Russia’s six-and-a-half million square miles make it comfortably the largest country on Earth, but when was the last time you heard any of their music? Yeah, aside from t.A.T.u.’s ‘All The Things She Said’?
The only time the country ever hits the music press is when Vladimir Putin is either throwing a strop and locking up Pussy Riot or trying to enact his oppressive laws against ‘homosexual propaganda’. It’s not just Putin, either. When I was in the country this summer there was an incredible piece in The Moscow Times about a regional lawmaker who blamed homosexuals for the country’s problems and suggested: “the Cossack community should be allowed to physically punish gay people by flogging them in public with a leather whip.” In different hands, that could have been a hell of a party.
Despite a regime that lapses into such self-parody, Russian music is remarkably resurgent. I visited Moscow for the inaugural Subbotnik Festival and although the bill was mostly British the Muscovite hipsters were eager to talk up local bands and party in places like Red October Island and the painfully cool Solyanka. The latter’s art director Sasha Rozet told me that as well as bringing over DJs like Kode9 they also run: “house nights, Italo-disco nights and a gay night which is probably the most successful night in the club.” He shrugged when I incredulously asked if they’d had Putin angrily knocking at the door, and points out that earlier in the year they put on a Marc Almond show without incident.
So what’s everyone listening to, other than old Soft Cell hits? Denis Boyarinov, who runs a music site at colta.ru, recommends synthpoppers Tesla Boy as one of the “most successful indie bands in Moscow right now” and Pompeya who make “chilled music for the beach”. Check out the gorgeous ‘Y.A.H.T.B.M.F’ below:
The editor of listings magazine and all-round hipster bible Afisha, Alexander Gorbachev, tips Mujuice: “He is very, very talented. He’s a very good electronic musician who has played Sonar several times. He sings in Russian and I think it’s very ‘Russian’ in terms of melody. It’s danceable and it’s clever.” Here’s ‘Get Well Soon’:
It’s impossible to throw a copy of ‘Unknown Pleasures’ in Moscow without hitting a Joy Division-inspired post-punk band. Motorama and Kino are established masters of the form, while in a similar vein the producers of local station Follow Me Radio called Trud, who were the only Russian band at Primavera this year, “the best group ever”. They also recommend checking out the Wavves-influenced rock of Glintshake, and my personal favourite, the strange and beguiling Curd Lake:
If you like what you’ve heard so far, I’ve pulled together a Spotify playlist with some more tips from Gorbachev and Moscow’s branch of the British Council, who seem to love their hipster chillwave. As well they should. As the winter sets in, pull on your Ushanka and embrace the cool: