It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the outfit known as Days of Funk embodies a certain degree of nostalgia. The briefest of visits to Soundcloud will unearth comments such as: "Wow! This sounds like a disco hit from the '90s!" And, in addition, that misty-eyed musing on distant times is good cause for celebration: "Makes me wanna dance! Dope sound..." The man responsible for these post-Soviet strolls through the soundscape of Yeltsin's glossy culture is Aleksandr Asaga. A resident of Krasnodar, he's known in some southern quarters as Alex Buckiy.
Wow! This sounds like a disco hit from the '90s!
We've encountered his appealing discography before - tangentially - in the guise of the Agraba project, of which Asaga was a member between 2007 and 2009 with Azamat Murzaev. On our last visit to the Chicago house sounds of Agraba, Murzaev had spoken with much optimism on the topic of Russian dance music. "A real leap forward has taken place over the last five years - and I'm completely convinced it's only the beginning. There are huge numbers of talented young people spread all over our 'boundless homeland.'" Murzaev used that stereotypical phrasing due to the (dubiously!) high degree of romance involved: the fact that young men and women from anonymous villages might actually forge a meaningful career in music seemed hard to believe. The grandest, most optimistic claims were therefore made with a touch of irony. Just in case.
In moving on as a solo project, Asaga is - implicitly - expressing a related faith today in the quality and potential of domestic music. Private individuals can create material of public consequence. Asaga himself has already garnered attention in a remix competition for Kiev's Kooqla and worked productively with a range of European labels. His assurance and enthusiasm are well founded - thus far.
The two brand-new Days of Funk tracks on display here come courtesy of Moscow label What's In the Box. They appear on the heels of Asaga's work that was recently finished with the St. Petersburg label Dextrous Tracks. That northern enterprise views itself and its future in equally buoyant terms: "Dextrous Tracks has emerged in response to the latest fashions in dance music worldwide. Talented, ambitious producers have now been gathered in one place... Their work already resonates with enviable persistence across the dancefloors of continental Europe."
That upbeat, endlessly hopeful standpoint need not be attributed to St. Petersburg's location alone. True, the owners of Dextrous Tracks make joking reference to Pushkin's famous definition of the city - as a "window upon Europe." And yet we can travel far inland and find an equally sprightly worldview in other Russian cities this week.
A hypnotic dancefloor euphoria, regardless of one's location
Take, by way of example, the Siberian techno exponent Unbalance (Aleksandr Matlakhov), whose severe aesthetic was formed over the last four years through careful study of UK and German trends. That interest would pay dividends. Once a debut vinyl release became possible - through Holland's Lessismorecordings - Matlakhov was able to work further and further afield. Despite the unforgiving, insistent structure of his techno catalog, a positive philosophy remains uppermost, both professionally and publicly. Speaking of himself in the third person, he says: "Unbalance remains dedicated to his own style of deep, pulsating soundwaves. They plunge audiences a hypnotic dancefloor euphoria, regardless of their location: [the same effect occurs] at large-scale raves or a private party."
In the catalogs of both Days of Funk and Unbalance, the promise of escapism is great indeed. It offers an alternative both to the heartless passage of time and the constraints of Russian geography. This belief in forms of social, sonic amelioration - of better noise creating better lives - has certainly emerged in a recent interview. Matlakhov describes his music, intriguingly, as a constant "fight between light and darkness." All manner of somber, shady obstacles are overcome with the "euphoric" potentials of driven techno.
The [audible] fight between light and darkness
To some degree, that removal of material shackles has been echoed in Unbalance's gradual transition from analog to digital tools: "These two things are inextricably connected; one follows from another... I'm all for the preservation or development of analog [processes], but I'm certainly not an opponent of the digital world. Moreover, without digital [tools], I'd not be able to do what I do."
Lest such positive ideas seem fleeting and/or fickle, it's worth casting an eye over some forthcoming material from long-standing Samara DJ and composer Alla Farmer. She's about to release a three-track EP through Ukraine's High-Jack Records, entitled "Wawa," including an impressive remix from Cacao Mars (Zaporozh'e). Alla has been celebrated on FFM many times. As readers may remember, on the last occasion we showcased her work, a new and especially jolly autobiographical text had appeared: "Alla is my real name: I was born and raised in the sunny town of Samara, on the banks of a picturesque Russian river - the Volga."
That air of local pride - and gratitude - would only increase.
"My parents, being musicians, always surrounded me with the finest sounds. They even sent me off to a music school, where I was very happy. I've always loved singing and have used loads of different instruments as long as I can remember. My friends have always included the kind of people for whom music is vitally important."
"Whenever I'm not busy with my band - 'Bajinda behind the Enemy Lines' - I write music at home using whatever tools I can find. That solo material has been released all over the globe, though I prefer to publish with Russian labels. In either case, it's a real joy to work locally and - thanks to the internet - my recordings can always be sent anywhere across the planet!" The joy of local experience never fades; in fact it becomes the sine qua non of anything "bigger."
It's a real joy to work locally
There are fruitful parallels here to be drawn with the experiences of Unbalance in "distant, isolated" Omsk. After all, we could certainly go back four years and draw an equally cheering conclusion from earlier interviews with Alla. In 2008 she was telling the Russian press: "Technically speaking, we don't lag behind the West at all. We all play on stage in the same manner. A few years from now, we'll all be on the same professional level... I've no intention of leaving Samara, either. I see no point. You can get anywhere in the world from our local airport... with a change of plane!"
In closing - and with smiles intact - it's a pleasure to mention the new extended single from St.Petersburg /Yekaterinburg house duo Anturage & Silvertone. The former figure is known typically as Viktor Petrov, who was born in 1988 and is a relatively recent newcomer to club or production work. His colleague is much more social and gregarious, with over a decade of dancefloor experience.
In one or two venues, (Sergey) Silvertone sketches his original - and enduring - goal, irrespective of the style on display. It makes for dramatic reading. That same sense of singular purpose also recalls the view of music-making as chiaroscuro that we heard from Unbalance. Progressive house is seen in terms of hard-won "enlightenment": "I had the simple desire to tell people fundamental truths about the meaning of life. I wanted to speak about life's various paths - about free will, light, and darkness. In other words, reflections on what lies ahead. Life or total oblivion..."
Suddenly escapism becomes a very big deal; it offers a sense of "life" to counter the "total oblivion" of quotidian, material experience!
I wanted to speak about free will, light, and darkness... Life or total oblivion
Silvertone employs a range of antique and sage aphorisms in support of his calling. Ancient philosophy is used to bolster the social potentials within classic house(!). He begins with a conviction taken from the world of Chinese martial arts, specifically from Wing Chun. It concerns the value not only of commitment, but also of failure en route. The saying declares that defeat "serves only to strengthen both you and your experience." Silvertone then suggests additional passages from the Bhagavad Gita, specifically some lines relating both to the permanence of truth and the endless metamorphosis of the human spirit.
Once more, struggle and loss bring wisdom; they are cause for celebration. Sadness serves no evident purpose whatsoever. Silvertone concludes: "Anybody who begins studying is obliged to search - and root out - his inadequacies." The more one falters, the clearer a true path will become. For that reason, perhaps, our musicians today have no time for pessimism. They welcome the challenges offered by an "escapist" art form and its ability to reveal unwavering verities over and above material notions of success.
No matter what one's T-shirt says.