A Hard-Won Ease: New Recordings from the Konura and Absurde Labels

V/A" "Konura Broken Beats Sampler" (2012)

Not for the first time on this site, we turn to the work of St. Petersburg label, Konura Recordings. Founded in 2007 by the figure of Vitaliy Stodolya, Konura has always aimed to promote the development of Russian or Ukrainian techno, house, and nu jazz.  Linking those disparate styles is the label’s ongoing intention to create soundscapes “not only for a dancefloor, but also for a comfortable, domestic setting.”  Turning theory into practice, Stodolya performs himself under the stage-name of Eventual Groove, a project we’ve examined in the past. He has also just overseen the editing and compilation of a Konura sampler dedicated to original and remixed tracks, specifically in the vein of broken beats.

Soundscapes not only for a dancefloor

Stodolya is well aware that for all the international appeal of these styles, they will – nonetheless – have a specific resonance at home. By way of example, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that many Russian jazz musicians employed today in house or funk ensembles would – at the very least – have received a high-school education in the Soviet system, where jazz had an entirely different cultural resonance. For that reason, no doubt, Stodolya currently jokes on one social networking profile that his family members include “Grandfather Stalin and Grandmother Lenin.”

On a more serious note, Stodolya’s roots actually stretch southwards, to the banks of the Don River and the town of Novovoronezh. Perhaps its best-known regional landmark is a local nuclear power plant. Twice in the last decade, that station has been shut down for repairs designed - hopefully – to extend its operation beyond any original lifespan. Such measures speak more of an imperial hangover than of progress. Sometimes a tinge of local melancholy informs the music from such places.

Julia Tereshchenko of Venger Collective

Nonetheless, one of the most successful projects associated with Konura has been Venger Collective, an upbeat jazz-funk and house ensemble based in Moscow.  Not only did they miss representing Russia in Eurovision 2009 by a whisker; lead singer Julia Tereshchenko has also been seen nationally as a 2012 contestant on Russia’s version of The Voice. In the meanwhile, as the new Konura sampler attests, many of the band’s works have found their way into delightful remixes.

In Moscow's show business, you need to suffer a degree of ****

Tereshchenko recently gave a telling interview to a Moscow fashion webzine. Here she linked her early career to a prior educational system in which – as a very young girl – she was involved in all manner of dancing and choral competitions.  The stately constraints of any previous “entertainment” have now been replaced by the rigors of modern show business. Things are never easy. Tereshchenko said in the same conversation: “I reckon that it’s really hard to be successful today. Each and every person who makes something of themselves [in this field] must, first of all, suffer a degree of ****. You must really want something for it to pan out. And, of course, you’ll always need to schmooze, too. Connections and acquaintances will always play their role.” Beneath the surface of a profoundly easy-going or “comfortable” flair, a high degree of determination persists

Local likelihood frequently turns “ease” into a fight for professional survival. An air of facility requires blood, sweat, and constant tears.

Venger Collective (Moscow)

In a fittingly persistent vein, Tereshchenko says the following. Confidence and prayers sound simultaneously: “I’ve never understood why people restrict themselves within any kind of [professional or emotional] ‘framework.’ We all have just one life to live - and you have to use it to the full. Why get up tight or embarrassed about something? Why be scared? If you fear everything in life, then you may miss a chance to do something truly worthwhile. I mean something you really want and hope for…” Convictions still require hope. Just in case.

A different kind of doggedness informs the Minsk, Belarus project known as Absurde, which is managed by Vlad Ignatyuk (himself a prior resident of Gomel). Not only does Absurde have the overt intent to “promote, improve, and deliver high-quality music” in the name of “mere” entertainment. The label also draws upon some familial metaphors in order to advocate a pleasing, productive work environment.

These emphases have wide appeal, far from home. Ignatyuk’s most recent collaboration as a producer has been with Argentinian composer and DJ Jessica Diaz. Her Facebook account sports an antique image declaring: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything…” It’s hard to imagine a cheerier, more secure view of sound’s ability to improve material experience.

Vlad Ignatyuk, founder of Absurde (Minsk/Gomel)

And yet if we turn to some of the latest, local releases on Absurde, the tone is rather different. The newest Slavic recordings have come courtesy of Lazzich (based in Elektrostal) and Alla Farmer (in Samara).  Here the dogged repetitiveness of techno replaces the easy-going flourish of house or jazz-funk. Lazzich’s newest compositions have been praised on Soundcloud for their “cool,” detached air or, in one instance, for their “transcendent beauty.” Physicality is to be overcome, not relished.  Some of the same adjectives are then applied to the Alla Farmer tracks.

