When it comes to burgeoning electronic music scenes, Moscow isn't usually one of the first cities that springs to mind, but Kedr Livanskiy is on a mission to change that. The producer and singer—whose real name is Yana Kedrina—was born in 1990 during the crux of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This nationalistic shift inspired the former punk musician, who found solace in the city's isolated electronic scene while drawing on Western influences.
DIY collective Johns' Kingdom, of which Kedrina is a member, represent a new guard of underground Russian artists building an inclusive community and utilizing internet resources to build international relationships.
Perhaps the best example of the latter is the producer's widely-acclaimed debut EP January Sun, which was released on Mike Simonetti and Mike Sniper's new imprint 2MR, after they discovered her songs on SoundCloud. Despite composing in one of the world's most austere climates, there's a warmth to her minimalist music, reminiscent of similar-minded outsiders including Hype Williams, Laurel Halo, and pre-Art Angels Grimes.
With her first European and international shows planned for later this spring, we spoke to the rising artist via email (translated by 2MR label manager Adam Gerrard) about Moscow's cultural landscape, how she learned to love music through Russian David Bowie and Ian Curtis parodies, and more.
THUMP: You studied at the Moscow School of New Cinema, what made you pursue a career in electronic music?
Kedr Livanskiy: I studied music a long time before I went to film school. At age 19 or 20, I was a singer in a punk band. Before that, I played in a sludge group on the drums a couple times. I listened to a lot of music, even before film school. I studied literature for five years at university. This background helped me to understand music and to approach it from a different perspective. Literary education helped to penetrate deeper into language. [This] all came together in the music of Kedr Livanskiy.
Music, for me, is the same as film—the expression of the world, the search for the narrative form is present, but instruments occupy them, and it's a different language. Here I'm doing everything myself and I find it easier to work as [music] still remains for me the most convenient and natural appearance of expression.
How did you begin producing?
For the past six years, I've been in a crew of musicians and directors—my circle of friends—Johns' Kingdom. At some point we all took a great interest in electronic music and started jamming everywhere—in nature, in the country, at a party, just buying a bunch of booze, bringing whatever instruments we had, and jamming for hours. Then we all went into our projects and engaged individually. It's not just a label but a community of people with common interests and visions. It allows you to isolate yourself from the shit.
Can you explain the connection between the EP title and song names ("Winds Of May," "January Sun," "April").
At the beginning I had no intention to link all this with the seasons, only later I realized that it happened naturally. Many of the songs were written in the winter, and in winter there's an especially depressed feeling with increased reflection. Winter here in Russia is not so much a natural phenomenon, but rather a state of mind, it's much more affective.
January Sun walks a line between experimental and pop. Which one of those sides do you align yourself with more?
I do not listen to very much pop music. I just have a 90s fetish. Then pop sounded cool, mainly because it took a lot from electronic dance music. I listen to a lot of electronic producers and old industrial, EBM, electro, breakbeat, neo-folk, and shoegaze.
The EP is a mix of my teenage years watching MTV and what I've been listening to in the last year. I think my music will change shape and sounds, but some pop component may remain.
How influential is Russian music on the music you make?
I listen to a lot of Russian music. I grew up on it. As a child I listened to a lot of Russian facsimiles of American and European rock music. Whether it was The Cure, David Bowie, or Joy Division, there was a Russian counterpart.
It was largely a shameless parody but very unique and vibrant. We also had a great punk and noise scene with anarcho-directivity and real heroic lyrics. Lyrics have always called the listener to live a different life, but also paint poetic images. It all stems from the Russian Revolution. That influence is very strong in literature and music. As a child I listened to more than punk and rock music, later I have loved electronic and more experimental music styles.
How did 2MR end up releasing the EP?
Adam [Gerrard] from 2MR tells me he was listening to a Finnish musician's EP on SoundCloud that was recommended to him by a friend. After it finished, my track "Sgoraet" came on randomly and he was "instantly blown away" (his words, not mine). So, he wrote to me and we agreed to put out the record together.
Describe Russia's electronic scene for those who aren't familiar.
A couple of years ago it was quite parochial and very local. At first it was necessary to generate the environment so that the music becomes physical, that people go to parties, to have somewhere to listen to music together. Gradually things have changed in the last four years, in many respects thanks to Johns' Kingdom. It is a community, sealed with this aesthetic vision, and people are drawn to it. I think as soon as we start vinyl production here, then it will come to a new level.
We have no market, no manufacturing really, no experience creating electronic labels. In general, there is no music business. So people came together in the community to whom it was interesting, and supported each other. All this of course did not bring any money, but now things break even, because people go.
How would you say Moscow differs from other major music cities like Berlin, Paris or London?
In those cities, there is a culture of exchange—an open border. Russia has long been closed off. We had the Soviet Union while music revolutions were taking place everywhere; none of that passed through to us. Music almost never penetrated, except in isolated cases. Only in the 90s did it begin to have a full life. There was no continuity in music here. The tradition was lost and it became its own, developed in a closed state, distinct from anywhere in the world.
All progressive music has now penetrated but in very small and distorted quantities. You could count the amount of people who had access to it under the Iron Curtain on your fingers. Of course, this is all changed now in this new era of the Internet. The Russian state has opened up. In the modern world of the internet, musicians can live anywhere and be published on a label in an entirely different country and feel fine. In this respect, electronic music is international.
Cam Lindsay is on Twitter.