As the cultural continuum marches on, its evolving richness provides every new generation of disenfranchised youth the opportunity to dip back into the pond and fish out whatever they may need to express themselves in new and angsty ways. One particularly well stocked pond was the Manchester music scene of the late 70’s—waters that continue to run deep. To a certain cohort of indie musicians and fans, especially those who don’t mind the sound of a synthesizer and prefer lyrics on the more melancholy end, the influence of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk bands cannot be overstated. And despite being tied to that specific era and context—a time when even cities like New York were struggling and dilapidated and the promises of the Me Decade began to ring hollow, the deep cultural imprint of bands like Joy Division, Gang of Four, and The Slits had been inescapably etched in stone ever since. In other words, sometimes no matter which type of music we’re talking about today, all angsty roads inevitably lead back to Ian Curtis. Forty or so years on, those sounds are as vital and contemporary as ever, and ripe for rediscovery in the streaming era. In fact, it wouldn’t be all too surprising to see art students in safety-pinned Unknown Pleasures t-shirts 30 years from now.
So now, not coincidentally, it is the generation born to the new republics of post-Soviet society who have taken up the mantle. As Mark Gurarie finds in his new piece, “surrounded by those same bleak aesthetics, a new generation of disenfranchised youth can’t help but rise up against the possibility of a grim, futureless future. And it is here—in the capacity for a sound to capture the absurdities, violence, and contradictions of this urban sphere—that this new crop of post-punk acts have gained particular traction." They sing to cityscapes pockmarked with rundown Soviet-era apartment blocks and the still tangible fossils of the failed Communist state. In a recent interview, Minsk-based Belarussian band Molchat Doma described growing up in “post-Soviet panel buildings; their design is usually very gray and miserable. You are just terrified how everything is filled with these concrete boxes.” Not only are the monuments of the Soviet past crumbling, but what has followed seems even worse.
Clearly indebted to the styles and influence of their UK and US forebearers (not to mention Soviet bands like Kino), the post-Soviet post-punkers—not only from St. Petersburg or Moscow, but from cities like Ryazan, Novosibirsk, and Minsk, Belarus—paint a picture of life growing up in the shadows of the fallen Soviet project. Their music befits their economically and politically anxious times. These acts are far from retro-minded—they’re not trying to recreate late 70’s/early 80's Manchester or New York—they sing in Russian and aim to make work that is authentic to their lives and undeniably of today. Most importantly, they fit into the post-punk tradition precisely because they’re unafraid of breaking down its idioms. Read more here.
Take for instance Molchat Doma, aka the Belarusian New Order of a new generation. “What’s really striking about Molchat Doma, placing them firmly within the post-punk tradition, is the way their music sounds like it’s been pieced together in a factory. It’s an assembled aesthetic: a fabrication of interlinked parts. The songs evoke the mechanization and industry that underly our existence, while gawking at the lack of humanity in the wake of this progress. In the same way that Devo, from rust-belt town, Canton, Ohio, posited a new, post-human existence with their synth-inflected first album, 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Molchat Doma gestures towards the isolation and alienation of contemporary life. Whether arising from the urban decay of Ohio a half century ago or the still-remaining monuments of Soviet industrial failure, it’s little wonder that these bands share a cynical futurism.
Indeed, the largest shadow cast over this Cyrillic new wave of post-punk bands is that of its Soviet past. The Soviet Union was meant to represent the society of the future, so it’s failure, in one sense, became a failure of modernism. One can assume that a majority of the musicians in these bands—like a majority of post-Soviet millennials—either were not around when the USSR existed or have next to no memory of it. And there’s no question that the ‘90’s in these countries were fraught and difficult. In Russia, for instance, the decade saw precipitous declines in life-expectancy, spiraling unemployment, and catastrophic hardship. As new kleptocracies took its place, the old order became a shared but fading memory: a collection of crumbling statues and passages in history books.
And for this crop of Russophone bands, emerging from the rubble of their history into an anxious current state online and in analog, it’s only natural that the idioms and outlook of post-punk music are as salient as ever. In post-Soviet countries, cultural influences from the west are inevitable—no doubt there’s more than one art student in Moscow wearing that Joy Division t-shirt right now—but what’s truly remarkable is the way musicians there are creating something new and wholly their own out of these ingredients. It speaks not only to a furious and dynamic present in Russia, Belarus, and other countries, but to the imprint of a shared past as part of the failed Soviet socialist experiment. In the face of authoritarianism, of economic stratification, and of a nearly 30-year-long hangover from the failure of the Soviet project, artists like ΓШ, Molchat Doma, and Konets Elektroniki, among so many others, are creating a vital, if melancholy, soundtrack from the ashes of their own history.
Sorry to interrupt this fascinating deep dive into post soviet post punk, but on the eve of the publication of our 14th print edition, we have some very exciting news to share. It all started late last fall with an unplanned visit with Kathy Eldon at the Malibu headquarters of Creative Visions, a foundation whose mission is to spark awareness of critical issues and ignite change through impactful media, art, and technology, what they call creative activism. In 1998 Kathy launched Creative Visions Foundation, inspired by the life of her son, Dan Eldon - artist, creative activist and photojournalist- killed at the age of 22 in 1993, while on assignment for Reuters in Somalia. Her incredible enthusiasm and support for the work we do at the Culture Crush has inspired us to choose a distinct path and use our methodology and societal storytelling to have this type of impact on both the communities we cover and our own community as well. So going forward we will operate under their fiscal sponsorship program, allowing us to receive grants and tax-deductible contributions, including monetary and in-kind donations from people like you! Help us fund more projects, deepen our research, access more communities, recruit more artists, writers, and filmmakers, and take on larger scale projects and opportunities. Our reach is organic, grassroots, and growing. With your support we can go further and have more impact than ever before! Let us know what you think and keep us running by making a donation today. Thank you and now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
To exist in the contemporary world as an avant-garde artist is to exist within liminal spaces; it is, by necessity to challenge the work that already exists—tearing down the current structures—while being inherently in conversation with the past. Emerging from a vibrant network of young artists and musicians in Moscow, Russia, the solo albums of Kate NV (the stage moniker of Ekaterina Shilonosova, singer of explosive post-punk group, ГШ) are an affirmation of the utility of abstraction and of experimental method in music. This doesn’t make her work difficult. In fact, her albums are in turns lush, lustrous, and unsettling; they open themselves up to you in singular ways. To immerse yourself in this work is to fulfill John Cage’s conception of “new listening” as laid out in a talk delivered to the Music Teachers National Association in Chicago in 1957: “Not an attempt to understand something that is being said…Just an attention to the activity of sounds.”
Employing contemporary electronic methods, Kate NV creates soundscapes that are about as far afield of popular EDM or techno as possible. Splicing together synthesizer, bells, distorted and augmented vocalizations, and other elements, she’s a torch bearer for the likes of Karl Stockhausen—an early progenitor of tape methodology in modern classical music—or ambient composer and producer, Brian Eno. But, despite the experimentation, there’s nothing impersonal about her work. For instance, her sophomore album, для (For) (Rvng. Intl., 2018), dedicated to her Moscow, is deeply evocative; built on shapes and sonic gestures, it works more like a modernist painting than a pop collection. The album’s title, a single preposition, implies an object, encapsulating the open-ended nature of this project, and the listener is asked to approach this music without trying to define it. In doing so, you open yourself not only to a singular, sonic portrait of contemporary, complex Moscow, but to the maps and cities you carry within yourself.