Ilya Orange & Space Detective: The Cheap Art of "Clash, Trash, & Kill"

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Ilya Orange and Space Detective is the name of a Moscow duo operating under the dramatic credo of "Clash, Trash, and Kill."  Taken at (virtual!) face value, this is an aesthetic or noisy worldview that's based upon processes of violent combination, all of which lead to a dramatic fall in quality... and conclude with general/mass destruction. Not the most productive path one might imagine, but it does tell us a thing or two about cultural values in modern Russia, especially online and the relationship between gaming and profiteering, as we'll see.

When asked to verbalize their rather physical philosophy, Ilya Orange and Space Detective have the following to say. (We've played a little with the English, since it appears to have already gone through the "clash/trash/kill" process and doesn't stand up to grammatical scrutiny.) "This is a project where trash culture meets perfect electro; that's also a good description of what Ilya Orange and Space Detective sound like." Immediately - as if there's no possibility of disagreement - we rush off into a biographical sketch:  "Ilya's talent started to show very early: for almost 10 years now, he has been composing all kinds of electro music, much to the enjoyment of the public! With Space Detective's cutting vocals and topical, trenchant lyrics, the band seems doomed to success..."

The band seems doomed to success...

Cue general celebration of one's impending demise.

That last phrase about a "doomed success," not surprisingly, is the most intriguing aspect of the quote - and useful, too, according to the following rationale. This is an outfit that wades happily through the low waters of mass culture; the duo feels at home amid widely mocked values. To be successful, validated, and admired, therefore, would somehow be a failure. And yet - according to their logic - maybe they cannot "avoid" that success, if we accept the hypothesis or principle that it's impossible to lose money by underestimating public taste. If such notions indeed hold true, then even "trenchant" mockery of today's pop-values could be gladly embraced by the consumers of Russia's cheapest products.

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Having already - voluntarily - tumbled far from anything resembling "taste," average consumers would travel further down the same, slippery slope with pleasure.

This general descent from decency - en route to fame and fortune - would appear to be well under way if we look at the project for which our duo is most "renowned" at the moment. According to Ilya Orange, he "recently got an offer from the Ukrainian mafia. What they wanted was the soundtrack to a computer game. The best one imaginable. It was a kind of 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' among all the games ever made."  That 1959 science fiction film is sometimes referred to as the worst movie ever made - and yet here were well-to-do Ukrainian bandits investing heavily in what they thought was top-notch, cutting-edge entertainment. Ilya Orange, savoring the irony, got to work on his "trash masterpiece." It would be modern, cheap and cheerful dance music for a WWII war game.

As the image above says: "Stalin Orders You to Dance." 

The hero of the game in question is a five-meter figure of Stalin(!), operating according to the following scenario, in which history and fantasy have been well and truly "clashed" together, resulting in bona fide "trash" and the death of fact. "During WWII an aggressive group of Martians lands in Siberia. Comrade Stalin immediately dispatches the Red Army to destroy the alien invaders." The Soviet troops are victorious. "Towards the end of the counter-attack Stalin even makes a personal visit to Mars, in order to deal with the planet's leader: a giant mutant octopus with the head of Hitler. Grounded in the software of the game 'Blitzkrieg 2' that appeared five years ago, this is a real-time strategy product - made for pennies and designed to be deliberately useless."

The inherent paradoxes are deserving of a few moments' thought.

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"This project, however, is not supposed to mock today's gamers, nor mark the death throes of domestic game development (which is dying, anyway). Instead it's all supposed to be closer to the idea of performance art, orchestrated by Moscow techie Ilya Orange. He has managed to produce the best dance soundtrack for any Russian computer game. It's a mix of disco, electroclash, and 8-bit electronica."

The sounds of "performance art" art emerge from far below the street. Moscow basements rejoice - and the intelligentsia cries itself to sleep.

I like Soviet feature films of the 1980s

Our composer claims to take a lot of inspiration from popular art and mass media of the 1980s in Russia, when electronic music was starting to appear. The naive simplicity of its first manifestations is something he sees reflected - once again - in the dumbness of its current state, a simplicity now dictated by the penny-pinching cynicism of game developers - funded on occasion by rough-looking Ukrainians.

Among Russian outfits that might be working along the same lines, he has kind words for synth-pop ensemble Tesla Boy, whom we've covered on this site. To this he adds legendary performance group NOM and the electronica of late Soviet filmmaking, either from composer Eduard Artem'ev or cartoons such as "Secret of the Third Planet." "I also like some other feature films of the 1980s in the USSR. Take the [teenage dramedy] 'The Courier,' for example. Films like that always included a lot of interesting sounds."

It all gets rolled into the dark humor of "Stalin v. Martians." In a recent interview, Orange was asked: "Is 'Stalin v. Martians' a kind of freak- or puppet show? The kind of thing you'd look at and think... What were the developers smoking? Would any normal person even try and play this game?" Orange answered - with conviction:

"I haven't even played it! And there's no need to, either. It's an example of modern art; a lot of people seem to have taken it the wrong way. The kind of reaction I see on the Russian web reminds me of some old ladies who turn up at an exhibition with a placard. It's been pretty funny following all the reactions online. On one forum people were yelling about the fact I'd disrespected national icons; on another I was accused of celebrating a dictator! As you might have expected, the most dedicated, if not desperate Communists and Stalinists took it all their stride - and actually thought it was kinda funny!"

Nothing says "big laughs" more than mass destruction and recent memory.

And so Ilya Orange's self-designated "space disco" is doing the rounds of the Russian web. The success of this "doomed" project has led him to move away from earlier idm and glitch works (built from sampled folk songs) to the bolder sounds of the '80s, since he sees that unsubtle decade as a depository of much more "awfulness, gloom, and insanity."  Such, allegedly, are the salient aspects of today's society.

It's precisely this view of historical cycles - born in the '30s or '80s - that has allowed Orange to revisit prior decades, and do so with calm humor. Whatever the troubles of today's market downturn, for example, he simply interprets them as unpleasant aspects of a repetitious process that needs to be suffered stoically - prior to an equally predictable uptick. In fact, not only has the economic crisis not troubled or inhibited his work, it has given him "good reason to create all kinds of dumb jokes online."

The question remains, however, of whether the original investors have the same sense of humor. Were one to catalog the characteristics of laugh-inducing worldviews among major criminals, "Irony" and "Self-Deprecating Patriotism" would be fairly far down the list. The likelihood of a showdown grows daily.

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