Firestorms on a Wounded Landscape: Ivan Erofeev and Zavoloka

Zavoloka (Vienna/Kiev): "Transmutatsia" (Jan. 2017)

Two fundamentally industrial releases from Moscow and Kiev this week scribe an innovative trajectory (by way of Omsk and Vienna). The Russian recording comes from Ivan Erofeev and the Ukrainian from Ekaterina Zavoloka, thanks specifically to the widely respected Kvitnu project, created in 2006. Kvitnu first began on the streets of the Ukrainian capital as a collaboration among close friends (such as Dunaewsky69 and Zavoloka) but is currently able to boast some fruitful and prestigious connections to the experimental scenes of both Italy and Portugal. Its catalog and colleagues are all esteemed.

This expansion of an industrial style continues apace in confident terms: "We still like a 'strong' [avant-garde] sound and we will continue to make powerful music. We know where we're going and we love what we do!" That optimism emerges amid what Kotra (Dmytro Fedorenko) calls a "big fire" across the nation. Extreme, yet inspiring discord comes from a wounded landscape.

Everything is glowing both inside and out. An intention to believe (Zavoloka, "Syngonia")

Fedorenko was a cofounder of Kvitnu, together with Zavoloka. Together they sketch the rationale of their label in 2017, beginning with an important memory in English: "During the revolution there were a few moments which seemed to me the most important and impressive of my whole life, and I [Kotra] am happy to have had a chance to go through all of it, even though some memories of the events on the streets are still very hurtful. Sometimes I think that before this revolution I was a naive and infantile person who has now awakened, in some ways at least. Without exaggeration, our Winter revolution caused some mystical––and maybe even religious––transformation in me, and, as far as I know, for many of my friends here as well."

Any resulting sonic declarations by Kvitnu––as before––are defined this year by Zavoloka as "high blood pressure music." Kotra agrees and interjects: "We both, Zavoloka and I, like explosive noise."

Kotra (Dmytro Fedorenko) & Ekaterina Zavoloka, founders of Kvitnu

One step removed from such programmatic statements, an anniversary Kvitnu recording from Zavoloka called "Transmutation" is now available and framed with some baroque English phrasing: "Black light from twisted spiral galaxies laughs and transfers into an inner vortex. Concentrated sound rays are coming inside, focused in clusters, shiver, explode and constantly mutate. Glowing reconstruction lava moves with heavy and raw fire clots burning everything out to dust. Melting, converting, dissolving, transforming. Free."

The occasional grammatical blip aside, these dramatic abstractions invite a parallel with Kotra's memories of revolution in Ukraine. From within some elemental "vortex," faint sounds of liberty are still discernible. They speak of transformation or metamorphosis, in other words of potential. Of anything at all.

A brilliant, shining, and changing new substance (Zavoloka)

Now resident in Vienna, Zavoloka just gave a telling interview to contextualize these anniversary recordings further. Again she turns to politics and to the best possible sonic expressions thereof, speaking in English. "When Dmytro (Kotra) and I started Kvitnu, the revolution had already been going on for two months. We were standing on Independence Square in Kiev––to protest––and started thinking about what we could do as artists to address the situation. The peaceful protests turned into something else, when the police started beating and even shooting the protestors. From then on, people began using self-made Molotov cocktails, fireworks... and basically everything they could think of in order to protect themselves."

"During all this violence, people started picking up things to create rhythms that sounded like war drums. It was kind of a warning system. When the police were close, the drums went faster as a sign of danger and anger. When nothing happened, they turned quiet. It was like a constant symphony of strange sounds going on. When you stood right in the middle of the square, it was all around you, which was really beautiful. So I started to record this madness with my little Zoom recorder and Dmytro and I turned it into an audiovisual piece."

Zavoloka: "Syngonia" (February 2017)

"I started a series of albums, each one dedicated to one of the elements — air, water, earth and fire. The anniversary release 'Transmutation' represents fire, and my upcoming album 'Syngonia' stands for the earth. Creating the latter was really special for me because it took around two years to write the material. It contains a lot of complex structures, and I really wanted to find a specific sound for it. For Transmutation I did it the exact opposite way. I worked very fast to keep the spontaneity and energy that I relate to fire. Confronting myself with these different elements obviously led to diverse working methods and approaches for each one of them."

These locally specific interpretations have found a surprising admirer in the form of Aphex Twin. "Around five years ago, he found me on the Internet and wrote me an e-mail, saying he really liked my music. I obviously wrote back, since he’s the reason I started making music in the first place! His album 'I Care Because You Do‘ was the first experimental record I ever heard––and it’s still my favorite one to this day."

