As the picture above shows, cold weather has come to Russia with its usual severity, albeit a little later than usual. Western Europe, it would seem, was first visited by the kind of snowstorms that Slavic lands take for granted. While those smaller countries across the EU spend much time and energy complaining about the awfulness of such conditions, Moscow's press has recently suggested that snow, sleet, and hail actually play the role of a cultural unifier in Russia. In other words, rather than isolate citizens, challenge local services, and increase sociopolitical complaint, it may be the case that Russia's "occasionally brutal climate" plays a key role "in forging a national identity."
The new image below would suggest as much; it shows Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev this week making good use of bad weather; commonly shouldered discomforts form the backdrop to their seasonal representations of leadership. Everybody is undergoing the same difficult experiences at the same time; that kind of unity, so to speak, makes it relatively easy for a well-promoted individual to present themselves as a figurehead for national experience.
Politicians, of course, do the same everywhere in times of both grand celebration and national tragedy. They neither instigate nor guide those events (such as sporting triumphs or earthquakes), yet proclaim their ability to "forge" a related patriotism. It's as if a surfer suddenly declared responsibility for the wave beneath his board.
With this seasonal context in mind, there is a new release on show from Moscow's Nameless Dancers, entitled "Cloudy Coffee." Part of the 45RPM Records netlabel, this outfit is modest in the extreme. At the time of writing, their MySpace page boasts a mere 175 hits. A handful of related online venues, all linked to the download host at Archive.org, are devoid of any public comment. And yet, despite this lack of involvement, the musicians themselves also appear unwilling to produce any loud and clumsy PR.
Nobody wants to speak up... and run the risk of a stereotypical promo-blurb. The music's intent and importance are best left, allegedly, to a series of hints rather than to fiscally-driven chutzpah. Along the lines suggested by the EP's cover art (below), metaphorical "clouds" take precedence over "coffee," and insinuation trumps bold statements. As a result, that same MySpace venue is home to no more than the following three or four sentences.
In English, they would read: "The Moscow dance-music project Nameless Dancers was created in 2009 under the guidance of musician and producer Eugene Kha [i.e., Evgenii Kharitonov]. The project is entirely dedicated to music of a bright and melodic nature." The ensuing audio files are tagged under "chill house" and several other related styles. All in all, the musicians hope that the new EP "will give us hope for 2010. This music is warm and dreamy, sexy and sensual, melodic and melancholic. It's a fine release for the best moments of relaxation."
The Moscow dance-music project Nameless Dancers was created in 2009 under the guidance of musician and producer Eugene Kha [i.e., Evgenii Kharitonov]. The project is entirely dedicated to music of a bright and melodic nature.
The references here to chill house or chill-out in general are telling, given that it's a style designed to offer a break from the rough and tumble of the dancefloor, together with the physical pressures caused by any drug use. Created as places of rehydration and relaxation, chill-out rooms play(ed) the role of a brief respite, before club-goers entered a realm of louder, more demanding music once more.
Very often, those same rooms would be decorated either with a nostalgic, retro feel or a more sci-fi, ironic view of the future, as if the essence of relaxation and "chilling out" always requires some kind of escape from the here and now. Peace and quiet can be imagined either in events of the past, or in a better future. Some of the artwork surrounding the Nameless Dancers has certainly dipped into the gaudy past of late Soviet graphic design, suggesting a greater sense of comfort in 1989 than 2009.
The physically demanding drugs of the Madchester scene that gave birth to chill-out rooms usually included ecstasy. Although famous for its ability to build feelings of trust, euphoria, and confidence, it is just as likely to leave a strong sensation of worry, if not aggression. Regular breaks need to be taken from such a dramatic series of mood swings. The Nameless Dancers, although aiming to evoke sensations that are equally "warm, dreamy, and sensual" - and therefore trustingly social - end their own list of adjectives with "melancholy." Whatever dancefloors of the West may promise, therefore, even in the miserable towns of industrial England, warmth and dreaminess are - ultimately - offered as objects of distant desire for Russian listeners.
Sadly, they'll probably remain so.
The titles of these fundamentally instrumental tracks over 38 minutes also suggest as much. Beginning with the title number of "Cloudy Coffee," various metaphors of dissolving into grander fluid states are extended into a "Dream for You," "The Moon in Palm [Trees]," "Silent Sky," and so forth. A couple of remixes by Eugene Kha and Germany's Sascha Muller end the EP. Those remixes, in other words, revisit the central theme once more; they make no claim to being the final statement on a given topic or stamping it with a conclusive label.
The implicit conclusion that "warm and dreamy" relaxation can best be found in "nameless" movements, over and over, rather than in proud stasis, helps to explain a lot of what this ensemble does. It certainly clarifies one of the few images used by the project to decorate their skimpy web-archives; the turntables shown above usher in all manner of motifs connected to mixing, movement, and endless segues. They're the birthplace of dancing that must indeed be "nameless," since it never ends. If a piece of music refuses to conclude itself, it can have no designation, as it continues to evolve, and therefore slips away from tags, labels, or language as a whole.
With no PR, only a few hits on their central webpages, and a general standoffishness towards proud or conclusive rhetoric, there's a certain Russian rationale at work here. Imbued with a kind of diligent amateurism, the EP suggests that the best, most inclusive dances (i.e., social states) are indeed beyond the purview of language. The kind of anonymous, fluid states referenced in the tracklist are sought through kinds of activity that belong to everybody, and yet to nobody in particular. The recording is informed by a general desire to vanish in a collective practice that knows neither name nor end.
Other releases by 45RPM Records have stressed the same outlook with their artwork, too.
In that light, it's interesting that another mini-text from these musicians (floating somewhere online) declares that "Cloudy Coffee" includes "both melody and romanticism in equal measure"; it's a balance between metaphors of union and yearning. A process, rather than a goal. And that leads us to propose a different cultural resonance for the Russian winter, against the backdrop of which these seven tracks have just been released. If we take the logic of "Cloudy Coffee" at face value, what unifies the nation in times of endless frost and snow is the sense of erasure, a feeling that silence and anonymity have descended upon one and all. Nothing could be more collective - or elusive, without the help of nature.
Politicians, as a result, may wish to employ the "leveling," i.e., "democratic" effect of severe winter weather for their symbolism of national unity, but that sense of belonging is found more successfully in modesty and various kinds of mute membership. Both the traditional, if not patriotic role of Russia's wintertime and the cultural specificity that we see echoed in the Nameless Dancers' EP both hold that the greatest, most consoling, and elusive forms of relaxation are not helped by rhetorical pomp.
Once again we might look to the wordless cover-art for this recording, designed to presage a feeling of musical calm and contentment; the picture records a noiseless movement of vapor into the formless air. That, we're told, is a fine metaphor for relief. Should we want more of the same, we could simply look outside, up across Moscow's river and noiseless skyline.
Especially on a winter's day.