Novosibirsk's No Fuzz have just released a new mini-LP with the rather witty title, "No Fun Intended." Five new songs, clocking in at just under nineteen minutes, are - in the same jovial spirit - given to substantial hedonism. The artwork's anonymous hero, captured above in an old press photo, embodies this vertiginous pleasure-seeking with a smile, an encroaching hand upon his nipple, and a dubious celebration of firearms. Pleasure, pain, and impending violence all coincide.
As we've mentioned before, these high levels of Siberian noise are directly inspired by Western sources like The Strokes, Bloc Party, The Libertines, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Sonics. Now, as ever, No Fuzz advertises both itself and those reference points with a rather idiosyncratic sentence in Russian. Translated into English, it reads: "'No Fuzz' means sex to the sound of The Sonics, a leather jacket on bare skin, vinyl records on a CD player[!], and 'Free Siberia' for 20 rubles." That final note concerns a regional brewery whose output is also offered to the public with a fixed phrase: "The Beer of Local Lands."
Framing these new compositions, which were penned with some help from Bungalow Bums, we then run into a collection of earlier tags or generic labels, thrown together in an enthusiastic attempt to capture the essence of nineteen noisy minutes: "Awesome/ female vocals/ fuzz/ garage punk/ garage rock/ garage rock revival/ hard rock/ indie rock/ rock/ rock'n'roll/ Russian stoner/ rockcity/ [and] Novosibirsk."
The first few responses to "No Fun Intended" have been very positive. Take, by way of example, Moscow webzine The Spot. Their review begins with recollections of a recent mini-tour conducted by this Siberian ensemble around the Russian capital - including an impromptu performance in a squat. The one quality most clearly lauded by The Spot, amid spontaneous (and unprofitable) shows, is the group's ongoing commitment to a loud cause. Volume hopes to sideline all manner of social failings. In uncertain times, a clamorous fidelity to "fun" can be impressive indeed. It can also be a guarantor of mental stability.
Great riffs, catchy choruses, and old-school trickery
"The musicians have grabbed hold of a garage sound and started to churn out the excitement with increasing skill. These songs are full of great riffs, catchy choruses, and old-school trickery: that's what we've come to expect from all No Fuzz releases. Their sound grows increasingly mature, too; the arrangements get richer, and the band's style, as a result, grows clearer... This outfit's professionalism is growing before our very eyes!"
The reviewer continues: "This new mini-album is full of potential hits that grow on you with each and every listening...'No Fun Intended' is a recording that can be heartily recommended to anybody who feels nostalgic about guitars, female vocals, garage rock, dancefloor pogoing... and who just misses an opportunity to feel good!"
Despite, therefore, the fact that No Fuzz proudly declare an enthusiasm for '90s guitar pop, their Moscow listeners feel that the truest, strongest roots of that sound grow from earlier times. The reference we hear to pogoing, for example, implies a UK punk heritage, and in a week when riots have caused so much damage across England, it's both interesting and telling to gather new songs from some Moscow guitar bands. All of them, actively or otherwise, draw upon aspects of British rock that emerged after London riots of the early '80s.
That social unrest gave birth to the kind of (loud) songwriting that embodied a spirit of rebellion, hopes for racial parity, and even a refusal to abandon optimism amidst scenes of social collapse. Much volume and zeal was needed to shout down the noise of burning buildings.
It feels like I’m losing control...
Take, for example, The Riots, shown below and based in the capital. Claiming, on occasion, to be "the most British band in Russia," they clearly hark back to the sound and spirit of The Jam. In the same "post-Brixton" style, the group's lyrical and social registers are deliberately conflated. Songs of troubled love and civic strife come together: "I’m smashing my head against a thick wall,/ But I don’t feel any pain at all./ It breaks my heart and it hurts my soul.../ It feels like I’m losing control."
And, sure enough, the band recently admitted in direct, enthusiastic fashion to these same anglophile connections. "At the end of the day, everything we do leads back to our musical roots. In other words, to The Clash, Madness, The Jam, and so on..." The first two of those collectives allow for further parallels with the Brixton riots of April 1981; they also explain the flashes of ska we hear from time to time, themselves a clear marker of south London racial tensions (or, more accurately, attempts to overcome them on stage).
