"My name is Gleb Raumskaya. I produce bass music and come from Saint Petersburg. The stage-name 'Raumskaya' actually comes from the street where I grew up. That's also where I started to look for music [among the local market stalls]. Now I live closer to downtown on the Petrograd Island––a place for which I feel considerable fondness. You only need to turn off Bolshoi Prospekt and you're already on some really quiet, empty streets. I adore walking around there. Nothing can distract me and I can listen peacefully to whatever I'm working on at the time."
Such was the uncomplicated, markedly local self-introduction from Gleb Raumskaya in a recent interview for the Russian press. Just as he used to wander around the marketplaces of Saint Petersburg, buying and sampling audio cassette compilations, so now the sampling happens at home on a laptop. Nonetheless, the city still plays a vital compositional role. Both its physical streets and resulting soundscapes are spoken of in terms of "transportation." They allow the author to feel himself elsewhere––and that audible experience of "transport" is not necessarily positive, as we'll see. Especially since his move to Moscow last summer.
Raumskaya begins: "I love to travel with my music. I can sometimes handle all my preparation for a gig while still traveling. I'll work out the basic form of a live set and start to wonder about the audience. Playing in other cities is always a good opportunity to show off your newest material––and road test it, too. In a word, I'm really glad that my music is able to summon [positive] feelings in other folks." At least briefly.
Other places, somewhat further from home, are treated much less sentimentally. One of two simultaneous publications from Raumskaya this week is entitled "Sea (OST)," and taken from a choreographed drama he has soundtracked. It is published by the Terminal Dream label in Moscow, which is overseen by Aleksey Devyanin (Pixelord, Gultskra Artikler, etc). Tagged as both web-punk and hypnagogic, "Sea" voices obliquely some of the more specific concerns of a second publication, strangely titled "Reflect Tomorrow." Released by the capital's Dewar Powerhouse venue on their own bijou label, the second EP is a collaboration with Moscow's Jekka, otherwise known as Evgeniya Nedosekina.
Moscow's Jekka (Evgeniya Nedosekina) recording in August last year
Jekka has collaborated in the past with equally well-known producers––such as Moscow's 813 (Aleksandr Goryachev)––and also spoken of teamwork as a fine antidote to any creative block. At the time of working with 813, for example, she was undergoing a "real creative crisis. I've been trying to find something new and dear to me. I've just been offered an opportunity to develop an interactive installation for my shows. It will mean working with some mega-talented designers! If everything works out––and I think it will!—this could be a turning point in my career."
Her prediction would prove equally true regarding the "Reflect Tomorrow" EP, whose very title (or grammatical glitch) hints at a worrying likelihood of cyclical time. Life outside one's front door will prove to be nasty, brutish, and quite possibly short.
Jekka's teamwork four years ago drew direct parallels between common goals and music dedicated to a "fundamental inability to love... or even feel anything, at all." The basic act of being social is a challenge—yet holds potential benefit. Beyond solitude and anxiety lies a richer experience, at least on a micro-social scale. Two people are more likely to engender something creative than two hundred thousand. Bigger crowds make bigger mistakes. Best to avoid them.
A brand-new article dedicated to "Reflect Tomorrow" in the Moscow magazine Colta quotes Jekka on these same civic issues in 2017. The mini-album is said to draw upon (future) science fiction and some retrospective themes of the 1990s––as Russia staggered from communist restraint into lawlessness. Even now that same decade is demonized as a low point in adult memory; it is used to make the present day look relatively positive.
More specifically, Raumskaya views his output with Jekka as cinematically suitable for "a nightclub scene in a cyberpunk thriller... I'm always intrigued by how the future might sound." Apparently it doesn't sound very welcoming. A web-punk aesthetic––borrowing from dime store novels and the graceless, brash software of the 1990s––frames a cyberpunk future.
Technical progression accompanies a retrograde population: everybody looks wonderful, but behaves terribly. The further we move from the 1990s, the more likely they are to repeat themselves, if only because everything seems orderly. The technocratic banality of today cannot mask the inherent––and simmering––violence of yesterday. In fact, the former may only repress and therefore assist/amplify the latter. Both sides (pure ideology and digital thuggery) are equally guilty of triteness. Both are ugly.
Some of the wittiest interpretations of social damage and demise in the same city tend to come from St. Petersburg's rap/hip-hop trio known as Est Est Est. That repeated syllable has several meanings in Russian, but an interview with the musicians once explained in no uncertain terms that "it's meant as a verb. It means both 'to be' and 'to eat.'"
Immediately, therefore, one suspects that themes of bestial, predatory existence will be uppermost––as indeed they are in 2017, on a third album that emerges after a four-year hiatus. In northern realms where civic structures fade—or collapse altogether—a Darwinian competition for survival begins, in which existence is synonymous with the consumption of one's rivals. To be is to eat––and the dizzying crime statistics of the 1990s are only a taste of things to come, apparently.
