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Playlist: Russia

An upcoming gig and angry electronica

By Andy PottsPublished 2 months ago 3 min read

Gnoomes - Loops

A big gigging weekend starts at Stockton Calling and continues on Easter Sunday with Gnoomes playing Newcastle’s Cumberland Arms. The latter gig, in support of last year’s Ax Ox album, might be a bit special. Gnoomes are that rare thing: an independent Russian band. It won’t come as much of a surprise that, in a country where most things are centralized, grassroots cultural life is also greeted with suspicion. Hailing from Perm, a Ural city that briefly enjoyed a reputation as a provincial centre for experimental, contemporary art, Gnoomes has little choice but to embrace outsider status.

Loops was recorded in exile in Slovenia after the band reformulated as a two-piece with the Piankovs, Masha and Pasha, keeping the flame alive. The sound also changed. There’s far less of the Krautrock guitar noodling that characterised Roadhouse, and a greater emphasis on pounding drum loops and swirling synths. The band call it stargaze, the result sits somewhere between ambient and shoegaze. It might be the kind of noise you’d get if you confiscated My Bloody Valentine’s guitars and force-fed them New Order drum patterns. With a whiff of Future Sound of London in places, this is a potent mix.

With a live show in view, some clips of the on-going European tour have surfaced. And the evidence suggests that in concert the sound is a bit heavier. Title track Ax Ox is an ethereal thing on the record, a swirl of oceanic psychedelia, gossamer thin. Reimagined for a live audience, the mix gains some welcome heft, something to look forward to on tour.

Barto - Chevo

The Piankovs, creative impulse behind Gnoomes, chose to leave Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. Barto, proud purveyors of anti-establishment electro-agit-pop, opted to stay. In an interview with Kholod, vocalist and songwriter Maria Lyubichova tried to explain: “Russia is a killer in every sense. People in our country are expendable. That was noticeable before but now it’s completely obvious. However, I am a representative of Russian culture. I was brought up in the USSR, I remember the Octobrists and the Pioneers. My civic duty is to stay and speak up for audience, however small, and support it.”

It’s a decision that comes with risks. Fellow independent artists have faced police harassment. The opposition in exile tends to be suspicious of the opposition that remains home, and vice versa. But in the midst of it all, Barto managed to release an album last year and continue its tradition of extending a middle digit towards Putin’s regime.

Vozrast Soglasiya (Age of Consent), the band’s first new material in six years, represents a return to their early stripped-back electro-punk sound. Lyrically, there’s a strong sense of blame – something that Lyubichova shares evenly from the Kremlin to the man on the Moscow metro. This track, “Chevo” (What), adopts a strident, blunt refrain along the lines of “What the fuck’s your problem, bitch?” as it rails against the quiet smugness of Russia’s moderate middle class with its salmon and summer holidays. Angry vocals over a skirl of synth sounds that could have been created on Soviet-era technology create the stripped down, angry noise of a society struggling to come to terms with what it drifted into.

Glasnost – Tantsevat

This week’s Russian accent sent me into the back catalogue for a pavement pounding slab of Muscovite electro from Glasnost. I first encountered this lot on Cruel Nature, a Tyneside-based ultra-indie cassette label and snapped up 2020’s “Dom Kultury” (House of Culture) album.

That release comprises seven carefully-wrought cuts of hardcore electronica. The audible debt to Kraftwerk is duly paid by Trans-Sibir Express, the wistful “Gdye Ty” (Where are you?) lingers in the memory, but it was this thundering blast of synthetic sound that really stuck with me. Back in 2020, during the first lockdown, I was just getting back into running. Trotting around deserted suburban streets, usually after dark, Tantsevat (Dance) was a strange and disturbing soundtrack to a strange and disturbing time.

Sadly, Glasnost no longer appear to be producing music. But Dom Kultury is a worthwhile diversion for lovers of electronica.

For previous playlists, check out folksy flavours, politics and the previously-mentioned Stockton Calling.

Thanks for reading. If you liked it, please subscribe (it’s free!). If you really liked it, leave a tip on Vocal or Buy me a Coffee. But, most of all, please support these artists by buying their music and going to their gigs.

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About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

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