Harmonies Far from Home: Chikiss, Dropps, Vėjopatis, and Print V

Vėjopatis (Vilnius, Lithuania): "Taškas" (2012)

The stage-name Vėjopatis refers to a dub-techno artist from Vilnius, Lithuania. Known to friends and family as Nikolaj Polujanov, he has been busy with electronic music from a very young age, since he recalls his earliest experiments whilst still at school. Over time, as both technology and fashion changed, Nikolaj admits to dabbling in a wide range of styles. Having, for example, tried his hand at both ambient and chillout registers, he would then move into dub techno in a more committed and adult manner. Why, however, choose that specific - and resonant - form of expression? He maintains that it offers a unique balance or combination of both "ambience and rhythm." 

Urban traffic is something like a river -  it even sounds similar

Were we then to pose another, rather predictable question and ask what prompts his search for both atmosphere and (regularly punctuated) progress, Mr. Polujanov would answer with conviction: “My biggest sources of inspiration are city life and nature. After all, the city could not exist without nature. There’s a wide sense of affinity between them; we - as humans - live within that same [overarching] harmony. I can certainly sense nature's presence in the city after sundown. Put differently, urban traffic is something like a river - it even sounds the same. The 'flatness' of apartment buildings [block after block] is also reminiscent of a concrete forest."

Summarizing these abstract ideas in briefer, more straightforward terms, Polujanov defines his primary influence as "the special music found both in the city and countryside." No matter how widespread that metaphorical bliss may be, though, it needs a specific publication venue. On this occasion, Polujanov's peaceful musings on social or rural accord come to us thanks to Cold Tear Records, which is most fitting.

The broad smile of Nikolaj Polujanov (aka Vėjopatis), Vilnius

That label is based in the town of Mažeikiai in northern Lithuania, close to the Latvian border and currently home to roughly 40,000 people. Although the town was first mentioned in dusty records of the fourteenth century, it was not granted any kind of "urban" status by map- or lawmakers until the 1920s. That slow, yet studied transition into the world of steel and concrete came, not surprisingly, as a result of both industrial development in the late nineteenth century and political "changes" a few decades later.

Nowadays Mažeikiai is tied most closely to the Lithuanian oil and gas businesses, but its relatively small size means that a bond to surrounding nature has never really been lost. Even in the industrial parts of town, one needn't look too far before boundless greenery replaces grayness. The formless, fluid patterns of nature are always close by.

Lithuania's scene is too small for anybody with big ambitions (Cold Tear)

Some individuals, less convinced by rural romance, may look further afield for a sense of balance that's absent in immediate surroundings. By way of example, some new recordings have just appeared from the St. Petersburg project known as Print V. There's very little here in the way of supporting texts, but some digging around on various Russian social networks produces the profile of a certain Vlad Osmachkin. He takes credit for these bass-heavy, borderline drag tracks.

As we'll see, Osmachkin's lack of information translates into a lack of optimism regarding local enterprise. The worries that we hear from Cold Tear about Lithuania's small or limited scene are here expanded to a much wider realm of modern habit. The Print V artwork alone speaks to a general sense of claustrophobia.

Print V (Vlad OsmachkinSaint Petersburg): "Alive Space EP" (2012)

Osmachkin deliberately avoids all social or educational information, save a tiny statement in stilted English: "Мusic print in my life." It's hard to know exactly what that means, but when the man behind Print V decides to define his instrumentals in narrower terms, he includes "space crank [sic]" among the tags. Whatever the desired harmonies of his output may be, they're positioned very far from the here and now. 

Earthbound nature fails to please.

Looking just as hard for balance close to home are the new collaborative recordings from Galya Chikiss and "friends," entitled "Hypoxia (Remixes)." This St. Petersburg chanteuse, long celebrated on FFM, has released eleven dreamy (almost coldwave) tracks with the help of just as many colleagues. The compositions are too new to have garnered much press yet, but a reasonable sense of their trajectory and philosophical intent can be found in a small, springtime interview Chikiss gave to OpenSpace, together with Omsk electronic artist Andrei Mitroshin (aka Milky Toad and part of Arm Author). 

Works designed for an Omsk porno-hip-hop label

The story of how they met and began to work together sets the stage for the "Hypoxia Remixes." The two musicians had first socialized at a Siberian book fair - and performed the next day at a museum dedicated to Lenin: "The most beautiful and unusual museum in all Russia," says Mitroshin. They then started to exchange tracks and samples, until both parties were happy and everything was ready to be published on an "Omsk porno-hip-hop label." As we can see, notions of politically or sexually charged songwriting are immediately handled tongue-in-cheek. Purposeful, consequential endeavors seem less than likely, and so active collaboration becomes self-deprecation. 

