“I grew up in a small town near the Northern capital of Russia. The atmosphere, actually, was gloomy. The power in the city was held in the hands of bandit formations. The city was divided into eight neighborhoods, leading to a constant confrontation. It was not easy to be creative and individual,” says Igor Starshinov, the synth player of the band Ploho from Novosibirsk, Siberia (who just released a new single). As children of the 1990s, the members of Ploho found their youth to be “a rather dark and cold time in Russia. The time of the crime and total chaos,” as lead singer Victor Uzhakov would explain.
Cold and dark: an accurate representation of how most of the Western world would describe Russia’s pre- and post-communist cities. While bassist Andrey Smorgonsky concurs that there was little sunshine—”Gray is the main color of my memories… almost everything was gray”—it was not always negative. “This may have influenced my love of music like punk,” he says. The political climate had an impact on the band members’ interest in certain types of rebellious music such as punk and post-punk. “[This time] affected my further creativity in the most direct way. Creativity is the most accurate cross-section of the time in which the artist lives. By the creativity of a person, as by the rings of a tree trunk, you can track how and where they lived, what happened around them, and so on,” says Uzhakov.
It seems the post-punk band that held the most prominence in their youth was Leningrad-based Кино (Kino). “The first post-punk in Russia is transmitted with mother’s milk: Kino group,” says Uzkahov. “It is impossible not to hear this band in our country. Everyone who can play two to three chords on the guitar plays exactly Kino.” The widespread popularity of the band was a starting point into the post-punk genre, though they didn’t always realize it was post-punk.
“After listening to this group, it blew my mind and I started digging information about this genre. I started learning about the classics: Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees,” says Roman Komogortsev of the Belarusian band, Molchat Doma (whose new album, Monument, is out now). Even though Kino was present in everyone’s life, “we didn’t learn that it was post-punk until much later. The first song I heard in this genre was ‘Lovesong’ by The Cure,” he continues. “But then I didn’t know what post-punk was, because I was twelve years old. The passion for post-punk itself began much later than adolescence. I started listening to it about five years ago, but I definitely realized that this is my music.”
The solemn atmospheres of post-punk music fit well into the Russian mindset from the start. “The appeal of this genre, I think, is that it more closely reflected our reality in [the 1980s] and already, it seems, in the present too,” says Starshinov. Before the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, which ended in 1991, many fans of music—not limited to post-punk—had to smuggle in records and tapes to the country. The smugglers “imported it because there was a demand. And the fact that this music is banned, increased interest twice,” explains Smorgonsky. “It was also a very important source of inspiration for Soviet rock musicians.”
This type of heaviness is not something many Westerners can relate to within the post-punk genre: the restrictions against subcultural scenes and underground movements were an act of retaliation. Ploho chooses to fulfil the legacy of Russian post-punk bands and before them. “We are often reproached for exploiting the sound of domestic 80s bands,” says Uzhakov. “I don’t think it’s exploitation, it’s just a golden thread that runs through history and connects modern post-punk with the music of that time. This was a unique era for Russian music and I would not like to forget about it.”
New post-punk bands aren’t afraid to pay homage to their genre’s beginnings—the nostalgia runs deep. “The generation of the 80s left a huge mark on history, it brought synthesizers to guitar music, it is difficult now to imagine music as a whole without a synthesizer. The 80s is the time of melodies that are eaten into heads forever, these are vivid images, the time of experimental music. It is difficult to imagine today’s music if that time did not exist,” says Komogortsev. And while the focus was on Western music in the underground scenes, it seems to have come back around to the sound many Russian artists cultivated decades ago. “It was believed that you need to take everything Western, but now everything is absolutely the opposite,” says Smorgonsky.
Komogortsev also notes that post-punk and synth-pop music has been prominent in Russia since the Soviet Union—the dark wave of bands from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) is not really a wave at all. It’s always been there. Starshinov explains: “Now the spotlight is directed towards our country and a new horizon of a number of groups has opened up for many. But post-punk, as a genre, is far from dominating in our country.”
And to Ploho, that’s a positive thing. “Perhaps this impression is created because of the image of Russia and Russians in the eyes of foreigners. Russians definitely love minor music and black, but they live far from just that. There is a lot more fun and cute music in Russia now,” Smorgonsky adds. It seems that despite their love from the Western world—with Youtube views and concert ticket sales— melancholy post-punk music remains underground, as it always has been. The way it should be. “In general,” says Uzkahov, “dark music in Russia is not particularly popular at the moment. She has listeners and media attention, but she doesn’t dominate and that’s great. Otherwise, it would be a very sad country.”
