Gallows Humor: Ilosthebalcony, Fanny Kaplan, Kul'tura Kureniia, and TBFW

Diligent figures against a grand backdrop: Ilostheblacony (Samara)

This summer we reported on a compilation of young Siberian bands, most of whom were committed to lo-fi or post-garage enterprise. One of those noisy outfits was Kul'tura Kureniia (The Culture of Smoking), who at the time were busy deciding how to tag their output: "metal," "black metal," "blackwave," maybe "post-black metal"... Having gathered as many lightless hues as possible, the musicians then defined their general location as somewhere "under the fingernails of Novosibirsk." Local life overshadowed any attempts at fantasy.

Thankfully these issues of self-definition have been clarified somewhat, especially because Moscow's Afisha just published an interview with Kul'tura Kureniia and debuted some brand-new material, entitled "Necrophilia." Formed two years ago, the band is rather keen to frame their album as follows: "We've always been attracted to pretty heavy music, in fact we've been into rock since our childhood. We've even lived like rockers!" Both that final statement and the LP's wantonly shocking title suggest a healthy level of humor.  

Most bands today try and hide the fact they're Russian

That same use of irony is designed, perhaps, as a response to local realia, especially when the musicians suggest that black metal and post-punk are philosophically related. In other words, several of the seemingly disparate tags applied to Kul'tura Kureniia don't actually warrant a serious debate. The existential and political woes that fuel black metal and post-punk, respectively, lead to a common goal. They are both a response to insurmountable obstacles (i.e., a failing social fabric or death!) and therefore combine audible protest with a sense of inevitable failure. Self-deprecation and irony do the same job: a shocking statement is followed by a denial of its importance. 

And so Kul'tura Kureniia say: "Black metal and post-punk are really similar in content. Not so much because the music is miserable, but because of their shared messages. They do have a great deal in common." Hence the group's ongoing desire to create some novel designations: the musicians themselves propose "black-gaze" and "blackwave." 

Almost total obscurity: Kul'tura Kureniia: "Necrophilia" (2013)

Local experience remains in the background throughout: "We want to be followers of Russian music. Most bands today try and hide the fact they're Russian. We don't. We're proud to be Russian."

These troubles with self-definition, in terms of style and (consequential) location, are even more evident in the discography of Ilostheblacony from Samara. Despite the complex spelling, missing letters, and so forth, the band's name at least hints at a sense of lost control. Lest such surface assumptions become mere conjecture, though, it's useful to recall the newest self-statement. "Hey guys, we've got good news and bad news. Let's start with the bad: Andrey has left the group. We're really sorry about that, but we wish him great success. And now for the good news: our debut EP has just come out. It took a lot of time and effort..."  

Since these debut recordings will obviously emerge free of any prior context, the musicians are keen to attach themselves to some generic markers. An empty space needs to look a little familiar. And so Ilostheblacony just asked their fans on Vkontakte: "What exactly do we play, in your opinion?" "Post-melodic death metal" is the first suggestion. "Post-metal"; "post-melodic black death metal"; "prog"; "dark tranquility" and others - yet they all prove to have diminishing worth. The more that's said, the less we learn.

Post-melodic black death metal?

One fan chipped in with the admission that: "I'd never have guessed you're a Russian band." That happy vagueness comes from the group's early penchant for instrumental performance. And yet, in order to define a generic base from which to advance their career, Ilostheblacony have felt they should increase the vocal element of their craft. Words will supposedly make everything comprehendible - and therefore recognizable. "We're working on more vocals right now," they say. "We've found a decent vocalist and we're developing our texts." An admirer approves: "You really do need those vocals. They'll help to define [or decide] whatever style you're singing in." 

The decision to voice one's opinion certainly brings clarity, but judging by the experiences of Kul'tura Kureniia and Ilostheblacony, precision is sometimes confining. It leads to generic or geographic pigeonholing that, when keenly felt, produces little more than melancholy. A sense of belonging (to one style or one town) becomes synonymous with a loss of freedom. The creation or acceptance of one significance is the loss of others. 

Protest and a stubborn smile: The Bad Flaming Wires (Moscow)

Something similar happens with Moscow outfit The Bad Flaming Wires, who - for the sake of brevity - we might refer to as "TBFW." Their mission statement reads: "We are leaving the deepest underground - a place of oblivion we know so well. We're coming out into the faint light of autumn - in order to destroy the consoling tedium of daily existence. Our guitars have stopped sounding light or easy-going. From now on they'll serve as lightning rods for searing flashes of consciousness. Our rhythms will cut right to the core of things. We are the naked nerve endings of an uncompromising conscience."

