The youth of solo Russian electronic artist PRCDRL ("Procedural") was spent in the ancient Russian town of Vladimir. Nowadays, his professional connections are much closer to Germany, where he first emigrated in 1998––following a rapid downtown in the Russian economy. Little of professional substance transpired, however, and he was soon back in Moscow––where he remained for the next four years. Those German connections proved beneficial even at home; they allowed PRCDRL both to manage and stage-design a series of parties, to which European DJs were sometimes invited. The same skill-set became an opportunity for PRCDRL to provide Robert Henke with an extensive lighting display on tour: suddenly the fluctuation between two cultures slowed as a Russian technician found himself in France:
I have considerable respect for anybody who can create something great in an unfavorable environment (PRCDRL)
"There I was, smoking a cigarette at the entrance to a massive concert hall in Lyon. Over four days, something like 22,000 people had seen my lighting installations for Henke's ambient-techno set. There and then, I understood what a hopeless backwater Moscow is. I also understood that the Russian public has become totally incapable of accepting any kind of novelty. Everybody [in the music world] just chases after government-approved projects and, as a result, the city doesn't have a single decent techno-club.... Berlin is the cultural hub of the world. And it's incredibly hard to enter the flow of global culture if you're stuck in a distant village––whatever its size or wealth may be."
What, though, of musical matters back home––either in Moscow or Kiev? "There's certainly some degree of improvement. New cultural spaces, galleries, and festivals are popping up. But that still means dealing with the city's organizers, who often give the impression of being rather 'strange' folk. With an equally strange way of operating, too. That [tension between artists and bureaucrats] means a pretty slow pace of progress. The public is [in Russia and Ukraine] still very conservative, while the organizers are often snobs. But whatever the case––and on the basis of everything I've experienced––I have considerable respect for anybody who can create something truly great in an unfavorable environment––and still stay honest, both to themselves and in the world overall."
We first encountered PRCDRL, aka Stanislav Glazov, when he was a guest of the Monasterio club in Moscow. A journalist attended the launch on behalf of Resident Advisor: "The arrival of Monasterio looks promising, since they offer something fresh and unexplored. When you enter the obscure chamber[s] of the club, the first impression is of something otherworldly. The sound system is Void Incubus, engineered for a space ten times as big as this. Darkness enhances the experience: your eyes rove around without a spot to linger––and your perception becomes focused solely on sound. It takes some time to make out the whereabouts of the DJ––he is well-hidden in a trench without any additional lights, as if dispersed in the gloom."
The club has since closed down, perhaps proving PRCDRL's skepticism to be valid. The frustratingly predictable parallels suggested by PRCDRL between matters home and away––between Slavdom and Berlin––come in a conversation with Kiev's techno clubbing community, CXEMA ("The Scheme"). Not only are CXEMA responsible for a wide range of itinerant and fashionable dance events; they also publish important podcasts from many of their guests––and append to each an interview in Russian. Hence the quotations above.
The interviewer here was Bogdan Konakov, one of the key figures/founders of CXEMA. He was himself interviewed by a Ukrainian magazine not long ago. Konakov explained at that time the importance of dance music in the face of bureaucratic indifference––if not outright malice.
"Nightclubs playing electronic music nowadays don't fall within any established bureaucratic or legal paradigms. Consequently, they're merely seen as a chance to extort some cash, especially when it comes to the police. Any kind of cultural initiative is punishable today––and some of the threats can be very serious indeed. That's why the techno scene here endures thanks wholly to the efforts of ten or so young entrepreneurs. That's ten people among millions of citizens in Kiev. If the police raids continue and substantial changes aren't made soon, then even those [faithful] few souls will simply get exhausted and do something else. They may even quit Ukraine altogether and develop their projects––be they new or established––in an entirely different nation..." The problems of PRCDRL return.
Another of the CXEMA contributors of late has been Molodoy Chelovek, a phrase that's often used in the vocative to politely address a male stranger: "Young Man!" Originally from Ufa, which is 1,300 km inland from Moscow, Molodoy Chelovek prefers the modest self-definition of "beatmaker," rather than calling himself a fully fledged musician or DJ, even. Put simply, he cuts, pastes, and remakes.
