Ivan Latyshev is a musician, DJ, and producer from Saint Petersburg. A resident of the world's most northerly city, he introduces himself to new listeners with some third-person phrasing that references an even more isolated realm. A first-time visitor to his web resources is likely to encounter the assertion that "he [I.L.] came from outer space - to learn how to love." Although that detached notion of romance may suggest stories like Nicolas Roeg's "Man Who to Fell to Earth" (1976), it instead frames Latyshev's approach to composition. More specifically, this talk of his "spacey" experience introduces us to a very productive form of dancefloor reverie, as we'll see.
Latyshev is, for example, currently busy with a side-project called "Room Six" that brands itself as "techno and tech-house for your body and soul." Dancefloors offer an overtly physical experience that's simultaneously of benefit beyond anything tangible. But how?
He came from outer space - to learn how to love
Latyshev's colleague in "Room Six" is actually from an older joint endeavor - the Open Home Music Studio (aka Home Music). The four Petersburg artists within that ensemble, discussed before on this site, tag their collective downtempo output with an even shorter phrase, declaring simply that the band's catalog is always "about love." Put differently, sentiment may prove to be a conduit between physical and ideal experience - or so we hope. Apparently life in the distant north inclines one towards a bold interpretation of escapist feelings. Physical isolation can be sidelined or shunned in a club environment... en route to something otherworldly.
On our last visit to the band, the northern members of OHMS declared: "We've no desire to say anything [specific]. We're simply glad to share a musical outlook on some things we all like." Noises themselves were considered a better expression of concord than verbal debate.
In a word: harmony predominated, as the indicator of something intangible. Already we sense that Ivan Latyshev's "cosmic" experiences are rooted in the dual promise of melody and a maudlin worldview, both hoping that dancefloor unity might somehow morph into a civic principle. That bold promotion of a possibly social metaphor, however, hints at some enduring pressures (or negative forces) in the outside world - and, as we'll see - that's concern is justified, in several ways. The world doesn't always treat big-hearted aliens "from outer space" with the necessary love and respect.
By way of example, one of the OHMS tracks discussed on FFM before - "Jealousy of Brim" - was written after a friend's dog had passed away." The aim of the music, treading a thin line between rare sentiment and new-age spirituality, was to help the animal's rebirth in a loftier, non-corporeal form. Ethereal harmonies were imagined above realms of physical "chaos." They were best evoked by wordless enterprise among kindred spirits - so to speak...
Russia's most talented deep house and nu-disco producers
The main reason for turning (back) to Mr. Latyshev's catalog today is a new publication from What's In the Box Records, itself a subsidiary of Moscow's Highway Records. Bringing together the various deep house and nu-disco producers discussed in this article, the label has unveiled a four-track EP. The four young men - and colleagues - invited to participate in that EP all echo Latyshev's stargazing romanticism, but there are good reasons for them to be collectively wary.
These wide-eyed, even naive artists harbor considerable doubts about their ability to realize dreams and/or desires in the real world. Away from the dancefloor, fears are countered with some whistling in the dark.
Latyshev, by way of illustration, publishes some of his poems on the Russian portal Stihi.Ru. Translated into English prose, one of the most recent texts begins: "Sometimes it's so hard to believe... We lose everything in a divine game - people, property, and ourselves. To some degree the Earth was always a planet of prisoners. Pain always breeds conflict - between consciousness and one's soul." The poem's final lines attributes "life's authorship to God" himself - and fatalism has the upper hand over hedonism. Dreams are penned - and edited - by a very distant hand.
And that same nervous tone brings us to the second of the Saint Petersburg musicians on the Boxter EP, known as KSKY. Willing only to reveal a westernized Christian name - Paul - this performer brands his italo- and nu-disco output with an "astral" phrasing to match that of Ivan Latyshev. KSKY refers to himself as a "'chordy' maniac... a cosmo-romantic from a deep city."
A cosmo-romantic from a deep city
That final adjective of depth would refer not only to the deep-house sounds of KSKY's discography, but also to the classic mists, fog, and freezing snow of Saint Petersburg. The city's unforgiving climate has fostered the symbolism of mystery for many years. Countless novels, poems, and films have used the physical experience of Saint Petersburg in order to evoke metaphysical issues of self-determination. Romantics understandably doubt themselves in a city where one's view is obscured.
Pathos gives way to some hushed, doubting chords.
