Moscow Music Week : Live review of the New Russian Wave of bands on their home turf

Moscow Music Week Sept 2018

Live Review of the festival and the New Russian Wave and of Moscow about to become the coolest city in the world!

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John Robb :

Moscow is a best-kept secret.

Not for much longer.

With a music scene this good and led by bands as great as Shortparis (reviewed on LTW here) and a vibrant local music and culture scene that is like Berlin in its range and scope, this city is a fascinating place that is about to become the coolest city in the world.

The New Russian Wave of bands is the spearhead for this ‘new Berlin’.

The city is full of vibrant youth with many hipster areas built into converted abandoned factories turned into bars, venues and cultural spaces. There are even lots of vegan cafes and it’s full youthful 21st-century energy. This is not the Moscow of naysayers and old-school thinking. Something is really happening here and Moscow Music Week is at the front of this putting a focus onto the new scene and new energy.

LTW checked out the ‘New Russian Wave’ on its home turf. The scene has seen plenty of words written about it in the past few months since we started picking up on these bands a couple of years ago. The front-runners of Shortparis, Lucidvox and Glintshake are now fully established in their home country and on the East European circuit and it won’t be long for the rest of the UK and West Europe starts getting hooked as John Robb (LTW boss and singer from The Membranes) and Richard Foster reported.

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Richard Foster :

MOSCOW MUSIC WEEK

Well, was that a dream? At times it felt it. Moscow, on first impression, is unearthly; an intense place of future-past and hyper-modern. This correspondent often felt as if he was looking through a prism to a place that was very familiar but just out of reach. A victory over the sun? Walking round the Patriarchal Ponds on a sultry Saturday night, one almost felt as if one was on the point of being spirited into Bulgakov’s magical ‘the Master and  Margarita’ novel.

Black cats crossed our path as we walked past one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters at 5am on the Sunday, sweating out over 10 hours’ worth of spectacular music and watching the dawn slowly announce another baking hot day. An omen of more trickster music to come?

Enough spirit projection. Moscow has, on the evidence of Moscow Music Week, a hell of a festival on its hands. Independent in spirit, intelligent, and determined to promote the wealth of alternative pop talent this country has, this festival is full on.

And these Muscovites wanted you to be as committed as they were. We were invited to parties and private homes, wild bars, treated to a brilliant recital of AE Housman in a pub, told about the Siege of Leiden (!) and given delicious food and drinks of a wild, cavalier nature. All with the accent on friendship.

During the day, the conference talks were about borders, contacts, building mutual support networks. Imagine it as an initially tentative but increasingly intense dating game with people determined to squeeze the most out of the moment. No blasé nonsense or posing here, as there’s too much to gain, no time to waste.

If there was one fault to pick up on it was one born of luxury; it felt too much was thrown at you. Long evenings that turned into mornings were spent in taxis scurrying from one venue to another, grabbing a bite to eat on the hoof, being whisked elsewhere to see something else unmissable, or a programme that hadn’t yet been announced. Maybe that experience, of never stopping, of being in a whirl, was what made the Moscow magic, the existential glitter, the glamour. But even if there was just too much to take in, the narrative arc was clear. This country is full of exciting music and fantastically cool and smart people wanting to get things going. And we are happy to report that.

Friday 31/8/18 Experiment Showcase and Gabber Glitter! 

To the music, then. First up on the Friday was the Эксперимент (Experiment) showcase in Pluton, a converted industrial building of sorts with two monstrously high rooms which must have once housed some kind of generator. One was tiled and suitably gloomy, the other (bigger) space boasting a wall-sized window behind the stage; which gave the impression of being in some giant shop front. Overall a knockout venue for some dark and moody music, which we certainly got a lot of. We walked in as a sonic stand-off between the restless, seemingly ever-changing jazz-fizz and bustle of the impressive Super Collection Orchestra on the main stage, and a fantastic gig by a duo, Marzahn, who took the Sheffield sound of 1978 and did something very very cool and unexpected with it; somehow turning all the old electro tropes on their heads, subtle rearrangements bringing out a gloriously current and romantic side to this music. It’s hard to describe just why it sounded completely up-to-date and classic at the same time but they pulled it off.

