Busy preparations for an earlier Plums Fest (Moscow)
Plums Fest is a self-proclaimed celebration of "audio-visual experimentation." This year it occurs on May 19th in Moscow's Artplay center. The Russian word for "plum" is similar to the term for "cream," allowing for festival organizers to promise the "crème de la crème" of both modern music and video arts. Over time, of course, those spheres have fallen together with the help of digital or multimedia tools, but here we're focusing upon four Russian musical outfits that have been invited to play live.
The full timetable includes exciting figures like the circuit-bending VTOL or the breakcore of Mikhail Kazanok (Mendelayev); visitors can even enjoy a large range of children's instruments - played en masse. We will return to all these folks in the next few days, since their reputation is significant. Mendelayev alone is sometimes spoken of as a founding figure in modern Russian electronica - and VTOL is a true joy.
Plums Fest is keen to foreground a specific mission statement on its Russian website, which might be translated as follows. "Our festival's philosophy finds expression in the most rigorous criteria used to select participants. Nobody involved in this event is here by chance. Each and every project on display has been carefully considered - in terms of their worldview and the quality of their work, too. In precisely the same manner, both the order of the performances and the display spaces occupied by Plums Fest express a unique and 'dramatic' logic - in various senses."
The most rigorous criteria are used to select participants
With the musical selections overseen by Nikita Golyshev - long familiar to this site - Plums Fest is hosting an impressive array of Western artists, such as Germany's Incite and Britain's Paul Prudence. From local realms, however, we find figures like Maguett, otherwise known as Dmitrii Drozdov. By pure chance, he recently uploaded a photo essay to one of his websites, designed to consider Drozdov's attitude towards his hometown: Noginsk. A local talent pondered the city in which he was raised - and which he would now represent on stage. Founded long ago in the fourteenth century, Noginsk would only grow with discernible speed once the industrial revolution came to town. It is now a bustling industrial center.
Maguett (Dmitrii Drozdov, Moscow)
Given that Moscow itself has developed so fast in recent decades, the twenty miles from Red Square to Drozdov's home streets have long been traversed by urban sprawl. Certain things, however, stay the same...
"In years gone by, I spent a lot of time here [in Noginsk] with my grandparents; our buildings used to face one another. My friends lived here, too - but that was more than fifteen years ago. I don't know where they are now. My feelings about this town are mixed - and they keep changing with time. I see the apartment staircases that I climbed at least a thousand times... they look pretty much the same." The inanimate world may stand still, but a "sense of time's passage" predominates among those who live there. History leaves few options beyond the straight and narrow: time keeps moving - in one direction.
An enduring sense of time's passage
This competition between public and private time - between obligation and whims - has appeared elsewhere in Maguett's catalog. The last time we examined his work, he had played wittily upon a 1999 track by Donnell Jones and Lisa Lopez for the digital single, "W'Up." As we noted, the sexually explicit, extremely confident nature of the original had been dramatically transformed: it was slowed down (a great deal). Jones' vocals acquired an almost incantational quality: real-world swagger was both distorted and became very distant in tone. Overt lyrics were turned into a virtually mantric performance.
Not long ago, that kind of wavering between lyrical self-assurance and the allure of distance or deviation was nicely summed up by the staff at St Petersburg netlabel RussianAdults, for whom Maguett had written a compilation-CD track. The editors of the album defined his small, yet well-crafted catalog as consistent movement between two extremes: proximal and distal systems of reference. "Here" and (way over) "there." "Each of Maguett's tracks adopts an amazing form: it either hops around on the back of some rich syncopation or floats [languidly] beneath layers of heavy electronica."
813 (Alexander Goryachev, Moscow)
And indeed, the goal-driven patterns of evident lust, so important in Jones' lyrics, were subjected to a slowdown, if not breakdown. They slipped away. A voluntary departure from crude physicality - and its pushy needs - came to the fore, in favor of vague yearning. The desire for difference took on a specific sound: idiosyncrasy was stressed over market-driven or "unidirectional" lust.
