The festival Bol (Pain), which was held in Moscow on June 20, had the ambitious goal of showcasing the newest Russian indie rock. And, despite the weather being not exactly cooperative, with heavy rain messing up a couple of sets and forcing a few final performances indoors, one thing was clear: the new generation or Russian indie rock is finally there.
The organizers deliberately focused on bands singing in the Russian language. According to the festival's promoter Stepan Kazaryan, the decision to invite only bands with Russian lyrics had nothing to do with xenophobia or "patriotism," but the most interesting emerging bands on the Russian indie scene are just those who express themselves in their native language, as opposed to a previous wave of English-language artists bluntly copying British and American bands. Other selection criteria were originality and underground attitudes, Kazaryan said.
Russia's indie rock scene was born in the 1980s, when there was little distinction between indie rock and mainstream rock, as just about all rock music was underground. Communist ideologues discouraged people from playing what was considered "bourgeois" music, and the most subversive bands were outright banned.
Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika reforms helped to bring rock music from the underground, but in their pursuit of mainstream appeal, the lion's share of that generation's rockers lost edge and steam.
The 1990s saw a number of acts that were raw, uncontrollable, fresh, and original, reflecting the tough reality, in which they existed. As their careers coincided with Russia's most chaotic and bizarre period, they didn't make a real impact, with a few exceptions remaining underground legends.
A decade later, a new wave of Russian indie rockers mostly imitated bands from the US and Great Britain, often focusing too much on technical proficiency at the cost of profundity and energy. Many of them sang in English, hoping for an international career, but that remained just an unfulfilled dream.
Now, enters "generation 2010s." Incidentally, some of the musicians who took the stage at Bol, were young enough to be grandchildren of the 1980s Russian rockers.
Although the bands that performed at Bol ran the gamut, from old-school punk to garage rock and new wave, there are a few things they seem to have in common. They don't seem to care much about a traditional rock lineup of guitar, bass, and drums, and at least one half of Bol acts skipped one or more of those instruments.
They freely derive inspiration from various sources, making no difference between an obscure US garage band and a veteran Russian rock act, and while singing in Russian, some newer bands don't see a problem with using an English word as a name or at least spelling it in English characters.
They know how to play, but they couldn't care less about showing their technical proficiency, often opting for a minimalist, stripped-down sound.
And, finally, quite a number of artists on the lineup come from places other than Moscow and St. Petersburg. There were several bands from Siberia, reminding the older generation of audiences of the late 1980s, when the Siberian punk rock scene was a notch above everything else on the country's indie rock scene.
One of this band's releases is entitled Home Punk, suggesting that it apparently was recorded at a home studio, but there is nothing amateurish to the band's music. The St. Petersburg-based duo, led by Arseny Morozov, formerly of Padla Bear Outfit, plays high-power, mind-blowing garage rock. Its simplicity is misleading, concealing numerous melodic and lyrical turns.
Members of this Moscow-based trio sound as if they never listened to any punk rock released after 1978. Their material doesn't contain a single trace of watered down, commercialized punk that most Russian bands of the last 20 years or so sound like. While the band's name refers to a totally different era and is—perhaps, deliberately—misleading in that way, Slackers' tracks sound very 1970s, with matching lyrics that make fun of punk rock clichés.
Although this trio technically isn't Russian—they come from Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus—Super Besse didn't at all looked foreign among other artists performing at Bol. Super Besse's minimalist coldwave with Russian lyrics has already earned them gigs in France, Germany, and Finland. But the musicians don't necessarily look west for influences. On their set list, there is a cover for Siberian punk legends Civil Defense's track “Mne nasrat na moye litso” (“I Don't Give a Fuck about My Face”).
These five women from the Siberian city of Tomsk play high-energy electroclash with ironic and irreverent lyrics. "I'm against beards and I don't give a fuck about fashion" is an example of their lyrics, which sound much more provocative in the original language. Even the band's name is provocative as, spelled in English characters, it looks too similar to "whore."
This Moscow-based three-piece plays a loud and angry mix of hardcore and noise rock. The band's lyrics are just about as angry and directs as their music, with song titles like "Break the Door" or simply "No" saying it all.
This Moscow-based four-piece spikes their psychedelic postpunk with ancient Russian and Pagan melodies, adding unlikely instruments, such as the flute. Lucidvox are apparently influenced by Russian folk traditions, but there's nothing cheesy about the way they mix musical traditions that are centuries and thousands of miles apart. Claiming to "try to recreate Russian authenticity," Lucidvox come up with a unique mix that defies pigeonholing.
What makes this Novosibirsk-based band, fronted by Igor Shapransky, stand out among many new acts on the indie rock scene, is their ability to almost seamlessly combine iconography of Pagan and Slavic mysticism with the musical side, which has apparently been inspired by the likes of Bauhaus and Joy Division.