Ivan Zoloto: Russia’s DIY music legend bringing strange new sounds to the airwaves

The man behind cult label Full of Nothing tells us about his career and the future of Russian sounds

Ivan Zoloto’s latest overview of Soviet and Russian music on BBC 3 Radio proves that there is an appetite for underground and experimental Soviet sounds far outside the country. But there is more than just nostalgia on offer. There is a new generation of musicians turning their local background to their advantage. And while a number of labels, including techno label ГОСТ ЗВУК and bass label Береза have promoted Russian underground electronica abroad, it was Ivan Zoloto’s independent cassette label Full of Nothing that inspired and united the regional electronic scene within the country.

Zoloto, now based between China, Russia and the US, is always quick to namecheck his hometown Petrozavodsk, the capital of the region of Karelia in the North-West where he founded Full of Nothing — the label which has become home to a bunch of musicians, including a dreamy female vocalist Lovozero and dark dystopic project Zurkas Tepla. Zoloto’s activities quickly spread, with him contributing to festivals from Norway to the far North and back to his native Karelia. Aside from this public work, Ivan continues to experiment as a musician, pushing the boundaries of lo-fi techno with live improvisations and creepy vocals in Myka and creating a hypnotic sound, reminiscent of British 90s industrial, with his solo project Ivan Zoloto. As a member of the recently disbanded Love Cult, Ivan developed a distinctive lo-fi vibe that seemed to match the Russian suburbs and was later adopted by a number of musicians, including Kedr Livansky.

His new project New New World Radio — a “post-genre, post-geography, post-politics” independent radio station and a community of Russia’s brightest musicians and music curators — sees its goal as creating an attractive micro world of its own, and reinventing Russian music once again. We spoke with Ivan about Love Cult, NNWR’s shows and the future of the “Russian sound”.

Love Cult and Full of Nothing are synonymous with the Russian independent music scene. Back in 2010, what did it feel like starting your own label?

We started playing around with Love Cult in 2009 and realised there were so many inspiring artists and micro-scenes that our friends and penpals didn’t necessarily know about. Simple as that! We wanted more of our mates to hear this amazing Finnish artist Keijo, so we released three CD-Rs of his music and then the label just snowballed.

Where do the values and aesthetics of Full of Nothing come from?

We value people, original ideas, honest music and raw emotions. It’s quite a basic mix but such an attitude seems to be going extinct in today’s world. Also, I guess a lot of it comes from having no money really.

What do you think fostered Love Cult’s success here and in the West, and what is happening with the project at the moment?

It has to do with the fact that most of our releases came out on British and American labels and we did our best to play abroad as often as possible. The Russian music scene is great but for some reason I personally gravitate more towards other musicians and enthusiasts abroad, rather than back home. Most pockets of the Russian underground are full of myths and strange power structures, whereas our Western colleagues are more disillusioned, which I find healthy. But we’ve been catching up. Love Cult just broke up. Musically it just didn’t work anymore.

Contemporary Russian music has been defined for a while now, both inside and outside the country, by DIY spirit, cassette recordings and post-Soviet aesthetics. Do you think this is still true? If not, what are the new trends shaping music scene today?

Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of the post-Soviet thing. I am a product of that era, sure, but 90s Russia never inspired me. DIY and cassettes are a different thing, more universal. I would guess that politics are becoming more important again, especially with all this Cold War 2.0 paranoia.

Tell us about your new project, New New World Radio. Where does the idea come from?

We were joking about [Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel] Brave New World and dystopias, and then remembered this amazing genre that used to be big some ten years ago, “New New Age”. So we just combined the two and got ourselves a nice name for our project. It’s a website that streams exclusive faux-radio shows and mixes from assorted contributors. Most of them have quite peculiar tastes and they are scattered around the world. The visual design is inspired by internet cultures but I try to avoid the retro-internet aesthetic everybody seems to still adore. It’s straightforward, careless and playful.

Which shows you would recommend to start with?

My own show on NNWR is a listening diary. Literally everything that’s been in my headphones goes there: Hawaiian folk, dark electronics, ambient, psychedelic rock. Obviously, there are a lot of Full of Nothing tracks and some unreleased tracks of mine. Here’s the latest one.

Some of my recent favourites are:

“Push the Button” with Shane Woolman. A perfect entry into the NNW universe from Shane who works for The Wire magazine and also does amazing shows on Resonance FM and NTS. No genres. Anything goes.

“Subvocal Recognition” with Lovozero. Anastasia Tolchneva is a Full of Nothing artist who does two regular shows for us. This one is dedicated to early vocal experiments. Astonishing stuff.

“Pacific City Sound Visions” with Spencer Clark. You might know this guy from The Skaters, Monopoly Child Star Searchers and Typhonian Highlife. Lots of zonked pop-rock and synth-pop and some of the “new new age” attitude I talked about earlier.

“Zapovednaya Muzyka” (“Forbidden Music”) with Anastasia Mikhailova. This lady is one of the most talented DJs in Moscow right now and her monthly show is “dedicated to all the sunset creatures — with fangs, beaks, probosces and wet hair”.

“Cosmovisión Registros Andinos”. A guest mix from a Chilean label showcasing the local “deep psychedelic” scene. Proper trance-inducing lo-fi vibes!

Do you have or plan any offline activities?

Sure! We have a monthly allnighter at our alma mater in Moscow — Powerhouse. We’ve also done one-off events in partnership with Tretyakov Gallery, MosKino, ARMA17 and other great local institutions and promoters.

Are there any other examples of independent radio stations in the region?

20ft Radio from Kyiv is great!

Text: Masha Borodacheva and Pasha Ugamochi