Hard Work and Hedonism: Thallus, Funkyjaws, Kusto, and Etapp Kyle

Loving handiwork for the new Thallus CD (Ritmo Sportivo, 2012)

Although this site focuses upon a set number of nations, it goes without saying that emigre culture also produces its fair share of interesting figures. One of the most intriguing in recent memory has been Thallus, who was born near Russia's Mongolian border (Ulan-Ude), but now lives in Germany. For all the appeal of that westerly transition, however, this young performer makes no secret of the hard work involved in new Bavarian home, balancing creative plans with the daily grind. As we'll see, a tension arises between the demands of the present and future projections.

A recent interview with Thallus on one Russian-language site prompted him to describe his musical efforts on an old-school Roland keyboard as the tough slog of a magician, hunched "over a cauldron - with clouds of smoke" billowing upwards. A need to spin audible or attractive spells relatively quickly remains at the forefront of his mind, since he admits that music - sadly - will never pay the bills. Consequently he also holds down a regular, and evidently uninteresting, job.

I've got a typical job - and that makes composing difficult, of course - but what can you do?

One might argue, though, that any wistful tunes to emerge despite that workplace drudgery are more precious as a result. These issues certainly come to the fore in the same interview, where it was announced that our artist currently uses an americanized Christian name - John - together with his original, Ukrainian surname, Glushko. At the outset of the discussion he extends his fantastic "cauldron" metaphor, while - in the same spirit - grumbling about the 9-to-5 routine. "I've got a typical job - and that makes composing difficult, of course - but what can you do?" 

Exasperation becomes palpable.

Thallus (Ulan-Ude/Bavaria)

He traces his initial passion for hip-hop to his sister, who once made him listen to some representative CDs, "after which I was totally hooked!" Hoping that any such fleeting, perhaps unexpected enthusiasm will always have the upper hand over quotidian hassle, Thallus now has an excellent new album available through Ritmo Sportivo with the strange title of "To Gain Volatility." Presumably that adjective is meant not in terms of violence, but as something inconstant and flighty. It comes with a brief, explanatory text in English that - with a little editing - becomes the following:

Blinded by the flashlights of the past, wrapped in miles of film, and slowly sinking in memory's sands...

"Blinded by the flashlights of the past, wrapped in miles of film, and slowly sinking in memory's sands... This record seems to have been discovered in some costal ruins. It appears to be a letter written by sound itself, emerging from within a broken instrument.... Everything in life can feel like merely fleeting significances; the most important thing is to live in the moment. Through music, photos, video, and art we hope these [same] moments will last longer and longer. Longer than our emotions..."

The hope is apparently for a permanence that's spun from flickering, inconstant, yet satisfying desires. But any ability to fashion an enduring worldview from those sputtering sounds - as here? - takes time. The material effort needed in order to realize momentary, immaterial aspirations is considerable. Dreams require discipline and elbow grease.

Etapp Kyle (Sergey Kushnir, Chernivtsi)

It's useful to compare that stance with the career of Ukrainian producer Etapp Kyle (Sergey Kushnir), who is from the city of Chernivtsi, in the southwestern corner of the country. Although blessed nowadays with the flattering reputation of a nationally significant culture center, Chernivtsi has seen awful destruction in the past, most recently during WWII. The toil and travail required to counter real-world suffering with the cherished dreams of a "Little Vienna," as the city is now known, have been great. It takes decades to heal wartime scars with creative enterprise. 

At the forefront of today's dance music in Chernivtsi, celebrating hedonism and inclusiveness, is Etapp Kyle. Recognized not only at home, but also in Moscow and Berlin, he has even been referred to by Ukrainian webzines as the "one great hope" for national techno. He just created one of the remixes for Unbroken Dub's "Rain EP" (on Electronica) that we showcased a couple of days ago, and so we're continuing a focus upon the same recording with a few words about one of its contributors. 

DJ-ing would become an incredibly useful profession for me

Speaking this month to a domestic publication, Kushnir recalled that he had first encountered techno - and other related styles - in a club environment. "I was hooked on the very same evening... DJ-ing would become an incredibly useful profession for me, in that it helped me form my own musical tastes and understand [eventually] that I wanted to compose, too." As he starts to catalog several years of hard work, beginning with the first flash of realization, we see a situation develop similar to that of Thallus. In other words, tough times and commitment both help to generate the elusive, "volatile" patterns of inspiration... which in turn fuel further effort.

These two young men - in very different cities - are evidently unwilling to rely upon the visits of a Muse whilst stretched out on the sofa.

