The Slides: “Soma” and a Cautionary Tale of Impending Violence

Each of our articles about Slaidy (The Slides) seemingly begins with a passing reference to their address. The band is from Komsomol’sk-na-Amure. As we've noted before, that's "only a couple of hundred miles from the Pacific Coast. It’s about as far from the capital as one can imagine." One might argue that such distances matter little today. That may be true in terms of online promo-work, but when it comes to a balance between touring and normal, feasible domesticity, the difficulties are almost insurmountable. Diligence and commitment will, therefore, be the sine qua non of any Pacific performer, almost to unreasonable degrees. Incredible distances require a response on the same scale.

And indeed those same qualities of obstinacy are front and center in the band's newest promotional materials. Translated from the Russian, what results is the following: "Slaidy are four guys worthy of a better reception. They spend a lot of their time removing all the cr*p that surrounds them. The Moscow magazine Afisha never writes about them; they've been abused and cursed by [Mumiy Troll] producer Leonid Burlakov, too. The hipsters who work at Look at Me have criticized Slaidy to the point of indecency - but none of that will stop the band from getting increasing numbers of listeners."

The smiles below would suggest that a metaphorical escalator is moving up.

"These musicians have now recorded their first LP in the basement of a car repair shop. It was all done to the sound of much swearing, and with a lot of drinking, too..." This deliberately dismissive attitude towards anything resembling professionalism has led to a confident, confrontational record "inspired by Nirvana, Led Zeppelin and classic britpop."

These musicians have now recorded their first LP in the basement of a car repair shop. It was all done to the sound of much swearing, and with a lot of drinking, too...

Since the group has been badly bruised by journalistic opinion, they've decided this time to preempt any critical nastiness regarding "Soma" with their own self-assessment. "The record promises to be an absolute gem! It'll sell in the millions and elevate Slaidy into the elite category of Russia's music stars, not to mention their appearances on worldwide TV. After that, no doubt, there will be all kinds of wild orgies, piles of cocaine... and the inevitable breakup at some point during the next three years."

Passion will, apparently, always lapse into discord. As history winds up its cogs and wheels, windmill chords will become gestures of contempt.

"Unavoidable" though such breakups may be, according to the norms of group creativity, it is - say Slaidy - the equally predictable rise to fame and fortune that their bitter contemporaries fear. Moscow magazines and famous producers have, they claim, ganged up in order to deny the proper workings of fate. The band is surrounded by a wide variety of malicious, unnatural forces. "All kinds of promoters, producers, and Moscow journos have already discounted a fantastic ensemble - whose live shows drive hordes of fans crazy."

And yet, in order to have that effect on the public, one needs to tour. Reaching one's fans and changing minds in Moscow is not an easy task for those who live and work so close to the Chinese border...

The four young individuals currently involved in this battle with public opinion and Russia's endless landscape are frontman Egor Berdnikov (vocals and guitar), Aleksei Shorin (bass), Aleksandr Anikeev (drums), and Roman Sorokin (guitar). In a staring match with the nation's primary webzines, they've already started building their defenses at home. "Thanks so much to everybody who has supported us. Thanks to all those folks who helped, who still listen to our music, and rate it highly. We're really grateful." There's humility at home, but a much more pugnacious stance when it comes to distant ill-wishers.

Mapping the enormous gaps between these polar opposites or juxtaposed emotions is hard. A quick look at the group's Twitter feed shows some of the major stepping stones and obstacles over the last six months alone. "Kirill has abandoned us. Again... We've just been through the second rehearsals for a new guitarist"; "We need cash for the new album. Anybody who can help out, please throw whatever you can in our direction. We'll say THANKS on the album cover and give out some free copies, too"; "We're gradually saving up the money for a video..."