If the opposition has now become more active, then expect terrorist acts; explosions in the metro are an indication of an unequal power balance. Just as a doctor deduces the presence of disease from a patient's rash (Mikhail Kantor)
Est Est Est grew from the ashes of respected rap outfit 2H Company and are also related to another northern ensemble of similar leanings––Elochnye Igrushki (Christmas Baubles), of whom we've often written. The relationship between EEE and kindred groups is sometimes sketched in the Russian-language press. Journalists look for connections between these grim wordsmiths. From one Ukrainian publication, we hear: "The psychedelic tongue-twisters of vocalist Mikhail Fenichev depict a grey, post-Soviet reality seen through various narcotic hues and the marked shades of mental illness. The lyrical heroes of an EEE track are always suffering from paranoia; they're constantly hallucinating... and don't do very well in social settings." Introversion and civic entropy stand face to face.
Even though several years have passed since the last Est Est Est album, the narrative emphases remain constant, as in "Victory Day"––a track inspired by the first-person shooter game "Counter Strike" (itself based on brutal aspects of modern terrorism). Not long ago, Fenichev some heard rumors that the game had been swamped by German players. He began to dream of how revenge might be enacted. And so a song of online entertainment becomes a metaphor for violent jingoism or massed hooliganism. Any discussion of "playing" is infected with patriotism.
In times gone by, Fenichev has also drawn inspiration from the terrifying paintings and texts of Mikhail Kantor, whose works––often on an epic scale—have depicted the failings of modern Russia in apocalyptic hues. And in fact, some of Fenichev's darkest comments in early 2017 come to light amid some equally cynical, even portentous musings on the "inevitability" of civic collapse. Put simply, disaster will happen––as it always does. That inevitability is offensively dumb; it's cheap and tawdry.
Est Est Est (L-R): M. Fenichev, A. Pomigalov, and M. Polyakov
As mentioned, EEE are currently a trio, shown above: Fenichev, Maksim Polyakov, and Aleksey Pomigalov. Their own new collaboration this year, as with Raumskaya and Jekka, may prove fruitful, but that only underlines the endemic failings of other, much larger social units. A celebration of friendship as something special or "out–standing" infers that the general population behaves differently. Any resulting social critique or condemnation from Est Est Est will not make for consoling or light entertainment: "You probably couldn't consider us easy listening. Nor are we supposed to be 'intellectual dance music.' We just want people to watch us with a strained, even dissatisfied expression."
We want people to watch us with a strained, even dissatisfied expression (Est Est Est)
This lack of faith in grander interaction, further from "home," extends to EEE's relationship with the press. The trio very recently struggled with a professional need to give interviews and promote their craft. To publish means to publicize, unfortunately. In the end, all magazines were politely refused and a joint statement instead appeared on the pages of Vkontakte:
"We decided simply to record our answers to your questions ourselves––on film. But it soon became clear that (1) we're incredibly bad at interviews; (2) none of us can answer a question properly; (3) we all look disgusting on film; and (4) you sent us sooooo many questions." As a result, some track-by-track synopses and assessments were offered for the newest album, "Tales for Keito" by fans instead.
One opinionated individual chipped in: "The opening song––'Degradation'––sounds really cool and could kickstart a musical orgasm, even––especially with that tortured saxophone. But ultimately it's kinda overkill from an avant-garde POV.... Nonetheless, you've got a line in there about 'fleeing the universe's meltdown' and 'rushing off to faith and real life––without reason.' That's way better than perfect!"
An irrational flight from actuality is more dignified than any rational assessment of the status quo. The present day is lost, a la Kantor, to a dystopian collapse. Any grand narrative that lies ahead could be taken from a vulgar sci-fi drama; any references to "entropy and Stephen Hawking" are loudly praised. Everything, sooner or later, will wind down, then "melt down," and dramatically worsen. Happiness has retreated to the profoundly small and private scale of Raumskaya's hometown strolls.
The same fan declares, unperturbed by his swift descent into hyperbole and generalization: "I think I now understand where all this [lyrical or discordant] nastiness comes from." Looking for a kindred spirit in melancholic, domestic songwriting, he ponders the influence of Krovostok, one of the founding ensembles in Russian rap. Based on the artists' observations above, however, Saint Petersburg is more than capable of instilling a fatalistic worldview in its residents. The overarching themes, allusions, and attitudes audible from Est Est Est, Jekka, or Raumskaya this week hold that the present day is best viewed through the inexpensive, unforgiving filter of cyberpunk fiction––where bad drawings of bad dreams predominate. They worsen with every page––and do so with tasteless predictability.