New Congregations: Oligarkh, Diamos Roll, and Mad-Hop (Vol. Seven)

Beats and belief: Oligarkh (Saint Petersburg / Yaroslavl)

For all the potential grandeur of a stage-name such as Oligarkh, this young performer from Saint Petersburg is showcased by his label in a modest fashion. The general tone is one of promise, rather than loudly celebrated goals. Staff at the Moscow net-label Beryoza talk of their newest colleague as a "young and promising hip-hop producer, whose goal is to offer a new interpretation of Russian music." That seemingly straightforward statement hides a couple of important complexities.

First among them is that Beryoza refers to itself as a "ghetto community," as we've mentioned before. The label hopes to celebrate some essentially local aspects of Russian hip-hop, rather than anything stolen from a US setting. Hence the ironic use of "ghetto." What's implied by that common, even cliched term is Russia's equivalent of a downtrodden social sphere; in the context of the world's largest country, a "ghetto" is not going to be urban, but some rural equivalent. The music published by Beryoza hopes to focus upon - and play with - tastes, norms, and possibilities from the country's sadder, yet utterly typical provinces. What's celebrated is an outmoded, though lovable familiarity amid fields and forests. 

'Oligarkh' concerns a kindness that might unify us all

The second issue inherent in Beryoza's PR statement will be whatever Oligarkh himself sees within that supposed provincial "woefulness." Maybe villages are actually more promising than towns and cities? The debut recordings from Oligarkh do not draw upon Moscow's media; instead we're offered hip-hop and juke versions of Orthodox Christian chants. This is a reconsideration of pre-urban sound.

The most evidently foregrounded audio sample in Oligarkh's EP - "Land and Liberty" (Zemlya i Volya) - comes from the actor Sergei Bezrukov and a play based on several Chekhov tales. Developed around the core figure of a peasant - Emelyan - it was reviewed in the Moscow press as a "combination of human passion, laughter, tears, love, betrayal, jealousy, and forgiveness." The lines specifically borrowed by Oligarkh from Bezrukov read in English as: "The bells must be rung! Get up the tower, bell ringer!" There's a pressing need for an ancient, rural faith to sound the alarm; a pre-modern congregation is under threat.

Oligarkh: "Land and Liberty" (2013)

When we spoke to Oligarkh himself, he defined the project as "a response to all those people who think that Orthodoxy is incapable of being either cool or relevant. 'Oligarkh' concerns a kindness that might unify us all. It's based on something within each and every one of us."

Russia's revival and growth are inconceivable without first bolstering the moral foundation of society

There's much more to these Oligarkh recordings, therefore, than flippant irony. None of the comments on Vkontakte have expressed anything except admiration. When, however, a copy of "Land and Liberty" was reposted on a national news site last week, the reaction was a little more varied... Not everybody wants to hear ancient melodies "sullied" by modernity. The relationship of the church to national government, say, has grown increasingly close in Russia, so mockery is frequently not an option.

One recent presidential visit to a storied monastery led to the following remarks left by Vladimir Putin in a church guest book: “Russia's revival and growth are inconceivable without first bolstering the moral foundation of society. Here the role of the church is enormous."

Whether or not Oligarkh's EP is viewed as serious, disrespectful, or just witty, there's an broad assumption that common or communal values are sought at home. Those same virtues are more likely to be found outside of modern cities. This desire for civic amelioration adopts many forms. Take, for example, the newest work from Minsk's Diamos Roll (Dmitry Litvinovich), known primarily in his homeland for playing keyboards with the ensemble Cherry Vata. Operating here as a solo artist, Litvinovich has made some gentlemanly criticism in the past of life within the micro-social setting of a band. Different environments are imagined - in differing ways. 

Diamos Roll (Minsk): "Last Night" (2013)

By way of evidence, his last publication - through a side-project called Fantom Sea - implied that solitude often allows one to imagine superior membership within better structures. Oligarkh suggests that faith offers more than civic realms; likewise, the artwork and general aesthetic of Fantom Sea proposed that a maritime vista looks better than most crowds. Mother Nature is more appealing without a human presence. Dreams, on this prior occasion, would trump real-world drudgery.