John Robb :

Russia is big on very dark electronic music. It’s also very good at it. Blurring the lines between industrial, early Factory Records or Reptile House Sisters Of Mercy, dark shoegaze and the kind of stark and dark soundscapes of the early Aphex Twin Monowave are compulsive. In the perfect backdrop of the old tile walled factory unit venue, there is one man, a couple of keyboards and a guitar. A sonorous heavy drum beat underpins each track with a dark, heavy bass line on top and the oozing melancholy of digital waves draws you into its sparse spectral atmosphere. It creates a brilliant soundscape as it straddles the gap between late night electronic dark matter and the perfect soundtrack for the next Batman film if Hans Zimmer is not busy…

 

Ninja Glam are two skinny guys in a dark drone synth band from Moscow who also play in another band called Motherfuckers. Their  shasowy electronics create an enveloping dark whirlpool of glorious sound to get lost in. It feels like the old factory space was built just for their sound. The duo are yet another example of the great dark electronic scene that is big in Russia reflecting the endless winter and natural melancholy with a digital painting. Building up layers of dark, droning sound – the pair of them create hypnotic and scary soundscapes that combine experimental electronica and those waves of dark matter.

Richard Foster :

After this we got another synthpop act, Rosemary Loves a Blackberry (known to her mother as Diana Burkot). Burkot’s spectacular video work is a key part of her creative armory, so seeing her without any backdrop at all and just grooving to her laptop and pedal table was initially confusing. Still, her extremely enjoyable new pop record is really something else, and she was able to bring a sensual otherness to the show; her faux-fragile, slightly off-kilter vocals and relentless hip shaking giving the floating, ice-cold pop backdrop a very powerful “cyber-sinister” feel. She really has something indefinable.

John Robb :

In the big hall of the venue, Lucidvox are delivering something quite special. They bring their psychedelic take on grunge, pagan folk and trad Russian melodies to a firebrand whole, giving them a very special take on the gonzoid rush of guitar power. If there was ever a band that should be on Subpop spearheading a 21st-century grunge – a modern and twisted and thrilling reassemblage of the nineties genre then they are here. Kinda like Mudhoney when they were tripping out a decade after their arrival but bringing a haunting flute to the party and their own sense of eastern stained melody. As it evolves, it gets better and better. LTW has been writing about this band from even before the New Russian Wave started and it’s great to see them really hone down their craft. They now sound huge and the all-enveloping wall of tripped out sound has a power and mystic, melodic rush that should, and will be, a European festival favourite in the coming couple of years.

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Richard Foster :

Over in the main room, Lucidvox stuck it to us once again with their hedonism and verve. LTW are still reeling from their show in Tallinn two years ago, where these four Rusalkas out-Bansheed the Banshees. They are still are a cosmic sleighride: four girls seemingly pagan in spirit, drinking deep from the psychicke well and conjuring up the heady guitar rushes of Yeti-era Amon Duul II and the White Witch from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. If they could maybe add some variety to the drumming patterns (which did seem to follow a particular formula after a while) they could develop into a truly spectacular, life-affirming act. Here’s hoping, as they are really fabulous when on form. 

John Robb : 

Inturist is a fast evolving project from Evgeny Gorbunov, known from bands such as ГШ / Glintshake and Interchain. It seems to have started as an audio-visual project but has swiftly moved into a chance (ha!) to further explore his James Chance no wave jerking riff energy style in a brilliant rush of songs that are, to our wrinkled ears, like a rush between the Ex and Dog Faced Hermans joyous noise.  The free jazz skronk sax on top is a masterstroke and the songs helter-skelter speed and rush of ideas is captivating and you can dance to it – which the whole room does.

Live performances of Inturist are always different, full of improvisation and unexpected twists. This fluidity makes tonight even more special as the sheer focus from the band and the breathtaking rush of sound and ideas adds a punk rock intensity to their mix which really works. Will they dare to stay in one creative place long enough though?

