Lessons of the Past: Trud, Jaunt, Kirov, and Bicycles for Afghanistan

The new and socially significant avatar of Trud ("Труд," Mw)

The Moscow post-punk outfit Trud (Труд) have just published their sixth album, which––according to longstanding tradition––bears nothing more than a single digit as its title. Other forms of promotion are equally terse or absent. The last two Trud recordings were accompanied by a melancholy female portrait and zero textual support. More specifically, a weeping soldier on the fifth album is now replaced by an emotionless woman (above), whose sober features come––perhaps––from a monochrome passport photograph. Her status as an individual citizen, however, is placed in doubt by a large imperial eagle, plastered across her face like a huge watermark or government brand. The state obliterates her face, just as Trud's crying female foot soldier implied tragedy, instead of stately triumph.

A golden future awaits you... Just kidding ('Liliya 4-Ever,' 2002)

These doubts about the present are juxtaposed, as ever, with many images from the Soviet past. Pictures of Trud are virtually non-existent online. Instead, the band republishes many Soviet paintings, especially those from the 1960s onwards showing daily life. The band's name, which means "labor" in English, was also an important Soviet newspaper, yet erstwhile daily reports of socialist progress are now displaced in 2015 by wordless, depressing portraits of modernity. Decades of dignified labor have led to very little.

The liminal years between socialism and modern sadness, arguably, lie in the early 1980s and perestroika. Here we find not only the rock groups from which Trud take their post-punk sound, i.e., both from Manchester and Moscow labels thirty years ago. The same period has also inspired a track on this sixth album––"Danguolė Rasalaitė"––named after a Lithuanian girl, born into snowballing tragedy in 1983. Due to the pressures of incipient capitalism in post-Soviet territories, Rasalaitė was dispatched to Sweden as a young teenager and sold as a sex slave. Psychologically and physically devastated by the experience, she committed suicide at sixteen. 

A resulting film version of this awfulness, directed by Lukas Moodysson and called "Liliya 4-ever," was shot in Paldiski, Estonia. In the cinematic parallel to Rasalaitė's life, her hometown is not mentioned in the screenplay. Apparently the rundown apartment blocks of post-Soviet Estonia looked––and look––no different to those of Lithuania. The cultural loss mourned by Trud happened everywhere at the same time. Social values worsened as an empire slowly imploded. 

Trud: "Six" (2015)

The same decade is seemingly drawn upon elsewhere by Moscow's Bicycles for Afghanistan––although in actuality, the musicians take their moniker from Kurt Vonnegut's 1963 satire, "Cat's Cradle." The cultural retrospection of Trud becomes here a gentler form of social critique.

"We all have left-leaning views and either endorse or directly support activist projects. It's impossible not to be moved by the injustice and rudeness we encounter everywhere––every day. You have to try and change that situation; we need to shake up our fossilized, bureaucratic, and capitalist world." Civic action is never detached from a good mood, though. The band offers a few words of advice in the same, insistently upbeat manner: "Listen to good music, read some books, and spend less time sitting on your ass." 

Whenever I meet young fans, I notice the same sense of drive I once had (Bicycles for Afghanistan)

Originally from Simferopol, frontman Alik Yuzhny and capital colleagues voiced their desire at Moscow's Afisha a couple of years ago to join a bigger, better scene. At a time when the capital's civic spirit appeared increasingly weak, music could perhaps improve notions of social membership. Yuznhy said: "I've never liked Moscow's 'closed' atmosphere––all that sectarian behavior [between musical cliques]. I mean the inability to attend [good] concerts without knowing the 'right people.' Locals never trust each other and strangers are full of wariness. I've never wanted to make our music a big secret; I've always been glad to socialize with others, including the people I meet after our gigs––or the folks who write to us. Whenever I meet young fans, I notice the same sense of drive I once had."