Originally I had about two hundred sketches (Diamos Roll)

The last Diamos Roll release was entitled "Rosecode" and inspired by the artist's childhood, especially those moments spent rummaging through old cassettes and boxes of vinyl. Over time, a healthy diversity of formats and genres would be reflected in Litvinovich's solo recordings. "He took his first, eclectic steps within a wide range of styles - all the way from trip-hop and jazz to rock or techno." That patchwork aesthetic was undoubtedly apparent in "Rosecode," with a penchant for "instrumental hip-hop, funk, and nu-jazz." This variegation will remain important, as we'll see in a moment.

Currently there's a new Diamos Roll EP on display - "Last Night" - which Dmitry Litvinovich himself declares "a logical progression of 'Rosecode.'" He is especially grateful for the involvement of his colleagues who provided a range of remixes, like Kiev's Koloah or Sorrow Leads to Salvation, together with Five Eyes, Sideflip (both in Saint Petersburg), and Minsk neighbor T-Trider

The stylistic waywardness of "Rosecode" now becomes a more clearly defined worldview. The best plan of all is to avoid specific plans; pure, even aimless activity looks better than worldly destinations. "I've got no concrete plans for the near future... but there will be an EP with different moods and complexities. I'd like to gather all that into a single recording. You could interpret 'Last Night' as an intermediary work, one that shows the ongoing movement of my creative thought-processes." Put differently, the most fruitful state is one that's affective and intermediary - a feeling of belonging to multiple, unfolding possibilities.

Transitions offer more than goals attained.

Krasnodar's Wols (Yevgeny Shukin)

Hence the charm of "provincially" spiritual or natural motifs for both Diamos Roll and Oligarkh: neither realm ends. As the famous Russian saying - attributed to various people - has it: "There are no roads in Russia, only directions." Ideals, be they patriotic or immaterial, should have no conclusion. Embodying what Diamos Roll has elsewhere called a "jazz instinct," cherished fantasies and desires mature within endless networks of possibility; they offer promise instead of linear progress.

A related, but bigger collaboration emerges this week courtesy of the Mad-Hop label, who like to speak of themselves as follows: "Since 2009, we've been creating a platform for creative artists from all over the world - people who aren't afraid to experiment with their music and imagery." Those adventures take place in the realms of abstract hip-hop, broken beats, idm, dubstep, trap, juke, and glitch-hop. The reason for all these efforts is straightforward enough: "We're thinking of how to make the world better."

We're thinking of how to make the world better (Mad-Hop)

Three of the Slavic contributors to the brand-new "Mad-Hop Seven" compilation LP are the Krasnodar project known as Wols (Yevgeny Shukin), Moscow's Ghostek, and Pavel Dovgal (originally from Vladivostok, but now based in Ukraine). The decentered, "networked" romance that's evident in Oligarkh and Diamos Roll pops up again with "Mad-Hop Seven." 

Beginning with Wols, we can discern the romantic allure of nowhere in particular: things (now) invisible and ineffable offer more than fixed dimensions of any sort. In other words, there are often allusions by Yevgeny Shukin and his one-man enterprise to the local culture of prior decades, whose own socialist romance would remain, of course, unfinished. Those same absent years are, paradoxically, still full of promise.

Some recent materials from Wols have turned to technical aspects of the Soviet heritage. A nationwide, if not imperial project that never reached its cherished goal hangs suspended in the air. It is still pregnant with the promise of what might have been. "Composed using vintage Soviet synths and atmospheric samples from Soviet films, the music of Wols sometimes comes together as... the soundtrack to a lonely journey through the cold [Russian winter] air." 

