The organization known as Tape Dubbing Records is based in Sevastopol and currently advertising a compilation of dubstep, two-step, garage, and breakbeat works. Entitled "Underground Manifest, Vol. 2," the album promotes itself as "twenty-two tracks from all over Ukraine." That phrasing is a little odd, in that the majority of tracks are, in fact, from elsewhere; there's a specific leaning towards composers from the UK. Nonetheless, eight works can be attributed to musicians or projects from Ukraine and other Slavic lands, specifically Russia and - in one instance - a producer raised in a Russo-Kazakh family but now living in the West.
Twenty-two tracks from all over Ukraine
The album's title has less to do with any evident or "manifest" issues than the meaning of that word in Ukrainian and Russian - as "manifesto." These twenty-two compositions, no matter their geographic origin, are designed as a declaration of intent. They show what can be done at home, and how those same achievements sit beside the work of fellow musicians overseas. In other words, for all the national labeling of "Underground Manifest," it serves a greater purpose in an international context. It's an attempt to erase the importance of political geography and promote a range of kindred sounds, side by side.
In that same spirit, the running order is not organized by location; a little digging is actually required in order to ascertain where everybody lives. Furthest from Sevastopol - yet still with roots in a Russian-language upbringing - is the figure of Zaika, currently resident in Stuttgart.
A trademark Zaika motif, used in place of portraiture
A relative newcomer to compositional work, Zaika is keen from the outset to counter the melancholy, if not morose connotations of most dubstep and garage output. One of his web venues contains a brief and rather touching address to his listeners. "Most of what I write is designed as self-expression. I simply want to share my feelings and experiences with you. The majority of my tracks are available for free. I'd be happy to hear comments - and would love you to follow my work, too. In fact, I appreciate any kind of feedback. Don't be shy! I like to maintain close contact with my friends."
Intricate, engaging releases that possess serious mass appeal
One Western admirer has spoken positively of this upbeat, inclusive philosophy and the sounds it generates. "Zaika produces an eclectic variety of emotions and melodies, layered on some straightforward garage percussion; its a winning combination... Zaika hits all the right marks, churning out intricate, engaging releases that possess serious mass appeal." Elsewhere, web-based pundits remark: "Zaika is one of those unknown music producers who should get [considerably] more credit than they do. In a music scene dominated by dubstep, house, and anything 'club-like,' Zaika has decided to be different and follow a completely different route."
Of all the composers with a connection to Russian- or Ukrainian-language culture, Zaika is placed highest on the running order of this album. If we respect that abstract hierarchy and move downwards through the tracklist of "Underground Manifest," the next Slavic name we encounter is that of Reixtra, from the Ukrainian port of Simferopol.
Our most recent visit to his work revealed two contrary tendencies. He may, for example, have spoken of his sounds in terms of a sonic "snake-charmer," but that love for magic came as a result of recent and very bad experience in the physical world. This musician informed us that he was suffering from a disease of the central nervous system, and "music has been one way to communicate with the world."
For that same reason, perhaps, his most recent promotional texts online have expressed the hope that listeners will be "mentally transposed to a distant time. They'll be transported back to something good, forgotten, and [as yet] unfulfilled..."
On another portal, we find a list of Reixtra's likes and dislikes. The tension between grand dreams and failing physicality has produced a gratitude for some very simple pleasures. "I Like: Beautiful, peaceful, and melodic music; tea made by caring, female hands; the autumn sky above Yalta; long walks and distant journeys..."
I love the autumn sky above Yalta...
Lest we think that everybody on this album just swans around with a broad smile, there are folks such as Kiev's King Imagine (aka Alexei Mikryukov). Until recently, one of his networking profiles was headed by a miserable turn of phrase in Russian: "No matter what happens in your life - and no matter whom you meet - everything ends the same. You end up sitting in front of a computer and stuffing your face."
The image below shows half that activity.
Given this disparity between digital promise and real-world misery, Mikryukov has also joked in the past that he's studying at the University of Emotional Arts, specifically in the Dept. of Suffering. That semi-serious grumbling has now been replaced by a quote from Bulgakov, which in translation reads: "Truth comes only through suffering... But you'll get neither money, nor a food ration for that knowledge of truth. It's sad - but a fact."
King Imagine, who was born in 1972, began in rather noisy formats, namely the (defunct) punk outfit "Zooy E Orchestar," which was created in the last two years of the Soviet era. Because state-run recording processes were uppermost at that time, the band was only able to manage some DIY recordings, all of which – sadly – have been lost. Mikryukov continues in the name of a lofty, melodic cause: he may be underpaid and miserable, but at least he acknowledges the "true" value of his work - relative to primetime, profiteering cynicism.
You'll get neither money, nor a food ration for your knowledge of truth
The burden of passing time upon solo effort or self-realization is arguably most evident in the work of ChooNew, who began composing about four years ago. His initial efforts were in the noisy, contrary form of hardcore, where he played on the drums. Once blessed with reasonable software, however, he was able to overcome his lack of musical training with much pushing, poking, and prodding upon a keyboard. He has absolutely nothing to say about himself - and hides very well online.
