One of the peculiarities of Russian popular music is the enduring influence of a folk heritage. Not only does it appear regularly within the fabric of primetime pop songs, it also has the ability to shoulder the more serious and often intellectual concerns of domestic rock. Straddling the gap between charm and considerable volume are bands such as Nachalo Veka. They are from Volgograd, an industrial address better known as Stalingrad for much of the twentieth century. A location associated with epic warfare and/or production quotas would not seem the most logical home for a folk-rock ensemble, yet if we leaf through some earlier pages of that region's history, the centuries are rich with tales of Cossack revolt and ancient river trade.
Vocalist for Nachalo Veka is Alena Sergievskaia, who has just announced the publication of a net-single, available through Kroogi. It comes with a Russian-language text that speaks again to Sergievskaia's ability to operate on both sides of a modern folk register (i.e., with pop or pathos). She tries to assuage fans worried by the possible connection between a solo project and her band's demise.
Records have become ancient history
"Hi! We've got some news. We continue to adore folk songs - and we'll keep singing them, too, But that's not the point of this letter... Over the time that we've been in Nachalo Veka and making records, the world has changed a lot. Records themselves have become ancient history and people no longer listen to music as albums. We've stopped doing so, too, but - all things considered - that's absolutely fine. As a result, we've prepared a 'non-album' for you. You could also consider it the first chapter of our 'non-book'! We hope you like. We do!"
The author of that genial text then signs off with the stage-name of this project - "Nikomu" - which translates into English rather oddly as "To Nobody" or "For No-One."
Sergievskaia, performing live with Nachalo Veka
That nod towards anonymity is reflected in other aspects of the single's PR materials, where a "liberty" from genres and physical media becomes synoymous with the loss of an (old) identity. For all these worries, though, the promise of future options also lingers in the background - sometimes. "The single really doesn't remind you of folk rock at all! On this occasion you'll take a journey [instead] across the billowing, endlessly youthful waves of disco-rock. These two songs have been richly blessed with the kind of bright, melancholy lyricism so familiar from Nachalo Veka."
There are references here to a yearning for rural culture and prior media formats, not to mention nostalgia for a slower pace of cultural "progress." Across all three realms, the passage of time reveals itself in rather disheartening ways.
Buddhists consider our entire world to be an illusion (Ekam Sat)
The same parallels between free, digital downloads and being "nobody" or writing "for no-one" inform the new material from Moscow's Ekam Sat. Their most recent PR release opens in the following, thoughtful tone, on the eve of another net-single. "Buddhists consider our entire world to be an illusion. Not in the sense that it doesn't exist; rather, the world created by human consciousness is nonexistent. The true world is found in forms before the emergence of people... and the forms it'll take after we've all gone." The band's favorite phrase, hoping to define that absent purity - and chosen as their stage-name - actually comes from Hinduism. "Ekam" means one, and "Sat" refers to divinity.
An erstwhile singularity has vanished in the ether, so to speak.
Ekam Sat first appeared amid the friendships surrounding Vlad Orlov's project Ocean Shiver and has, at its core, a professional relationship between himself and vocalist Evgenii Rodin. From the outset, a freedom was sought from generic shackles, including the creation of bizarre stage-names: Rodin has recently become Jucy Afrith Wrecker (jAW) and Orlov sometimes refers to himself as Vlad Axid. "We never stay within the framework of any one style [or identity] : we love to experiment..." With a new digital single available, "Let's Go," we see the same issues that emerged with Nikomu. Stylistic liberties are all well and good, but the demise of physical formats creates a different kind of "independence" or homelessness, even.
Everything will happen... if destiny so wills it
Both those matters arose in a brand-new interview with the Moscow concert agency Avant. The musicians were first asked about their off-hand attitude towards stylistic norms. Orlov quickly answered: "At some point, I simply got tired of how rock music sounds. Generally speaking, it is a pretty limited artistic form and that's how the idea emerged of developing an electronic project... We all listen to a ton of varied music, and of course it all leaves its stamp on our own recordings, too."
As we know, that unconstrained ability to exercise one's desire is engendered by the inability to sell music, due to piracy. Everybody has the freedom to create inconsequential albums. The folks at Avant therefore asked whether Ekam Sat see themselves, maybe, as "hobby musicians." Rodin replied with conviction: "For me the main thing is to do what you love - and to be pleased with the result. If that's possible, then everything else will happen... if destiny so wills it."
