Flashbacks and Quips: Dandyskills, Chikiss, Arm Author, and Coca Color

The sole image available from Coca-Color (Moscow)

A few days ago, some bright and breezy material was brought to our attention from Moscow-based Coca-Color, together with a link to a Soundcloud account. No other data was forthcoming: even the email address used to contact us proved immediately to be inactive (or non-existent). Those nine Soundcloud tracks likewise have not been re-posted on any other social networking sites - and reviews of the project's output are nowhere to be found. In short, over and above some infrequent melodies, not a squeak of promotional enterprise is to be heard. An anonymous collective clearly wishes to remain so.

Placing that promotional reticence to one side for a second, we find a handful of old-school electro tunes, redolent of late-'80s, instrumental synth-pop or the TV shows it often orchestrated. Video-game arpeggios and references to primetime cinema of long ago are also foregrounded. The most obvious of these nods towards the silver screen concerns Schwarzenegger's "Last Action Hero" (1993). At that time, Arnold's career was experiencing a slight lull (not long after "Kindergarten Cop") - and strait-laced action was briefly forced to parody itself.

Nobody could take the genre very seriously - and so it both declared and "erased" its intentions simultaneously with a host of self-deprecating quips. The screenwriters made constant jokes about their plot - before the audience started doing the same.

It's a movie, I'm a good guy. This has got to work! (The Last Action Hero, 1993)

Coca-Color's TV- or console arpeggios also refer back to the inferior - yet fondly remembered - video games of the same time in Russia. "Video adventures" of the late '80s and early 1990s meant cheap, yet nostalgically recalled Asian imports that are now both praised and pilloried in these sounds. The result of that interplay between love and laughter is a complex, sometimes wavering view of the world that's embodied in clearer terms by the duo Dandyskills from Brest, Belarus.

One of the band's anthems directly invites audiences to travel "back to 1989." Neck chains and stonewashed denim show the way, framed with a couple of pouts.

Not that serious: Dandyskills (Brest, Belarus)

The goal of these young musicians - Zmitty Zhukovsky and Pasha Smelyansky - is to fashion a nostalgic mix of late-Soviet breakdance, French electro-pop, and various aspects of UK dancefloor indie. "Our music and visuals [re]create the ideals of pop-art from the early '90s. A lot of those tendencies grow from 8-bit culture." In short, we're offered the sound of big dreams orchestrated by small, soon-to-be inadequate tools. Already we sense the tricky relationship between direct statement and self-parody that's so important to the instrumentals of Coca-Color.  

Dandyskills build (or reconsider) the soundtrack to some nervous engagement with a disorientingly wide world after the limitations of socialist enterprise. In the same manner, they employ a catchphrase of equally dodgy grammar: "We do the rock! We do the dance!" Enthusiasm outpaces expertise: that happy empiricism of an earlier generation is remembered with affection, no matter how inexpert it may seem.

We do the rock! We do the dance!

Were we looking for an even more striking coincidence of fleeting bravado and self-mockery, of presence and absence, it might come from the Siberian city of Omsk. That location is responsible for some new recordings by Andrei Mitroshin, best known as Milky Toad, but here operating within the framework of side-project Arm Author. Several of his previous efforts, full of kitsch humor and antique instrumentation, have been self-tagged as "gaytronic." That's a rare promotional tactic in Siberia, it must be said. 

As are the colors of his newest artwork.

Arm Author (Andrei Mitroshin, Omsk): "Snow White, the Laplace Operator, and the Biggest Jam in the World" (2012) via the Dopefish Family.

Now Mr. Mitroshin has published a one-track, thirteen-minute tribute to the dead-pan St. Petersburg trio, SBPCh. Mitroshin begins with a deliberately hopeless falsetto... Within seconds the recording's attention has already jumped - without warning - to the next song, which is equally lo-fi and faltering. All editing work here was evidently done with a blunt instrument. The result suggests a fantastically provincial disco in Russia of the late '80s. It's as if somebody heard the deeply ironic songs of SPBCh, often designed to mock primetime enterprise, but loved them to death. These are the sounds of enormous affection for someone else's joke. The desire to be earnest is considerable.

