London-based director Timothy George Kelly is no stranger to diving into the secret worlds of secluded music communities: his debut full-length documentary A City is an Island explored the indie music scene of Montreal and premiered in 2014. Kelly and Moscow underground label Johns’ Kingdom were a match made in heaven, and he knew it long before they did. His friends, the Montreal band Tonstartssbandht (originally from Florida) were invited to Moscow to play by the Johns’ Kingdom crowd. “It was basically the JK kids who pooled their money to get this pretty obscure band to come and play”, Kelly recalls. “It says something about them, their audacity to just try and do what they want. But to also to be so interested in one of the best live bands in the last ten years before even Montreal realised how fucking good they were. I think the most interesting thing about Johns’ Kingdom is how they are really just feeling music instead of overthinking it, letting their instincts take control, which results in a less refined but much more experiential and cathartic sound.”
In Summer 2015 Kelly went to Moscow to document Johns’ Kingdom, and to finally find out where the kingdom is and what it looks like. In this short documentary commissioned by The Calvert Journal he follows the musicians around town, talking to them about their creative approach, their goals and their struggles. He captured the tower block landscapes, the suburban trains, the parties, the bedrooms, the fragile world they’ve built for themselves. In the end it’s not just a short film about kids making music, it’s a snapshot of contemporary Russia from a point of view you’ve never seen before. “Compared to Montreal it’s pretty similar stuff”, Kelly says. “Some poor kids, some rich kids, trying to make some something happen. What is worth a lot is that the music is amazing and these kids seem to have built an ever-changing and evolving collective of experimentation based around friendship and mutual support, which I think is impressive in any nation.”
The Calvert Journal is hosting Eastern Promises, a club night featuring Johns' Kingdom artists, at London's Alibi on December 17. See here for more info.
Text: Anastasiia Fedorova