Extending one's influence beyond local streets in the Pacific is an epic challenge; it produces the kind of promo-shot we see below. Free of glamor or glitz, its strips down The Slides' operation to the most basic, driven essentials. These are the tools of escape. There's a good reason why the largest employer in The Slides' hometown is an airplane manufacturer. A desire to overcome isolation is expressed on the levels of both individual and corporate behavior.

A reliance on homespun enthusiasm for The Slides' plans is evident, at least initially. Amid these problematic relationships with geography - and all the public vitriol - local admirers produces something of a delicate, diplomatic test case; if the band's PR materials lean too much towards universal cynicism, there's a chance they'll alienate everybody. Hence the attempts to foster a positive, domestic response on some of the social networks, such as Vkontakte.

So far, so good. "I'm listening to the album now. I'm over the moon!"; "The album is AMAZING! This is one of the best Russian recordings I've heard in ages. I really like the arrangements. The melodies and texts are super, too! Bravo, guys!"

The album is AMAZING! This is one of the best Russian recordings I've heard in ages. I really like the arrangements. The melodies and texts are super, too! Bravo, guys!

That final noun in Russian is actually zemliaki - which refers to a friend or colleague from one's home district.  It's here that Slaidy owe most to britpop and, in particular, the open-throated vowels that invite parallels between Berdnikov's colleagues and a young Oasis. There's a provincialism (in the best sense) that informs both our Pacific and Manc ensembles. The endless chutzpah of the Gallagher brothers' initial years was certainly born of geography, in other words a positioning far from the "center" of things that led to a feisty, if not bellicose worldview. Regionalism was interwoven - most successfully - with the romance of outsiders. The inconvenience and shame, even, of one's far-flung address became a license to flout all manner of "capital" norms.

Slaidy, or at least their fans, are slowly developing the same outlook. In part this is being effected through language. Slaidy are an outfit positioned far from the mainstream, just as their (Russian) language is also divorced from rock 'n' roll traditions, internationally speaking. That maximum distance both requires and romanticizes the idea of a grand comeback. The residents of music's Left Field are already plotting an insurgency. Fans wave flags as the campaign takes shape. "The album has turned out to be  really lyrical affair. Good job! The texts are all top-quality and in Russian, too. Thanks for that. It's good that you sing in Russian, and not some kind of pseudo-English, like almost all the other indie outfits... In a word, the album's a SUCCESS. We're so proud of you, guys! Keep going!!! :)"

The sense of camaraderie grows on occasion, thanks to collaborative efforts like this upcoming festival.

As that task moves and develops further, the issue arises of the album's title. Already a fan on one social network has asked: "Did you take the name from Huxley, by any chance?" In "Brave New World," soma is a drug taken in order to lessen social tensions and remove the need for spirituality. The name of that substance, however, was actually borrowed from an ancient, more optimistically conceived Zoroastrian drink. Linked, in terms of ritual, both to the plant from which it came and to a related deity, soma was the very embodiment of unity.

It takes no great effort to see how Slaidy, with their music, CD title, and fairground artwork, hope to alter the role of Russian rock music as "capital," light entertainment - and reinstate it as a unifying force among all the country's outsiders. It's a grand, if not delusional metaphor, yet one already cast in the best and most romanticized context: "Soma" is full of loud, proud, guitar-driven anthems that sound forth from the very edge of the world's biggest nation. Slaidy do indeed deserve a better reception, based on the quality and bravery of this new release. It defies all expectations based on a financial or locational logic.

Now might be the time to pay attention to The Slides, lest Berdnikov et al. start causing trouble. Huxley's cautionary tale did not end well - and the blur of activity currently visible on the streets of Komsomol’sk-na-Amure is inspired by that same book, a novel banned in past decades for disrespecting families, faith, and other stable collectives.

Moscow's music press may soon be full of punch-ups. The Gallaghers' influence spreads far and wide.

Audio

The Slides – All the Colors of the Rainbow
The Slides – Barely Touching
The Slides – Depth
The Slides – In Motion
The Slides – You to Me...

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