In the video for Kedr Livanskiy’s elegiac hit No More Summer Rain she catches a half-empty suburban train, that takes her, and us, through pale liquid sunshine straight into the heart of a very Russian landscape. It looks like early Spring, somewhere between the city and the countryside, a strange deserted in-between space perfect for aimless wandering. Dressed in blue jeans and a crop top, she sings lyrics about departure and longing and fools around with an anonymous friend. Now nearing 40,000 views, this video work is a perfect reflection of Kedr Livanskiy’s aesthetic which speaks so well to youth in Russia and beyond.
Yana Kedrina first emerged in the music world as Kedr Livanskiy as part of Moscow-based underground label and community Johns’ Kingdom. Drawn together by their desire to make music and the shared experience of living in the rough outskirts of the city, Johns’ Kingdom’s producers managed to create a whole enigmatic universe. Now signed to New York-based lablel 2MR records, Kedrina is an avant-pop sensation of her own — but she still stays true to the aesthetics which originate in the courtyards of tower block estates, behind train tracks and by graffiti-covered walls of derelict buildings. She is the true queen of the previously invisible kingdom of Russian urban edgelands.
“Unremarkable places have always inspired me,” says Kedrina. “I’m a sort of collector of these places, and I have a lot of them in my back catalogue. You can always escape the imposed reality in them. Also I think in every Russian there’s the awareness of the limitlessness of Russian lands, on an almost genetic level — you never know what’s happening this minute in the taiga or Vladivostok, there is always a place for mystery and imagination. This feeling of space is very important for me, and I wanted to convey it not just through my songs but also through visuals.”
Trying to capture this elusive feeling of Russianness seems particularly poignant in times when the post-Soviet “poor but cool” aesthetic is more popular than ever, after the international success of Gosha Rubchinskiy. But for Kedrina it’s more about channeling her feelings and memories rather than fetishising her background. “I think the background subconsciously influences everyone. One of the most important factors in life I think is where you spent your childhood — it forms the essence of one’s personality”, she says.
“In Russia there is a lot of chaos and fatalism and perhaps it inspires more than the ordered structured world. The lack of ground beneath one’s feet, that’s what makes one write, seek shape in all this madness. It’s hard for me to separate myself from Russia. Could I feel the same if I were born in a different place — it’s hard to imagine, and is there any point? If I compose music in another country, then I can see patterns emerging which I couldn’t see in Russia. What I see and the energy of the place influences the way I feel and therefore make music. On the other hand, this mindset is not entirely correct. The place creates certain patterns of thinking, yes, but an artist should try to overcome this framework and try to belong to the world.”
These dynamics of personal and universal, global and local, are perhaps at the heart of Kedr Livanskiy’s international success. The intricate pattern of her Russian lyrics layered over synthy sounds makes one think of songs overheard through an old car stereo transmitting an unknown radio station — they could come from anywhere in space and time yet they are so incredibly now. The same goes for the fragile romanticism of train tracks and concrete estates: looking at Kedr Livanskiy’s videos and images inevitably provokes nostalgia for adolescence in her Russian peers, but it could also speak on a different level to young people in London, Berlin or Sao Paolo. In her latest video Keep Your Word (Otvechai Za Slova) Kedrina subverts the completely international image of a pop star: dressed in a crimson silk nighty and with a choker on her neck she performs a dance which could have been choreographed for a 90s pop video. Although set in a club basement and backstreets of St Petersburg, this ode to mischievous friendship looks truly international.
For her visuals, Kedrina has long-term collaborators: director Konstantin Bushmanov (who worked both on No More Summer Rain and Keep Your Word) and photographer Liza Zubkova, who is in charge of the images. Zubkova and Kedrina have been friends for a long time and work together in perfect harmony, from the choice of locations to references. “The cover for my first album January Sun was inspired by archive photos of Russian rock icons Grazhdanskaya Oborona and Yanka Dyagileva. The general spirit of the greyness and this place felt very honest and was very timely for me,” Kedrina remembers. “I like that you can’t see my face, the character is hidden. At the back of the record there are also scans of my copybook drawings, it’s like an artefact, but not very obvious. I think all of this creates the feeling of something elusive, but is a strong narrative at the same time.”
With her second album currently in the works, Kedr Livanskiy is just what the new generation needs: incredibly sincere pop music based on personal experience and a beautiful artistic work, which is veiled in mystery. In the contemporary world, where overexposure is the norm, Kedrina’s narrative is never truly open to one’s gaze, allowing your heart to fill in the gaps. “It’s about the sense of distance, and something you can’t explain but is always present, like a portal,” Kedrina sums up.
Kedr Livanskiy is wearing a coat by Artur Lomakin for Forget Me Not