Late this summer, the album shown above appeared in a few music shops around Moscow. The work of a new outfit by the name of Liliya (below), it was entitled “Model’ robota” (Robot Design). Immediately, with its name and artwork alone, it was reminiscent of a project that ran between 2005 and 2008 at the hands of Uplifto Records, a mainstream dance music company operating out of the southern town of Taganrog.
Uplifto in 2005 launched an endeavor known as Katia Chekhova. We say “endeavor” because the idea behind the music was that the (female) vocalist on each of Chekhova’s bubblegum techno/electro releases would be somebody different. The stage persona of Chekhova would remain, but the voice and appearance of the vocalists would alter. With this concept, not only did Uplifto hope to make some kind of knowing, ironic statement about the changing nature of boy- and girlbands, but also to keep public interest alive.
As, however, is so often is the case, things did not go well. In 2006 the first vocalist, a woman by the name of Katia Gubenko, left in unhappy circumstances, leaving a few bitter exposes for the Russian press behind her. She maintained that the management at Uplifto had driven her into the ground with an inhuman touring schedule and very little – if any – pay. A supposedly original approach to pop music had become something depressingly predictable.
On the back of those events, we now have the trio Liliya, making claim to equal novelty for the dancefloors of Russia. Not only is their rhetoric similar, but once we get past the PR or the artwork and actually pop open a CD drive, Liliya even sound a great deal like the early Chekhova recordings. Untroubled by the weight of history, Liliya’s promoters crank up the volume: “This is an absolutely new wave in electronic music! It’s all based on a totally radical idea; this trio sounds like no other outfit in Russia!”
This is an absolutely new wave in electronic music! It’s all based on a totally radical idea; this trio sounds like no other outfit in Russia!
Look into my eyes. You will believe me.
“Things began in 2007, when Liliya took shape and started becoming the explosive ensemble of today. Several thousand people have already been convinced of their potential. You can hear virtually all the group’s hits on the radiowaves of Russia, continental Europe, America, China, Canada, Israel, and even Australia.” Furrowed brows appear - and degrees of truth are questioned. If we take, for example, Liliya’s MySpace page, do we get anything resembling proof of that “international fame”? No. The grand total of visits at the time of writing is just over one thousand. Somebody is playing free and easy with the facts.
Hence the furtive, suspicious glance to one side. Lest the Truth Police be out and about.
Liliya make good use of the PromoDJ portal in order to make further claims about their renown, in particular the fact that they are currently listed in the Top 100 outfits. The problem here, as we might guess, is that multiple voting is frequently an option on such hosting sites… and people do indeed vote for themselves. Over and over again.
Such issues are not limited to mere vote-casting, either. Many such charts – especially on the bigger portals – are divided up by genre. All musicians, who constitute those rubrics, are in these lists because they tagged their music as such. The problem comes from the fact that a DJ, say, who actually produces techno material, will often tag those compositions as “triphop,” “downtempo,” and “trance,” too. This is done simply in order to get into other listings – and therefore attract more attention. The generic purity of these charts, as a result, is also more than a little suspect.
In happy dismissal of any such matters, Liliya’s PR staff members bring their promotional blurbs into the final stretch with even bolder notes of (assured) triumph. “The girls’ jam-packed touring schedule will make it impossible for you to miss performances by the Best Group of 2009 – Liliya! In the future there will be nothing but hit music, unbelievable parties, and the public’s thunderous applause! Now YOU have the change to be our new Robot Design!” That closing quip is more than an uncomfortable pun; it’s also a troubling insight into a general attitude towards the public.
Claiming, therefore, to work beyond the limits of standard genres, in some realm of potentially “explosive” consequence, the band in actuality is a carbon copy of another project that – once again – stayed wholly within the confines of tradition. The only “escape” from stylistic constraints comes in those moments when tracks are anxiously/deliberately tagged incorrectly in order to garner more attention. Such is the behavior of people who see no issue in voting for themselves on public forums – and then claiming the results as proof of "public adoration."
That level of bare-faced cynicism can leave the public dumbstruck.
This topic brings us to the very different sounds of the young and amazingly prodigious musician Aleksandr Kibanov (above). His MySpace page (which boasts maybe 400% more visitors than Liliya’s!) contains a long inventory of his net-releases. Atop that list sit the few words that Mr. Kibanov wishes to share with the public (we leave the English as is): “Official biography never has been created. Almost all of my released albums you can download from the main page. I almost never post any news about new releases. All changes only in list below. ” After this there follows the endless documentation of his discography.
Official biography never has been created. Almost all of my released albums you can download from the main page. I almost never post any news about new releases. All changes only in list below.
Kibanov’s latest output – free, as ever, for downloading – is called “Cycle of Evolution” and published under one of his many pseudonyms, in this case “Illnathix.” It consists – just like the Liliya album – of nine tracks, but these amateur efforts are substantially briefer. Their total running time is just over nine minutes; the average length of each instrumental can therefore be surmised with ease.
The (mini-) album’s title might suggest that its contents would be arranged in chronological order, somehow charting the rise and fall a natural, cyclical process. Instead what’s on offer is a series of brief, deficiently produced, and deliberately hackneyed interpretations of quite a few dancefloor or electronic genres. Several are titled in ways that suggest Kibanov’s tongue is (deep) inside his cheek.
The album’s artwork (above), although much messier than that of Liliya, nonetheless finds sonic expression in vicious little circles of generic predictability that are just as severe as any “robot design.” His treatment of the “avant-garde,” disco, rave anthems, and trance make clear his contention that genre classifications are doing serious damage to electronic music. Not only do they set arbitrary limits on expressive potential (in ways defined by cupidity); the same systems, when established on major portals, are not even respected! Generic fetters, as a result, are insistently present when they should be ignored… and ignored when they should be present!
Perhaps the best example of this constant (self-) subversion can be found in one of Liliya’s blog entries. Recently a supermarket in the suburbs of Moscow offered a rather dramatic promotion scheme; for a limited period, anybody who turned up in nothing more than their underpants was allowed to shop for free. One of Liliya’s members posted a link to the news story, saying how she was ashamed to be Russian.
She then added that these naked shoppers were “worse than cattle,” using a very rude term in the process… Not something to be shouted aloud; the people up against the wall already look troubled by the t-shirt (see above).
Several fans chipped in, adding to the conversation and defending the need for people to buy food in tough times, but the singer wasn’t convinced. Her annoyance just increased, as did her sour attitude towards the public. She was soon producing some very choice expressions indeed… “People should know the limits of decent behavior. Jeez... the whole thing’s a complete f**k-up. The situation just shows how the country’s full of cr*p…”
On public display in a Moscow emporium, next to the dairy aisle, were nasty disorder and disdain, two social traits exercised by individuals who don't know how to behave "properly," yet no doubt listen to their favorite music as they go about their (semi-naked) business. They listen to music that defines their hopes, dreams, and sense - therefore - of social rectitude. Music, as with most of us, becomes a soundtrack to how we think the world should be. Lovers listen to ballads and only then start to expect more from their relationships; political extremists listen to skinhead thrash-bands... and break more windows as a result. Something tells us that certain attitudes towards limitation, decency, and truthfulness are at least being instigated in one or two Moscow recording studios, rather than among scantily-clad suburban shoppers.
Having cast a sad glance over the core genres of mainstream Russian dance music, Alexander Kibanov ends with an instrumental entitled “I Have Nothing [to] Say for You.” Speechless, indeed. And silence, to boot, may be the best escape from greedy posturing or pigeonholing. By saying or doing nothing, then anything is possible.
Stay mum; keep your options open.