Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Accidental History of Russian Music

and other audio thoughts.

Here is a link to the Top 40 in The Netherlands right now so you can see for yourself. I'm not saying America is a bastion of musical integrity, but SERIOUSLY?
Check out this gem. Calamari.

By far the most popular music in Russia in the last few years has been American imports. I don't want to get into a whole history of Russian musical tastes, but a quick, non-scientific anecdotal breakdown:

Soviet Union: Soviet singers. Mostly Russian, but notable "southern" (Caucasian) influence. In the late 1940s the USSR tried very hard to block out the evils of Western music- particularly jazz. This was a LONG period, much too long to generalize like I am, but I don't want you to get bored and stop reading...so here's an example of early Soviet music- this song is about war (a popular theme in a country ravaged by 4 wars in the first have of the 20th century), and also from a film. It's called Если завтра война (If Tomorrow Brings War).

In the 1960s and 1970s, "VIAs" (vocal-instrumental ensembles) were the big thing. VIAs were generally state-organized groups of singers and musicians who would performs songs written by the Composers' Union of the USSR. Only officially approved VIA were allowed onto the main stream of Russian music. VIAs developed a pretty distinct style, poppy and youthful, radio friendly, yet strictly in accordance with Soviet standards. This time period also saw the rise of "bards". These were solo singer-songwriter acts with roots in the traveling folk singers of the past. With deep, emotional lyrics and easy to sing, repetitive songs, bards were often seen as an alternative to VIAs.
This song is from bard Vladimir Vysotsky- Жираф большой, ему видней (Giraffe is big, he sees it better)

In the 1980s, rock rolled under the Iron Curtain. As not official VIAs, most Soviet rock bands that developed in response to "Beatlemania" and other western influences were forced to operate underground. By the late 80s, through perestroika and simply lax censorship, rock clubs began to spring up and rock music became the mainstream. Here's where there is music that I actually really like. Bands like Nautilus Pompilus, DDT, Kino- great stuff! На пример (for example):
Nautilus Pompilus, Goodbye America (1988)

DDT, Осень (Autumn)

According to Lenin:
"Every artist, everyone who considers himself an artist, has the right to create freely according to his ideal, independently of everything. However, we are Communists and we must not stand with folded hands and let chaos develop as it pleases. We must systemically guide this process and form its result." (thanks, Wikipedia!)

Then comes the 1990s. With the fall of the Soviet Union all hell breaks loose in Russia, but the music was legitimately good. The product of struggle and suffering + collapse of a great power and ideological symbol + loose of an official unifying, collective mission + the task of having to redefine your national and personal identity + no money, no food = great art. Many people would disagree with me- especially those who grew up listening to Soviet music. 90s music has a different tone- darker, hollower, but I dig that. Plus I have no emotional ties or memories of Russia in the 70s/80s/90s so that doesn't enter into my personal preferences. Rock was still the major genre in this period, but leaning more towards alternative rock. Punk, ska, and electronic influences were also strong. Some notable acts: Дельфин (Dolphin), Ночные Снайперы (Night Snipers), Ленинрад (Leningrad), and so many others! Here are some samples...
Дельфин- Весна (Dolphin- Spring)

Пилот- Ждите Солнце (Pilot- Wait for the Sun)
 Bi-2 - Счастье (Happiness)

Чичерина- Ту Лу Ла (Chicherina- Tu Lu La)
PS- this is my alarm clock in the morning!

And then came our current century. With the advent of the Internet exploding globalization, Russian music has more western influence than ever. As Russia scrambled back to its feet under President Vladimir Putin, much of the hardships that drove the angst of the past few decades faded to the background. Mainstream artists today produce much more of a western-inspired pop/dance/electronica sound. Some might call this music vain, weak, uninspired, silly, or even "terrible". I would agree on many levels. BUT- I also generally love it. So there's that. Let me give you a few examples of the 2010's (is that what we're calling this decade?) best pop trash:

Дима Билан- Задыхаюсь (Dima Bilan- I'm Suffocating...as in, you take my breath away)

ВИА ГРА - Перемирие (Via Gra- Truce/Armistice)
*Note the group's name, derived from the Soviet VIAs!

The classic Greek dance beat (this probably has a real name I just don't know...but it's the main beat in this track, I'm sure you'll recognize it) is also finding fans in Russia.

The early 2000s particularly produced some music that was a little more substantial. White boy rap got pretty popular.
(If anyone asks- Guf is dead)

Noize MC- На Марсе Классно (On Mars It's Cool)
*This song was a collaboration with a guy from DDT!

Alternative metal and more hardcore sounds gained popularity, along with heavy metal and power metal like:
Ария- Такая вот печаль (Aria- Such Sorrow)

I also want to mention pagan or folk metal (oh my goodness, when did I start to know so much about metal??) because I really like the band Arkona. This genre in Russia is marked by Russian lyrics, themes on nature and other folk elements. Check them out!
Аркона- Гой, Роде, Гой! (Hail, Rod, Hail!)

Most of you probably know t.A.T.u, the "lesbian" electronic pop-rockish duo that experienced international success in the early 2000s. They existed.
Folk rock also hit it pretty big in the 2000s thanks to acts like Pelageya (now a judge on the Russian Voice TV show) and Мельница (Windmill).
Пелагея- Казак (Pelageya- Cossack)

So! What started as me wanting to share the horror that is "Salsa, Tequila" with you has turned into a brief history of Russian music...
If you made it this far- thanks so much for sticking with me!
Let me know what you think. Did I leave off your favorite artist? Did I get something wrong? Want more Russian music? Comment below!

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