If the neo-Soviet obstructions of bureaucracy in the Ukraine and Russian capitals make innovation both pricey and painful, then this solo performer's home address does little to inspire ongoing hope. Optimism fades by the mile. "No matter how you look at things, Ufa is a sleepy provincial location. Over and above my closest friends, few people here really understand what I'm doing... so that's why I'd like to visit Moscow more often. There's a genuine sense of energy there––and plenty of cool performers, too." By implication, neither enthusiasm nor fashion are evident on the streets of Bashkortostan.
In the meantime, a sense of social detachment inspires Ufa recordings in the realm of "industrial, post-industrial, and minimal wave" styles. The rationale of anything industrial or severe emerges in the wake of some visual materials posted by Molodoy Chelovek. Not long ago, he uploaded some Bauhaus-inspired and linear designs; more specifically he spoke in glowing terms of Josef Albers and his early 1950s series "Structural Constellations." Some minimalist line drawings of empty, three-dimensional spaces are, in the opinion of a modern Russian artist, best defined as follows. "These [paper-based] illustrations, when turned 90 degrees, acquire a new significance––and invite a new interpretation, too." A changed point of view creates an altered outlook.
An interest in meaning's production––or in its absence––is then transferred to some unique and often horrible situations in recent world history. Our Bashkortostan performer wonders whether history itself has any fixed significance.
I'll be there for you/ As the world falls down (David Bowie, 1986)
More specifically, Molodoy Chelovek posts some detailed information on the Brazilian gold mines around Serra Pelada thirty years ago. The text in question accompanies some very graphic––if not harrowing––photographs and begins as follows: "In the early 1980s, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado travelled to the mines of Serra Pelada, some 430 kilometers south of the mouth of the Amazon River, where a notorious gold rush was in progress. A few years earlier, a child had found a six-gram nugget of gold in the banks of a local river, triggering one of the biggest race for gold in modern history. Motivated by the dream of getting rich quickly, tens of thousands of miners descended into the site swarming like ants in the vast open-air pit they had carved into the landscape..."
The result is not pretty: life expectancy at Serra Pelada was tragically low, while underage prostitution and murders increased at a terrifying rate. Molodoy Chelovek juxtaposes this lawlessness with an antique photograph of The Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania (Tombeau de la Chrétienne) in Algeria. An ancient royal burial chamber (circa 3BC), the Tombeau becomes another motif of senselessness, since it is still under constraint threat from urban expansion and vandalism. Even the dead are not granted peace from fickle mercantilism; death's permanence loses to modernity's indifference.
A modern parallel with civic distrust or collapse seems possible in 2016, because Molodoy Chelovek then quotes six lines verbatim from a David Bowie song of 1986 ("As the World Falls Down") that find salvation only in private, subjective realms. "As the pain sweeps through/ Makes no sense for you/ Every thrill has gone/ Wasn't too much fun at all/ But I'll be there for you/ As the world falls down." Amid public doubt, private experience has greater import. Friends may be trusted, colleagues probably not.
A third CXEMA member called Potreba is known in real life as Gennady Boychenko from Odessa. He also plays in a widely respected improvisational project called Indirect. The connection between those stage-names lies in the fact that Potreba embodies Boychenko's desire to play "spontaneously created material. The music tells me how matters will unfold... Potreba represents a method in which fantasy guides the creative process. It's my attempt to grab hold of [electronic] sounds in my head. It's a very specific moment, when you reject [formal] analysis." A brief and fleeting leap of faith is made beyond the constraints of convention. Anything––thankfully––may happen.
Boychenko openly admits an additional and causal connection between these ideas and the violently debated meaning(s) of current Ukrainian politics. "We're reworking all the energy that was released during the protests here... Performers capable of taking audiences away from that reality are in demand... DJs and dance music are closer to the people's own force [than any other genre]. They're like shamans. That's why I find it absurd that anybody would want to just listen to dance tracks. You lose the atmosphere of the club and any associated ritual overtones... I think it's vital that dance music correspond to our bodily movements––the pulsating beat should be synchronized with your arms and legs." It needs no stately intermediary.
Music is a sort of beehive or aquarium, like a forest, perhaps––a kind of ecosystem (Potreba)
Potreba subsequently makes the wholly justifiable claim that electronica has become the modern folk music of Eastern Europe. Additional observations on modern, mobile folk creativity come in his interviews regarding Indirect––also based in Odessa. Here––as on the dance floor–– Potreba stresses the mantric role of repetition. "We attached the label 'Krautrock' to ourselves and have long been inspired by Xhol Caravan––also one of my personal favorites and who were themselves inspired by John Coltrane. First of all we had to work through the cliches of Krautrock, but––as we did so––our evolution began to appear logical. All of our apparatus nudged us a little further in the same direction, while our musical know-how gave us a degree of freedom." In a Deleuzian sense, the constant use of repeated structures led to a freedom from them.