Richard Foster : 

What was noticeable about the whole weekend was the quick turnaround of shows: a precedent set on the first night with Inturist, who seemingly walked on with the barest of line checks after Lucidvox and smashed out the gig of the night. Inturist are led by the charismatic Jenya Gorbunov, known for his solo work and as the guitarist in the mighty ГШ / Glintshake. Gorbunov’s restless romanticism drove the band’s music, ridiculous excursions up and down the fretboard were answered by a pin-sharp rhythm section and devil-may-care sax blares. The tracks, were poppy, full of twists and turns and arrow-quick, like some brilliant winger nutmegging a lumbering fullback. On this form Inturist deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as bands like This Heat and The Ex, treading a fine line between being so taut they take your breath away and incredibly refreshing and giving; door-kickers to a new horizon.

Inturist

John Robb : Dark jazz, You just have to love a form of music called dark jazz don’t you. Russia ia highly cultural country. Jazz and classical music are part of the musical narrative here. In the UK they are still looked on as being snobs music. In Russia everyone has a working knowledge of the forms like its normal and that’s a good thing.

Sometimes these events are so hectic with so many great bands on all at the same time that even the most hardy of speed giggers will miss something. When two musicians come up and tell you about their free dark jazz with Syrian melodies then, of course, you are captivated. BUT. But you miss the damn gig because of being immersed in TOO MUCH. So this review is a cheat because I went and checked out youtube and they are wonderful. Rhythmic adventures, thrilling twists and turns and pentatonic melody lines all combining to make them a highlight of the three-day dark jazz stage.

Richard Foster :

Usssy also kicked a hole in the stratosphere with a mind-melting display of middle eastern melodies and jazz-metal sensibilities. Simply put they were so amazing they nearly finished me off. Fearing the end of my ears, yours truly went in a taxi to somewhere else with a bunch of newfound Russian friends to end up somewhere in Moscow (another old factory it seemed) watching a boy-girl duo from St Petersburg called Die Konfekte. This act’s mix of carefree, tracky-bottom gabber charm, Deutsche pompen cabaret (think a youthful Rummelsnuff before he got on the pies and the heavy iron) and happy, spangly synth pop was fabulous. Although playing for a smallish crowd, they somehow conjured up the most unashamedly joyful, gawky moshpit this side of Eurasia, something that was truly beautiful to behold. One of the experiences of the weekend. After this we found ourselves in a burger joint watching Queen in Concert, with Lord Freddie Mercury strutting about in his pomp to the late night guzzlers. It’s what  Die Konfekte would have wanted.

 

Saturday 1/9/18 – Pain Showcase + Powerhouse drinking

Richard Foster :

Ah yes, БОЛЬ, a showcase about Pain. According to those in the know it’s a joke – meant to convey the attitude of a glamorous party generation that is now reaching its apogee – and in many cases – the time-ticking onset of the Responsible Thirties. What was really noticeable was the clubby aspect of these ravers. In the cool hop-like atmosphere of AGLOMERAT (a sort of conference centre turned gigantic youth club), everyone was pals, everyone threw everyone else around the mosh pit and everyone – somehow – managed to stay young and bouncy and beautiful. If we can excuse a rude American intrusion into this review, it was like one of Jay Gatsby’s parties, albeit with loud electronically amplified music. We managed to see Super Collection Orchestra again (no bad thing at all, see above) and then prepared ourselves for the onslaught of Spasibo.

Spasibo

Spasibo are one of this writer’s favourite live bands. Channelling the spirit of Mudhoney in their late 80s Imperial phase,Spasibo make the biggest, baddest, fastest and most heartfelt racket imaginable. Actually, they are so good live I can’t really listen to them on record, as nothing seems to capture the giving, brilliantly cartoony, heart-on-sleeve spirit that drives the devilish hooks and slick riffery. A people’s band, the amount of moshing and stage diving was witness to this inclusiveness. They happily gave the mic to their mates to bawl into, and navigated a hoard of sweaty bodies launching themselves into a dark fleshy swirl in front of them. Amazing once again, and I’m not sure they stopped between songs. 

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John Robb : 

Tonight is a triumph for Spasibo. The band’s energetic rush is picking up big dividends on their home turf with a big crowd of youth going crazy at the front. We have seen this band several times at East European festivals but it great to see them on their home turf where their adrenalised rush connects with a wild and enthusiastic audience who recreate those classic mosph pits from Seattle 1989 partying on the surf of creative wilendess that sums up Moscow right now. Spasibo incorporates a wide range of rock genres, including shoegaze, post-punk, psychedelic, art-rock into a glorious space junk thrill and energy.