Another Moscow solo performer at Plums Fest is Alexander Goryachev, aka 813. As we've mentioned before, he works professionally as a fireman. Just as Maguett's material speaks to the tension between fleeting emotions and actuality (between desire and drive), so Mr. Goryachev finds it very difficult to find quiet time for uninterrupted composition. His music is written piecemeal and constantly interrupted by other matters that demand his attention. One journalist recently asked him how on earth he manages to find time for artistic self-expression while "saving people" inside burning buildings from 9 to 5.
If money is all you need, then it's all you'll ever get, too
Goryachev replied: "Well, I'm hardly a pop star! And music doesn't bring in the kind of income that'll ever allow you to dump your day job. You could even say that it's better to flip back and forth between different tasks [i.e., between work and music]. It allows you to avoid fatigue or getting stuck in a creative dead-end."
For the same reason - because of workplace pressures and obligations - Goryachev was never able to enjoy a musical schooling. "I sometimes study theoretical articles or textbooks. It's a kind of self-education." Most interesting of all is the way in which he finds benefit in that fickle, fleeting practice. Constant change or alteration allows him to avoid the danger of a cash-driven aesthetic. "If money is all you need, then it's all you'll ever get, too." Inconsistency is better that angry insistence.
Championing this "release" from cash and common sense are St Petersburg's Elochnye Igrushki (Christmas Baubles) aka "EU," who are sometimes called Russia's pioneers of avant-garde idm. We've covered this duo before - Aleksandr Zaitsev and Il'ia Baramiia; they first appeared circa 2000, but they've been sporadic with releases, to put things mildly.
In a recent interview, Zaitsev said: "It seems to us that the music coming out of Russia often sounds really stressed or uptight. Maybe that's why people overseas find it hard to accept or listen to... It's not that we're looking for increased levels of understanding or appreciation overseas; we just want our local music to sound a bit 'freer.'"
We want people who've never heard any music to hear us - and say: 'That sounds pretty good!'
The key to that kind of easy-going outlook, they have felt, is sometimes to play everything in one take. EU's spontaneity might conquer stress. "We'd simply turn on the computer that worked as a recording device - and play the tracks from start to finish. If we didn't like them... we'd play them again!" This happy-go-lucky attitude has always been evident. When asked back in 2010, for example, about the deadline for a new album, Mr. Zaitsev said: "I dunno. Let's see how things turn out. We've already recorded stuff several times, but nothing really grabs us..." Baramiia added: "It would be good to finish the current project this year. That's what we hope to do."
A great deal of complexity surrounds a simple goal. When asked exactly what they're aiming for, EU say: "We want people who've never heard any music to hear us - and say: 'That sounds pretty good!'" Spontaneous, easy-going sounds are a tough call in a demanding world - and they remain, as a result, both elusive and precious.
Elochnye Igrushki live
And that brings us back to the capital - and the figure of Drozd (unrelated to Maguett). He is not keen on discussing his creative credo, but offers a few hints on various social networks. Answering a recent questionnaire, he defined the raison d'être of his music in a handful of brief sentences. "I do this from a desire for self-expression... and as a way to make a living, doing what I love. I've a yearning to change reality. And a secret desire for recognition - by leaving my mark on today's music, for example."
Those goals are frustrated at an early stage, however. Answering another question - regarding his earliest use of alcohol - Drozd says: "Between the age of ten and fifteen." It's hard to tell if we're dealing with an incident or a habit.
I've a yearning to change reality
Nonetheless, he also jokes in a similar manner when answering a survey from a major Moscow bookstore. The shop wants to know who visits such places most often. Drozd replies: "Alcoholics." Dreaming and desperation happen in the same place. That semi-serious mode turns darker when our musician then decides to quote an entire song from the late-Soviet rock star, Igor' Tal'kov (who died in tragic circumstances). Tal'kov's text is entitled "My Homeland" and speaks of a desire to "at least reach the age of Christ. All around, like some kind of parade, the entire nation is striding towards to hell..."
Against that growing fatalism, the four Russian musicians on display at Plums Fest are indeed champions of "experimentation," just as the event's organizers suggest. Those experiments, it seems fair to say, are exercised in the realm of self-definition. Working against the passage of time, workplace obligations, or the sad cyclicality of history, all four of these projects celebrate the rare, fleeting chance to manifest private difference and deviation.
Wine at work and the occasional tattoo are a start.
Sergey Drozd (Moscow)