Wise and Wary: Mad-Hop 13, Sal Solaris, Mars Needs Lovers, and Snap

Snap: "Deadly Tape" (2012-2013)

A couple of days ago we looked at St. Petersburg's Strogie Dela label and the growing number of Russian artists with which it works. The youngest or newest member has, thus far, escaped our attention: Vlad Shuvalov, who performs under the simple moniker of Snap. Whatever the local pride of his label, Shuvalov himself does not wish the public to know his address. His Soundcloud account, for example, lists his location as "Planet Earth"; all other webpages and portals are devoid of any geographic help at all.

Likewise, the staff at Strogie Dela do little to clarify the matter. They openly respect Snap's desire for anonymity, merely telling listeners they'll be "very satisfied with the music hiding under Snap's artwork. It sounds completely grown-up." Something about that same anonymous stance appears mature. Humility - if not total self-erasure - is a supposedly adult pose.

Massive ambience (Soundcloud)

In that light, it's also interesting to hear the degree to which Snap builds material failure into his abstract hip-hop instrumentals. Understatement is accompanied by the sounds of underperformance. The majority of his tracks begin with the slurred motion of an old cassette player - and Snap also makes liberal use of tape wobble. The sounds of time's passage and its destructive effects both make arrogance an unwise option. Self-assertion would be strange from an artist who directs our attention to widespread impermanence.

A very similar concern with loud claims to durability emerged recently from Ivan Startsev, frontman of Mars Needs Lovers. The band has a new EP to announce, entitled "Kosmos 1," which includes remixes from Felix Bondarev (aka RSAC) and HAARPS (formerly Vagina Vangi). The title track has come to light after a collaboration in the US with Mumiy Troll's Ilya Lagutenko and the preliminary recording sessions for a debut album. 

Mars Needs Lovers (Perm): "Kosmos 1" (2013)

Not long after that project commenced, Startsev noticed something very odd in the Russian news... It concerned the wildly popular mainstream singer Stas Mikhailov, who was born in the southern resort of Sochi, a city soon to host the Winter Olympics. Mikhailov by his own admission was not a good pupil at school; in fact that same waywardness would continue into adulthood, even, as he was unable to find a stable career. Only when he began to work in a local studio and sing in Sochi restaurants did a real professional purpose emerge. Thus far, his biography hardly seems worthy of a statue.

People who aren't afraid to experiment with their music (Mad-Hop)

Mikhailov, as an entire nation is aware, would slowly become a major star with his downtempo songs of middle-aged experience. And, as a result, Sochi has happily forgotten the erstwhile failures of a misbehaved schoolboy: plans are therefore afoot to raise a lasting monument in the singer's name. It will allegedly come from the workshop of Zurab Tsereteli, responsible for Moscow's tallest, ugliest statues. Fundraising has now begun, working on the assumption that "every female fan dreams of touching this beautiful male specimen once in her life... The monument to Stas Mikhailov will allow each and every lady the opportunity to sit in his embrace and watch the sun set over the Black Sea." 

Startsev was horrified. 

A rather more positive reaction to these stately, almost fossilized patterns of grandeur comes simultaneously from the Mad-Hop label, who have just announced a fresh compilation: "Mad13." It includes several Slavic artists, all of whom we showcase here: Pixelord, Koloah, and 813

Mad-Hop themselves have the following to say: "Since 2009, we've been creating a platform for creative artists from all over the world - people who aren't afraid to experiment with their music and imagery." Those adventures take place in the realms of abstract hip-hop, broken beats, idm, dubstep, trap, juke, and glitch-hop. The reason for all these efforts is straightforward: "We're thinking of how to make the world better." 

