Maladzyechna, Belarus - framed by concrete modernity
A couple of months ago, we took an initial look at the figure of Gran+, otherwise known as Sergei Drobyshevskii, who is a young electronic musician from the Belarusian town of Maladzyechna. We offered a brief sketch of that location, not only because it's probably unknown to many readers; it's also very old. Maladzyechna (or Molodechno) dates back to the fourteenth century. From the outset it was designed as a military settlement, for which high walls were often more important than domestic calm. As the result of its ability to withstand various forms of attack, Maladzyechna was long held in high regard by various dignitaries and passed - at first peacefully - between them.
It was thanks to ever-growing reinforcements and defense systems that the settlement was slowly designated by mapmakers as a bona fide town. Military security allowed trade to develop - and families to live longer.
And so the work of Gran+ is framed by a dual context. Not only does he live and operate - from a Western standpoint - in the middle of nowhere. He also pens modern instrumentals against the backdrop of a long and troubled history, in which the residents of Maladzyechna have often sensed the risk of obliivion. What surprises us, therefore, is how related metaphors of "vanishing" are now treated - as will soon be clear.
Sound is the very flow of life itself...
Known to Belarusian audiences as a member of the idm project Eepl Cat, Drobyshevskii has actually been writing since 2005. In bringing those achievements up to date, he recently told the respected Minsk electronic label Foundamental that newer sounds should conjure the following atmosphere. "You're walking along on a cold night - going home to bed. Before you fall asleep, though, you'll look at all those street lights. Things start to seem clearer. The night is calm, the air smells fresh, and there's the music, too. You're gradually submerged in sound. Music, after all, is real life. For some people music [merely] occupies a certain position in their life. For me, though, it's the very flow of life itself..."
These fluid images, evident in Drobyshevskii's work on our last visit, endure in the newest EP, which is being published thank to the support of Minsk label Ezhevika. We touched upon the label's output a couple of days ago, but already these instrumentals mark another step forward; production quotas are quickly being surpassed. It's worth noting that the staff at Ezhevika also like to stress - with equal zeal - that their minor dimensions are no obstacle to even more output: "We may be a young label and community, but we'll still show you some great sounds!"
Grand noises do not require a large label to celebrate them. Even a tiny enterprise can find and advocate that which is. The metaphors of some vague "flow" appear: surrounding sounds are grander than those people who gather or promote them. The label and its artists merely become a conduit for a ubiquitous state to which they acquiesce. Music is more perceived than promoted.
There's a real nighttime atmosphere here
These same natural metaphors play a big role in the work of Samara solo artist Spurv (who also uses the stage-names Prohor or Ppohop). In reality his Christian name would seem to be Dmitrii. The rest is obscure. His newest compositions appear under the title "Storm Phrases." In semi-serious tones, and as an extension of things meteorological, Spurv then likens the overall effect of his music to a "hurricane."
Layers of fuzz, bordering at times on drag, recall an immersive, inherently natural experience for some listeners, also. Admirers on Soundcloud have declared: "There's a real nighttime atmosphere here. It'd be f***ing brilliant to drive around to these tunes!" The constraints of the city are escaped by stepping into something larger - and formless.
There's a slight irony to that rudeness on Soundcloud, by the way. These Spurv compositions are published by the Strogo Community, based mainly within the Vkontakte social network. The one and only rule they append to their newsfeed and forum is - "No Swearing." Inspiration, however, leads people beyond the limits of propriety. "Strogo" in English translates as "severe" or "very serious," yet some of those boundaries are transgressed in moments of voluntary surrender to an external, enveloping state.
Related approval has sounded forth on other venues: "When you listen to this music, it's like being carried into outer space!" That sensation of immersion or loss, even, is openly sought: "This is very positive music"; "I really like this"; "Excellent stuff!" One might argue, based upon these frequent and upbeat assessments, that the outside, natural world offers a better sense of involvement that anything civic. Trees offer more than concrete - and darkness outpaces whatever is revealed by the daylight. Clouds, storms, and other "flows" overshadow the achievements of modern society.
