For Western observers, many locations across a Russian map - with unpronounceable names and windswept railway stations - can appear unimaginably distant. They're destined to remain the object of both curiosity and fantasy. One such place would be Sterlitamak, a fairly anonymous town known primarily for its involvement in chemical engineering. Sterlitamak, to be more precise, is located in the Republic of Bashkortostan, i.e., between the River Volga and Ural Mountains. This is the home of Sergey Hutornenko, who writes intriguing electronic compositions under the stage-name of SV Hutor (СВ Хутор). His last recordings were collectively called "Astra" and began in the oddest manner, with a quote seemingly taken from a local TV show. A young man was first interviewed and then loudly declared his lifetime commitment to heavy metal. "I've done time in prison, but that didn't change me. I'm a lifelong metal-head!" Hutornenko had sympathy for this stubborn dreamer.
The Saint Petersburg band Lemonday are currently a threesome: Julia Nakaryakova, Zhenya Il', and drummer Anton Pokrovsky. These northern musicians, given their lowly budget and lo-fi enterprise, were asked after moving from Krasnoyarsk why they continue to make music in a second city. After all, there's little promise of big profits, no matter one's address. Zhenya replied: "It's really hard to stop! We tried stopping, but it just didn't work." Julia then clarifies matters a little: "I think any answers to that kind of question will always be a tad contrived. It's really hard to explain an impulse with words. Why have we kept going? Because Zhenya and I always considered ourselves geniuses." She then laughs... "You'll never escape your own ego." Self-affirmation here is built upon endurance and variegation: the ability to keep going in any direction. A winding road is a fine alternative to the strait and narrow, so to speak.
Alwayslate is a new side-project from Misha Mishenko. In the past he has spoken of the ways in which both tradition and inspiration lead to a quiet, indescribable force - something that operates independently of his will. "My mother brought an old family piano all the way from Irkutsk to Moscow. Four generations of our family have played on it, including me. I've thought a great deal about why this kind of music comes out of me... One day I finally understood. When I compose, I simply turn off my brain and surrender to a flight of fancy. It's something elusive. It happens all of a sudden, spontaneously... it's what you might call 'improvisation of the soul.' It happens so fast, just like flashes of lightning at sunrise. The main thing in those moments is to surrender your ego - and think of nothing."
"This is the tale of a boy from the Far North. He runs away from home and encounters the Northern Lights. After that he's found in a boat - and is soon upon the open sea. The boy overcomes all his phobias and - finally - arrives in a mysterious place where he encounters a fairy dance. For all the distance covered, the boy also realizes this is just the beginning of his path." The Russian version of these atmospheric lines is slightly more fanciful: it consists of one very long sentence (without punctuation) and includes the titles of all five tracks on a new instrumental album by Moscow resident Misha Mishenko.
Happy55 are a jazz trio from the southern industrial city of Voronezh; they gather critical acclaim as if were lying around on the street. Take, for example, the following two quotes as a starting point: "One of the most original musical projects in Russia today"; "These guys from Voronezh аre rock-solid in all areas. The music is all their own, their line-up's very unusual, and the way they think about their craft clearly goes beyond the limits of what's commonly accepted." We need not look very far in order to find even more dramatic assessments from eye witnesses of their live work: "The music forced everyone to stand still, slack-jawed and open-eyed, as they tried following along with this driven, freestyle jazz." Is more required? "This is complicated music, but the performers are up to the challenge. It's simply beautiful. A marvel!"
Over the last few years, Yekaterinburg's Sansara have proven themselves to be one of Russia's most important and consistently surprising bands. That statement is justifiable not only in qualitative terms, but also because many other projects have either grown from within Sansara or simply collaborated - in remarkably productive ways. Put briefly, the members of this ensemble form the center of a significant and vibrant network. Names within that growing constellation include Galya Chikiss, 7he Myriads, Obe Dve, Mars Needs Lovers, Red Samara Automobile Club, Elochnye Igrushki, Pes i Gruppa, Gornostay.... and, therefore, Ilya Lagutenko of Mumii Troll.
Zimne is/are a Siberian duo from the city of Novosibirsk: Anton Kremarenko and vocalist Natasha Shilova. Last year the twosome published a wonderful trip-hop album called "Signals from a Hospice." It was framed with the following phrasing in Russian: "Using metaphorical, often cosmic elements, these songs touch upon the relationship between earthly bodies - in various physical conditions." Human experience only makes sense when abstracted to the hushed, isolated realms of somewhere "cosmic." Life only makes sense when viewed from a distance.
Margarita Popova is a young artiste already known to us through her intriguingly named project Chaos in Heathrow. Based in both Velikii Novgorod and Saint Petersburg, she opens her networking account with a play upon a famous Salvador Dali quote. The original reads: "The sole difference between myself and a madman is the fact that I am not mad!" Popova's twist reads: "The sole difference between myself and a DJ... is the fact that I am not a DJ!" Tales of music and mental wellbeing continue to overlap in her brand-new EP, "Gorenje." It is released through a side-project or alter-ego known as Vihrea (Вихрия).
The stage-name of Kishochki hides the identity of a young and very taciturn Russian performer Vladislav Chervonnyy. He is originally from Sterlitamak. That little-known location is reasonably close to Ufa - and therefore more than 700 miles inland from Moscow. In an isolated locale, music helps to fashion considerable hope within a simultaneously drab and polluted "microcosmos." "My name is Vladislav Chervonnyy. I think that'll suffice. The main thing is the music." It's interesting to note, in a related vein, that our musician's favorite author is Hemingway; his favorite director is Stanley Kubrick. Those two men, side by side, speak of a relatively troubled expression of classic masculinity and/or the tricky search for heroism in a modern world.
The outfit 2muchachos has always been associated with Cherepovets, a town located between Moscow and St. Petersburg. As one might imagine, that intermediary address would lead - over the centuries - to a rich network of railways, roads, and other forms of communication. Iron and steel plants today form the backbone of local industry, having benefitted from the same connections. Consequently the city's name is synonymous in 2014 with noisy enterprise. Nonetheless, it's on these same streets that we find, rather surprisingly, some very quiet music. To be more accurate, the sounds on display here come from the outskirts of Cherepovets - and beyond. Put differently, the three members of 2muchachos, who are currently involved with a range of solo projects, turn the crackle and rustle of a tape-music aesthetic into the soundtrack for small-scale botanical bustle. The birds, insects, and flourishing plant-life of a northern forest all resonate. Everything is captured on a classic 2muchachos LP, which we're republishing today for a new, western audience: "A Forest Is Not What It Seems."
The project Sugar God, despite any possible connection to Brazilian farming, is based in Moscow. Even more specifically, Sugar God is a one-man enterprise, overseen by Evgeny Pozdnyakov. He has been writing and recording solo material for the last three years, moving gradually from wholly acoustic beginnings to his current glo-fi or chillwave instrumentals. The transition between those two styles has led en route to a couple of related EPs: "Island" (in 2012) and the new publication, "Amanzi" (FFM19).
Saint Petersburg's Kubikmaggi introduce themselves as follows: "The band has trouble recalling specific dates. Its members instead neglect any chronology; in fact, they're barely able to count, giving all the time they've spent working with different time signatures. Kubikmaggi embody a sort of musical terrorism or jazz-punk. They're endlessly experimenting and looking for new modes of self-expression. The numerous musical ideas that are concentrated in every square centimeter of sheet music often reach breaking point."
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