Potreba talks later of how such potentially endless, "meditative" formats seemed a political statement at home, in their refusal of both canonical forms and/or conclusions. In this way, Boychenko has referred to his techno compositions as "a sort of beehive or aquarium, something like a forest, perhaps––a kind of ecosystem. It offers [spontaneous] interaction, a transition between generations, together with a respect for tradition. Surely these are the essential conditions for any kind of cultural development." Indeed they are, hence the evident disconnect between performance and policy––given the latter's preference for regulatory behavior and unidirectional notions of progress, relative to profit or power.
Last of the four CXEMA representatives with techno podcasts of late is John Object from Kiev. A couple of his other monikers include Timur Gvozd and even Sh*tweed. Object's current stage-name was chosen for its alleged "freedom from any narrow significance." Again a CXEMA interview provides valuable context. In a related discussion of creative liberties, Object attributes both his visual and sound designs to "discrete combinations of instruments, colors, fonts, geometric combinations, and so forth."
A ludic intent is more attractive than a pressing need to reach any singular goal. An interplay of significances is healthier than stasis, especially if that morbid state is promoted insistently. Diversity and deviation, after all, cannot be dictated by one voice.
Molodoy Chelovek's interest in abstract, endlessly kinetic––and therefore wonderfully meaningless––patterns is echoed by John Object. "I almost never pay any attention to the aesthetic of some finished, future product. It's the interaction of instruments or timbres that typically conjures a kind of unpredictable emotional reaction in me. And that emotion is something both I and my audience will [unavoidably] perceive differently." Multiple influences converge as a single sound, which itself then has equally multiple significances––if it's quickly dispatched to the public without an intermediary.
Object then adds some remarkable observations on the globally lambasted German duo Milli Vanilli, whose rapid rise to mainstream pop fame was immediately reversed by accusations of dubbed vocals. The two performers––Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus––were suddenly at the center of an international scandal. They had pretended to sing on every recording. Even a decade later, a comeback was impossible: Pilatus had turned to both petty crime and drugs. He died of an overdose in Germany––one day before the band's new album was to be released. It remains unpublished even now––and Milli Vanilli stay forever synonymous with fabrication or primetime deceit.
I almost never pay any attention to the aesthetic of some finished, future product (John Object)
What, then, can John Object possibly find to celebrate? "I find genuine cause for inspiration in the musicians and producers who planned everything around Milli Vanilli, yet chose to remain in the shadows. To this day, I've no idea who they were. For some reason, I imagine them as a bunch of pale-faced, long-haired guys in dark glasses and grey shirts." Together those faceless musicians created a pre-digital simulacrum, a form of anonymous, causeless show that begs comparison with politics' Potemkin Villages. Given that the musicians of CXEMA have lived through awful sociopolitical changes––and voluntarily admit to their influence––the tragicomic tale of Milli Vanilli and all ideological projects like it require a contrary stance. Falsehood needs new people at the mixing desk; professionals unwilling to use public gestures to private benefit.
In summary: PRCDRL first casts some doubts on the current health of Russian and Ukrainian society; he speaks of a direct connection between faint democracy and the contrary, if not subversive workings of techno on a dance floor. Molodoy Chelovek, extending those melancholy parallels, proposes some unnerving parallels with modern slavery in Brazil, even. In an increasingly networked world, East Slavic cultures seem to prefer "verticals of power." Then, in response to growing civic dissatisfaction, the two CXEMA artists Potreba and John Object in Ukraine work hard to generate superior social- or "ecosystems," using sound. Put differently, they champion both improvisation and those rare colleagues who have a wantonly "modest" presence on stage. Potreba has spoken about the growing need for an electronic musician or DJ to withdraw him/herself from any lofty position and instead pass control directly to a network of audience members.
In all these instances from Moscow, Vladimir, Ufa, Odessa, and Kiev there are multiple connections drawn between the musical texts of CXEMA and the surrounding social contexts. In returning to the community's name––"The Scheme"––we hear from the outset a desire for superior civic structures. None of them involve a single person at the helm.
John Object: making the best of some limited options