Transcendent beauty

Despite the obvious destination of all these instrumentals – a club environment – the conceptual framework for Absurde is much more austere.  As we’ve mentioned before, Lazzich – aka Sergei Lazarev – has an education within the field of nuclear engineering, but he chose instead to compose music.  He has, for many years, been working on the restoration of some Soviet instruments, such as the Maestro portable synthesizer. A related lack of decent computers at home has, over time, led to a high degree of DIY experimentation.

That technical dearth appears to take audible forms. Lazzich has described his own catalog as “deep, minimal, and airy. It’s profoundly romantic.” Idealism in that case operates in the smallest forms possible. A reduction of noisy excess becomes an elusive, desired goal. Hence the ongoing desire of this musician, just like Konura
, to make music both for “chill-out rooms and domestic listening.” The difference between them lies in an attitude towards mainstream enterprise. Konura artists, such as Julia Tereshchenko, hope to improve primetime entertainment by boldly entering and altering it. The discography of Absurde hopes instead to move in an opposite direction – away from volume, splendor, or well-funded pizzazz.

Lazzich (Sergei Lazarev, Elektrostal): "Relox EP" (2012)

Lazarev is fond of quoting a definition of his music that talks of “a deep sound, cyclical structures, and a minimum of resources employed. You wouldn’t call his range terribly opulent, but each percussive beat or thump of a bass drum has been carefully, scrupulously chosen.”

Carefully, scrupulously chosen sounds

A similar notion develops in the new work of Alla Farmer for Absurde, too. We’ve been long and avid supporters of Ms. Farmer’s enterprise on this site, and the new material does not disappoint. Once again operating in the vein of minimal techno, it appears within the context of some telling thoughts on a few Russian social networks. Rather than any endorsement of the social maximalism evident with Venger Collective, instead we find small expressions of gratitude. On the pages of one networking account, Alla just noted: "Here’s what ‘believing in miracles’ means. It’s a morning phone call to your neighbors, to see if they might find your purse. It was left – for five minutes – on a [city] square where nobody lives any more…” Chances are, of course, that everything has long since vanished.

Any opportunity to lessen the potential negativity of civic experience is a “success,” if not a miracle. Consequently, the sounds we hear from Alla – via Absurde – are those of small-scale construction, the kind of patterns that Lazzich himself likens to building with Lego. Hope is built from scratch.

Alla Farmer (Samara)

Alla has given these discreet sonic or social networks a fitting literary backdrop this week, by posting a short poem of Vadim Shefner Born in 1915, Shefner lived through the entire Soviet experiment, passing away only in 2002. The result of that lengthy biography finds expression in a text our performer sees as good insurance against pomp or suspect grandeur. Translated as English prose, some of those lines would read: “Learn to laugh at yourself… Not at somebody or something else; not at another’s fate or some silly movie. Laugh instead at yourself. Whether you’re caught in some fashionable bustle or wartime sortie, even, laugh. At the stern of a ship sinking to the bottom of the sea… laugh, despising your misfortune!”

Laugh, despising your misfortune!

Whether we’re dealing with a missing purse or a missing ship, there’s a rich vein of fatalism. Bad luck will probably prevail. Given that general attitude, the unfussy, often muted sounds of Absurde become a fitting soundtrack to low (perhaps sage!) levels of self-definition. And so, once more, the materials from Konura and Absurde constitute two juxtaposed attitudes towards primetime enterprise: either engage and therefore improve it - or avoid it with a passion. Step up or step away. Placed side by side, those same two professional standpoints constitute a healthy diversity, just beyond the edges of a television set.

The intrepid search for difference continues. 

Vitaliy Stodolya (Novovoronezh) of St. Petersburg's Konura


Alla Farmer – Acid Cat (Alveol Remix)
Alla Farmer – Acid Cat (Benyin 555 Remix)
Venger Collective – Brother (Bagelboy Remix)
Ignatyuk – Love Africa (Remix of Jessica Diaz )
Lazzich – Red Sweep
Venger Collective – Tishina (Eventual Groove Remix)

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