Ghostek (Moscow)

Drawing upon that same antique spirit of technical adventure, full of trial and intrepid error, Shukin has occasionally been inclined to push the abstract, imagined dimensions of a "chilly, Russian journey" further still: "Wols make dub-influenced spacehop, 'anystep,' and all manner of related semitronica.” An open, windy sky speaks of some blissful and better membership among stars, rather than among citizens... Faith, seascapes, and "socialist spacehop" all work to a similar end - they evoke a reverie that has no end. 

Deep-sea analogies

Ghostek may live and compose relatively close to Moscow, but he always hides his connection to a specific address. Vagueness has its benefits. Likewise, his deliberately obscure location is tied to an uncertain, unhurried style: "This is a ghostly twist on underground music. Ghostek's work is full of field recordings and other sounds found by chance. The result is truly immersive, allowing one to fade out... or slip into the sounds." Other listeners have even referred to this young producer as "one of the pioneers in Russian post-dubstep."

That association of audible "fading" or "slipping" with some irreversible descent emerged clearly in reviews of a 2013 Ghostek recording: "Vacuum." One English-speaking journalist deemed Ghostek "the bastard continental child of Burial." The same tracks were then said to have a "definite Berlin feel." All manner of northern European stereotypes were employed, regarding a dour, dark, and industrial palette. The reason they even seemed applicable, however, was locally specific. Another text discussing Ghostek's material thus spoke of various "deep-sea analogies." Proximity to the Russian context was associated with (anxious) depth. The closer one travels into Slavdom, the further one falls... The entire nation, apparently, is essentially a black hole.

As for Mr. Pavel Dovgal, he was born in Vladivostok, yet moved as a child to Ukraine. His brief biography includes the widest range of styles possible. The breadth of those spiraling - and increasingly complex - tastes mirrors his dramatic movement across the map of Slavdom: over the years Dovgal has studied and performed "hip-hop, punk, metal, jazz, soul, blues, classical, idm"... and so forth.

Pavel Dovgal, originally from Vladivostok

One might attribute his list to a growing dexterity - and thus complexity - in other words to developing skills or greater confidence. If, however, we look a little closer at the way in which Mr. Dovgal tends to frame his own biography, there's a key practice towards which his catalog gravitates: deconstruction. He and the other musicians who've appeared on both Mad-Hop and Project Mooncircle publications often express the joy of dissembling that which they lovingly built.

It's wonderful to share what I do with the public (Pavel Dovgal)

By way of illustration, Dovgal's long generic lists end with the claim that he employs "various musical instruments and sounds - all with an unusual tonality and disharmony." Structure (as diligence) and disarray (as disharmony) work to common benefit. By pushing - or rejecting - the limits of concord and convention, new expressive possibilities transpire. If, however, hope emerges where normality fails, then the Mad-Hop contributors such as Pavel Dovgal are making an implicit social critique with their aesthetic choices. And indeed, in a society that manages to waver or implode with tragic frequency, the art - and manipulation! - of a similarly fractured aesthetic might prove comforting. It hopes to foster optimism within deficiency.

If so, then several of the Mad-Hop artists manage on a shoestring budget to overcome distance and a related hardship - in order to celebrate enterprise, dexterity... and demolition. There are tempting parallels here between such matters and a handful of theories within Orthodox faith - like kenosis - but they probably shouldn't be voiced overtly.

Instead, in a relatively recent interview, Pavel Dovgal expressed his unending happiness "at sharing what I do with the public." The best collaboration - or congregation - is one of performance, of an unfolding event. As an act of ongoing change, it has no fixed designation; that same performance becomes a nameless act of both trial and trust. These new recordings from OligarkhDiamos Roll, and various "Mad-Hop Seven" contributors all embody that remarkably sunny outlook: in places of mockery, emptiness, demise, or outright failure they all find room for something superior.

A shared evolution. V/A: "Mad-Hop, Volume Seven" (2013)


Wols – Fat Mermaid Blues
Oligarkh – Forgive Us
Diamos Roll – Last Night (Koloah Remix)
Pavel Dovgal – Ten Et Tiwa Dorment
Ghostek – Thirty-Two
Oligarkh – Tzaru Nebesnomu

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