Etapp Kyle, late at night

As Thallus talks of architectural and sonic fragments, made "whole" through concerted labor, so Kushnir describes the result of his conscious perseverance in equally indefinite terms: deliberate zeal creates imprecise pleasures. "I can't really describe it. The only thing I can say is that I'm attracted to so-called 'mysteries' in music. I mean the [sudden] feeling that you've not yet tried everything - and so you want to try again... and again." A final, conclusive resting place is never reached. Thankfully.

Given that the greatest reward of focused energy is some vague, unclear epiphany(!), Etapp Kyle's long-term and professional goals are defined with some difficulty. Much discipline and focus is required, but the result will - and should be! - uncertain, as a guarantor of surprise. "I've got loads of creative plans - and I'm working on bringing them to fruition. Nonetheless, I don't want to run ahead of myself [and make predictions]."  

The only thing I can say is that I'm attracted to so-called 'mysteries' in music

If we wanted another example of how imprecision is highly valued - in a world of gross pragmatism - we might turn to the figure of Kusto, an electronic musician based in Tallinn, Estonia. As we said on the last visit to his catalog, he remains almost silent on all (textual) fronts, but publishes the occasional phrase, designed to frame his quiet output for new listeners. A couple of those phrases, strung together as a composite sentence, would allow us to declare that Kusto is a craftsman of "experimental bass sounds," which in turn are designed to evoke an audible sense of some "deep, electronic peace." That metaphorical descent or immersion is orchestrated by "broken beats, crisp percussion, and abstract synths."

Kusto (Tallinn): "Pyongyang EP" (2012)

The talk of "deepening" experience continues here and there, but Kusto's desire to namecheck any specific style diminishes. He even speaks of himself in the third person at one venue - as somebody who's "trying to produce examples of every single genre on the planet!" Specificity is deliberately abandoned - to the benefit of maritime and even astral images of liberty. A loss of generic tags brings an increase in profundity: less clarity means greater uniqueness, to the point where Kusto even calls himself "a space-synth artist" on another, textually sparse site.

The sounds of space-synth artist

Listeners seem to appreciate this celebration of vagueness and abstraction. One recent listener on Soundcloud praises the "sense of magic" that pervades these sounds. And let us not forget that "Kusto" is the transliterated version in Russian of Cousteau, himself a figure of old-school adventure. Twenty-thousand leagues under the sea, far from concrete shapes and sounds, uniqueness resides. These happily unfocused goals are now celebrated further on Kusto's "Pyongyang" EP, available for free download. The center of North Korean production is engaged or referenced purely in order to showcase tracks such as "Going Nowhere." Goal-driven enterprise is countered with the almost deliberate intention to have no intention. 

Even clearer in its avoidance of pragmatic vigor is a new recording from the netlabel Chevengur Melody. As we've said before, the project's name presumably originates in Andrei Platonov's novel of the late 1920s, which cast terrible doubt over Soviet society's ability to build a utopian future. As a result, the story remained unpublished until 1988. And yet, against the backdrop of that famous tale of (inevitable) social discord, we're led to expect "melodies." As with the "Pyongyang" material, unidirectional effort is name-checked and rejected in the same deft movement.

Funkyjaws (Hrodna/Grodno): "Introduction" (2012)

In the place of purposeful enterprise, we find a recording from Funkyjaws, a young (and wantonly anonymous) young man in the Belarusian city of Grodno. Entitled "Introduction," this jazzy and happily abstract hip-hop recording is showcased as a mixture of both "beautiful chords and power beats." Escapism and effort - occurring at the same time. 

Beautiful chords and power beats

Funkyjaws, in fact, is tied closely to a local - and larger - collaborative project known as Beautiful Vision, which brings together a range of Belarusian performers and artists. "These people are close in spirit. They're all moving towards their goals and hold to the same convictions, too." Much of the effort here is directed towards a series of broad- and podcasts. Those downloadable displays are framed as a "chance to enjoy tasty music, no matter where you happen to be." No matter the physical obstacles, they will be overcome by wistful, imprecise pleasures. Presuming, of course, that their creator has worked hard enough!

All four of these releases celebrate a purpose and resolution that's divorced from any commonsensical, pragmatic goal. The pressures of conformity, directing hard work towards a number of dull and demanding targets, must be countered with equal determination - in contradictory, even "pointless" directions. 

Escapism, practiced after a hard day at work, must itself work really hard. Dreams require considerable diligence, being "volatile" in nature. No sooner are they reached than they evanesce, "slowly sinking in memory's sands," as we hear from Bavaria (which, to be honest, is a long way from the beach). 

Kusto: a blur of activity


Kusto – Deeper Than Me
Thallus – Green Tea
Unbroken Dub – Rain (Etapp Kyle Remix)
Kusto – Sanya TV
Thallus – Walk With Me

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