A couple of days ago, the second single appeared from a fundamentally homeless enterprise known only as Screwdriver. Additional information comes in the form of three brief facts. We're told that these sounds emanate from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov and are authored by a young man known simply as Dmitry. The third piece of information is that he wrote, performed, and published the entire single within twenty-four hours. All else is conjecture.
The two tracks on Screwdriver's digital release are knee-deep in tape hiss, ambient white noise, and other indicators of a lo-fi aesthetic that's occasionally taken to extremes. They are titled "A Brief Encounter with the Enemy" and "We Can Handle the Truth." Those titles, suggestive of some hard-fought struggle for elusive verity, might bring to mind the famous courtroom scene from Rob Reiner's 1992 drama "A Few Good Men."
In some revelatory dialog, a military lawyer is told "he can't handle the truth" because national security involves various ugly, clandestine practices that no liberal member of society wants - yet each of them needs. In other words, "encounters with the enemy" on a nation's borders lead to a constant demand for brutal forms of self-defense, exercised "in places you don't talk about at parties..." Truth, put simply, lies elsewhere - in places that are best left alone.
Verity, in another phrase from Reiner's drama, is something that's unavoidably hidden "deep down." That murky location is well-captured with the anxious drone that comes to us from Kharkov. A similar concept and aesthetic, tied to things absent, reaches us simultaneously from the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, situated on the banks of the River Volga. Here lives the electronic musician known as Eric Delay (i.e., Feyzullov), who explained the last time we considered his catalog how his minimal soundscapes have slowly grown amid the smokestacks and smelting plants of this industrial complex.
Many of his professional stepping stones are tied to media development. Once, for example, sampling technology appeared - and was affordable - Feyzullov began to put a love for sonic hints and nuances into practice: "I would cut tapes into small pieces, re-arranging them in order to build the tracks anew. Sometimes the results were unimaginable! Over time, I would collect those tape snippets and make a kind of sample library. I'd construct all sorts of surreal instrumentals and distribute them among my friends and relatives." A mosaic grew in search of that which eluded direct expression. This interest in hidden significances appears elsewhere in Delay's biography.
Music built upon excessive pauses
As a child and prior to owning any scissors, he had an early passion for the faux-monastic leanings of German ensemble Enigma: "For a while, I was really keen on their music, and couldn't imagine a day without it!" Although his current downtempo and gentle techno is a long way from Enigma's bogus monasteries or latter-day folklore, a similar wistfulness is nonetheless evident in his adult tastes. Objects of desire are tucked away in dreams or distant cloisters...
The role of silence, retreat, and removal here even leads to the suggestion that we're dealing with "music built [consciously] upon excessive pauses."
Now, in that spirit, there's a new EP available from Delay, published through FUSELab, "Four Moments." Attention is focused upon that which passes quickly - and remains AWOL. Rather than attempt some bold, lasting statement, these recordings instead hope to evoke the flickering connections between parts of a fragile, audible "ecosystem." And so the staff at FUSELab suggest "it would be wrong to isolate any of these 'moments,' as each of the tracks finds reflection in those around it. But perhaps these concepts aren't that important, especially when you realize that you're simply listening to touching, heartfelt music." Once again, we find a general yearning towards certain values that are enduringly elsewhere.
The blackness of night, the city glowing with its illuminations, and snowflakes…
Delay has spoken of the connection between these instrumentals and "wintertime wanderings or long walks alone. Sometimes it felt as if we'd fallen through the snow like Lewis Carroll's Alice, seeking a rabbit in a bottomless hole. There was the blackness of night [as we walked], the city glowing with its illuminations, and snowflakes..."
That sense of spatial estrangement - of perfection held at a distance - is handled in related, historical terms by the Estonian duo, Tallinn Daggers. Some new remixes of their track "Fresco" have helped to position the band members Ardo Kivi and Joosep Volk in another age. Musical passions are directed towards the past, since perfection has allegedly passed us by - and slipped into dusty archives.
Claiming to embody the "perfect pop duo" (once more), Kivi and Volk spend much time stressing their distance from present-day songwriting and the values thereof. The Estonian press has helped this intention, specifically by likening Tallinn Daggers to the songs of Roland Orzabal, Marc Almond, and Shaun Ryder. Even the band's equipment is positioned in another decade: the duo's percussion is overseen by a "living drum machine who could be a long-lost brother of Stephen Morris." Keyboard flourishes lean towards "house piano" of the '90s, and so forth...
There might, however, come a moment where this constant denial of the present would seem rather sad. That combination of nostalgia, yearning, and self-mockery certainly comes to the surface in a new "EP1" published by Guerrilla Records. Behind the rather unfashionable stage-name of DJ Azamat we find two young men who seemingly treat their own craft will equal disdain. More specifically - and despite any suggestions that "DJ Azamat" refers only to one person - we're dealing with Nursultan Nazarbaev and Azamat Dzhanbyrshinov, who live and work between Samara and nearby Kazakhstan.
Soulful juke sounds on an epoch-making debut EP!
Presuming, of course, that these young artists are in on the joke, we discover a bizarre combination of samples and styles used to decorate four examples of "soulful juke" from a southern town. We're first told that these tracks are inspired by the TV show "Criminal Russia," which is a profoundly miserable - and manipulative - series. It catalogs the brutal excesses of provincial crime around the nation. What may sound like an attempt to dissuade viewers from lawlessness, however, probably inspires millions of young people to try their luck in the "underworld," rather than slowly surrender to tedium at home.
The show is synonymous with long-standing worries over provincial disorder or collapse. To the point of demonism, perhaps.
And then, on top of that lo-fi, VHS bravado, there are additional sound bites from another TV series, "Streets of Broken Lights" (Ulitsy razbitykh fonarei), which was designed to counter any such macho nonsense. Debuting on late '90s Russian TV, the show was set in St. Petersburg and focused on the downbeat experience of utterly normal - and rather likable - policemen. The common ground between "Criminal Russia" and "Streets of Broken Lights" is slim. One is loud and violent, the other hushed and tinged with melancholy.
As if those awkward contradictions weren't enough, we're then told to expect material from Andrei Tarkovskii's art-house classic, "Stalker" (1979). The grey, vague realms in which Screwdriver position "truth" return with Tarkovskii's film, in which several anxious individuals breach an uninhabited, unmapped "Zone" in order to discover the true nature of their desire.
This should be on the soundtrack of 'Tron'! (Soundcloud)
All these recordings overlap in the way they discuss objects of "true" worth or desire. Using the tools of tape-hiss, classic Soviet science fiction, '90s synth-pop, the Russian winter landscape, or the tongue--in-cheek stereotypes of Central Asian youth culture, verity is shown to be "somewhere else." One listener on Soundcloud has even likened the sounds of DJ Azamat to the soundtrack of "Tron" (1982)... Satisfaction slips again into the past - or floats off to distant, digital planets. And that leaves us in the present, moving awkwardly to the sounds of something we both love and lack.