Photo by Michael RudigerRemember whenLittle Girl Lostcame out and everyone was shocked that Drew Barrymore did coke when she was 12? That shit is small potatoes as far as busted childhoods go. Right after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kevin Failure’s parents moved from Wisconsin to Siberia (Siberia!), where 12-year-old Kevin ran away to spend a year hanging out with Russian junkies and ODing on pills before returning to Green Bay to front a number of Cheese Belt hardcore bands. This shouldn’t make the music of Kevin’s band, Pink Reason, sound any better than if it were being played by some suburban kids, but whatever, it does. It makes all the heavy guitar dirges and bursts of Eastern European punk that much heavier and punker. Deal with it. Oh, he also knows everything about Russian underground music, which he’s gonna tell you about on the next page.
I learned the basics of playing guitar and home recording from my friend Lyosha, who I played with in my first real band while living in Siberia. He taught me power chords and turned me on to the music of the Russian punk band Grazhdanskaya Oborona. That was around ’92, at a time when we’d play rowdy, tranquilizer-fueled illegal shows to Siberian kids wearing ironic Soviet paraphernalia. These are some of the incredible people, bands, and albums we were into.
Egor I Opizdanevshie—Sto Let OdinochestvaAfter years of anti-Soviet agitation, which at one point left him institutionalized, Egor Letov, leader of Grazhdanskaya Oborona and the godfather of Siberian existentialist punk, hid up in the Ural Mountains exploring the forests and experimenting with shamanism (the word “shaman” is Siberian in origin), the result of which is this epic, sprawling psychedelic masterpiece from ’93. The band’s name translates roughly to “Egor and the Cunted Up,” but a Russian friend once explained that the word “Opizdanevshie” refers to someone “too fucked up to realize they don’t give a fuck about anything.” Dostoevsky was once quoted as saying in reference to Gogol’s influence on his work that everything he wrote was a page taken from Dead Souls. The same could be said of Letov’s influence on my own music. Without Letov, there is no Pink Reason.
Kino—Nachalnik KamchatkiThe song “New Violence” on the first Pink Reason seven-inch,
Throw It Away, was directly inspired by this album, which was originally released in ’84. The song “Trankvilizator,” from Kino’s album, sounds like DJ Screw spinning some of the coldest, darkest synthpop you’ll ever hear. Rock music was considered anti-Soviet and these guys were an underground band playingkvartniks(underground shows in friends’ apartments) until perestroika softened censorship laws and they were able to sign to the state-owned record label, Melodiya. This meant their recordings were finally legitimately available to Russian youth, where previously they had only been available on dubbed cassettes (magnitizdat). When they signed to the label, singer-songwriter Victor Tsoi kept his job as a boiler operator. The name of this album translates to “Master of the Boiler Plant.”
Akvarium—ElektrichestvoAkvarium are the founders of Russian rock. They formed in St. Petersburg in ’72 and put together their own recording studio, which they disguised as a “young technicians’ club.” Practices were held secretly and involved kitchen-sink percussion, a bass plugged into the television for amplification, and acoustic guitars. This album, the first side recorded live at a festival in 1980, is a sprawling, distorted take on raw rock ’n’ roll opening with a riff lifted, aptly, from the Velvets’ “Rock ’n’ Roll.” The concert itself was a scandal, with Grebenshchikov rolling around onstage clad in a tight black leather jacket and rubbing the guitar against the mic stand while singing socially critical lyrics. When the band returned from the festival, Grebenshchikov lost his job and the band lost its studio.
Yanka—Stid I SramDuring the late 80s, Yanka Dyagileva formed Velikie Oktyabri (Great October) with Egor Letov and friends and hitchhiked across Russia, running from the KGB, recording tapes in friends’ flats, and playing underground shows. She also recorded solomagnitizdatalbums with help from her friends in Grazhdanskaya Oborona. Like GrOb, they are all dark, home-recorded psychedelic punk masterpieces. This album,Shame and Reproach, was the last she wrote and recorded. The last song on the album, “Pridyot Voda,” translates to “Water Is Coming” and climaxes with a totally out-of-control organ solo that never seems to end. Shortly after recording this album she disappeared from the house she grew up in, after going out to smoke a cigarette, and was found drowned in a nearby river eight days later.KEVIN FAILUREPink Reason’s newest thing is a seven-inch calledWinonaout on Woodsist.