Slavic Noir: Serdceder, Fanny Kaplan, Parc Hotel, and Stone Submarines

Stone Submarines: a passage from Manchester to Moscow

Stone Submarines are a very young Moscow trio, who've nonetheless had sufficient time to categorize their songs as "neo-psychedelic rock." A handful of other Western reference points are also used: Stone Roses, Tame Impala, The Black Angels, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and - most importantly - Oasis. One of the band members, Nikolay "Coxon" Morozov, runs a website dedicated to Oasis, whilst perhaps referencing Blur with his nickname. Despite that catalog of English-speaking ensembles, Stone Submarines assert their dedication to an "original sound. We're equally keen to promote the idea of 'intellectual craziness' and refined taste." How, though, will that same discerning spirit be expressed at home?

I feel constant shame, since I don't know what I'm living for

Another band member, Sergey Karmanov, offers some insight. He starts by quoting a couple of phrases from the Stone Roses' track, "Made of Stone." "Are you all alone, is anybody home?" This spirit of estrangement only grows. Karmanov then turns to Russian hip-hop performer Assai for a pearl of wisdom: "The women you want are the ones who'll break you."  What follows is a series of increasingly negative observations or rejections. The "discerning taste" of which Stone Submarines speak appears to consist of avoiding "tasteless" social norms. "I don't dance, I don't go snowboarding, I've no interest in cars, and I don't like football. I don't like clubbing. I see no sense in having a family, nor have I any idea why I should work in this country." 

Social critique then gravitates towards self-loathing. "It takes very little for me to hate somebody. I don't know how to let things go and keep malice bottled up inside me. I play online games, waste all my money on pointless objects, and feel a constant shame, since I don't know what I'm living for." Finally we reach a couple of simple, yet preciously rare values. There are, apparently, two experiences that make life at home worthwhile: "The time I spend with her. And music."

The brash Mancunian swagger of Oasis becomes instead a loud struggle against crass cultural norms. Self-assertion morphs into self-doubt.

Serdceder (Moscow): "In a Dictionary of Common Expressions"

The wear and tear undergone by idealistic artists in a rough, tough environment also leads to the kind of sounds we hear from Moscow's lo-fi garage ensemble, Serdceder. The band's name - presumably - comes from the 1953 novel by French author Boris Vian, "L'Arrache-Cœur," which translates into English as "The Heart-Extractor" or "Heart-Snatcher." That tale takes place in a profoundly absurdist and often threatening location, full of talking animals and nightmarish interpretations of psychoanalysis. Logic has no place in this sphere.

If you're an artist, then make something!

And then, from Serdceder themselves, we get the following dubious invitation to investigate its irrationality: "The simplicity of this band's music is only an illusion, designed to help listeners enter a mad, neurotic realm. The group's lyrics [in investigation of those neuroses] are worthy of a doctoral dissertation (at the very least!)." One listener, not surprisingly, said to the group not long ago: "Your texts are really f***ed-up. In the best possible sense, of course... Do you have some kind of fixed idea how or when you write them, or does the meaning appear only after you consider what you've actually typed? Maybe there's something here I just don't understand?"

Clamorous sounds are designed as the soundtrack to modern disorientation, especially in a new EP, the title of which might translate as "In a Dictionary of Common Expressions."  

Serdceder's Aleksandr Samokhvalov was interviewed on the subject of this new output. Early in the discussion, a well-known opinion of Boris Grebenshchikov was referenced - the contention that music has, to some degree, been liberated from material concerns by piracy. Anything, believes Grebenshchikov, that's "created by the intellect belongs to mankind as a whole." The mind does not create matter. Samokhvalov concurs: "If you're an artist, then make something! Stop griping about society's moral demise or about modern tastelessness. Stop moaning about your indifferent, stupid public..."

The only upshot from such curmudgeonly - and self-satisfied - criticism is that "there will be more moaning but a lot less music!"


Songwriting, allegedly, offers an opportunity to interact on the level of a "transcendent state." How, though, might one find the time, energy, and funds to actually do so in typical Russian towns? Mapping a path towards some supposed escape from materialism is itself a tough - and physical - challenge. Some of Samokhvalov's other recordings of late have been described by their maker as "a kind of 'folk' or even religious music. A few people have already said it reminds them of mantras - or a chorale..."

The amazing arrogance of people today, especially when they're the cause of universal suffering...

A large number of the photographs published by Serdceder are either faded or deliberately out of focus, due to extreme physical movement. The effort required to counter modern materialism is itself rapid, extensive, and physically draining. The only hope is that any "decline or fall" is naturally (hopefully!) bound to the birth of another, perhaps revolutionary significance. Failure in the name of an ideal at least proves its value; the loss of everything in the name of something.