The meaning of Alena Sergievskaia's new moniker comes back into play.
That homelessness or directionlessness might, of course, be turned to creative benefit. For a more positive philosophical example, we might look to the one-man (and nameless!) Lithuanian project, Autism. Problems with social interaction and communication are stolen back from the music business and validated with a perverse romance: silence here is chosen, not suffered. It becomes a mark of elitism, not insignificance.
One particular Western webzine is already convinced: "One-man projects always allow for a creative freedom that larger bands simply can't afford. When you're making music on your own, it lets you branch out and experiment with different sounds that may not be viable if you're working in a strictly one-genre environment. Autism is a band from Lithuania that pushes even the boundaries for solo projects, pushing into experimental post-rock..."
One-man projects always allow for a creative freedom that larger bands simply can't afford
Another internet publication refers to the same sounds and (digital) status of DIY publishing as the reason for a "mixed bag of tricks... A brief amount of time [is available] for each idea. There's some metal here, a sprinkle of ambience, crushing drums everywhere, and a satisfying finish." Anything's possible - if nobody's buying.
Exactly the same thorny matter arose in an interview with the Lithuanian press. Still unwilling to name himself, the figure behind Autism spoke first of generic limitations. "I consider the boundaries of musical genres to be a very subjective thing.... Almost every musician today, either consciously or unconsciously, is contributing to a unique music culture, made from specific features [found elsewhere]." With no rulebook or commercial norms, a cut-and-paste aesthetic accelerates.
Following that remark, our performer was then asked why he grounds these experiments in a constant and openly admitted love for post-rock. Autism began by talking in terms of future collaborations online and the fact, say, that vocals can be always added to an ambient, instrumental foundation. Post-rock forms the perfect canvas for what could be. "The internet is accessible in the furthest corners of the world nowadays. Finding somebody to sing vocals would be really easy. If not in Lithuania, then abroad... A couple of emails and cooperation's under way."
There will always be somebody who's willing to donate
Goal-driven narratives are placed "upon" the directionless, atmospheric ambience of post-rock. It strikes this artist as a style of latent - and wordless - activity; it's the sound of what might happen. And in terms of whether finance might ever contribute a sense of purpose to such noises, Autism feels that something, surely, will rectify the present state of affairs. "If a band's music is good enough and interesting, there will always be somebody who's willing to donate, prior to downloading. They'll give whatever the album's worth."
Such claims are full of hope - and an easy target for cynics - so it's understandable that some ensembles would try and embrace this state as a permanent divorce from fiscal comfort. They accept the status quo as unchangeable - and even grow to love it. Creative freedoms are boundless; the hope of an income is minimal... but so be it. One fine example of an optimistic stance would be the band Aurora, whose name is tied inexorably to St. Petersburg. Whatever the astral or mythological connotations may be for Western listeners, "Avrora" to Russian ears speaks directly of a battleship that played a key role in announcing the October Revolution.
It sounded the call to arms - and a risky, new freedom.
In reality, these musicians live very far from that storied city. They're actually four residents of Khabarovsk, on Russia's Pacific Coast: Alexander Chernenko, Konstantin Loskutov (both guitars and keyboards), Ivan Burtsev (bass), and Kirill Ganin (drums). Their sparse web presence includes images of the barren Pacific seashore and the equally bleak Neva River in St. Petersburg. The melancholy romance of being nowhere is considerable. The band members themselves say: "Aurora is born of a merger between nocturnal musings and the aura of Russia's Far East. That combination is manifest in the band's debut EP. The group employs a classic range of [post-rock] instrumentation, but it never stops them creating warmth, weightlessness, and mystery."
Warmth, weightlessness, and mystery
Weighing nothing and knowing nothing are both associated with warmth. There's comfort in the erasure of familiarity; the absence of an anchor or home promises a great deal. The local press agrees. Regional journalists have spoken of Aurora's sound as "an atmospheric, spacey, gentle, and knowing game played both with the audience's feelings and boundless harmonies." A perception of the local landscape - rolling on forever - creates the ideal soundscape; specific genres fit the context of an ineffable boundlessness, be it physical or digital.
Again the loss of milestones might usher in creative benefits. A wordless, ambient style, published in "weightless," digital formats leads to enthusiastic imagery. "This music is like flying. It's as if you sat down, fastened your seatbelt, and said: 'Let's go!' You pull away from the earth... The performers themselves insist this is music for people who think. For those who ponder eternity."
Sometimes leaving home has benefits.