Distant Echoes: Crispo, Unbroken Dub, Bluestorm, and Cream Sound

Unbroken Dub (Denis Safiullin, Tyumen): "Rain EP" (2012)

The Moscow label Electronica just announced a couple of new publications, namely from Unbroken Dub and Crispo. The founder and owner of Electronica, Sasha Khizhnyakov, is himself originally from Irkutsk, so it's nice to see a fellow Siberian ushered into the limelight. More specifically, behind the character of Unbroken Dub we find Denis Safiullin, who comes from Tyumen, Siberia's oldest city. His newest output, shown above, is a three-track "Rain EP," including a remix by Moscow's Tim Aminov, well known to this site. These atmospheric compositions, opening with the gorgeous sound of a rainy expanse, have come to us from very far away. The simple fact that Tyumen developed as a trading post between Russia and China gives some indication of the distances involved. Until the end of the nineteenth century, in fact, this was also the end of railways running eastwards - the very edge of Russia, in many minds. The end of the line.

It takes no great effort to imagine what kind of romantic, occasionally worrying associations surround the cold streets of Tyumen. It's a most fitting address and context both for Safiullin's stage-name and the tech-house material that has been celebrated on Soundcloud as "Russian Detroit" or "Russia meets Chicago."

The secret to how I write music: fashion and compression (Soundcloud)

During the horrors of WWII, for example, a large number of factories were evacuated here, together with countless wounded soldiers, earning Tyumen the nickname of "hospital city" in the process. This location, in other words, is sufficiently far from Moscow to hide anything. The same aura or appeal of frozen distance and safe noiselessness pervades Safiullin's catalog; even his promotional images have an air of calm. Pomp and circumstance are nowhere to be seen. Working nowadays primarily in the fields of dub- and minimal techno, he develops an aesthetic born of removal and subtraction - yet not in any sense of loss.


Not long ago, Safiullin (who also performs under the name of Fish Brain) told the Siberian press how and where he records much of his discography. That information becomes an indicator of his general retreat from noisy, public spaces: "I often compose on Saturday evenings, sitting in a comfortable armchair. That's the time when most partygoers in Tyumen are methodically getting hammered - prior to hitting the club scene..." This hushed, yet confident air of reduction is clearer still on one of his social networking venues, where Safiullin declares his favorite - and suitably brief - quote to be: "Nothing Is Everything." 

Against that backdrop, Mr. Safiullin's Twitter account gives a brief insight into the pace of life in Siberia. Four typical tweets would be: "The weather's bad today - and so is my mood"; "I feel like going for a drive somewhere"; "A bitter-sweet sauce made from poppy seeds goes well with ravioli"; and - on the least consequential level of all - "I should probably leave a morning tweet. Here it is."

The darker shades of house and techno (Unbroken Dub)

A similar interface of distance, echo, and history accompanies the other Electronica release, specifically from Crispo (aka Denis Sokolov) who's based in Yaroslavl. Mr. Khizhnyakov tells us - in a single sentence of PR - about the recording's "freshness and atmosphere," but where are these sounds created? Yaroslavl is approximately 160 miles from the capital; it grew on the remains of Viking camps that date back to the eighth century. In fact, Yaroslavl is now a World Heritage site. Surrounded by the hushed majesty of ancient Russian churches, the contours of Crispo's previous recording (Last Night Flavor) were explicitly designed to create a "pleasant atmosphere, rich with appealing vocal samples. (There are quite a few of them!) It's all combined with an unhurried garage rhythm and a minimalist aesthetic." 