Themes of rebellion emerge in the outfit known as Fanny Kaplan (i.e., Фанни Каплан). That stage name harks back directly to the woman who once tried to assassinate Lenin in 1918 - for betraying the revolution's "true promise." As Lenin's biography suggests, her attempt failed, due basically to some inaccurate shooting and the man's own fortitude. Kaplan herself was executed within a few days. Romance fell swiftly short of its goal with some brutal, even tragic consequences. 

Invoking this mishap are sisters Karina and Lusia Kazaryan, together with Dina Burkot, whom we already know from her solo project Rosemary Loves a Blackberry.The backgrounds of these three women stretch from Moscow to Omsk. When asked by the Russian webzine Sadwave to contextualize their newest songs, the musicians began by talking about inevitability - and the concomitant, even paradoxical need not to accept it. "Our opening track is all about the amazing arrogance of people today, especially when they're the cause of universal suffering... The song says that indifference [to such things] is evil."

Protest - even doomed outrage - is better than quiet acceptance of what'll happen anyway.  

Fanny Kaplan ("Фанни Каплан," Moscow)

That outlook soon transforms an optimistic desire for change into some counterproductive, even masochistic drive. Hence the contents of a track from the debut Fanny Kaplan EP last year, imagining a club environment full of pounding techno, booze, drugs, "sweaty bodies and the collective, demonic desire to burn... It's a story of human self-destruction."

A story of human self-destruction

A split EP with Sonic Death is now on show - and so these ideas reappear in a conversation with the Russian press. The issue of rebellion emerges first of all. Perhaps because of recent political events or a growing fatalism, the group's tone has changed. Any celebration of sedition has become muted. When asked if, like the real Fanny Kaplan, they'd have shot Lenin, the musicians reply: "I couldn't even shoot a plant"; "I'd like to change the band's name, but the other girls don't want to"; "Weapons are pure evil. I don't even want to touch them." 

How, then, to respond to local actuality, if it only leads Stone SubmarinesSerdceder, and these young women to see their future in terms of pre-determined misery? A better option would be, if possible, moving to the US. Put differently, if Fanny Kaplan's private philosophy is shaped by the weight of local, relentlessly "social" history, then America's musical culture seems more forgiving and inclusive. "I've always liked music from the States, starting with the 1960s and right through to the present day. The US indie scene is really varied and never stands still." The following lines, addressing the same subject, become a swift critique of Slavic failings. "American music doesn't dig around endlessly in the depths of the past. It takes on board the musical heritage of years gone by, in order to create new and eclectic forms."

As the future looks increasingly determined by (or mired in) the "depths of the past," we encounter the worldview of bands like Parc Hotel from Smolensk. The group is a quartet: Andrey Bordilovsky, Denis Mustafaev, Vlad Malashchenkov, and Yevgeny Glebov. That lineup overlaps with the teamsheet of Mineguide from the same city.

A suitably lightless portrait: Parc Hotel (Smolensk)

In the past Mineguide had said of themselves: "Our stage-name came into being purely by chance, during a phone conversation with one of our friends. We really liked the various interpretations that it invites, such as 'scouting for raw materials' or 'guidance through a minefield.'" The issue of some treasured values, sheltered from material threat, brings us back to the concerns of Stone SubmarinesSerdceder, and Fanny Kaplan. Precious ideals and stargazing romantics can so easily fall foul of ostensible actuality.

Connections between a personal guilt and societal complicity, between the past and the present

Now seemingly defunct, Mineguide have spawned Parc Hotel, but these performers are still keen to cast a glance away from earthbound discomfort. They tag their music as post- or space rock and frame their craft in terms of expansive, centrifugal gestures, far from home. "The one common interest between our members is a desire to explore a vast expanse of sound." Daily existence either fosters or forces a romantic outlook that, as with Fanny Kaplan, can sometimes slip from desire into drive, if not desperation. 

The band say on one social networking profile that their new moniker came from a rainy photo on their studio wall, showing an elegant, though melancholy hotel building. The same melancholy air has been noted by listeners: "Three tracks, a minimum amount of information, and the absence of any voices. That's the state of affairs." The sense of desolateness is only increased by the band's titles, such as "Broen," referring presumably to the recent Scandinavian drama. In fact some elements of "Nordic noir" overall could apply to Parc Hotel. Take this description of "Broen" (otherwise known as "The Bridge") in the US press.

"'The Bridge' - about the cross-cultural conflict between the Danish and Swedish police forces who must work together to stop a maniacal killer who poses a woman’s body on a bridge between the two countries - becomes not just a murder mystery, but rather an exploration about connections both literal and figurative... The show parses connections between a personal guilt and societal complicity, between the past and the present, the bridges between countries, cultures, and individuals."

Put differently, selfhood and self-determination are both entangled in history. In the same way, Fanny Kaplan and these other Russian outfits may be looking for domestic rock music that "doesn't dig around endlessly in the depths of the past," but that may be easier said than done. 

Parc Hotel: "Everyone Is Thinking" (2014)

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