What is post-Soviet music? Is it the soundtrack to a Gosha Rubchinkiy show, is it perestoika-era synths on an ambient track or a trap music video set in Moscow’s edgelands? From Belgrade to Tbilisi to Ufa, musicians across the New East are embracing female-driven pop, experimenting with nomadic sounds, throwing unforgettable underground raves in Soviet buildings and, most importantly, doing it all off their own bat.
The Tbilisi club launched its label offshoot in 2016 and releases music by local and international musicians alike. If you aren’t already planning a visit to the rave mecca, check out Bassiani’s resident DJ HVL’s archetypal gritty sound, NDRX’s electronica with its looping, ritualistic vocals, or the laid-back deep-house of one of the few female musicians on the label, Lilith. For some visual inspiration, Thomas Hessler’s video for Memories, filmed by Naja Orashvili in the semi-abandoned resort town Tskaltubo, blends two post-Soviet tropes — ruined buildings and skateboarding.
After several releases under the alias Dub i prosto derevo, Krasnoyarsk-born, Moscow-based musician Maria Teriaeva found inspiration in a hefty 1960s instrument called the Buchla Easel — a synthesizer (though its eponymous inventor Don Buchla wouldn’t stand to use the term) designed to function as a portable music studio. Her debut album Focus, released in 2017, shows the spectrum of sound and feeling that can be achieved with this machine. “Though the Buchla is an electronic instrument it can mimic the sounds of nature — of crickets and the rustling of leaves,” Maria explains. Watch the video for Borneo by Moscow-based artist Stas Dobry to get a feel of Teriaeva’s spirited electronica.
Their bandcamp page may only have one release but that doesn’t matter much to the teenage ravers and more experienced techno aficionados in St Petersburg where Bore hole’s members are reinventing techno parties in a DIY space tucked deep in the industrial ghetto known as Kisloty, or more recently, Klub. With their Rzhavchina nights and the Hanged man performances, Klub has proved there can still be miracles in the world of nightclubs. Spread across three stages, they have given an exciting platform for promising local musicians such as Shutta, Sasha Tsereteli aka Jealousy, Drö)))me and Liza Smirnova (currently based in Cologne) and Denis Riabov.
ВСИГМΣ is a Moscow-based hip-hop trio experimenting in the field of spiritual rap. Their lyrics promote harmony, love, brotherhood and mindfulness over girls, money and cars. For their latest video РЕКА, the Adidas-clad rappers are seen singing and squatting while a pagan ritual is happening nearby. Their work is rich in references to shanson (prison music), post-Soviet fashion and medieval Russia. But what could otherwise be a kitsch reflection on Russian orthodoxy and folklore looks fresh thanks to ВСИГМΣ’s raw visual aesthetic and candid lyrics.
This Berlin-based label was founded by Mr Zambon (of The Very Polish Cut-Outs fame) and home to a roster of artists bringing New East sound to European festivals. Listen to the atmospheric Baltic beat from Tamten, treat yourself to Poly Chain’s delicious-sounding tracks or dance idly to Eltron’s 10 minute version of “Sloneczny Pyl” by Ptaki.
In order to describe Dopeclvb you have to leave behind the terminology of electronic music and delve into the complex world of Russian rap, which was the subject of numerous opinion pieces of 2017. Dopeclvb, originally from Ufa and currently based in St Petersburg, stormed the Russian scene last year. Their VK page boasts over 100K followers, most of them young Russians with an appetite for carefree tunes, naive digital art and viral merch. From Supermarket, a song based on a shopping list, to the confessional “Darling, maybe I don’t wanna do rap music anymore” — this is trap like you’ve never heard it before.
The rise of Kiev-based singer Luna among many other female musicians in the New East, proves there is an appetite for change in what pop music is and can be. Marty Crown from Kazakhstan currently releases her music from Los Angeles, yet is influenced by her nomadic heritage. Often dubbed “the Kazakh FKA Twigs”, her first album Hologram, released in the spring of 2017, blends synth-pop sounds, folklorish vocals and traditional instruments. She is currently working on her second album.
