Abstractions versus Assiduousness: Nikita Zabelin, Koloah, and Doyeq

A discernible use of depth. Doyeq (Moscow): "Ambree"

The stage-name Doyeq belongs to a couple of Moscow residents: Sergei Kulikov (aka Sergey Tutty) and Vitaly Bragin ("Noname"). Despite the fact that FFM first covered the duo in 2009––soon after Doyeq's inception––very little promotional or journalistic material has emerged over the course of those eight years. As noted in the past, the small and prosaic snippets surrounding Doyeq's publications tend to be very vague indeed, often sidelining anything resembling objectivity or fact. That abstract heritage remains very much the norm in 2017––and seemingly of little concern to the artists themselves. Neither Kulikov nor Bragin sense a pressing need to counter with more "documentary" statements.

Ambiguous textures... (Doyeq)

By way of quick illustration, one German magazine recently reported: "Doyeq's dub techno tracks float effortlessly between techno and house registers. Their vastness and abundance seem almost endless. These compositions are perfect for a morning spent dreaming... or for simply going with the flow." Imprecision continues––to the point of substantial irritation, it must be said. 

There's nothing to be learned. Unless, perhaps, nothingness itself is point––for the following reasons. Spain's Parallel Label published a Doyeq EP a couple of months ago, entitled "Glass Consonance." The same label wrote with enthusiasm of Kulikov's and Bragin's "darker, disturbing, and increasingly powerful soundscapes [in October 2016]... There's an emphasis here upon strong bass-lines and ambiguous textures." The failings of boilerplate PR are broadcast loud and clear; a handful of lazy, indifferent stereotypes are thrown together––which are likely to inspire the same indifference in an audience. The hard work of Kulikov and Bragin is hardly matched by any workplace zeal in Santander, a small town not far from Bilbao. 

In the meantime, Moscow's Slowdance community, which has long supported Doyeq, talks with similar imprecision of propagating "sophisticated and interesting music. We genuinely believe that one's consciousness and worldview can both be changed by music."Surely something can be done in the name of exactness––or at least more challenging promotional prose?

And it's here that the matter of nothingness emerges as answer to vacuous copy––specifically in the context of minimal techno. A style grounded in the clever use of silence need not be accompanied by meaninglessness. Let's start with how Bragin and Kulikov define or tag themselves. Most of Doyeq's minimalist publications are self-labeled as tech-house, ambient, deep techno, dub techno, and so forth. Against that small catalog, the Parallel Label speaks of "a minimal and deep techno sound that's the result of ongoing sonic research and experimentation. Doyeq's inimitable register is built upon a deep and powerful groove––plus the kind of atmospheric dub to fill a listener's surroundings." Sergey Kulikov's expression below is one of understandable exasperation. 

Vitaly Bragin (M) and Sergey Kulikov (R) at Megapolis FM.

Some more objective standards––or at least some concrete ideas––have been established by others in the field of Russian sonic minimalism like Nikita Zabelin, i.e., by way of his respected techno showcase, Resonance on Megapolis FM. In some recent interviews on the current state of Russian electronica, Zabelin has proposed an overarching concept to both clarify and theorize the understated––if not silent––enterprise of hushed colleagues like DoyeqResonance, in a word, is a regular broadcast dedicated to techno-infused projects around Russia. It focuses upon the growing significance of less.

If you want to do something, then do it. Find a way. A lack of desire is not the same as physical inability (Nikita Zabelin)

One of the principles according to which Zabelin himself works can be translated as follows: "You're the person who defines and influences your surroundings––not vice versa! If you want to do something, then do it. Find a way. A lack of desire is not the same as physical inability; we all know that––since we often use the same tactic! I never say 'Can't.' If I want to do something––then I can." 

Character, as the saying goes, is destiny.

Zabelin's passionate defense of techno as audible effort––as a workplace rhythm––leads inevitably to a critique of domestic indolence. He begins with a new definition of a timeless cliche. "In order to express the strength of any 'Russian spirit,' you really need to follow all of its consequences, be they intellectual, spiritual, or social. You need to feel the widespread misery of domestic history––including the present day."

Those difficulties and failings are often locally specific indeed; the specter of Oblomov looms large over Russian electronica. "I've come across situations where, say, there's a talented music who's running a great label––someone who has a number of releases already to his name. But then he'll just vanish for a couple of years! I might notice a lack of info about this guy online––and suggest that we collaborate. 'I've got no time,' he replies. Can you imagine! A musician tells me he hasn't the time to perform!!"

In transpires that Zabelin's incredulity comes from fact; it's not just accusatory fiction. "After a brief discussion, this living, breathing individual decided that he wanted to stop talking. He only added [condescendingly]: 'First you need to grow up and figure out how to do something useful. For example, can you earn $3,000 a month, Nikita?' Without even waiting for my reaction, he continued: 'Well I can––I do it by selling advertising space!'"

A colleague becomes a lost cause in a split second, having swapped lyrical prose and poetry for heartless shoptalk.

