"Hair Peace Salon" and Belarusian Brit-Pop

Hair Peace Salon are from Minsk, Belarus, but a quick search online is more likely to produce several barber shops and spas from around the United States; for some reason Colorado and Michigan are two areas in particular need of follicular assistance.  Our interests, thankfully, lie far from the world of head-mounted carpet tiles.  The people we're looking for are more likely to be carrying guitars than scissors and glue; they will, in addition, probably be communicating with one another in tones closer to a UK, not an American accent.

Hair Peace Salon admit that the Belarus media tends to define them as "alternative Brit-pop combo," a category with which - to our surprise - they have no problem.  In fact they happily endorse this kind of categorization with additional information:  "The band is full of an almost desperate energy, interwoven with romantic notes of melancholy or sadness.  Our lyrics are in English and replete with heartfelt concerns; they give voice to a heartbreaking yearning for happiness."

The band is full of an almost desperate energy, interwoven with romantic notes of melancholy or sadness. Our lyrics are in English and replete with heartfelt concerns; they give voice to a heartbreaking yearning for happiness.

At this point we start bordering on tweeness, and if we were looking for some kind of UK parallel with a similarly delicate constitution, the second and third albums by Travis might be productive points of reference.

Hair Peace Salon themselves, however, are less keen to produce a list of direct influences.  Instead we get an entire range of evocative, increasingly abstract notions:  "Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Girls, Sea, Mountains, Books, Movies, Music By Other Great Bands, Drinks, Swimming, Walking, Conversations, Cars, Trips, and Intentions."

The longer the list, the less specificity.

In drawing upon the notion of Brit-pop so willingly, Hair Peace Salon prompt us to say a word or two about this tendency as a whole in Eastern Europe.  If we take one of the larger portals dedicated to the style - based in St Petersburg - we hear that such culturally specific resources are "created in order to unite people who play quality music.  They're trying to do more than simply rip their vocal chords or strings to shreds."

Defining factor #1, therefore, is some kind of willful restraint, a self-imposed liminality.  This finds expression in social and geographical terms, too.

First it needs to be said that the phenomenon in the UK grew as a reaction to simultaneously "rockist" tendencies in much American music, in particular to the slow, droning sounds of Seattle.  Social relevance, rather than slacker/stoner motifs, became the order of the day; a cheeky ladishness was juxtaposed to the glossy grandeur of all things American.  The British press, in fact, often attributed the biting, sometimes sarcastic tone of Brit-pop to a particularly "suburban" worldview.  One small nation - itself on the "edge" of a once-great history, busied itself with miniature display on the edge of the world's stage.

Whatever its posturing on the terraces or in pub gardens, Brit-pop accepted this tweeness (being peripheral to big business) - as in the early albums by Blur, for example.  Nonetheless, it was often busy with spiteful comments directed at those (more influential individuals) who operated in the thick of things; it thrived on a love/hate relationship with fame and fortune.

In essence, therefore, there's a certain schizophrenic aspect to Brit-pop, a duality that was epitomized by its early love affair with Tony Blair's New Labour (which wasn't traditionally Labour at all!) and the related program of Cool Britannia, which (as a governmental endeavor) was fated to be massively unfashionable.

Blair's involvement in Iraq and the subsequent failings of the British economy defined the end of the musical style.  Without a desirable "center," without a successful urban core, the knowing wit of Brit-pop lost its object of (repressed) desire.

So what of its role in Russia and Belarus, then?  In the case of Russia, at a time when a mere 7% of the Russian population is said to support the government's handling of the economy - yet many more citizens still endorse the President as an individual - it's hard to say whether the nation will change its stance towards the desirability of Moscow and/or St Petersburg.

Any widespread social shift in attitudes towards the (once) attractive heights of city life will surely have a direct effect on Russia's version of Brit-pop, too.  As "downtown" changes, so will the yearning suburbs.  Take the increasingly darker tones across Travis' recent discography, for example.

If that figure of 7% starts manifesting itself in social forms, don't be surprised if these gentle, intelligent bands begin to "rip their vocal chords to shreds."  The ensembles that were once honored to be invited to 10, Downing Street turned on their erstwhile political mentor with notable savagery.  By 2006, Noel Gallagher would say of Blair:  "We all got carried away in '97.  Once the veneer wore off - even taking the Iraq debacle out of the equation - we've all just given him a massive shrug. I think the Labour party's crowning achievement is the death of politics.  There's nothing left to vote for... "

We all got carried away in '97. Once the veneer wore off - even taking the Iraq debacle out of the equation - we've all just given him a massive shrug. I think the Labour party's crowning achievement is the death of politics. There's nothing left to vote for...

Because Brit-pop outfits need by definition to operate on the edge of something larger, attractive, and unobtainable, they serve as useful social barometers.  In small songs of  a "heartbreaking yearning for happiness," they reflect bigger social processes - and their un/likely ability to realize public hope.

Watch this space closely.

Audio

Hair Peace Salon – Stand The Rain

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