Vagiant are a band from Moscow, currently enjoying the support of French media agency Domino. How might the gap between Slavic and Gallic rock traditions be bridged? Domino present their Russian clients to a Western audience as follows: "This is a five-piece collaboration of antisocial paranoiacs... who still manage to be life-affirming, good-mannered, and even joyful nerds." The central themes found in their brief, clamorous examples of borderline screamo are "misanthropy, degradation, blasphemy, substance abuse, psychic disorders... and flowers." Such problems and plants, apparently, are cherished in France.
Misanthropy, degradation, blasphemy, substance abuse, psychic disorders...
And then a series of lovable stereotypes falls into place as we're told that Vagiant come from the land of "Lenin, Ladas, bears, and vodka." The sounds made by these wayward Slavs, pulled from the snow, are guaranteed to produce the "pleasure of vomiting - and the entertainment levels of an STD." Should we venture onto Vagiant's own pages on some Russian social networks, we'd find promises of "reeking, screeching, noise-rock vomit spawn." At this point, both propriety and grammar are under considerable threat.
The musicians say they're open to offers not only from major festivals, but also regarding participation in satanic rituals, witches' ceremonies, and "bloody orgies." Any one of those events could be orchestrated to the sound of "virtuosos... who have absolutely no musical skill." All members of Vagiant claim to be the consequence of various parental mistakes - and raised amid the thick fog that often surrounds Moscow during summertime peat fires.
The band's lyrics embrace these grim, sometimes gothic motifs - and run with them. One of the tracks we've chosen, "Origins of Man," tells of a boy and girl found by "a giant bear." The animal decides to raise the two children - as adorable "freaks of nature."
These images of bestial or feral excess are also used - yet softened - by the outfit Colonial Hunter, resident in the town of Volzhsky. The history of Volzhsky itself is remarkable; situated on the banks of the Volga River, this city was not even registered as a "settlement" until the 1950s. It is now home to approximately 300,000 people. That rise from the surrounding, windswept steppe is even more amazing when we consider how the first settlers came together. Historians believe that the very first locals were, in fact, poorly clad fugitives of the late seventeenth century who referred to themselves as "bezrodnye" (i.e., endlessly "homeless" or "without family"). They survived by hunting and fishing for decades, until a 1720 decree by Peter the Great led to the construction of a silk factory nearby.
Bricks started to replace logs... but the hunter-gatherer spirit remained! Together with some arrowheads and fishbones.
Freaks of nature
Colonial Hunter's third release - simply called "Eight Songs" - has already been very well received by some webzines. One of the most enthusiastic responses has come from a Russian publication with a special fondness for the band's "garage psychedelia, born of the '60s, together with its strict post-punk rhythm section. Plus some elements of space rock... and even latter-day Krautrock!" Something for everybody.
Since the band are loathe to speak of themselves online, we rely instead upon local eyewitnesses who've "attended a couple of gigs. I can say with great confidence that if you just give these guys a proper sound engineer, they'll be able to create real magic in a club setting!" One resident of Volzhsky adds: "The villagers around here can sleep soundly now - knowing that there's something to be proud of! That sounds boastful, I know - but it's the very best kind of boasting! In the context of our local culture, I'd give this album 10 out of 10. In fact I'd give it the same grade in the context of Russian rock as a whole!"
The villagers around here can sleep soundly now...
These wilderness metaphors are extended elsewhere this week, for example by Crocodile Mansion, based in Kaliningrad, a small pocket of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania. The band used to operate in local venues, playing covers and offering a "range of Russian and foreign hit songs from across the last fifty years." A substantial playlist, to be sure. At that time, the same artists promised a "happy, positive outlook. We guaranteed joy, smiles, and a super mood - just for you!" Now the predatory motif of a crocodile seems more appropriate in the modern musical climate. In a dog-eat-dog environment, a huge reptile will stand you well.
Local audiences agree - and offer some upbeat comments - since the band members have absolutely nothing to say for themselves. "Great stuff, guys! This is real rock!"; "I've got this on constant replay!"; "F***ing brilliant. I'm really proud of you all. Keep it up!"
Finding solace, rather than a fighting spirit, within Russian nature are a post-rock trio from Ryazan. The town was founded perhaps in 800AD - and is situated approximately 120 miles south of Moscow. The musicians shown above are known as IWFYLS, which stands for the rather peculiar phrase of "I Am Waiting for You Last Summer." The same threesome of Alex, Eugene, and Leo have just announced the publication of a new album: "Edge Party." Words of celebration have appeared online from its makers: "This was a long road - of very hard work - especially for Leo, who's been mastering our tracks for the last two months. He's been busy 24/7, without any chance of sleep or a private life."
In a recent interview, the members of IWFYLS defined some "local" aspects of their craft, tied to the streets and open countryside around Ryazan. They felt that post-rock melancholy has a special place in Russia, where time's passage - for many people - offers little in the way of improved experience. "There are plenty of causes for inspiration here in Russia... The modern world certainly has problems - when it comes to how emotions might be reflected [in musical form]. People are becoming increasingly lonely: they put barriers between themselves and the rest of the world. That's typical for Russia, so I'm not surprised that post-rock is so well-developed here..."
It's natural that Russian weather will influence the atmosphere of our music
This social rationale is then extended to even grander matters of climate and (empty) landscape: "It's also natural that Russian weather will influence the atmosphere of our music, too. One's mood always depends upon the climate..."
For all four of these bands, Vagiant, Colonial Hunter, Crocodile Mansion, and IWFYLS, the allure of some imagined "wilderness" is considerable. It offers an escape from banal social mores, a sense of brutal self-assurance in an unforgiving society, or a context for locally relevant musicmaking - given the unspeakable distances between so many Russian towns. Whether in earnest or in jest, unpeopled and feral realms hold more promise than brick, mortar, and asphalt. Living in the middle of nowhere certainly helps.