Both Bicycles for Afghanistan and Trud have stage-names that look to the past; both groups are wary of those who forget the past. Trud view historical forgetfulness as a guarantor of sociopolitical failure; Bicycles for Afghanistan maintain that small-scale, private relations also stand to suffer if arrogant adults remain deaf to the experiences of their younger compatriots. In both instances, humility and inclusion can reap considerable rewards. 

Bicycles for Afghanistan: the debut, eponymous LP (2015)

Other interviews with Bicycles for Afghanistan, prior to a debut and eponymous album, bear this out. Bass player Sasha remarked not long ago: "We play pop-punk and that reflects my love for people in general. When we were younger and busy with our own journeys of self-discovery, then we were probably full of anger. That [same contrariness] was mirrored in our music––and everything else you'd expect in punk's subculture, all the way from our fanzines to street fights. All teenagers are unhappy with something..."

"You might encounter the same, endlessly drunk guy in the kitchen every morning [i.e., your father]––and maybe he keeps going on about things you couldn't possibly agree with. In those cases, it's hard not to feel negative towards the world. As you grow older, you come to understand that anger achieves nothing in this life––at least nothing constructive, anyway."

As you grow older, you come to understand that anger achieves nothing in this life––at least nothing constructive, anyway

Drummer Anton adds: "I played for a long time in bands that would sing about all kinds of social and political injustice. They all had a fairly small audience... and everybody in the crowd already knew about those issues [first hand]! I'd rather we get some some related ideas out to a broader fan base––but you always have to be ready for moments of misunderstanding. When we last toured, for example, some folks thought that Bicycles for Afghanistan just play sickly sweet, pop-punk love songs. When we started saying stuff about political prisoners in between numbers, they began yelling at us: 'Who are you? What are you talking about?!' We didn't even know how to respond. It's always possible to stay silent, but explaining things to the public is, of course, a much better option..."

Major social lacunae need to be remembered, lest they repeat themselves on a micro-social level. Political or historical awareness today can foster politeness tomorrow.

The power of positive social thinking is also advocated by two more Moscow collectives––also with new material; the first of them is Jaunt. One Russian journalist, showcasing the band this season, translated the English noun "jaunt" as "entertaining stroll" for his readers. In actuality, in comes from a 1981 story by Steven King of the same name. The story is far from entertaining in any traditional sense. "Jaunting" is a term used by King to describe teleportation, somebody that can only be done by participants in an unconscious state, since the human mind cannot cope with the rapid changes in time and space. One man in King's story decides to teleport his two children to Mars. One of the boys, however, manages to stay conscious during the passage through eternity––and goes insane as a result. 

Bicycles for Afghanistan (Simferopol/Moscow)

In a recent interview, Jaunt's guitarist Timur Gandaev expressed his happiness at working with other math-rock outfits in the capital, such as Koala Kamaji and Yawn Hic. Solitude soon becomes creative teamwork and spawns fresh optimism. "We'd [even] love to play internationally, and nowadays that's a real possibility. The math-rock movement in Russia is fairly young and there aren't that many performers around town, but they've all got genuine potential. They're getting attention in the math-rock world overseas."

This desire to grant music a special or unique social resonance takes, on occasion, rather direct forms. Civic disappointment gives rise to purposeful artistic planning. In order to avoid the pompous, standoffish, or elitist nature of much earlier Russian rock, Jaunt take matters into their own hands with a new LP, entitled "At the Limit." "Our audiences are usually looking for something beyond the ordinary. At one recent show, we even found ourselves playing to a seated, dining crowd––all behind tables. Another time, things got so heated that our bass player accidentally bashed somebody in the eye with the neck of his guitar. We always try and make contact with the public! That works best in small clubs, in the kind of venues where there's no [raised] stage. It allows us to play and go out into the crowd––simultaneously. The line between artist and audience is erased in those cases."