Risk-taking in 3D. V/A: "Mad13" (incl. PixelordKoloah, and 813)

A frequent Mad-Hop collaborator, Pixelord (Aleksey Devyanin), has recently offered some interesting definitions of the bass music scene in Russia. They again tend towards humility, rather than towards hubris. "The bass music scene is really small if you compare it to the UK or Germany... Most of the music on Vkontakte is from outside Russia. That's because Russian electronic and pop music is complete sh*t. Young talent within domestic pop isn't allowed to grow much. Modern electronic music is simply ignored - in any way possible. We're all still deep underground, but that's cool... Lots of young people still know of us through the internet - and things are slowly growing!"

Things are slowly growing!

Twice over, arrogance seems a bad idea: either because local music truly is sh*t, or because standards are improving. In a burgeoning scene, claims to any "conclusive" artistic statement are probably unwise. Hence this musician's famous love for old-school video games, too: the charming, faltering patterns of youth are much more attractive than adult haughtiness. 

Even the artwork and title of "Mad13" are based around an expectation of bad luck or mistakes -  plus the happy ability to overcome them. At least nine times.

As the dislike for permanence grows, we come to the well-established electronic duo, Sal Solaris. Known also by their Russian name (Солнечная Соль), these two performers are from the cities of Moscow and Rostov-na-Donu. Their web venues are sometimes topped with a somewhat imploring request: "May each of us become a philosophical child." A state of innocence, inquiry, and therefore mistake is healthy indeed. Salvation from arrogance is assured. Working since the late 1990s, Konstantin Mezer and Ivan Napreenko state their dedication to the "static and autistic[!] exploration of unearthly landscapes."

The result is deemed "phantom melodies... This is audio therapy for a broken world." Another idiosyncratic tag has been "power ambient" - something of a forceful rejection of modernity.

Pixelord (Aleksey Devyanin, Moscow)

Among the current concerns of Sal Solaris are: "The advocation of love, neoteny, and an immediate engagement with the cosmos - be it objective or subjective." Only through some metaphorical "autism" and/or neoteny (the retention of pre-adult traits) can the woes of adult society be opposed. 

One of the more recent projects by Sal Solaris was entitled "Zwielicht" and dedicated to the life and career of French/Romanian poet Paul Celan, who would commit suicide after surviving the worst abuses of WWII. Mezer has used a lengthy metaphor of humbling childish experimentation to explain the creative and philosophical goals of Sal Solaris. It is also designed to mirror Celan's tragic life on the edge of mental and/or emotional collapse. These, put differently, are the sounds of brinkmanship.

A few seconds later you shout 'Stop!'

"Do you remember when we used to play 'cosmonauts' as children? I mean those moments when somebody would spin you on a roundabout. To start with it was fun, but after a few revolutions you feel nauseous. It's as if fear itself grabs you by the legs. You can never stand it for very long... a few seconds later you shout: 'Stop!' The roundabout slows down and your fear eventually goes away... That moment of horror is, nonetheless, mixed with a heady freedom. At the very least you feel like Gagarin: the explorer of some internal cosmos. Our music is like that: it's a roundabout that makes a terrible screeching sound. It can carry you off to the furthest corners of your consciousness. You merely need to squeeze your eyes tightly shut and hold on... just a little longer."

Adult experience will, apparently, fail us all and lead to massive discomfort. A clear head and confident plan will be reduced to dizziness and nausea. Fate has no problem "breaking the world" we know. An awareness of such dramatic, even inevitable reversals of fortune - whenever cockiness becomes regret and sometimes tragedy - is best learned in one's youth. 

All of these recordings, in their own way, advocate the "maturity" of humility, as Snap has it. Just in case... After all, Vlad Shuvalov doesn't even show his face, let alone fall to self-promotion or chutzpah.

Sal Solaris (Konstantin Mezer [L] and Ivan Napreenko)


Koloah – Bulldozer
Mars Needs Lovers – Kosmos 1 (Felix Bondarev remix)
Mars Needs Lovers – Kosmos 1 (HAARPS remix)
Snap – Mdtn
Snap – Mystical Dream
813 – Pink Apple
Pixelord – That Girl

Related Artists