Below are some favorite CIS music picks from the Post-Punk editors, Ploho and Molchat Doma:
Биоконструктор (Biokonstruktor) – Moscow, Russia
This dark wave band from 1986 were inspired by the likes of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, and Ultravox. With melodic, sad hooks and cold machines, what’s not to love?
Supernova 1006 – St. Petersburg, Russia
Since their first album, Talons, in 2016, the duo of Supernova 1006 has consistently put out solid post-punk tracks that are quite danceable.
blind seagull – Kaliningrad, Russia
Perfectly gothy in all the right ways, blind seagull is a dark delight.
Технология (Tehnologia) – Moscow, Russia
Founded in 1990, Технология’s “Странные танцы” sounds like all the saddest of Duran Duran songs in one.
Stepan i Meduza – Kiev, Ukraine
The duo of Stepan i Meduza, who began in 2010, are absolutely wonderful: danceable dark synth songs with great aesthetics. We need more!
Human Tetris – Moscow, Russia
With their classic post-punk sound, Human Tetris have become an important part of Russia’s scene.
Дурное Влияние (Durnoye Vliyaniye) – St. Petersburg, Russia
With their haunting music, Дурное Влияние captured the sad hearts of post-punk fans during their stint as a band from 1987 to 1991.
культодиночества (Kultodinochestva) – Moscow, Russia
The three-piece band established just last year released their first LP in June 2020. It’s a powerful album that is easy to listen to all the way through.
Последнее сопротивление (Posledneye Soprotivleniye) – Tallinn, Estonia
This fairly new band from Estonia is the perfect balance of sunshine and grey – we can’t wait to hear more from the trio.
Super Besse – Minsk, Belarus
There’s something exciting about Super Besse with their atmospheric synths and danceable rhythms. Since 2015 the trio has put out three LPs, including one from this year titled Un Rêve.
Тюрьма (Tyur’ma) – Moscow, Russia
The new band from Moscow released their first LP, Тюрьма, in August of this year. The smooth vocals blend so well with the strong guitars and sad melodies throughout the album.
Гражданская Оборона (Grazhdanskaya Oborona) – Omsk, Sibera
The singer of Гражданская Оборона, Yegor Letov, branded the band with the slogan “I will always be against” in response to communism. Completely political with elements of punk and even a tinge of Rozz Williams’ intensity, the band – which began in 1989 – is well worth a listen.
ДК Посторонних (DK Postoronnih) – St. Petersburg, Russia
The coldwave / post-punk band, ДК Посторонних, found their way onto the Detriti Records label in 2017 with their self-titled LP and have been a go-to for fast bpm, danceable tracks that are spooky as hell.
фанни каплан (Fanny Kaplan) – Moscow, Russia
The experimental, no-wave inspired band, Fanny Kaplan, formed in 2012 and put out a completely unique blend of post-punk that is unlike anything else.
The Glass Beads – Kyiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian Coldwave Duo The Glass Beads have just released their debut album on Fabrika Records, and have a complex and distinct sound conjure from another time.
Штадт (Stadt) – St. Petersburg, Russia
Штадт is gaining popularity by word of mouth as a unique sounding dark synth meets EBM project whose music defies genres.
Наслаждаться жизнью (Venkov’s Playlist) – St. Petersburg, Russia
Russian post-punk band Venkov’s Playlist writes a gloomy, moody soundtrack for deepest melancholia: that kind of unshakeable zone-out of depression just before a slip into the void.
Gil’otina – Kyiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian post-punk and darkwave act Gil’otina is a project by Kyievian musician Ivan Kotsiubynsky that made its debut with 2017’s Taiga LP. A culmination of a year’s worth of effort, Ivan’s latest album Orgán is a massive and affecting record that cuts to the very marrow.
In August of 2021, Gil’otina is set to perform at Pop-Kultur Berlin and is invited to play at Kalabalik Pa Tyrolen for the second time.
Буерак (Buerak) – Novosibirsk, Russia
Буерак is a popular post-punk band considered to be part of the “New Russian Wave. Founded in 2014 by Artyom Cherepanov and Alexandr Makeyev, the band creates melodies whose rhythms are well crafted and infectious.
Brandenberg – Moscow, Russia
Brandenberg are a popular Russian post-punk band, whose sound ranges somewhere between early Cure, and Scottish band The Wake. The band are scheduled to play Wave-Gotik-Treffen in 2021.
УТРО (Utro) – Rostov-On-Don. Russia
Vladislav Parshin formed the more experimental УТРО, to compose melodies and instrumentation with a more minimalist approach towards the music in this Russian language project. With an otherworldly sound, УТРО weaves a more mystical and darker atmosphere in contrast to the more idyllic songs found in the works of his more popular and well-known band Motoroma.