Igor Pabza (Moscow)
Igor Pabza is a Moscow DJ and musician who's keen to tie his professional achievements to specific moments in Russian history. He happily states his birthdate as 1981, when Brezhnev was still in power - and then contextualizes that information as follows. Third-person pronouns help to lessen the danger of sentiment or nostalgia. A chilly tone predominates. "During this era of the Iron Curtain, Pabza's musical taste was shaped by groups such as Pink Floyd, [the Latvian glam outfit] Zodiaks, and Kraftwerk. Those records were illegally distributed among the employees of a Soviet radio station where Pabza's parents worked. His real interest in electronic music began to develop with the first Moscow raves [just after the fall of the USSR]."
Over time, that youthful enthusiasm would become a bona fide career, especially when Pabza was able to advertise various facets of Moscow techno through the podcasts and radio shows of Tehnoimport. With little patience for superfluity (starting with the letter "c"), Pabza would continue to champion sparse, domestic electronica - specifically as a mirror of emotionless, regional experience. Empty sounds reflected a social vacuum.
Techno mixes characterized by their plot or conception
The three Western bands that formed his boyhood tastes, together with the ailing patterns of Brezhnev's late economy, helped to make Pabza's own techno a very specific phenomenon. Even now, it speaks of a driven, almost obsessively "industrial" aesthetic from a land where actual industry was falling dramatically short of its early civic romance. In a city where production quotas fizzled out during Pabza's youth, the rhythmic sounds of musical industry started to become truly fantastic; they endured beyond normality.
The distance between Kraftwerk, Latvian space disco, and UK psychedelia was minimal. Even today, this musician declares a commitment to a "true techno sound - and to mixes that are characterized by their plot or conception." Insistence, in other words, tells a story - one that few people today remember.
When answering some online questions in a recent survey, Pabza spoke to this fading social romance, albeit with a bittersweet sense of humor. The most pointed question was: "What technical innovation will be the most important for Russia's automobile industry over the next century?" Our musician responded: "Teleportation will take the place of public transport." For all the happy reverie audible in that statement, there's an equal sense of dolor in that such wonders will probably not occur. The minimal, stubborn sounds of techno, therefore, continue telling the "plot" of industry - and what might have been. They amplify the strict, fruitful sounds of production... even if nothing's actually being made.
Teleportation will take the place of public transport
Another related view of Slavic techno comes to us today from Minsk and the excellent duo of Pavel Ambiont (Pavel Niakhayeu) and Sfourds/S4DS (Alexei Usinovich), who himself is originally from Navahrudak, Belarus. As we've mentioned before, Mr. Niakhayeu is a musician and sound designer with more than ten years DJ-ing experience under his belt. In more recent times, however, however, he has increasingly turned his hand to conceptual projects, involving not only more fluid soundscapes - a long way from the dancefloor - but digital experimentation in the visual arts, too.
This had led to a general style once defined as "techno dub drive," epitomized by its "precise sound placement, subtle rhythmic structures and minimalist approach." In the more specific context of one recent publication, that theory operates in a realm where "ancient shamanism meets the mysticism of the hi-tech era." These ideas mirror Niakhayeu's grad-school research, conducted into the development of rhythm in shamanistic cultures, i.e., their construction of meaning through repetitive patterns. Once more, audible forms both challenge and supersede anything ostensible.
They speak of what could - or should - be.
Niakhayeu has often appeared on stage with friend and colleague Alexei Usinovich, who can be found operating under a couple of monikers: Sfourds or the briefer version of S4DS. The connections between Usinovich and Niakhayeu are actually quiet considerable. Mr. Niakhayeu informs us that his friend has "inexhaustible musical energy! Every single evening he's either improvising or rehearsing something. He can play in almost any style of modern electronic music." In essence, though, his preference is for techno. For a while these two men even shared an apartment, which they referred to jokingly as "Space Station 4449."