Richard Foster :

 After this we got Ssshhhiiittt, who also looked like they’d stepped out of the Riverside club in 1989. A great contrast to Spasibo (even though they were rocking the same Gen X look), the laconic deadpan vocals contrasted marvellously with slabs of pedal-driven guitar and steady drumming. What these proto stoners sang seemed to be key, many local heads grabbing me to inform me that they were “funny” and “fucking cool”. Fair do’s! 

Then a band I unapologetically adore, ГШ / Glintshake.

In an interview, singer Kate Shilonosova had hinted at a new more experimental direction from their angular post-punky pop. In many hands that would have meant sloppy self-indulgent music. What we got was a revelation. Basically, we were treated to two long, drawn-out pieces that were mindblowing interstellar overdrives, worn proudly as thorn of crowns; incredible work-outs that released the creative powers and intellectual tensions driving the key axis of Jenya Gorbunov and Shilonosova. They are simply dynamite to watch, and the brilliant sax-bass-drums backing they receive makes a superb stage for these two guitarists to fight it out. At times you could almost touch the competitiveness and the friendship as an energy source in itself, almost making them move like atoms, attracted and then bounced away by the force fields of their personalities. By the end of the second track, an electric, spiralling, Soft-Machine-as-punk epic, Kate screamed, gurned and bawled out a set of commands (along the lines of “we have everything, we have nothing, it’s all now”) that threatened to make her voice into rags and the audience into a baying mass. After this climacteric, nothing else was possible. We saw some dark electronics on the small stage and some very funny cabaret come chanson too. I can’t remember the names, I apologise, you were all great.

John Robb :

Already one of the key bands in this new Russian scene ГШ / Glintshake.are up there with Shortparis and Lucidvox as the initial great hopes of the scene. Tonight they are a triumph with their James Chance fused sharp and angular rush of ideas and jagged riffs. The band are so fantastically intense. It’s ferocious. yet nuanced and intelligent and full of great detail and the energy of ideas and a perfect tension between Jenya Gorbunov and Shilonosova whose other band, Inturist, we reviewed earlier.

Richard Foster :

The night descended into what can only be described as a mild bacchanal at a club called Powerhouse, where, to some fabulously fruity deejaying, deep friendships were sworn forever and eccentric types asked about English book covers from the 1930s. Thence a walk – whilst listening to a passionate lecture on the Siege of Leningrad – through the fairytale surreality of Moscow at 5am. Oh, and a pro tip. Remember to spit three times when a black cat crosses your path.

John Robb :

Deep into the Moscow night, we listen to wild talk about how Tony Wilson is the role model for Moscow Music Week, and the late eternally maverick Mancunian spirit is in the house and infusing Moscow Music Week boss Stefan as it cackles its situationist spiel from the heavens into the bar that never seems to close. We leave and pace the streets of the Moscow dawn with its huge buildings and roads and new spirit freshly bathed in the new day whilst a local book publisher keeps shouting ‘John Robb at the Moscow gates of dawn’ as we talk of Pan, Syd Barret, Russian culture and that damn genius Bulgakov’s book, ‘the Master and  Margarita’, again – reliving its surreal, satirical tale of a dapper Satan visiting the thirties Moscow art scene with a pistol-toting black cat talking Jesus, Pontius Pilot and much more  – you have to read it and don’t forget to spit three times!

 

Sunday 2/9/18 – The Kings Of Kitay-Gorod!

Richard Foster :

Sunday was all about staying in one place. Especially after spending an afternoon eating the most delicious grub going and drinking cocktails that could take the rust of the bottom of a submarine. After a nuts sightseeing-come-poetry jam excursion into the middle of Moscow we decided to head to an area called China Town (with no history of a Chinese community, there was a reason but well, I’ve forgotten why), to the Kings Of Kitay-Gorod showcase, spread over two bars called Letchik Jao Da and Downhouse.

Whereas the audience the night before was at their late-twenties-early-thirties pomp, this lot was made up of gnarled rockers and teens. Raucous, beer-nicking, shouty blaring teens who wanted to know why the hell you had come all the way to Moscow to watch a bunch of scruffy Russian punk bands. Sorry kids, but I think that’s a no-brainer.

