"Milestone Two" refers to a new compilation from Highway Records, with tracks mixed by Mike Spirit and Spieltape (Alexander Malyutin, Arkhangelsk). Both the label and its two frontmen have been known to FFM for some time. The tracklist of "Milestone Two" reveals other names of lasting importance to us, such as the recently defunct Modul and Moscow kingpins SCSI-9 (Maksim Miliutenko and Anton Kubikov). To those figures we can add a range of Russian and European colleagues. We focus upon several of them below, in order to explain the loud appreciation on Soundcloud for this album's "deep and dreamy" textures, which together make for "great driving tracks." Where, though, is the connection between the dancefloor and a driveway - between escapism and a genuine escape to a better location? Why the enduring imagery of roads and highways?
Serious stuff! (Soundcloud)
We've noted before that although Highway is based in the Russian capital, it also has links to southern, warmer realms - and not only through its artwork, which often involves plenty of asphalt, open land, and sea. The most important of these north-south connections has been with the city of Krasnodar, home not only to Modul, but also to the electro-collaboration that has emerged in their aftermath, FUSElab.
Readers of FFM might recall that Mike Spirit recently gave an interview to the Krasnodar press on the subject of modern dance music, and what might possibly link three distant locations such as Moscow, Krasnodar, and Zaporozh'e to general benefit. His line of thought began after a specific question, in which he was asked whether cities outside of Moscow, St Petersburg, and Kiev have any chance of participating - meaningfully! - in the development of dance culture.
His response, in positive tones, reflected the fact that increasing numbers of "regional" projects are evident at the national Winter Music Conference in Sochi. "I'm generally pleased with the way that dance music's developing [in both Russia and Ukraine]. I see more and more DJs who play good, relevant material... and not just that electro-junk you'd hear two-three years ago. I sense more heart, soul, and general 'movement' in the playlists of regional DJs. There's a lot more than just heavy, clumsy stuff [which you might expect]. That can only be cause for celebration!"
Tracks by some of the best Russians producers (Highway PR)
In the same spirit, we take a look at some of the younger or less familiar names on "Milestone Two." We might start with Azamat Murzaev, who performs as Agraba and was born in a tiny village near Kaliningrad. He would later, after his education, head south to Krasnodar and therefore has experience of two "provincial" locations. He has, since graduation, won not only first prize in numerous regional competitions and garnered a solid reputation in Moscow; he has likewise been a participant at the enormous Kazantip Festival for several years.
Murzaev maintains that Kazantip continues to develop and evolve, specifically in its degree of inclusiveness. "A real leap forward has taken place over the last five years - and I'm completely convinced it's only the beginning. There are huge numbers of talented young people spread all over our 'boundless homeland.'"
He uses that stereotypical phrase since there's a high degree of romance involved here: the fact that young men and women from anonymous villages might actually forge a meaningful career in music seems hard to believe. The grandest, most optimistic claims are therefore made with a touch of irony. Just in case.
In order to make this rosy outlook a little more persuasive, Murzaev's newest recordings use large sound bites from the 2004 Democratic Convention, at which Barack Obama spoke of his own, unlikely career path: "Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father - my grandfather - was a cook, a domestic servant to the British. But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before."
That quote is employed for Murzaev's "iMerica" track here.
Sick tech funkiness! (Soundcloud)
Having borrowed some house sounds - in various senses - both from Washington, DC and southern Russia, we might then turn to the central city of Nizhnii Novgorod. Here we find the project known as Datamode, aka Andrey Poliss and Alexey Osminin. Should we be looking for some connection to the city's medieval heritage, we could be disappointed, since Poliss and Osminin have a broader, happier goal than anything offered by monastic life: "We just want to keep your feet moving, babe!" (Even if Osminin hides with remarkable success online.)
