a logical and effective lingua franca for many kinds of modern songwriting in neighboring lands.

In a recent interview with local radio, Re1ikt declared: "We'll be singing our songs exclusively in Belarusian... It's a beautiful language and interweaves naturally with our music. It's our native tongue, after all! That makes things interesting not only for people at home, but also for overseas listeners."

Re1ikt (Minsk)

Beyond  - or prior to - that linguistic context, we have Re1ikt's equally proud adherence to folklore over modern topics. Anonymous oral narratives are preferred to the polished banalities of the market. The two Re1ikt tracks on offer here, by way of illustration, come from the album whose title translates as "Rivers Broke the Ice." The folkloric images therefore stretch back even further, to the cyclical patterns of nature itself. The band members explain the album's title in ways that move from rural texts to elemental contexts:

"Rivers are the essence of all that's alive and keeps moving. They have their set direction or flow. Ice, on the other hand, is that which blocks and prohibits movement: it stops the essence of true existence [from coming forth]. If we then take a step back from anything symbolic, we could also suggest all manner of additional examples or parallels [from daily experience]." The musicians then speak of various modern-day hassles - and how they're overcome through a faith in nature's inevitable ebb and flow. No obstacle is permanent. Everything changes, sooner or later.

We need the same things as everybody else. Time, money, and support

And, with regard to which modern problems deserve the status of "ice," we hear the same professional complaints documented by Eeva, Jars, and Birdy Oo. When asked what's lacking in their career, en route to possible stability, the musicians respond: "We need the same things as everybody else. Time, money, and support... etc. In fact, we'd also like to put more effort into our music - and the band." That simple goal, however, is often elusive. And so, hoping against hope, traveling further from home, Re1ikt take great comfort from the cyclical designs of oral folklore and the landscape that inspired it. What goes around, comes around. Hard work, therefore, should pay off.

Re1ikt: "Rivers Broke the Ice" (2012)

Audio

BIRDY Oo – Bikini
Eeva – Cubism
BIRDY Oo – Dead Trees
Eeva – Ego
Jars – Highways
Jars – I Rise - You Shine
Re1ikt – Snow, Sand, and Salt
Re1ikt – Three Minutes

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