First up in Letchik Jao Da were Universamchik and Mozhem Povtorit, both good energetic fun. Then a quick pop round to Downhouse to watch Last Party who were a hoot with their energetic and fast moving thrashpop. Promising some people to come back to see a band Nicky Blazer (who sounded all kinds of hot on Bandcamp), we strolled over to Letchik Jao Da to catch KnightKnights.

Now this duo had cockily told us not to miss them as they were “the best”, which, in fact they turned out to be. Live, KnightKnights served up an incredible experience. For one there was a brilliant display of bass playing using a set of pedals that sounded so spacey, it was as if they’d been stolen from an old Soyuz. For the other part the band boasted a drummer who conjure up a mighty thunder with nary but a flick of his wrist. Somehow on-the-one in terms of tempo and often shaking out something that would easily sit on a No Mean No record, this hulk of a lad propelled KnightKnights into sonic territory. Nicky Blazer, we missed you, we know you are good, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away.

MMWKnightKnights

John Robb :

KnightKnights are proof that 21st-century rock music is at its best when it’s this stripped down. A two-piece band of wild-eyed young men are tearing the stage up. There is a bespectacled drummer doing the Shellac thing but with a rush of energy and a bass player who switches between the beloved heavy bass grind and a whole gamut of effects from a line of pedals that switch his bass sound between that grind and tripped out Ummagumma Floyd trips and squelchy chorused runs that grapple with Russian folk melody.  They all sound fantastic. There is much energy – an enthralling rush of sound and ideas, a thrilling ride of riffs and music and a post-post punk disclaction of rock into enthralling new shapes. Steve Albini would love them. We love them even more!

We really love applying sound pressure to someone’s ears with 3 or more amps, its almost Boris-like thing – really gets to everyone and no one leaves unsatisfied. When we started all this we were influenced by Tera Melos, Blood Red Shoes, ASIWFA, DFA1979, and Zach Hill. and Russian band Spasibo.

Richard Foster :

As if that wasn’t enough yer man the drummer (who I wouldn’t want to arm wrestle) stayed behind his kit to propel VED, a great, romantic punk-cabaret act with bags of charm and an electric cello. Anthemic, warm and with a touch of that Crass community spirit about them, VED obviously strike a chord, their singer being the sort of charming rabble rouser beloved of dive bars and squat gigs the world over. After that Vlazhnost finished matters off with an intense show that was equal parts Dolls, Stooges and really early Japan.

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John Robb :

Vlazhnost were a rock n roll riot who somehow managed to invoke the sassy fuzz pedal trip of early punk like the Dead Boys with the pizzazz of early Billy Idol’s Gen X and the gonzo flesh show of a young Iggy Pop with the sexy end of Britpop like Suede into a swaggering set that had the whole, tight room partying and singing into the deep night before the band grabbed their guitars to get the last subway home just like those classic photos of the Ramones in 1975 on the New York subway – a reference that kind of tells you everything brilliant about the band.

 

Richard Foster :

And after that, my mind plopped in a swan dive into a neat tank of alcohol. Do you know, I can’t remember going home. What happened?

John Robb :

I drank tea and watched mad drunkenness and talked Moscow music and culture with a great local couple who are constructing a website to get this avalanche of information out to the world…these are about to be the Moscow times – the future has a strange habit of cropping up in the most unlikely places and like London 1977, New York 1980, Manchester 1989, Seattle 1990 and Berlin at the turn of the century and Lisbon in the last six months and many other cities where culture reached a boiling point. Moscow is about to have its moment and Moscow Music Week is at the centre of the cauldron of creativity…

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Photo credits: Mo Nemo

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3 comments on “Moscow Music Week : Live review of the New Russian Wave of bands on their home turf”

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  1. I said it to John, and repeat it here: thanks for your attention to our scene, we’re all appreciate it!

  2. Kolya from Nikky Blazer

    Our band is called Nikky Blazer, you can find us on bandcamp \m/
    nikkyblazer.bandcamp.com
    Kavabanga!

  3. Band, mentioned as VED in this article (full name Въеби ему, Донателло! witch can be translated as Beat the shit out of him, Donatello!), can be found on https://beudmusic.bandcamp.com/releases We play post-hardkor-ish, emo-ish soul reaping, warm-coating stuff — check it out!

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