More evident than his name is his address; he lives in the Crimean city of Kerch, which was founded 2,600 years ago. The history of Kerch is interwoven with Greek and Roman cultures, not to mention the Turks and Russians of later centuries. Against that backdrop, full of imperial conflict and battle, solo enterprise must seem small indeed.
Joining forces against the stubborn resistance of the outside world are the two Kiev DJs Assassin Shuz and Corruptor, who collaborate as the dubstep project Asscor. "Corruptor," aka Vladimir Kozhevnikov, has used one online profile to speak in fairly terse terms about his own views of concerted effort - and what it might achieve. When prompted to finish the sentence "I Know..." he says: "I know whatever it's possible to know." And on the subject of what "I Can Do," he adds: "I can do whatever's necessary."
That's hardly a claim to dizzying liberty.
I know whatever it's possible to know
Perhaps these doubts over freedom are what lie behind the catalog of Kiev's Roman Konoplyanko, aka Bulbajar, who runs a forum dedicated to dubstep, UK garage, and bassline. The inclusion here of bassline itself is intriguing. Although designed as a style that would hopefully return female performers to the stage - and girls to the dancefloor - its most famous club in England was linked to a string of major crimes. And shut down as a result. Konoplyanko's own recordings walk this line between violence and mock-danger.
His collection of images online includes several borrowings from the portfolio of Banksy, together with other, rather cruel manipulations of various childhood motifs. Figures suitable for soft-toy production are shown in various states of rapid demise. And yet the fact this is all linked to a graffiti artist also implies a dual attitude to that same violence: it's simultaneously enacted and disavowed. As with any graffiti artist, in fact, damage is done quickly, anonymously - yet with no real intention of long-term harm.
One of the few Russian figures amid this Ukrainian activity is IDrM (Artem Patyn), who lives in Omsk and works often in theatrical sound production. As we've seen with the other Tape Dubbing artists above, there's direct reference to fundamental kindness and decency in his PR materials. Whatever the pugnacious reputation of dubstep, some gentler traits come to the fore. IDrM says: "I like to socialize with interesting people, to travel, and write music. I hate vanity, people who shout, and stupidity, too."
Experimental music isn't highly valued today in Siberia
With more than eleven years of experience behind him, Patyn still feels that Omsk is a hard place in which to shape a musical career, no matter how hopeful or trusting one may be. "In Siberia, musical quantity often overshadows quality. Experimental music isn't highly valued today. Not because it's seen as irrelevant, but because lots of musicians in Omsk will write material purely for the sake of experimentation - and they make no attempt to show or display it in the outside world. And, when it comes to concert organizers here, I'd better stay silent, since the situation is especially poor..."
A moment of hope sounds when IDrM discusses the "pay what you will" systems that have emerged online. Maybe charity will save local music-making? "It's undoubtedly one of the best ideas of late. It motivates producers to create something new - and of high quality." We've seen how important kindness and respect are to these musicians, but to what degree will the outside world respond in kind with donations? It seems a considerable leap of faith to believe that much cash will be forthcoming.
Last of the Slavic names on "Underground Manifest, Vol. 2" is the Kiev figure of Zelmershead (Anton Pokrovsky). One of his recent - and rather sarcastic - comments posted online read: "I'll never be famous, That's awesome!!!" Cynicism, self-doubt, and a cutting sense of humor all seemed to be operating in the same space. His 2012 "WhiteSideBlack" recordings (produced with Lin Helly) certainly emerged as a result of similarly muddled sensations. That EP, by way of example, was praised by one Western blogger as an impressive evocation of (metaphorical) "darkness and the mind's mysterious wanderings." Such were the concrete images that emerged from abstract, dub-tinged instrumentals a few months ago.
At the end of the day, though, Pokrovsky himself remains an advocate of abstraction. He publishes virtually no portraits of himself, opting instead for a narrow range of images and textures, the most recent of which is below. The typical effect of these illustrations is quite stark; they rarely speak of hope, happiness, or smooth movement. Roughness predominates, in various senses.
The dual theme of difficulty and disorientation appears most often in Pokrovsky's dealings with the web. He curses the very media through which he publishes his music; hard work online offers equal amounts of promise, frustration, and despair. The simplest desires for amity, charity, or support are quickly spoiled by digital ne'er-do-wells. Angry statements have been left by Zelmershead on social networks in the past, directed against those anonymous figures who like to bombard his profile with unwanted apps or abuse. "Please don't send me any text messages, either. I don't take part in competitions and I certainly don't register myself on any sites."
Feeling this broken atmosphere (Soundcloud)
Overall, therefore, we can see how the Russian, Ukrainian, and emigre contributors to "Underground Manifest, Vol. 2" help to counter the stereotypical views of dubstep and (future) garage. Where one might expect a very "male," confrontational outlook, these artists instead foreground - on a regular basis - the importance of collaboration, friendship, sympathy, and even romance. In several instances, however, there's no guarantee that the surrounding world will respect (or respond to) a caring soul.
And that leads us back to the quote from Bulgakov. As the expectation of cash or wellbeing fades, it takes a strong sense of rectitude to endure. So far, so good.