Nikita Zabelin of the influential Resonance show on Megapolis FM

Resonance has become a most laudable attempt to catalog and map the best techno and minimalist scenes around Russia, where repetition––says our resident DJ––accompanies higher levels of self-assertion. Insistence and independence overlap. Fatalism in the face of indifference or widespread cynicism can only be countered with some evidence of bona fide agency––with work.

Techno is now, purportedly, the soundtrack of individual industry, in which case the abstractions surrounding Doyeq have perhaps been replaced with nothing more than another rhetorical flourish. The difference between these abstractions is that Zabelin both frames and showcases his own minimalist craft with a call to consequence––to action and therefore impact. He speaks of making things happen and invests techno with the same pushy assiduousness.

The pace of modern life is very fast indeed. If you can't keep up... then 'Bye!' (Koloah)

Simultaneous talk of social sounds and a repeated commitment accompany the newest bass and techno material from Koloah or Dmitry Avksentiev in Kiev. Entitled "Back on Track," the new Koloah album is now available through the widely respected Hyperboloid label in Moscow.

Here the workplace in questions moves from a range of regional techno scenes on Resonance to the mobile showcases known as Boiler Room––which is an international broadcasting organization declaring itself "the world's leading community of underground music. We know from experience that there is a mass market for underground music––because we're part of that audience ourselves. We believe that wherever you live in the world, you should have access to the best emerging scenes and veteran artists alike."

And so a network of cities has developed––thirty-six thus far––involving both Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In both of those Russian locations Boiler Room has typically commissioned 45-60 minute sets from leading Slavic DJs and sound artists. The Russian guests over the last two years have some of Russia's most fashionable names: RaumskayaMujuiceOLPixelordChizhPoimaBMB SpacekidUnbroken Dub––and Nikita Zabelin.

Koloah's own, recent appearance at Boiler Room was deemed "a smooth and stylish combination of genres and tempos––with all manner of effects, too. This Ukrainian guy––together with his beard!––can together mastermind the tastiest of shows, musically speaking." 

Avksentiev, in the same demanding context, stresses the value of work––very much as Zabelin's kindred spirit. "It's vital to keep your finger on the pulse [of musical change]. You have to evolve and educate yourself. The pace of modern life is very fast indeed. If you can't keep up... then 'Bye!'" Success requires a physical investment, pure and simple. 

Koloah, aka Voin Oruwu or Dmitry Avksentiev, in Kiev

Koloah's awareness of time's passage leads to a penchant for unencumbered solo effort, in other words with minimal interruptions. "I lead a very active life myself. There's a great deal going on [around me]––and it's all reflected in my recorded materials. Whenever I listen to stuff I wrote in 2010––or 2006, even––I still feel myself transported there... My music fulfills a certain 'narrative' function and [I'm proud to say] that means it'll still sound good after eight or nine years! I have several gigabytes of music at home that should've been written––but nobody will ever hear that stuff. [It's a shame, because] I should have captured those moments in time."

Musical self-definition or skill transpires from hard-won, individual goals and––by the same logic––it can be quickly swept away if not employed in a timely manner. 

It's all a matter of experience and development. We just need to get away from those old Soviet ways of working (Koloah)

Koloah is not Avksentiev's only onstage identity. He also operates a side-project known mysteriously as Voin Oruwu, which grew from a "post-apocalyptic, alternative-world" story he penned a couple of years ago. That fictional material then spawned some thematically appropriate music––which in turn generated an on-stage light and video show. "The visuals helped to tie everything together, allowing me to move beyond the limits of sound alone. Over the past twelve months I've been studying visual programming––in other words, I want eventually to generate video during a performance, in real time... My studies turned out to be really complicated, but together with the illuminations, you will [eventually] get an incredible experience of my music. It'll be a genuine trip!" So hard work has aesthetic benefits, too, but does everybody in Kiev think the same way?

Unfortunately, Koloah encounters some of the problems documented by Nikita Zabelin. Put differently, Koloah has charitable words for the lo-fi and fashionable house of CXEMA, also in the Ukrainian capital, but he personally prefers a more polished sound. He therefore needs dedicated professionals, rather than inspired amateurs.

"Those guys at CXEMA deserve real respect. They've become a genuine phenomenon! But for me, the quality of sound, my audience, my working conditions, the stage, and any video work will all be equally important. And that causes problems––unfortunately. There are few places in Ukraine where playing live is a genuine pleasure, but they are slowly emerging! It's all a matter of experience and development. We just need to get away from those old Soviet ways of working. In a word, I'm happy to see what's going on in Ukraine lately. We're finally starting to open up!"

Self-development comes from self-assertion. Unmitigated effort is the only antidote to institutionalized dismissiveness. So how to respond to nothing? Russia's minimal scene employs silence as a counterbalance to graceless mainstream maximalism, not because it is lacking in zeal or devoid of import, even. It has a vital point to make by prejudicing "unimportant" sounds––and their absence altogether. It speaks of simultaneous vigor and transience; or at least that's what Nikita Zabelin and Koloah tell us from Kiev, Moscow, and Yekaterinburg


Doyeq – Ambree
Koloah – Bad Habits Blues
Doyeq – High
Doyeq – Puddle
Koloah – Silent Storm
Koloah – True Runner
Koloah – Warp 6

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