One safe and appealing venue in which these dreamers take shelter is Saint Petersburg's new Igrateka club, located near the Tauride Gardens and with which KSKY has strong professional connections. That classical urban garden, whatever its initial design, is arguably more famous today for its inclusion in Gogol's tale of dizzying, even nightmarish fantasy, "The Nose" (1836). The Igrateka club promises club-goers the rare opportunity to "live, enjoy themselves, and love one another"... in the middle of a terrifying story.
Our third DJ on the Boxter EP also imagines the amicable, amorous residents of Saint Petersburg in directly fantastic terms. Happy, northern romantics are rare beasts indeed. We mean here the figure of Aleksandr Pletnev, known to us both as one half of the excellent duo Ifwe and as founder of the entire My Favorite Pet project. The artwork used to advertise and advocate Pletnev's sounds often uses hand-drawn, friendly looking monsters. As he outlines his idiosyncratic worldview, it's soon clear that friends, colleagues, and "beasties" all come together to mutual benefit - in networked systems of charity. Monstrous social discrepancies will hopefully vanish on the dancefloor.
A primitive '90s bass line, simple disco beats, and short, jazzy vocal samples
At one step's remove from Ifwe's bedroom lyricism, Pletnev spins his own version of nostalgic or deep house - under the stage-name of Ponty Mython. From this performer's catalog we're told to expect "a primitive '90s bass line, simple disco beats, and short, jazzy vocal samples." When asked about the wistful, markedly carefree or childlike tone that informs all these tracks and cartoons, Pletnev has recently declared:
Aleksandr Pletnev (left) performing live
"Judging by my age, I should've become an adult long ago... but, to be honest, it's a frightening thought. There are so many contradictions between 'adult existence' and what strikes me as 'a happy life.' But an element of infantilism is probably inherent in anybody who hopes to 'be themselves' [come what may]..."
A desire to extend the trusting naivety of childhood arose very recently after Pletnev and his brother - as Ifwe - won a major prize last month at Moscow's "Stepnoi Volk" awards. Just as the Igrateka club cherishes smallness, intimacy, and whimsy, so the members of Ifwe said they had no intention of embracing stentorian loudness - in any form. "We don't think our music could ever have mass appeal. We prefer smaller stages and festivals. The material we write is both intimate and essentially peaceful - you could hardly play it in stadiums!"
The material we write is both intimate and essentially peaceful
Wistfulness therefore seeks and finds a suitable home: it is small and located in the distant, dreamy past. The fourth and final musician on the Boxter EP upholds those same values: Ivan Lopatyn (aka Laydbook) from the ancient town of Velikii Novgorod. Having begun his musical career in 1998, he was soon garnering local prizes, which would then lead to publishing opportunities. International collaborations would also multiply, especially with producers from the US.
Today Lopatyn/Laydbook is committed primarily to work within the fields of tech-house and nu-disco, both of which make his inclusion in the Boxter EP logical. What, though, of our other DJs' penchant for speaking of their catalog as "cosmic," "fantastic," or simply "childishly romantic"? Does Laydbook also advocate the immaterial charms of a dancefloor?
He begins on some resources by simply stating his work ethic: "I'm an actor and left-handed. I do not smoke." Other online portals, especially those that require a personal profiles, will inform us that Mr. Lopatyn has an aversion to falsehood. Instead he dedicates all his time and energy to the honest process of "writing and working upon music." What, though, might be the upshot of that earnest, physical effort? What lies beyond blood, sweat, and tears?
One third-person text declares: "Despite the fact that Laydbook does not play commercial material, he is able to make miracles happen - quite literally." In even blunter, bolder terms, another site distills the career of Laydbook to a couple of issues. One, logically enough, is "musical production"; the other is "the cosmos." Effort invested in the former will bring the latter closer. Physical zeal can engender experiences beyond ostensible reality - or so it seems in the middle of a dancefloor, itself within a classical garden.
In the world's most northerly city.
They're like children. Exactly like children...
When surrounded by disorienting ice, fog, and snow, one might imagine all manner of "fantastic" phenomena - such as the quixotic dreams made possible by an "element of infantilism." Just as nu-disco hopes to redo the social and sensual fantasies of a prior generation, so the "Boxter EP" is rich in the romance of four young Russians, themselves poised on the edge of adulthood. These, in short, are the sounds of four performers who feel themselves at risk of "falling to earth."
David Bowie's character in Nicolas Roeg's film is asked at one point about the nature of children on his distant planet. "What are they like?" comes the question. Bowie replies: "They're like children. Exactly like children..." Some things - hopefully - never change. No matter the weather or social climate.