Over the last few years, the St. Petersburg band known as Padla Bear Outfit managed to establish itself as a leading force in local anti-folk and garage performance. Not long ago, however, an apparent side-project emerged, referring to itself as Sonic Death. The relatively twee sounds of an earlier outfit were slowly replaced by the louder, distorted chords of lo-fi clamor, to the point where Padla Bear Outfit vanished without warning. Why the shift from one sound - and project - to another? Why tell nobody? Various Russian webzines turned to frontman Arsenii Morozov with related questions.
When asked nowadays what happened to Padla Bear, Morozov answers simply: "It broke up." And what should we know about Sonic Death? "I play together with my younger brother. He's just finished his national service. We're a duo." (Other interviews, however, will include claims that these two men are not brothers, and that Morozov's colleague - Nikita - actually jumped from a train en route to that army service...) This offhand attitude towards self-promotion - in fact towards any positive statement - was reflected in the recording process, too: "We produced our debut release over fifteen minutes in my bedroom."
People will loathe us purely for the fact we exist...
Needless to say, discussions of commercial benefit are also dismissed out of hand. "Our 'independent collaboration' isn't financially viable. It's not a matter of money, so much as 'youthful rebellion.'" Irony is evident on a consistent basis. "People will loathe us purely for the fact we exist..." A police line-up is practiced in anticipation of trouble.
No serious attempt is made to change this situation. When asked why he chose the name Sonic Death, Morozov replies: "We wanted a name that'll be hard to find online. It should be hard to search for - or find - any of our recordings. We wanted everything to be difficult." Elsewhere he insists that: "I decided to do things so nothing would go according to plan. Everything needs to be spoiled, once and for all. I'd no intention of having any good ideas or bringing anything to fruition..."
And, in a final statement of self-deprecation, he says: "We play rock music that has no b*lls. We're nice folks, after all!" Niceness, apparently, gets knocked around a lot. By nastiness.
Let us embrace our mistakes as friends and teachers (Robert Fripp)
This good-natured hopelessness appears elsewhere in some recent recordings. Take, for example, the new EP from a younger St. Petersburg ensemble, CMYK. Almost half of the release is dedicated to a series of tracks entitled "Bad Fripp." A guitarist whose expertise and experimentation borders - for many - on the unlistenable is "badly" imitated. One can imagine the result. And yet, within that increased likelihood of collapse there perhaps lie other, superior opportunities. Fripp, after all, remains a champion of risk - and therefore mistakes. As he once said: "Let us embrace our mistakes as friends and teachers." And, according the same logic, he has remarked elsewhere: "If you are playing repertoire material, you're stuck. There's not a huge amount you can do."
The reason for allowing for error - or disaster! - is that it ushers in change. Once again, Fripp helps us to specify the rationale at work: "Music can be transformative, utterly transformative." That change of path needs difference - and therefore disruption.
In the realm of ramshackle garage performance, we could also turn to a new, second EP from the Moscow outfit, "Trud." That monosyllabic noun means "Labor" in English and, as we might imagine, it appeared absolutely everywhere in the socialist lexicon. It's immediately redolent of experiences (way) before 1991; it also suggests meaningful effort, albeit from the vocabulary of a failed project. The band's name, therefore, suggests both hope and relative despair simultaneously.
Some of the group's chosen imagery continues from the first time we pondered their output. More specifically, the musicians use several motifs from the 1966 Soviet melodrama, "A Long and Happy Life" (Dolgaia, schastlivaia zhizn'). The screenplay tells of a geologist who - by chance - meets a young woman in a small, provincial backwater. The "hero," however, turns out to be a typical, bad-tempered man of his age... and so neither character is able to engineer a realization of youthful wishes. Desire turns into resignation.
Simultaneous to the band's new songs, an interview has appeared in the Moscow magazine Open Space. Here the observation is made that the group's lyrics also look back to a past that "didn't go according to plan," as we hear from Sonic Death. "Trud's songs are full of crystal-clear reminiscences taken from a Soviet childhood. They depict summer camp parades full of Pioneer songs, followed by the kind of horror stories you'd hear after the dormitory lights were turned out."
As Open Space point out, this merger of sociopolitical culture with self-expression in the name of "Russian rock" is again done ironically. That generic tag is, after all, only employed tongue-in-cheek. The idea of purposeful melodies looks dubious, especially against the background of a prior generation.
The sounds of abandoned, outlying districts, endless railways, and grim old apartment buildings...
If we were looking for a little more specificity among these browbeaten rock releases of late, one logical point of reference would be the Moscow band I Will Kill Chita - no matter what their moniker might suggest. The group's name refers - jokingly - to fraternal tensions between members. When we first examined their activity, some conflict was still evident - i.e., in the realm of which style to adopt. The musicians had just finished a first EP and done so in a manner befitting any nervous debut: "We recorded things quickly... and rather unexpectedly, too." The outfit's core duo - themselves the sparring brothers - "used to play in bands whose styles ranged from noisy punk to britpop covers... and experimental electronica, too." Neither extreme seemed to satisfy.
I Will Kill Chita (Moscow)
Now there are new recordings on display with the title of "Urban Fears," dedicated to "Moscow's industrial outskirts," those places where cash and panache start to lose influence. The nine-track, hour-long album has been defined as follows:
"The mood of these compositions has been inspired by darker urban imagery: abandoned, outlying districts, endless railways, and grim old apartment buildings... all against the backdrop of an overcast sky. Most of the album was recording in a fitting environment, too - a concrete aircraft hanger on the capital's periphery.The band couldn't have chosen a better place to debut the material: Moscow's Aktovyi Zal... An unattractive industrial building managed to transform itself into a place of distinct beauty. The members of IWKC are just as committed to the transformation of 'urban fears' into something appealing."
Music dedicated to Moscow's industrial outskirts
In short, it appears that these songs of enormous irony and borderline decadence are composed in sympathy with their surroundings. In a realm where failure appears to mark both social timelines and local architecture, the greatest expression of love, perhaps, is to empathize with those lives and locations that have "not gone as they planned." In other words, we're not dealing with slacker culture or modish sloth. Instead this might indeed be a different, more relevant kind of "Russian rock" - one that speaks in support of (and with sympathy for) well-intentioned effort. To prejudice a society's intentions over any result - to champion ideas over their effect - is perhaps the most romantic gesture of all.
The biggest dreams lie, therefore, within the grandest failures.
I Will Kill Chita and guiding spirit