The Karovas Milkshake are from the Russian town of Ekaterinburg and define themselves as an outfit "for both lovers and haters of '60s punk or psychedelia." Journalists see them in the same light: "These hipsters look like they stepped straight from the pages of some 1960s magazine. Karovas Milkshake are the only band in Russia capable of matching the style and sound of that decade. The musicians, in fact, are fine competition for Moscow's oldest and best-known garage outfits."
These hipsters look like they stepped straight from the pages of some 1960s magazine. Karovas Milkshake are the only band in Russia capable of matching the style and sound of that decade. The musicians, in fact, are fine competition for Moscow's oldest and best-known garage outfits.
Predictable though such references may soon become, the group is always more than happy to cultivate the same context. On their LastFM page, by way of illustration, they say (in Russian) about the above picture: "The Karovas Milkshake are tiptoeing past a sleepy Salvador Dali, past a somewhat concussed Andy Warhol, and a 'clockwork' Burgess. They creep along the wall, trying not to step on the shadows of a past age. This ensemble travels through time and experiments with emotion. The musicians put together a colorful cocktail of art forms by playing with elements of soul, a psychedelic spectrum of colors, the roots of the blues, and the biting, energetic drive of garage rock."
That same attitude is captured with enthusiasm in most of the band's grainy, blurred, or over-exposed promo-shots.
Attempting to arrange and understand all these elements, the first question that's usually asked of the group concerns their name. Does it really come from Burgess' famous bar in "Clockwork Orange"? Band members constantly toy with their listeners, taking them further from the truth with every etymology.
Probably the most extreme - and silliest - was offered recently on the pages of Vkontakte: "It's the ancient cry of Scandinavian sailors, used as they tried to battle the raging seas or fearsome claps of thunder. In times when it seemed that nothing would save them from certain death, and even the gods had turned away, the sailors would launch into their proud cries of 'Karovas Milkshake!!!!.' Translated from their ancient tongue, it means 'May I have another pie, please?'"
Such "academic" poses are not to be taken seriously; furrowed brows are no proof of serious inquiry.
Spinning these unlikely tales, over and over, are Al'bert Krupp (drums, vocals), Seva Slepushkin (guitars, vocals), his brother Artem Slepushkin (bass, vocals), and Andrei Ponamarev (drums). That line-up of musical responsibilities shows immediately the debt that "KM" owe to the beat-driven, overlapping harmonies of the '60s.
Talking to the Moscow press, and admitting that their name does indeed owe something to Burgess, the musicians turn quickly to some reasons why that time period holds so much appeal. "Nowadays everything is tied up with commerce. Sometimes we've no desire to go anywhere near showbiz... 'cos we know exactly what'll happen to us. Back in the '60s, though, musicians were still idealists. In fact the whole decade was full of idealists, dreamers, and garage bands. You know, the kind of rough & ready dreamers who were called 'angry young men.'"
These were the starry-eyed purists who would certainly oppose establishments like the local "Moo-Moo Bar" shown below, inspired by Burgess' prose, yet designed to abuse its very ideals with profitable cynicism.
"Everybody was so embittered back then, since they disagreed with everything going on around them. But they were so young, about 15, 16, maybe 17 years old, that - of course - there was probably nothing they did agree with! They fought with their parents, with school... maybe with their grandmothers, too! Life was made of struggles with their family, with tales of unrequited love... and that was about it. Those things were the essence of life. In a word, of course, it's all banal stuff, and the music's kinda basic, too... but in that banality there's a hidden simplicity, which in turn hides a real genius!"
Their closing words are the most important: "It's hard being an idealist nowadays. But we try... People back then believed in the future - and we believe in the past." If we want to hear KM's sounds of the future, apparently, then the band tells us to play their records backwards.
It's hard being an idealist nowadays. But we try... People back then believed in the future - and we believe in the past.
A local museum allows them to put such theories into practice.
Since so many outfits in 2010 find themselves obliged to tour constantly - rather than rely on a failing market - the members of KM sense the time has come for their deliberately rough & ready, wantonly "live" sound. They recalling reading in some magazine that Lenny Kravitz had once rummaged through piles of abandoned studio gear, in search of dilapidated tools that might approximate that same audio range of years gone by. Our Russian artists, however, are keening on resurrecting the "spirit of the '60s, or at least the way that people thought back then."
Among their contemporaries, they feel that The Sonics (now reformed) and The Hives achieve that goal most effectively, perhaps with the inclusion of The White Stripes. In following any such distant idols or ideals, suitable neckwear and wallpaper both help to bridge the gaps in time and space.
What's especially telling, though, is that as such conversations continue, the band's talk of romance and rebellion occasionally takes a different direction. The members of Karovas Milkshake sometimes speak of the '60s ability to foster local scenes of lasting consequence. Faced in that decade with underdeveloped national media, the United States instead fostered a healthy variety of regional activities. In remembering these events, the Russian musicians turn from the importance to a given aesthetic to a particular kind of activity; important sounds are swapped for important deeds.
"There were so many bands back then; too many to count! We can't even imagine how numerous they were. Here, around Ekaterinburg, there may be ten outfits or so, at least among those worth following. Back then in the US, however, there were groups in every state, every town, every university... and college. Each of them played for their own student audience."
Here, it seems, is the "future" that the musicians perceive by playing their music backwards, so to speak. At a time when Russia's performance arts have been unceremoniously dropped by corporate structures and left to fend for themselves, often in the endless expanses of the web, the need for aggregated activity is great. New collaborations are required; new centers of local activity, where enthusiastic individuals can start to build "post-commercial" synergy.
Against a backdrop of digital music-making, where anything is possible (yet little is noticed), that same scale of "anything" could perhaps be transformed into something. Small nodes of regionally relevant activity, of anything at all(!), might thus become the instigator of future consequence. The history of Western music is, of course, full of garage-based amateurs who, to their own amazement, later became nationally, if not internationally consequential. Nonetheless, imagining such metamorphoses on Russian soil, even for the most ardent of Slavic romantics, is a tall order.
Karovas Milkshake speak, for example, with much respect of The Rolling Stones, since "the majority of [future] bands grew from them." Keith Richards and Mick Jagger first met in primary school at the age of seven; it's hard to imagine a less "adult" or auspicious start. The story of 200 million albums sold worldwide began - no doubt - with some finger painting and breaktime milk, then a staple of the English school diet. The grandest narratives stumble into existence in the most surprising ways; that alone should be enough to fuel the "difficult idealism" that occasionally flickers on the quiet streets of Ekaterinburg.