Not surprisingly, that upbeat silliness has proven popular in the clubs of Nizhnii Novgorod, where Datamode hold a couple of residences. One of those establishments - Milo - now declares that the last five years have allowed local club-life to move beyond the stereotypes of "provincial" enterprise. "Back then, it was hard to imagine that our nightlife would reflect Moscow fashion in any way. It was impossible to make any comparisons with European clubs and not laugh..."
Things have changed for the better. A jolly worldview has produced serious results. Local visitors have included stars from the UK (Sonique and Boy George), Germany (Timo Maas), the US (Serge Devant), and even distant Australia (Sneaky Sound System and Emma Hewitt).
One of the brightest prospects on Russia's house and tech-house scenes
This productive shuttling back and forth between Moscow and other less fashionable locations is repeated in the two newest names on "Milestone Two," at least from our point of view. More specifically, we have in mind Maksim Butylev, aka S.K.A.M (Moscow) and Serge Nikitin (Kemerovo). Butylev has been producing and performing since 1997 and now has the confidence to call himself "one of the brightest prospects on Russia's house and tech-house scenes." His potted bio on several web venues offers support for that conviction, in that he has collaborated with musicians not only from a range of domestic locations, but also from the US, UK, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Norway, Greece, and Italy.
S.K.A.M (Maksim Butylev, Moscow)
One of his social networking pages includes a current and favorite quote, which can be translated from the Russian as follows: "Go your own way - and the universe will open its doors to you. Even in the middle of a stone wall." There's a high degree of optimism that emerges from diligence: hard work will achieve much. And yet, given that Butylev has already developed many useful and profitable projects with Western colleagues, he still holds that Russian collaborations leave much to be desired. Dance music's ability to travel - and be accepted far from home - is contingent upon mutual help and good management. Both are lacking in Russia.
"If DJs and performers in Russia were promoted in the Western manner, we'd all have crawled out of our [cultural] hole long ago. Ask any Western DJ whether he can name a single Russian DJ or producer - either one! - and I bet you the great majority can't. Sure, Russia has one or two big and established booking agencies, but against the backdrop of an entire nation, that's simply not enough..." His general pessimism is slowly colored with hope for the future:
Only when there's a working synergy between people can you talk of success
"I'm sure that sooner or later there will be a huge breakthrough of Russian artists in the West. At the moment, though, everything seems kinda simple and modest in scale. Almost nobody crosses the border to perform away from home..." In order to bridge those gaps, both sonically and spatially, Butylev again speaks of the common slog: "Only professionalism and disciple will get results... Only when there's a working synergy between people can you talk of success."
Serge Nikitin is - as mentioned - from Kemerovo, a southern Siberian location, more than 1,800 miles from Moscow. With a certain level of self-irony, he refers to himself as a "Russian underground Wunderkind." Maintaining that low promotional profile on all of his (half-hidden) pages, Nikitin saves the PR for a joint project he runs simultaneously with Kim Semikashev, a fellow resident of Kemerovo. Together these two men both say and do considerably more, even now that Nikitin has moved to the capital.
The main thing is to work - really, really work hard!
At the outset of their joint enterprise, Nikitin and Semikashev spoke about the value of hard, shared labor. "The main thing is to work - really, really work hard! You have to work hard on your own material, work with people, make sure your web pages are full of new media and so forth. There's always a range of tasks involved..." Colleagues and teamwork are vital, therefore: "Over time we've come to understand how - and with whom - to work."
The two men continue: "Instead of people joining together in the name of a common - and evident! - goal, all we ever see [at home] are blabbermouths and infighting... For some reason those problems are really pronounced in Russia..." Only when turning south, towards better organized and collegial festivals like Kazantip, did Nikitin and Semikashev find an exit from that dead end. "Mike Spirit and his team organize things really well."
And so we come full circle. "Milestone Two" - operating between Russia's capital, the sunny south, and distant Siberia - fosters a work ethic that highlights the importance of collaborative toil. Thanks to the editorial efforts of Spieltape, future plans and potentials come slowly into focus - no matter one's address.
Or how long the road.