Oksana Grigorieva (R) and Sasha Chirkov, Die Hard (Moscow)
The Moscow trio known as "Die Hard" have appeared on this site once before, but any encounter with the ensemble's work should first take into consideration their stage-name in a Russian context. Those two words are tricky enough to explain in English, but when John McTiernan's 1988 thriller reached Russian screens, Slavic distributors was especially unsure of how to translate it into a second language. As a result, Moscow posters eventually displayed the expression "Krepkii Oreshek" - "Tough Nut."
That slightly ironic choice reflects the light in which Bruce Willis' vehicle was seen across Eastern Europe. "Die Hard" was one of the most influential Western blockbusters of late Soviet culture, showing - from afar - what loud, glossy spectacle socialist moviegoers had been missing. Nowadays, that same enthusiasm is looked back upon with slight embarrassment, as if a B-Movie was loved a little too enthusiastically.
I'm going to count to three. There will not be a four (Die Hard)
That moniker aside, another reason for Die Hard's musical self-deprecation might be the status of instrumental rock, which has not always been easy to market. Its story in the West plots an uneven course, because wordlessness frequently leads to a broad - imprecise - thematic, and therefore an uncertain status amongst media outlets. Promoting vagueness is never easy. That wavering path between mood and meaning arguably begins in the mid-1950s with various pre-Beatles instrumental outfits, most of whom would quickly sound outdated after the appearance of the Fab Four.
The absence of text almost seemed synonymous with an MOR aesthetic: rebellious pop music needed to state its case - in writing. Lyrics likewise helped to save pop tracks from the danger of becoming background music.
Die Hard: (L to R) Sasha Chirkov, Oksana Grigorieva, and Evgeny Akimenko
Throughout the '60s, UK and US media outlets showed an increasing unwillingness to give airtime to instrumentals. One might argue that only prog rock ever managed to give them a degree of status and/or seriousness. Today, with the decentralization and "de-commercialization" of music production, those financial or broadcasting pressures against instrumentals have quickly vanished. The ability to transmit music internationally - at the flick of a DIY switch - also means reduced textual content could have overt benefits. All the way from wistful post-rock to homespun dance- and ambient textures, there's much to be said for saying nothing.
And yet being noticed (at all) online is a very tall order. For that reason, when Die Hard opened a Facebook page recently, one admirer's words almost seemed to mock their promotional activity. "Wow, super! Now fans have a place to write back!" A smiley face, added immediately after, suggested that those same fans may not be begging in large numbers for attention.
Improvised psychedelic dub
And so our three exponents of improvised "psychedelic dub" tell us "Wir kommen in Frieden." Such is the bittersweet humor of Evgeny Akimenko (bass), Sasha Chirkov (guitar), and Oksana Grigorieva (drums). On Russian-language resources, we've been told in the past to expect a "unique, often volcanic mix of shoegaze, dub, and post-punk." Even today, that muddle of distorted styles speaks to an impassioned, troubled occupation - because marketplace norms and likelihoods inhibit one's generic range.
Strife becomes audible.
For that reason, it seems, Die Hard have accompanied their newest tracks with a famous nineteenth-century Japanese print, "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife." A pearl diver is approached - or attacked - sexually by a couple of octopi. Even though the image was designed as an illustration of boundless pleasure, it has - for modern critics - more associations with rape than with desire. Willing acquiescence and considerable anguish occur at the same time.
If we were looking for more ways in which genre - or evident discord - reflects professional challenges, there might be no better example than the anonymous ensemble Lo-Fi Woman . The band's lineup and gender both remain hidden, and it remains far from certain where these epic levels of distortion are based. The logical choice would be Perm, since these wonderful - though unnerving - noises come from Pikkalma Product, a cassette label in that city. Pikkalma advertises the work of Lo-Fi Woman as "semi-improvised outsider noise-punk." Even their generic tag draws upon a social status. Borderline chaos sounds forth from the edge of social membership.
Semi-improvised outsider noise-punk
This suitably lo-fi tumult sometimes toys with aspects of the mainstream rock canon, such as "Moby Dick," which we offer here. The new lyrics, however, are inaudible, and sound more like anguished howls. The sound quality, reproduced and published on cheap cassettes, is also mixed with dramatic asymmetry. Almost everything emerges from the right-hand channel; the left does little more than whimper. Even if these unbalanced recordings were to find a large audience, Pikkalma are only publishing twenty(!) copies.
