Mixtape: Russian Psych and Post-Punk [Download]
The late Russian art-punk experimentalist Egor Letov is one of the most fascinating characters in rock music. Here’s a bit from his obituary in the UK’s Independent newspaper:
“For a Soviet musician thrown into a mental asylum by the KGB in the mid-1980s because of his anti-Communist lyrics, it was never the best idea, on release, to sing a song about Lenin “rotting in his mausoleum”. But that is what the Siberian rocker Yegor Letov did, and it is partly why he was known as “the father of Russian punk” and “the Russian Sid Vicious”.
“As much as any musicians of the time, Letov and his cult group Grazhdanskaya Oborona (“Civil Defence”), widely known as GrOb – which is also the Russian word for “coffin” – could claim to have helped hasten the end of Soviet authoritarianism with first their niggling, later aggressive, often obscene and in-your-face defiance of Communist rule. Their lyrics and music were raw, direct and anarchic, ushering in the spirit of fast-changing times.
“Before the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev eased censorship in the mid-1980s, which allowed rock bands to perform openly, GrOb’s anti-Communist lyrics of rage and desperation were passed around first Siberia, then Russia, and eventually the entire Soviet Union in the form of home-recorded cassettes known as magnitizdat. These had a huge effect on disaffected youth…”
First, I dug into Letov’s catalog, sampling first his solo records, then his work with Civil Defence, and then Kommunism. The music was improbably raw and, even though I couldn’t understand the words, his voice full of bitter irony.
My curiosity about Letov led me to dig deeper. I wanted to find similar artists. So I hit the internet and started finding albums from the ‘80s and ‘90s almost at random, with one band leading on to another.
After a couple of weeks listening and exploring, I had what I wanted — a shortlist of about 20 songs — the majority from the Soviet-era and immediately afterwards, but also some excellent new music as well.
What I ended up with on this mix falls into three broad categories — punk, post-punk, and psychedelic rock — because I love these styles of music. The conditions many of these recordings were made in, the personal danger to the artists, the primitive recording equipment, the way the music was passed hand to hand, and the sense of excitement that comes through in the some of this music — of pioneering a new movement — makes this music extraordinary and unique.
The Soviet backdrop also provides context for a better appreciation of bands that followed in the new millennium. It’s cool music, and I hope this taste leads you to explore the world of the Russian underground as well.
An Introduction to Russian Psych & Post-Punk
Егор и Опизденевшие (Egor & The Fuckups) — Зря вы это всё (You Should Not Have It All) (1992)
Voditel dlya Vera — Ona ne Nawla (2013)
Sonic Death — Марина (Marina) (2012)
ДК (DK) — Дождь (Rain) (1983)
Polska Radio One — Волга (Volga) (2014)
электроребята (Elektrorebyata) — На пыльных тропинках (On Dusty Paths) (2012)
Инструкция По Выживанию (Survival Guide) — Белый Свет (White Light) (1992)
Сердцедёр (Serdtseder) — Зима / Три (Winter / Three) (2013)
Суицидальные суки (Suicidal Bitches) — Жить (Zhit) (2008)
Velvet Breasts — Visoko (2013)
Кино (Kino) — Фильмы (Films) (1988)
Егор и Опизденевшие (Egor & The Fuckups) — Маленький принц возвращался домой (The Little Prince Returns Home) (1990)
Промышленная Архитектура (Industrial Architecture) — Дети Госпиталей (Children’s Hospital) (1988)
Nameless — Ginger Girl (2011)
Alien Pat. Holman — Spirit From Underground (Early) (1991)
Alexander Khodchenko — Passing Through a Metamorphosis (1995)