Even the simplest smile has a double meaning: neither jollity nor despair are entirely what they seem. The ability of any audible or metaphorical harmony to match that of the outside, natural world is questioned from the outset.

Galya Chikiss (St. Petersburg)

The resulting sounds produced by Chikiss and Mitroshin were called "Winter Dream" (Zimnii Son). Galya quickly - and logically - explained that title. The adjective "winter" does nothing more than designate the time of year, but the noun "dream" reflects more of a future hope. "Both the music and its themes reminded us of dreams." The time of the year wasn't in doubt, but the fate of optimism was.

Both the music and its themes reminded us of dreams

Pushing that juxtaposition between fact and desire a little further, we might say that Chikiss' and Mitroshin's views suggest the following. The pleasure of recognizable chord sequences evokes that which could or should be - at some time in the future. Neither current (i.e., seasonal) nor local experience is terribly inspiring. That same outlook certainly feeds into the trademark, long-standing chillwave or tape-aesthetic of both these artists. They frequently use antique tools, of Soviet provenance, to speak of harmonies that should have been - but never materialized. The misty, filtered image above - currently used by Galya - plays a similar game.

This doubt over reality's promise leads to the swift retreat into trip-hop that we see with bands like The Dropps - from Chelyabinsk. Founded in 2010, the group's primary web venues are dedicated to local competitions and their efforts to extend a career beyond familiar streets. Recently showcased on a southern compilation album, The Dropps' name and their chosen "drop-out" style imply a great deal before the first note has even sounded. 

Two members of The Dropps (Chelyabinsk), pondering an escape from town

So what of their own address? Chelyabinsk is a major industrial center in southern Russia. To a large degree, both the city and its current dimensions are a product of Soviet investment, especially under Stalin: Chelyabinsk blossomed in the 1930s. Those initial facts alone are enough to suggest both the scale and speed of urban development; the city and nation grew side by side. Unfortunately, however, the downturn of the Soviet economy in subsequent decades would also be reflected locally.

That decline can be sketched quickly. Since Chelyabinsk was, over time, responsible for the production of countless tanks and rocket launchers, the entire region was off limits to all foreigners until the early 1990s. Against this noisy backdrop of grandiose construction, though, equally impressive damage was done to the neighboring environment. Industrial growth led to industrial waste - on a similar scale.

As a result of decades of unbridled waste-dumping by southern factories, including the fallout from a massive nuclear accident in the 1950s, Chelyabinsk is still, in some cruel quarters, referred to as the "most polluted place on Earth." The Dropps' discography and chosen format both hope to counteract that smoky, less-than-healthy location.

Alla Zorina (The Dropps) and some vaguely discerned colleagues

Although Dropps share some of the escapist aims we'd recognize from British or European trip-hop, there is still a local uniqueness at play. It's hinted at in the other recordings discussed so far. Freedom from the limitations of the present (as with Chikiss) becomes synonymous with movement beyond the city limits (as with Vėjopatis). In seeking some liberty from physical demise or the passage of time, trip-hop's woozy reverie and distant, unfocused vistas also overlap. They offer an escape from the claustrophobia of urban experience or pure materialism, even, symbolized both by Chelyabinsk's factories and the crumbling, concrete apartments of prior decades that Vėjopatis would rather see as forests.

Consequently, as we sense from the performers of all these tracks, the best way to advance one's outlook is go outdoors - and stare upwards or outwards. 

Who wants to go to the Volga?

But how does that express itself with The Dropps on a day-to-day basis? Vocalist Alla Zorina uploaded an invitation to the band's website a couple of days ago. "Hi, everybody! Does anybody want to go on a super-duper trip to the Rock on the Volga festival? There's loads to do: our own gig, plus a real adventure, and a great day out, too! We've already gathered a third bus-load full of people!... I went there last year and really liked it. Maybe some of your friends want to join us?"

An expanded horizon comes from a trip-hop worldview, itself best exercised on an open, green field. Broader vistas inform each other, be they literal, chemical, or metaphorical. The folks at Cold Tear clearly know what they're talking about.

The Lithuanian countryside, as celebrated by Vėjopatis

Audio

Dropps – Bloodthirsty
Vejopatis – Desperacija
Dropps – Flights over Everest
Print V – Macro
Chikiss – Oxygen (Artem Sensiva Remix)
Print V – Sleepwalker
Chikiss – Taiga (SPB4 remix)
Vejopatis – Taskas (Giriu Dvasios Remix)

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