June Hunters are a very young ensemble from Moscow. So much so, in fact, that their promotional materials consist of one photograph, one drawing, a single video, and - thankfully - five songs. The audio files can currently be streamed at Soundcloud. This small, rather spontaneous trio credits its existence to the equally unexpected events of last summer, when Moscow experienced a murderous heatwave.
A combination of ridiculously high temperatures (circa 34C) and dense smog, trapped below low-lying cloud cover, was so detrimental to residents' health that even city authorities admitted conditions may have claimed the lives of 700 people per day at the peak.
From underneath that same impenetrable canopy, a few faces appeared - in suitably mythical fashion: "In the summer of 2010, when the weather was too hot and Moscow was choking from the thick smog, musician Leo Vasilets was busy searching for some people to play in his new electro-pop project. But instead of three young men, he ran across a rather strange guy called Sergey - and a mysterious drummer by the name of Natalia. Both of them were into very different kinds of music."
Below we see the trio's only available image, full of promise and almost in focus.
The audible upshot of these chance encounters is equally strange, or so we're told. The band assess their collective output thus far as a form of "psychedelic experimentation that's full of analog synths and bluesy intonations. Add to that some funky basslines and unpretentious, hippy kind of strumming. It all gets mixed up, but the elements seem to coexist very well!"
Psychedelic experimentation, full of analog synths and bluesy intonations
The musicians admit that the bold retro-aesthetic sketched here may prompt some unjustified cynicism - or just general grumpiness - among less tolerant listeners. They anticipate the tone of that critique: "These guys are really hung up on the 1970s... blah, blah, blah." Any expectation of faultfinding, however, does not slow down the proceedings. Despite inclement weather, courtesy of Mother Nature, and the equally fickle pronouncements of online observers, our performers remain faithful to the values encapsulated in their name: "We are June Hunters, the lost children of an eternal summer. This is a rite of youth."
The singular drawing on display also harks back to the sound and outlook of the early '70s - with an excess of hair and a lack of clothing. A scratch-and-sniff patchouli version may be forthcoming.
The band's rather thespian or culturally specific phrasing, coming as it does in the spring of 2011, is likely to conjure associations among Russian listeners with the domestic feature film of last summer, "House of the Sun" (Dom solntsa). Set within the dropout hippy subculture of the Soviet 1970s, the movie follows the destiny of a naive, yet free-spirited individual. He is able to overcome the constraints of socialist society with a vagabond lifestyle, though as the story progresses he slowly falls victim to a terrible disease. Various metaphorical states of "departure" - be they cultural, sartorial, or even fatal - allow the hero to embody an ongoing sense of liberty, albeit in rather maudlin fashion.
Because he leaves the proceedings early, so to speak, he remains a symbol of unfinished - and therefore endless - potential.
This group could be from anywhere...
Bloggers have placed the June Hunters' early songs in an equally migratory or non-descript framework, documenting a wide range of influences, accents, and intentions in the process. Categories are avoided, one after the other: "This group could be from anywhere... most probably from somewhere European, though maybe they're from America... even Australia or Canada. Perhaps it's some place really whacky, like a Third World nation..."
Eventually the reference points are brought a little closer to home: "In a word, this is a band that continues a line of top-notch cosmopolitan indie-music like Tesla Boy or Motorama... but they're more inspired by the acid-soaked '60s than by '80s synth-pop."
The authenticity of the band's retrospective sound is almost always attributed to their use of Soviet instruments, specifically the Maestro synth, shown above. The tools of the past are therefore used to continue an unfinished trajectory: some online scribes have noted that the band even tweaks the Maestro to approximate the tones of a Hammond organ. Through that practice, the technology of Soviet rock is allowed to persist along a truncated road - and give voice to sounds that never actually happened... but might have, in a better, kinder environment. What results is "a kind of modern indie-rock, but with detours into the past."
A kind of modern indie-rock, but with detours into the past
This is a turn of phrase - and type of metaphor, even - that we can certainly find in other places. Take, for example, the equally young outfit Klub Zavtrak ("Breakfast Club"). These musicians are originally from the city of Komsomol'sk-na-Amure, which is not far from the Chinese border and - until the nineteenth century - was located firmly within the confines of the Mongol Empire.
That remarkable distance, never contemplated by most Russians, was traversed in 2009 by the three wayfaring and penniless figures we see below: Andrei Tsvetkov (guitar, vocals), Aleksandr Makarov (keyboards), and Evgenii Gennad'evich (bass). A drummer was discovered following their arrival in Moscow. After the epic journey westwards, no money was left for furniture.
Although tied in several senses to the scale of Russian geography - to one distant corner of the map - the band members play down their eastern address and speak instead - like June Hunters - in terms of some endlessly expansive or willfully homeless praxis. "This is music that'll get you going. It'll open up your emotions and thought processes, too. It's the kind of music that leaves nobody indifferent." The setting for related metaphors of nomadic passage is the cosmos: "The sounds will get under your skin. The bass drum vibrates like an intergalactic spaceship, taking to the skies... The melodic guitars will charm you like the flight of a comet."
Crew to Gagarin: 'We wish you a good flight. Everything is fine'
In fact, before these songs even start, we hear the crackle of an antique radio transmission. Once more from the Soviet past, the voice of Yuri Gagarin declares to his colleagues that he's ready to take off. This sound bite, used endlessly by young Slavic musicians, has reappeared with a vengeance of late, given the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin's stellar achievement.
His trajectory away from the world, so appealing to homebound romantics, is called upon over and over. It now becomes part of an audible, domestic tribute that's expressed either with the instruments of Soviet space- and prog rock or through the nationally famous rhetoric of the Space Race itself. With those two practices in particular Klub Zavtrak hope to extend and vivify some starry-eyed adventures - several decades after they fizzled out.
It's a point of reference we'll encounter increasingly often over the next few weeks, with the release of other "cosmic" compilations from netlabels around Russia and Ukraine. In the meantime, the members of Klub Zavtrak - with the title of their new EP - offer an initial homage to a distant, incomplete potential "Among the Great Planets." To those Muscovites stuck in traffic jams on summer days of 34C, that faraway, chilly promise must still seem great indeed.