Roman Bliznetsov and Konstantin Timoshenko are two classically trained musicians from Kazakhstan and Bulgaria who make up electroacoustic duo Akkord I On. As the name gives away, they have been responsible for bringing the accordion to post-Soviet sound. Their videos are made with black and white footage, which fits perfectly with their introspective sound — Tamga is a good example of this.
Discom is an independent record label from Belgrade that started up to promote lesser known music from ex-Yugoslavia. So far, its been a wild success: besides the fact that each of their LPs has sold out, this year Discom will be the first local label to take part in the Independent Label Market in Brussels. Time to douse yourself in hairspray, dig out those shoulder pads and dance to Boban Petrovich’s dose of 80s disco.
Simphonic Silence Inside is an ambient label from Rostov-on-Don. Founded in 2007, it is one of the oldest and most prolific independent labels in Russia. It was built on the heritage of an underground movement that occurred in Rostov-on-Don in the 80s, fuelled by the influx of synthesisers. Today, the label specialises in everything from dub to techno, drone to ambient.
FFAA is a joint venture of St Petersburg-based musicians Flaty and Fama 87, who have been experimenting with underground sound for many years. Their 2018 album Globhead, was inspired by the hip-hop and graffiti culture they grew up with. The epic 18-track-long release is both a tribute to the history of dub and experimental electronica and the time the two artists have shared together.
Moscow-based band Glintshake, also knows by their Cyrillic abbreviation ГШ, are on a mission to reform contemporary pop music. On their latest album, Oeshch Magziu, duo Kate Nv and Jenya Gorbunov paint a bold soundscape of frenetic guitars, sharp beats and cut-up Russian lyrics. The techniques they use are inspired by Futurists and other artists of the Russian avant-garde — the tools might be a century old but have a visceral impact in the commercialised world of pop.
Luna’s career started from a handful of songs that could be easily mistaken for the forgotten hymns of 1990s pop. Kristina Bardash, the woman behind the creative alias, had a background in video and photography and used to work on visual personas for other artists. She channelled the experience into creating Luna who, complete with a three-piece band, is the pop heroine the world has been waiting for. With her second album currently in the works, Luna serves up a mix of playful irony, naive sincerity and a tormented heart laid over club-influenced synth sounds — and it's hard not to lip-synch along.
Moscow-based producer Pavel Milyakov aka Buttechno is one of the most renowned figures in Russian electronic music, perhaps due to his fruitful collaboration with designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. Buttechno’s music however goes much deeper than fashion show soundtracks: it could be deeply atmospheric, bathed in melancholic romanticism, and at other times perfect for the darkest corners of club basements.
Vtgnike’s music has been described as Russian juke. Samples of Russian pop and R&B are thrown together with a frenetic footwork beat. His long-awaited album Bandcamp bundle 2017 is a mix of Russian ludocricity and melancholia in music with samples in tunes that don’t make any harmony but their weird and edgy sound feels true as it is everything but ordinary. Get a taste of Vtgnike’s world with the music video for The Healer.
The captivating power of Kedr Livanskiy’s music easily transcends national and linguistic boundaries. The reason, perhaps, is the fact that her work is not just about the tunes — intricate beats and non-linear, dream-like lyrics in Russian — but about crafting a whole audio-visual artistic universe. Moscow-based Yana Kedrina, the woman behind the alias, composes and records most of her tracks at home — hence the DIY spirit and the almost audible atmosphere of fragile intimacy.
Ivan Zoloto, now based between China, Russia and the US, is always quick to namecheck his hometown Petrozavodsk, 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. Ivan’s personal project Myka is pushing the boundaries of lo-fi techno with live improvisations and creepy vocals. His new project New New World Radio — a “post-genre, post-geography, post-politics” independent radio station sees its goal as reinventing Russian music once again.
Ildar Zaynetdinov aka Lowbob runs Gost Zvuk, probably the most influential and vibrant underground Russian label of today, is the go-to place for the most cutting-edge electronic music. When he’s not running the label, Zaynetdinov also composes music under the name 8OUSYBOY or produces videos for the artists on his label.