Left: Crispo (Denis Sokolov, Yaroslavl) with Koloah (Dmitriy Avksteniev, Kiev)

Deceleration and solitude - made possible both by distance and history's quiet streets - therefore inform the new publications by Crispo and Unbroken Dub. Once again, as with the fan-base in Tyumen, Soundcloud offers us a snapshot of the specific terminology used to express approval in Yaroslavl. Together with some predictable descriptions of Crispo's sound as "Burial-esque," there's an interweaving of two opposing viewpoints. Expressions of enthusiasm often coincide with an admission that Crispo's soundscape is equally appealing and unnerving. The allure of audible emptiness is something that also unnerves. "I love everything about this - the dark atmosphere, the percussion, and the typical future-garage vocals. Great work"; "A lovely atmosphere - I'm loving the sparse swing on the percussion..."

The dark atmosphere, the future-garage vocals...

The St. Petersburg netlabel Festival Lounge also has two new releases to announce, hot on the heels of a recent sampler. They come from a couple of female performers, known on stage as Cream Sound and The Bluestorm (Vera Ostrova, here with Roman Ponomarenko). The former moniker is used by Helena Samartseva, based in the same northern city as her publisher. With nine years of experience now behind her, Samartseva has enjoyed real and virtual residencies both around Russia and in the US, specifically through stations based in San Francisco and Chicago. 

Her childhood, however, was spent much further to the south, in the river port of Rostov-na-Donu. Having first passed through a musical education grounded in classical practice, she nonetheless decided at a fairly young age to leave the canon behind and instead work within electronic spheres. Initially these were lounge-tinged and/or ambient in texture. Moving then into noisier realms and club performance, she would compose increasingly in breaks and deep trance.

For all that club work, though, tub-thumping rhythms never sidelined Samartseva's early fondness for meditative soundscapes. Even now she speaks of her debut album as a mix of "both real dance hits and calm, melodic music." 

Cream Sound (Helena Samartseva, Rostov-na-Donu)

It's the career of label-mates The Bluestorm that grants these Festival Lounge tracks a clearer context, explaining how "calm, melodic" material might be born of a specific place or experience. Working in a similar vein to Samartseva is Vera Ostrova, who was born and raised in a Russian-speaking household of Uzbekistan. Ostrova went through a classical training at Tashkent's National Opera House where, just like Samartseva, she eventually made a sidewards transition or detour into electronic music. That generic shift was then mirrored by a geographic equivalent. Ostrova moved from Uzbekistan to the US, passing through Moscow en route to Chicago, Denver, and eventually Los Angeles, her current location. One impressive highpoint thus far has been collaborative work with Armin Van Buuren.

It's all evocative of some wide-open space, populated by a polyphony of ethereal pings and warbles...

California has become home to a joint project with the aforementioned, Moscow-based Roman Ponomarenko: together these two artists have published a Bluestorm EP: "Icelandic." It includes a remix from another colleague already showcased here in the early days of FFM, Letkolben - from the Belarusian town of Novopolotsk. The Bluestorm like to speak of themselves as a dovetailing of "two people, two biographies, and two spheres of emotional experience." File-sharing - a product of absence and distance - is turned to considerable, positive effect.

It hardly bears mentioning that the imagery of Iceland itself plays into the same romantic validation of emptiness and isolation. It has been noticed and developed by reviewers, too. One especially positive text has spoken of the "empathetic and near-telepathic relationship" fostered between two people at considerable remove from another (a difference of eleven time-zones). "It's all evocative of some wide open space, populated by a polyphony of ethereal pings and warbles, distorted delays, and percussive flourishes. It all flutters around -  like a flock of metallic birds..."

Specific "neo-natural" forms come into existence, both within and because of solitude. Physical isolation fosters audible connections; absence makes the heart sound louder.

Vera Ostrova of The Bluestorm (Tashkent, Los Angeles)


Crispo – Hazel
The Bluestorm – Icelandic (LetKolben Remix)
The Bluestorm – Icelandic (Original Mix)
Unbroken Dub – Rain (Original Mix)
Unbroken Dub – Rain (Tim Aminov Remix)
Cream Sound – Sonata (Original Mix)
Cream Sound – Sonata (Spieltape Remix)
Crispo – Wind Kisser

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