Spurv is also connected to a blog and publishing venture known as Fantastika Russia. Fully aware of various stereotypes and cliches in western perceptions of their nation, the blog's owners quote a couple of lines from The Big Bang Theory - in Russian.
Are those Russian rockets safe?
The two lines of screenplay read as follows, in the original: Bernadette: "Are those Russian rockets safe?" Howard: "Well, I mean, safe as it can be when it was built by the good folks who brought you Chernobyl." Better to celebrate the "natural," homeless affinities of music than align those sounds with a nation that ruined nature. So goes the logic of these outdoor symbols - and the jokes on Fantastika.
Pushing this association of desire with distance further - into some faraway, unpeopled realm - is the "Borealis" EP from Asten (Evgeny Suglobov). He has seen previous publications discussed in terms of considerable remoteness: "After listening to these Asten tracks, you can imagine yourself somewhere far away: deep in the cosmos, in between the planets, or on different worlds. These [musical] stories [and their locations] are so lacking in our present-day experience." Or, elsewhere: "These ethereal, sonic 'waves' make their grand debut - to awe-inspiring effect!"
Those same romanticized waves - and the ether that bears them - have both been re-imagined for the artwork of the newest material.
Asten lives and works in Stupino, which is maybe sixty miles from downtown Moscow, yet still part of the capital's peripheral region. Founded only during WWII as a location for arms production, Stupino continued to grow around a secret military airbase. With the demise of the Soviet system and the reduced size of the armed forces, this town now houses the biggest chocolate factory in Russia - owned by Mars. Any possible quips about distant, red planets here have been transferred to the language we hear from Asten's current collaborator - Festival Lounge. "Borealis" is promoted as a "warm summer tune." Distance and solitude are synonymous, oddly enough, with warmth: the further from home, the better.
Borealis: a warm summer tune
It's also worth recalling that the Gran+ materials were offered to us as "soft, melodic techno, set to a direct, atmospheric beat." A classically severe style is refashioned in softer, more welcoming terms. Common ground is mapped out between isolation, severity, and a strange or unexpected appeal.
That general penchant for symbols or warmth or softness brings us to St. Petersburg's Kirill Sergeev, who performs as SPDSC. He has just published a new maxi-single with vocals by Eleonora Babaeva, whose material appears regularly on this site. Previous definitions of Ms. Babaeva's catalog have suggested a melange of French house with equally Gallic electro, plus "a few soul-divas in the style of Erykah Badu." Should one doubt these parallels, a reassuring note sounds: "These combinations aren't as absurd as they first seem. This music suits moments of contemplative solitude on a rainy evening; it also works well for dancing with a big smile."
Ms. Babaeva sets the scene.
Entitled "Divine," the SPDSC single includes mixes from Ponty Mython (Aleksandr Pletnev) and 7he Myriads, among others. Mr. Sergeev spoke recently to the Russian press about this and other related projects.
He first explained how the professional connection between Eleonora and himself had begun by pure chance. "We really didn't know each other when I first turned to her - via Facebook - and said: 'Please record me some vocals!' It was just that I'd recently taken a flight somewhere and - in mid-air - put together some chord sequences on the laptop that sounded great. What I needed was somebody to sing along. Eleonora did that for me - and I really liked the result."
I simply try and get to grips with the flow of events. I try and start rowing...
This validation of experiment - further and further from convention - is seen in terms of yet another fluid state. "The thing is," says Sergeev, that my work tends to happen in fairly unpredictable ways. I'd even say that there's more chance in what I do than any [conscious] determination on my part. As a result, I simply try and get to grips with the flow of events. I try and start rowing - without rocking the boat too much.. whilst trying to make sure that everybody else feels good, too!"
All four of these brand-new recordings from Belarus and northern Russia speak of distance in appealing terms. Pitch blackness, aimless car rides, rushing water, and distant planets are all used to equate remoteness with (satisfied) desire. Taken to an extreme, tales of loss (of vanishing forever!) become synonymous with gain: pleasures are found in risky experimentation, maximally far from habit.
All of this occurs, allegedly, at the point where discernible landmarks slip into fluid, blue patterns - and improvisation replaces convention. Because we've no idea where we are.