The members of The Riots, just like No Fuzz, suggest how a passion for '90s guitar rock prompts a movement, sooner or later, back into the archives. Increased enthusiasm is shown by increased archaeological zeal: "Listening to any rock music from the 2000s, you'll unavoidably end up in the '90s, then the '80s, the '70s, '60s - and some people (like us!) go even further into the past!"
With that final phrase, The Riots have in mind the mods of '60s southern England - and all the retro-clothes thereof. Expect Fred Perry shirts, button-down collars, Doc Martens, and so forth.
Both The Riots and No Fuzz are the embodiment of fidelity - either to a hedonistic outlook in difficult times, or to ethical benchmarks (such as racial equality) that reemerge with particular force in years of social tension. Hence the snippets of ska, which take on a much fuller importance for collectives like The Poseurs. Also from Moscow, they've been playing raucous ska-punk since 2006 in ways that are directed specifically against racist groups with Russian society. Their own sound harks back to English organizations of the late '70s like Rock against Racism.
What's especially intriguing here is the continuing overlap between personal and public experience: quiet, dignified privacy does not seem an option! "The band's main lyrical themes are atheism, government corruption, xenophobia, and so on." Special anger is saved for "stupid Nazi scum," who - say the musicians - infiltrate both illegal and legal organizations.
The band's main lyrical themes are atheism, government corruption, xenophobia, and so on...
Given The Poseurs' conviction that such prejudice is a permanent facet of Russian society, the matter of generic fidelity returns: in other words, the "contrary" rock traditions of the early 1980s will endure, come what may, because the governmental and racial problems that spawned them persist.
With those societal dilemmas uppermost in their mind, these musicians are less than keen to publish photos of themselves. Instead, as we see below, they simply offer examples of productivity. The message is more important than the messenger.
Protest songs continue because civic failures endure. As The Poseurs tell us, "everybody likes to sing about unity, about being together, and team spirit." And yet they remain frustrated at the Russian public's inability - or unwillingness - to turn that romance into reality.
All of the above is reflected in the work of our final band, known rather enigmatically as Like the Whales. Although this foursome may owe much to the Western collectives we've mentioned thus far, lyrically they're closer to social avoidance than to social protest. Take, by way of illustration, their stage-names: George (vox/guitar); Phil (guitar/vox/scream); Sergey (keys/vox/brainf***in'); Olegan (bass/beer); Kirill (drums/lazyassing).
Formed last year on the southern outskirts of Moscow, Like the Whales take - logically enough - their inspiration for a spiky, guitar-driven sound from northern English ensembles like The Cribs and Arctic Monkeys. Songs, deemed by their authors to be full of extreme "drive and energy" are therefore not shackled to civic issues; other matters are more salient. In other words, the influence of Alex Turner is evident here - as is the related lyrical style of humorous, often caustic dismissiveness. The new EP's tracklist sets the tone: "Dancing in the Street," "Lazy," and "Stop [the] Time." Examples of that same worldview can now be downloaded for free.
Local streets are imagined with dancing hedonists in the foreground, not bomb-lobbing malcontents.
The recent announcement of a Like the Whales gig in the Moscow press was met with a quick and telling comment from one fan: "They're such a great band, but I'm cashlessl..." "Don't worry," said a sympathetic soul... "Like the Whales will soon conquer the world!" If widespread social change is an impossibility, then deliberate, insistent "fun" will hopefully match the forces of civic collapse with an equal, opposing vigor. In either case, it seems that these traditions of guitar rock are well poised to respond.
The Brixton riots of 1981, in many ways similar to today's unrest, produced a wide range of musical responses (and early warnings) from artists as disparate as The Clash, The Ruts, Pink Floyd, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson or, in later years, The Streets, Amy Winehouse, and a host of others. The lyrical content was just as varied, too, ranging from incendiary manifestos to a proud defense of (hushed) family life amid endless street fights. The one constant in all those recordings, however, was constancy itself: at a time of social fragility, all these artists remained loyal to their principles, be they activist or escapist.
Maybe, therefore, fun isn't always intended, but it's certainly an option. As is a broad smile of timely support from one gentleman in a T-shirt celebrating ska music ("Lazyass Kirill"). Hedonists of the world, unite, especially if the revolutionaries don't turn up.