The line between seriousness and mockery grows fainter still, since we never hear a song performed to its conclusion in this "tribute." We're offered twelve(!) chopped-up tracks in thirteen minutes... 

That sonic scrapbook may have been published as a single audio file - as an extended proclamation - but even its title does little to establish any serious, objective viewpoint. Written in Chinese(...), the tribute's name reads in English as "Snow White, the Laplace Operator, and the Biggest Jam in the World." Fairytales, Euclidean space, and cookery all compete for significance. None of them wins.

Andrei Mitroshin (Omsk), barely present

All of these recordings, therefore, use the cheap and cheerful technology of the late '80s and early '90s - a time when neither bombast nor moneyed pomp were yet possible. Those unseemly extremes would appear by the middle of the decade. In the meantime, popular songwriting as the Soviet Union faded was experimenting with all manner of novel, strange topics. Cash, tarot cards, palm reading, psychoanalysis, the church: new touchstones were needed in the middle of nowhere. The recordings from Omsk almost revel in that aimlessness. 

Mitroshin has been involved in recent projects with fellow Petersburg resident, Galya Chikiss: by chance, she also has a new single. Their paths cross again. Mitroshin has now been joined by Minsk's multi-instrumentalist Mokh (Anton Krivulia) and Red Samara Automobile Club (Fedor Bondareff) for a series of remixes on Chikiss' song, "Kino" (Cinema). Thanks to the efforts of Moscow's Afisha, the results have just been published together with an interview. In that text, Chikiss explains that due to a lack of cash, and therefore studio time, the songs were recorded using sparse, dusty technology. "Nowadays, I just sit down with some old Soviet synthesizer and write the bassline first of all."

I just sit down with some old Soviet synthesizer...

By Galya's admission, the song "Kino" operates "on a very human scale. It's about the search for oneself... There are some direct links to my own past. Whenever I feel that I'm stuck in some kind of dead-end situation, I'll go to the movies." In times of troubled decision-making, someone else's narratives help to give a sense of direction. Major media help to create linear movement within growing paradigms: they give wavering souls a story to follow (and then emulate). That admission alone helps to synthesize some of these recordings, as follows.

Galya Chikiss, St. Petersburg

They're all framed with the sounds of an era that was full of nervous promise - a time when present options outnumbered future burdens. In fact, for many of these artists the heyday of their old-school instruments is shrouded in mystery, since we're talking of events more than two decades ago. Consequently, the romance of melodies from the late '80s and early '90s will today seem only greater. What endures is the sound of hope - without any concrete experience of the simultaneous social woes. 

Galya Chikiss speaks of cinema offering "narrative" direction, in other words some chains of cause and effect between bewildering options. Both films and songs of the early '90s - full of novel, "personal issues" - helped to create a sense of private purpose outside the theater. As for the songs, they were especially sentimental and comfortingly banal; predictability was very appealing. They validated the simple, yet elusive goals of love and affection in a society that was swiftly becoming crueler. 

Much as these musicians of today in BrestOmsk, and St. Petersburg would love to celebrate those same penniless, yet timeless benchmarks of doe-eyed romance, they now seem naive. As a result, the tunes and technology of twenty years ago are both embraced and mocked at the same time. They're celebrated in the knowledge that the simplest of aims - sadly - will probably remain out of reach. Taking them too seriously is only a guarantee of subsequent heartbreak.

Chikiss: "Kino" (Cinema, 2012)


Coca-Color – Botox & Sneakers
Coca-Color – Eyes against the Sun
Dandyskills – Infidels of the World Unite
Chikiss – Kino
Chikiss – Kino (RSAC Remix)
Dandyskills – Love Minimix
Dandyskills – My Generation (Justin Faust Remix)
Arm Author – SBPCh Tribute (as Arm Author)

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