The Novosibirsk outfit Punk TV are about to release a fourth album, "Space Shadows." The band was kind enough to send us a copy, but until the official release date of March 25th, we will only be offering the sampler embedded here - and a series of remixes.
The last twelve months have included a warm-up slot for Ian Brown (Stone Roses) and widespread touring across Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Estonia, Finland, and Sweden. A series of domestic dates was also completed with ASBO Kid (aka James Atkin of EMF and Justin Welch of Elastica). It was following all that international activity that the band returned to the studio in order to work upon "Space Shadows," which will also include an additional CD of remixes.
In the meantime, interest continues to grow in the Western press, due in part to the fact that Punk TV's trademark Mancunian style is often expressed in instrumental forms. A guest appearance by Atkin on the new album also helps to overcome the language barrier. The general air of celebration is palpable: tambourines are shaken and smiles will widen.
British and American webzines have thus far received the band with enthusiasm: "This is the perfect accompaniment for a spy movie, with trick-start beginnings, tick-tock rhythms, and floaty drones... plus plenty of disco guitars for those spies' nights off." Or, elsewhere: "Cute, curvy indie-pop... with a surprising array of dance beats, expert pacing, killer sonic kicks, and rich atmospherics."
What, then, of the connection to Novosibirsk as fame beckons over the horizon? Band members Alex Kelman, Vladimir Komarov, and Konstantin Nikonov recently spoke to the Siberian press. They explained the bold, yet unavoidable move from their hometown to Moscow with a form of self-justification. "We come back often enough to see friends and family - but then return to Moscow. We didn't move to the capital in order to walk along famous streets. The group simply had to evolve further."
We didn't move to the capital in order to walk down famous streets. The band simply had to evolve further
The move beyond Russian borders, though, is another matter altogether. Forced to tour further still, due to piracy and non-existant CD sales today, Punk TV spoke again to the Novosibirsk press about the problems of attracting (or aggregating) attention after the demise of hard media. If record shops vanish and websites multiply endlessly, how does the band feel as it moves empirically around the globe?
"People overseas know Punk TV as a band that operates without outside 'assistance.' The first trips we made were at a loss - but that was a conscious strategy on our part..." A modus operandi based on conscious, deliberate loss - at least initially - will certainly instigate some very serious self-analysis. And indeed, we're told that "When you play that far from home, something changes inside you. A lot of things become clearer in life. It's hardly likely that we'll ever be able to buy gorgeous villas or yachts for ourselves. For the moment, though, music alone keeps us very busy, and we're able to [at least] fund these records ourselves. One day, it'll all pay off."
When you play that far from home, something changes inside you
Punk TV are obviously a source of inspiration for friends and neighbors, so it's interesting to look at other, younger outfits from Novosibirsk and see if these views and concerns are repeated. We could take, for example, local hopefuls The Patience, who have not only been responsible for a Punk TV remix in the past, but also announced the appearance of a debut EP this month via Bandcamp.
On a page at Vkontakte, the musicians have just turned to their audience and asked how much they'd be willing to pay for a CD (if it even existed). More than half the respondents choose 100 rubles as the absolute maximum, which is approximately $4.
The call goes out for further views - and deeper pockets.
A fan chips in immediately with some bitter truths: "The idea of selling music in Russia is pure fantasy! Paying 100 rubles may be OK for those people who've got a fetish for paper CD covers." He tells the musicians: "Stick it all online and don't worry yourself..." Because there's no other choice.
The idea of selling music in Russia is pure fantasy!
The worries, however, do continue. No CDs means no shops, no localized source of income, and therefore the need to tour - endlessly, further and further from home. Where certainty quickly vanishes and doubt sets in.
This universal truth is just as evident far from Siberia. Here we might consider the St Petersburg band Scarlet Pills, who've produced a handful of singles and EPs over 2010. They have now been superseded by an album: "No One Will Live a Life for You." All of these recordings, both big and small, can be downloaded via Kroogi or Bandcamp - and payment is thus on a voluntary basis.
The four musicians document themselves online by first name alone, a technique that suggests their shared desire to engage the world on fairly genial, trusting terms. Nonetheless, Nastia (vocals), Dima (guitar), Nikita (bass), and Tima (drums), face some adult difficulties - just like The Patience in Novosibirsk. Income and instability are going to be linked in negative ways.
On one of their web venues the musicians tell us that very early in their career "the band's lineup was fixed - once and for all. To this day it remains unchanged." When we consider that The Scarlet Pills came into being only during 2008, they clearly expected a lot of obstacles and pressures to appear in a very short time. Two years can apparently conjure sufficient hassles to frustrate even the most committed group. Writing songs in Russia - and then performing them - is neither easy nor predictable.
Especially when the travels start and security fades into the distance.
Aware that large sums of money are unlikely to materialize, these artists have adopted an admirable stance at Vkontakte and printed some funny, though less than positive reviews. With no reason to micromanage any polished PR, self-doubt and deprecation can be used to witty effect. One online scribe announced: "In a country like Russia, where nobody can do anything properly, the Scarlet Pills are actually pretty good!"
The comment remained on the band's site. Honesty and humor survive longer when cash is absent.
In a country like Russia, nobody can do anything properly
Once more, an unspoken phrase lurks in the background of these penny-pinching adventures: bands persist "despite everything..." Endurance itself becomes a major achievement. Much skill is needed to hide from the cruel, yet inevitable blows of fickle fate.
As with The Patience and Punk TV, we see the same dilemmas emerge after hard media's swift and costly collapse. This band even reacted in a similar way to their Siberian compatriots. They turned to their fans with some questions: What to do - and where to go? Is it better to stay home and publish CDs - or abandon the idea of direct marketing and wander the planet?
"Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to print a few CDs, just as presents for friends and family. As you might imagine, though, it'd be a waste of money to make 10, 20, or even 50 CDs. It would be pointless..." A rallying cry sounded forth: "We're independent musicians! We do everything with cash that we've earned ourselves - through honest effort." Within seconds, though, reality reappears: "If there's any hope of us continuing our creative endeavors, then the price of those CDs CANNOT be minimal... Don't worry, though, we do have a conscience, so everything will be marketed within the realm of decency!"
A fan then inquires whether they'd really start with a miniature print-run of ten discs. "Probably five," they answer in a resigned tone - and then append a bitter-sweet quip: "Thank heavens I can't count higher than five..."
An ability to count much higher would, once more, reveal the financial awfulness of music-making today in Russia. An art form given first to friends and family must - unavoidably and paradoxically - be fostered further and further from home. Songs must be performed in unknown, unpredictable places where, as Punk TV say, "you [really] learn things about yourself."
The unwillingness of Scarlet Pills to count higher than five suggest they'd rather not find out.
Thank heavens I can't count higher than five...
As Messrs. Kelman, Komarov, and Nikonov prepare to release that fourth album, it'll be fascinating to see what they say about the experience of promo- and touring work. Wherever they go in 2011, The Patience and Scarlet Pills will have to go further. There seems a good reason, therefore, why the upcoming Punk TV album is called "Space Shadows."
The distances grow and the figures diminish - in both the physical and fiscal sense.