The line between artist and audience is erased (Jaunt)

Performers, in a word, allegedly do what politics won't; they engage their listeners directly and turn a passive social experience into something empathetic and/or interactive. And so Jaunt, despite being an instrumental outfit, were especially keen not long ago to play at a Russian math-rock festival where "attending bands were expected to reveal whatever's happening in [our local and civic] reality today. The groups taking part were expected to show audiences how they live..."

If one might draw a line connecting math-rock and recent prog, then it's worth quoting a review of Kirov, based in Saint Petersburg. "Russian progressive rock is a catastrophically rare phenomenon"; in other words, prog spins infrequent, yet socially relevant narratives. And, for that same reason, Kirov were praised for their newest recording, because it turns rarity or isolation into a small community, thanks to contributions from Tequilajazzz7 Rasa, and My Rockets Up, among others. As with Jaunt, one ensemble first collaborates with kindred groups––and then transforms teamwork into performative social modes. Put simply, Kirov's reviewer was glad to encounter micro-social themes on the new LP, rather than any macro-social, pompous posturing. Small collaborations look appealing against the backdrop of state-sponsored monumentalism.

Jaunt, playing "under the bridge" in Moscow, summer 2015

In fact apolitical reverie was deemed to be the most evident topic on Kirov's brand-new album, entitled "Waves and Vibrations": "Based upon what I've heard and read from Kirov thus far, it's hard to distinguish any specific or concrete ideas on the album. And we probably don't need them, either! The band's [infrequent] lyrics, taken together, do create a sense of ease and ephemerality. There's plenty of waves, water, wind, and dreaming..." Romantic abstractions, dedicated to an unpeopled expanse, sounded considerably better than Moscow's magisterial cant. 

This group used to be called The Same But 100 Times Better––another St. Petersburg collective, showcased in the relatively early days of FFM. Today that ironic maximalism has become a more caring, frequently minor affair. After all, civic majesty is no longer a laughing matter. Instead, the members of Kirov insist, even when traveling far from home, that they're not terribly concerned about big ticket sales. "The most important things are a good sound system and the general atmosphere. We try to make each show memorable. All of us are emotionally dependent people! Whenever the public starts supporting us [from the floor], then we're able to give everything back––in musical form." A little care and attention goes a long way. 

The closer you are to people, the better the contact will be (Kirov)

For identical reasons, the musicians of Kirov, just like Jaunt, like to wade deep into the crowd while playing. "The closer you are to people, the better the contact will be." That same proximity also helps to guard against what Kirov elsewhere call "the preference for [grand visual] spectacle, instead of sound. There are some people who come to hear music, while others just want to see the drummer spin his drumsticks around and the guitarist toss his instrument back and forth." Or, in a related spirit, the musicians ask rhetorically: "What's the point in spending tons of money on a photo session? It would be cooler to make a video or just plow the cash back into studio time..."

Taken together, KirovJauntBicycles for Afghanistan and Trud all view their craft in social terms; either directly or implicitly, as a social enterprise in a crowded space. One common thread linking these uncommon collectives is their skepticism towards grand, massed, and alienating spectacle. Trud look askance at the cruelty of dog-eat-dog capitalism and replace it with a nostalgia for gentler, already absent times; a retrospective minorism takes shape. As for Ukraine's Bicycles for Afghanistan, they replace Trud's absent decades with minor thoughts of one's youth. A respect for prior times and/or the people of a younger generation helps to counter any moneyed arrogance in 2015. 

And then we hear from Kirov and Jaunt, whose distaste for bombastic spectacle is replaced with direct audience engagement. Musicians step into the crowd and engage their fans or contemporaries, eye to eye. Standing face to face with one's public, it's much harder to pontificate. Honesty benefits from proximity.

Competing market forces: Kirov (Saint Petersburg)

Audio

Jaunt – At the Limit
Kirov – Big Fish
Jaunt – Cabaret
Trud – Danguole Rasalaite
Kirov – Inspiration (feat. Tequilajazzz)
Trud – Nothing Will Be Good Any More

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