Once again, the loftier the tone, the more we suspect a little self-irony. Tales of endless, unfettered subversion are likely to "run aground on dreary routine," to quote the famous and final words of a certain Russian poet.   

Garage psycho-trash

And, for precisely those reasons, we again find a leaning towards self-mockery. "The band have turned everything upside down! Don't even think you can remain indifferent to these psychopaths! They're all seriously not serious; they're just hammering out their no-nonsense 'garage psycho-trash'! In fact we're not even sure what to call this music. There's no way you'd call this flesh-exploding psychopathic sound 'normal!'"

The same heady and humorous tone continues: "The first thing that comes to mind is the work of some mad scientist, somebody who's experiencing his one and only triumph. It's a feeling that might last only a moment." Apparently a victory over the world's frustrating limitations will always be fleeting. Generic pigeonholing, social norms, and even the laws of physics are playfully invoked as bittersweet examples of inevitability.

Romance tends to dreams big; reality always scales things back.  

There's an impressive real-life example of precisely these issues from the last band today, Fanny Kaplan (i.e., Фанни Каплан). That stage name harks back directly to the woman who once tried to assassinate Lenin in 1918 - for betraying the revolution's "true promise." As Lenin's biography accurately suggests, that attempt failed, due basically to some inaccurate shooting and the man's own fortitude. Kaplan herself was executed within a few days. Romance fell swiftly short of its goal with some brutal, even tragic consequences. 

Turning away from the inevitable: Fanny Kaplan (Moscow/Omsk)

Invoking this maîtresse of mishap are sisters Karina and Lusia Kazaryan, together with Dina Burkot, whom we already know from her solo project Rosemary Loves a Blackberry.The backgrounds of these three women stretch from Moscow to Omsk. When asked by the Russian webzine Sadwave to contextualize their newest songs, the musicians began by talking about inevitability - and the concomitant, even paradoxical need not to accept it. "Our opening track is all about the amazing arrogance of people today, especially when they're the cause of universal suffering... The song says that indifference [to such things] is evil." Protest - even doomed outrage! - is better than quiet acceptance of what'll happen anyway.  

That outlook will soon turn an optimistic desire for change into some counterproductive, even masochistic drive. Hence the contents of another track from the debut Fanny Kaplan EP, imaging a club environment full of pounding techno, booze, drugs, "sweaty bodies and the collective, demonic desire to burn... It's a story of human self-destruction."

We make use of wordplay to show some self-irony 

Brief, metaphorical violence at least provides a fleeting sense of relief. "I'd like Fanny Kaplan to shoot all the people who run zoos or circuses. We'd also like to destroy anybody who writes popular books on psychology." The spirit of the original Ms. Kaplan endures.   

As with the other bands today, the issue of discussing these ideas arises. How does local speech do justice to a commitment to overcome regional tedium? Fanny Kaplan believe that issues close to home - or stories of local disaster, even - actually need a domestic register. A native language both addresses and admits its constraints. The result is irony. "It's easier to express our dissatisfaction in Russian. We undoubtedly feel a kinship with the Riot grrrl ideology, a sense of solidarity... but we'll never speak openly about political or economic issues. Our worldview is perfectly clear from our stage name. Fanny Kaplan was a tragic figure, but even her Christian name sounds like the word 'funny.'  We make use of that wordplay to show some self-irony, no matter the miserable imagery we might use elsewhere." 

Behind the noisy, subversive sounds of Fanny KaplanThe Bad Flaming WiresKul'tura Kureniia, and even the "post-melodic black death metal[!]" of Ilostheblacony lies a bitter-sweet humor. Its foundations are in language itself and the universal sensation that a statement made is a feeling constrained. A boundless emotion gains little from the straitjacket of language, generic tags, or local life.

The clearest example of a tension between desire and destiny would be those closing words from Fanny Kaplan. No sooner is the name of a tragic Russian heroine uttered than it sounds "funny." Tragedy is made trivial by the terms of an indifferent world.

Infectious jollity - from somewhere very dark: Fanny Kaplan

Audio

Fanny Kaplan – Edemov Sad (Garden of Eden)
Fanny Kaplan – Son i pustota (Dreams and Emptiness)

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