"Following this initial e-mail, we started a conversation about music and life in general. Aphex Twin is always the first person to buy my record! I always tell him that I want to give it to him as a gift but he keeps on refusing. One day he asked me to warm up two of his shows in Manchester and Copenhagen and that’s how it all came together. He’s a really nice person, really kind. A genius."

That positive note takes us into some equally new and elemental rhetoric of Ivan Erofeev, otherwise known as Aleph. Although now a resident of Moscow, he comes originally from Omsk. In one interview, Ivan has expressed gratitude for some "really cool teachers" who offered a young Siberian schoolboy vital opportunities in an otherwise unpromising environment. Both Erofeev and Zavoloka are thankful for a distant expressions of interest.

Ivan Erofeev (previously known as Aleph): Moscow and Omsk

"My school teachers kept me playing the violin for nine years. Some of the staff members would try forcing me to study [in school as a whole]... but I, in turn, would try skipping all my classes, except the orchestra and violin lessons." Erofeev then admits that his online success and daring experimentation would never have begun without the charity or concern of family members and other nearby acquaintances. "I'm proud of my friends. Without them, I probably wouldn't be the person I am today..."

To dream––over and over!––of somewhere else (Erofeev)

In this light, it's fascinating to hear Erofeev contend that Soviet culture—decades ago—turned all Russian cities into some homogenous "outlying district" or province. And so he left home, heading for Moscow and in search of something better. Somewhat bizarrely, an article appeared in the Siberian press not long ago, listing other local musicians who had made the same decision and left the region forever: "They range from National Artists to representatives of little-known sonic psychedelia." An air of slight disdain hung over the text. 

The newspaper continued: "We wanted to tell you about performers who––one way or another––were once tied to our city of Omsk. For equally varied reasons, they left Omsk, too... This local support system quotes Erofeev in the simplest terms, as he again is thankful for teachers and their attention: "I wrote my first music in school. I spent nine years practicing the violin, and only then started playing rock. I got a handle on various instruments, including drums in a jazz outfit."

The move to Moscow has benefitted from new mentorship, this time from Nikita Zabelin and his Resonance project--already a primary force in Russian techno. Resonance will soon announce a new publication from Erofeev. It
will appear with the following text in English. For ZavolokaKotra, and Kvitnu, percussive insistence becomes the soundtrack to liberating violence––to a force that serves no single purpose. It emerges in conflict with equally stubborn stasis.

Erofeev in search of nature's industrial/industrious soundtrack

For Erofeev, the clattering drums of his forthcoming tracks on Resonance speak of a frozen equivalent. They conjure overt thoughts of Siberia's unforgiving landscape––not to mention the troubled factories scattered across it. Zavoloka reworks the romance of revolution; Erofeev reconsiders the antique dignity of heavy industry. They both imagine a noisy, superior future.

And so we read in the forthcoming EPK from Resonance. "Ivan Erofeev is a uniquely gifted solo performer and producer from the mysterious Siberian city of Omsk, which was founded as a fortress town in the Eighteenth Century––primarily to defend Russia's borders against steppe-dwelling horsemen from Central Asia. Here, where European maps quickly fade away, an industrial powerhouse grew, pulling endlessly upon the elemental power of a frozen wasteland."

The magnificently enduring, life-affirming rhythms of snow-blown factory floors (Erofeev)

"Ivan Erofeev comes from that same proud and distant city. As does his music. Having worked for several years under the moniker AlephErofeev has now made things simple, using only his surname. His newest release is a bold interplay of insistent techno and witty samples from much warmer shores. Together they celebrate the mature, pulsing sounds of endurance. Whether one speaks of tribal ritual or a Siberian factory, the goal remains the same: endurance. To hear these tracks from Erofeev is to share a fundamentally human experience: to dream––over and over!––of somewhere else."

"Despite moving to Europe's biggest city, which is swamped by global commerce, Erofeev still boasts the proud trademark and outlook of Omsk. There are the magnificently enduring, life-affirming rhythms of snow-blown
factory floors."

In both cases, through fire and snow across Omsk and Kiev, these new recordings operate along similar thematic lines. They are equally inspired by the grandeur of some domestic collapse, be it civic structure or industrial might. And then, against an anxious backdrop of nocturnal drumming or factory hammers, they speak of something else. Of new potentials or transmutations within old, ailing structures. 

A Soviet public service image, recently sampled by Erofeev 

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