This handsome devil is Pahom (or "Pakhom," depending on our translit). He has just released a grim album entitled "Boncha" that received high praise from lofty quarters. Russia's most famous music journalist, Artemii Troitskii, declared that prior to this CD "there was no Russian rap, just rap a la russe. Genuine Russian rap was invented by Pahom and Vivisector. What they do is both senseless and ruthless. As rap should be."
There was no Russian rap, just rap a la russe. Genuine Russian rap was invented by Pahom and Vivisector. What they do is both senseless and ruthless. As rap should be.
Pahom's real name is Sergei Pakhomov and - before starting a "musical" career (I use the term loosely), he was well-known as a visual artist. Slowly, however, he lost faith in the art world. For a series of interviews that map his growing concern over the commercialization of post-Soviet painting (together with footage that shows Pahom sporting normal body-hair), take a look here.
And so he put down his brushes and picked up a mic. What we now have are seventeen utterly formless, rambling, curse-laden monologs, opening with the track "Truth for the People" (Pravda dlia liudei). To hear a middle-aged, unattractive man spew rhythmically slurred lyrics over a funky backdrop might bring to mind parallels with Captain Beefheart.
On the other hand, you might recall some homeless guy in your garden and feel the urge to dial 911.
The clip here shows Pahom performing live a few weeks ago in Moscow and making a pig's ear of some "jazz" elements, one of the many genres disrespected on this CD. As he walks through deliberately hopeless interpretations of techno, for example (in "The Banker" [Bankir]), he is often accompanied by the album's co-creator Vivisector, seen above in a charming double-shot.
Vivisector is closely linked to the Gulag Tunes project that produces surf-guitar versions of Soviet prison or criminal songs. Several of the tracks on "Boncha" bring that same incongruous sunshine to utterly miserable tales of Russian urban life. Our audio player includes the title track, full of twang.
Gulag Tunes have attracted a reasonable amount of press in the West - and deservedly so. In explaining the reason for mixing surf and cellblocks, they say (in horrific English): "Why criminal music and criminal lifestyle is so popular here? Is it because melody harmony developed from Russian roots music? Or because total criminalization of Russian life? We try to play traditional jailhouse songs in surf manner to make this strange trashy style known worldwide and give this stuffs new free life."
It's that kind of logic (if you can understand it) that leads to Troitskii's argument about the very Russian nature of this awful mess. On a recent chat show with actress Renata Litvinova he said: "If [rock star and performance artist] Petia Mamonov stopped trying to make a poet out of himself - and just began grumbling, mumbling, and screaming in some kind of Russian, alcoholic rap - then it'd be exactly the kind of thing that Pahom's up to."
If [rock star and performance artist] Petia Mamonov stopped trying to make a poet out of himself - and just began grumbling, mumbling, and screaming in some kind of Russian, alcoholic rap - then it'd be exactly the kind of thing that Pahom's up to.
Wise words. It's precisely the awfulness of Pahom's work - the complete and deliberate removal of anything attractive - that makes it so relevant. It's physical, excessive, and gross. In the words of one Russian newspaper: Pahom and Vivisector "observe people who live as if they're in cages. Or behind bars, perhaps, in a police lock-up. In a word: the people who're stuck on life's scrapheap. It's tough work making it to the end of one of his gigs: the build-up of swearing, spit, sweat, and snot just gets too much."
Fun for all the family.
There's one other parallel that suggests itself here, and that's the UK's Streets. Being from Birmingham - Britain's second biggest city and home to its ugliest accent - The Streets took the bravado or bluster of rap to tell profoundly touching and very local tales of why life in a damp housing estate doesn't lend itself to anything epic. Pahom does something similar: using Russian traditions of the absurd, he sounds very real indeed in a land where the average man won't live to be 60.
Strange stories from a strange land, but very impressive indeed. If you'd like to hear more, we can suggest this site dedicated to Russian surf music. It contains plenty of information about a fine and recent collection of the genre edited by Mr. Troitskii himself.