Last year, I stumbled across a presentation on Soviet X-ray audio recordings at Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum, and was enthralled by the tale of the clever, resourceful young people—the stilyagi—who found a way to get their hands on contraband jazz and rock'n'roll during the decades when Stalin and his enforcers kept an iron grip on hated (and illegal) Western music. For those who got caught manufacturing these fragile, ephemeral "records," fines and prison awaited—and yet they kept going. In the age of Youtube, Bandcamp, and Spotify, it can be difficult to imagine the kind of dedication and passion it took for these proto-hipsters to figure out a way to press their beloved jazz singles on discarded hospital X-rays, but it happened, and now, thanks to a couple of dedicated music nerds, the story is finally being told.
X Ray Audio: The Documentary explores the curious, sometimes fantastical story behind Soviet Russia's strangest cultural exports, and is part of a larger project which has seen Stephen Coates and Paul Heartfield publish a book and host muitple live events (the next of which will take place at Rough Trade East in London on March 9). As their website explains, "Giving blood every week to earn enough money to buy a recording lathe, one bootlegger Rudy Fuchs cuts banned music onto such discarded x-rays to be sold on street corners by shady dealers. It was ultimate act of punk resistance, a two-fingered salute to the repressive regime that gave a generation of young Soviets access to forbidden Western and Russian music, an act for which Rudy and his fellow bootleggers would pay a heavy price."
Take a trip back to a time and place it's nearly impossible to imagine with X Ray Audio: The Documentary.
Kim Kelly is hustling on Twitter.