In other words, there's a maximum distance between the invocation of a Led Zeppelin 1969 classic (at least in name) and the refusal to make more than twenty copies of one's work. Daring and self-deprecation cancel each other out.
In that light, it's revealing to look at the new garage recordings from Togliatti's Klad Yada, entitled "Milliard" (Billion). The lineup for this release is artist Mikhail Lezin (guitars, synths, and noise); Yury Klavdiev (vocals, lyrics); Vladimir Maloletkov (bass); and Pavel Madurov (additional synths, harmonica). Author and playwright Klavdiev has long worked with Lezin in a number of Togliatti projects. On this occasion, his lyrical contribution is framed by some recent materials he also published at Vkontakte. They help to color and contextualize the maximalist air of a title like "Billion."
Not everything that adopts a human form is actually human. Woe be to those who forget that (Y. Klavdiev)
Not long ago, Mr. Klavdiev uploaded a definition of what he perceives to be the enduring phenomenon of "subhumans" in Russian society. "They're only the mere semblance of human beings - with lifelike facial expressions - but when it comes to spiritual factors, they're lower [on nature's hierarchy] than animals. Their heart and soul is full of pitiless chaos and unbridled passions. They show both an unlimited striving for destruction and a primitive loathing - it's a kind of brazen profanity. Not everything that adopts a human form is actually human. Woe be to those who forget that. Remember it well..."
Klavdiev also uploads a sad picture of an elderly woman who has been reduced to begging on Togliatti's streets. It turns out that she lost her hearing as a girl during WWII, but has not been treated well by social systems over the decades. And yet, for all that injustice, there seems no point in ranting and raging against these civic lacunae. Klavdiev explained why, tangentially, when he posted a Japanese fable in which a samurai teacher is challenged by his arrogant pupil. The student deliberately abuses the teacher, both physically and verbally, so he'll enter a fight unprepared - and become the victim of his unruly emotions.
The teacher, however, stands firm. Once the attacks have ended, he reminds his other, better behaved students that if a gift is not accepted from an individual, it remains the property of the donor. In the same way, if the teacher does not react to crude displays of "hatred, loathing, and abuse" they will also remain with the embittered individual who brought them.
So what, then, of radically confrontational styles, such as screamo, replete with fractured, fractious vocals? The Ukrainian outfit Burrow - from Kharkiv - have just published a new EP with a seemingly Christological title, "From Roots to Crown." Immediately we get the sense that moral rectitude comes from shouldering, not fighting civic failings. In actual fact, failure itself starts to show ethical benefits.
Burrow were founded in 2007 and even though their raucous style normally suggests confident, subversive posturing, the reality is very different. One super review of the band in the Ukrainian press illustrated the kind of situation in which Burrow's music would be locally suitable. The reviewer was undergoing major repairs in his apartment - and amid the struggles with awful Soviet design or construction standards, the new Burrow tracks offered him a balance between anger and sullen acceptance.
"I really needed those heavy, sometimes atonal riffs when I was pulling splinters from my fingers... You need a bass sound like this when you've cut your heel on a piece of metal sticking out of the floor."
Once the awfulness of major reconstruction was completed, the author then said: "In order for me to enjoy Burrow's sound again, I'll need first to suffer. I don't like to suffer... but what if I have to work in a morgue? In that case, Burrow's material will be absolutely necessary." The soundtrack to Western subversion becomes the accompaniment to Slavic acceptance. The former expects anger to have an effect; the latter feels itself to be stuck - but claims a moral victory, nonetheless. Discomfort and suffering will, apparently, come sooner or later - in the name of some greater truth.
In order for me to enjoy Burrow's sound again, I'll need first to suffer
The "outsider" status of Die Hard and Lo-Fi Woman produces irony, self-deprecation, and a deliberate downgrading of one's media formats. The materials surrounding Klad Yada then suggest that the social pressures creating that peripheral status are unassailable - as a result of which, Burrow instead claim the moral high ground by refusing to fight a strong and "subhuman" force. The bodily and architectural failings in Togliatti and Kharkiv tell of irreversible, structural demise. Screamo, amid that collapse or devolution, becomes the noise of a drowning soul - who knows he's right, but stands no chance of winning.
Decadence, in the finest possible sense.