Music from Space Station 4449
Their newest joint adventure extends these connections between industry and fantasy: "Force Carriers." That phrase is used not only to launch a new label and compilation, but also to establish some key metaphors. "In the realm of physics, 'force carriers' are particles that mediate between other, fundamental forces." A waning energy - or the romance thereof - is both furthered and nurtured, all to the metronymic, insistent patterns of classic techno. This celebration of force over authorship - of social networks over individual grandeur - is reflected in the fact that three of the tracks come from Mr. Niakhayeu's alter ego, Nieviadomy Artyst ("Unknown Artist").
Some recent quotes on Mr. Niakhayeu's webpages have been dedicated to these metaphorical forces, operating in the absence of industry per se. One of them, apparently tongue-in-cheek, concerns the dangerous effects of low-frequency sounds in pop songs and club music. Apparently(...) "criminal organizations" have already learned how to manipulate these noises and force unwilling souls to commit vile deeds.
As a happy contradiction to those activities, Niakhayeu also quotes a few phrases from a recent essay encountered in his work as a teacher. Translated from the Russian, they read: "Genuine music stimulates the nerve endings and leaves an individual feeling less lonely in his emotional experience." In the wake of failed state enterprise, other forms of production are just as valuable. Miniature "force carriers" help to establish some initial nodes of civic enterprise, starting with friends, families, and kindred spirits on a dancefloor.
Celebrating a similarly small cause is the new mini-album from Moscow's Mujuice (Roma Litvinov): "Mistakes and Regrets." The release, mastered by Nikolai Golutvin, consists of six unpublished tracks that were used previously in live shows. It tags itself as a melange of two-step, hip-hop, house - and techno.
A kind of urban, progressive melancholy
A recent interview for the Russian press helped to draw a connection between Mujuice's equally frigid, insistent techno foundations and the yearning - through glitch and idm - for a smaller, kinder form of "industry." The journalist began by cataloging the kinds of outlandish, boyish adventure that inform much of Litvinov's recent work. "He adds all sorts of childhood imagery, blips, squeaks, space guns, and 'cosmic' themes. What results is an urban, progressive melancholy."
The very idea of "progressive" dolor is fascinating, as if the inherent sadness of post-Soviet industrial music opens the door for different, qualitatively better kinds of production. Grand tales of social benefit (or adult success, even) fade away - and the admission of their sorry failure allows for new considerations of minimal civic units. Social connections are built again from scratch.
Mujuice (Roma Litvinov, Moscow)
A fundamentally industrial aesthetic is scaled down. "I like it when people work with local - by that I mean personal - material. Music is always something personal," says Litvinov. That reduction in scale then becomes even smaller, as he slips into increasing self-deprecation. This music is - of course! - designed to make an active, socially consequential statement, and yet its author constantly undermines its efficacy. "I can't say that Russian electronic music has made a great breakthrough of late, at least in terms of what it means. But some kind of movement is undoubtedly taking place. There are more interesting names. In fact there's more of everything... including junk. And I, by the way, include myself in that same junk, too."
I like it when people work with local - by that I mean personal - material
The persistent, metronymic patterns of these Slavic electronic recordings, all drawing upon an openly mechanical or icy aesthetic, come to see "productivity" in very different ways. Igor Pabza looks back on his childhood in the late Soviet Union and the manner in which electronica keep faith in the magic of "industry" while real-life counterparts began to falter (badly). By the time we reach the overlapping catalogs of Pavel Ambiont, Sfourds, and Nieviadomy Artyst, theoretical physics offer more appeal than any concrete application of techno to ostensible actuality. Romantic hypotheses look better than real-world practice. For the subsequent generation of artists, such as Mujuice, electronic tools become a conduit for self-statements that are constantly undercut by doubt.
The most frequent theme of his work has, in fact, been death.
Amid "mistakes and regrets" a minor, insistent, yet doubting form of enterprise continues. It always sounds quiet - and a tear is simultaneously shed for grand enterprise. In the background, though, a hushed ticking sound continues, come what may.