Some friends of mine just got back from the Ukraine, where they reported that the Russian language pop music scene is BOOMING. They watched videos on the music television stations there and said there’s a lot of pirating of sounds and looks going on. There was literally a Russian Beastie Boys, a Russian Britney Spears, a Russian Rick James, etc. Their description reminded me a lot of what I feel I head when I listen to Christian radio nowadays–there’s a Christian band that sounds a helluva lot like No Doubt, a Christian band that sounds like Weezer, Christian metal, Christian hip-hop, ad nauseam…
But back to the USSR! I’ve never been to the Ukraine, but the last and only time I was in Russia, the summer of 1995, Moscow was overflowing with bootleg cassettes. I was just out of high school and wanted to get something as close to punk as possible (I remember most cassettes being stuff like INXS, 80’s Genesis, and lots and lots of the Scorpions), so I picked up a band that my Russian friend described as “kind of alternative, kind of new wave.” It ended up having one or two amazing songs, and seemed to have a bit of the Sugarcubes in it, a bit of the Shock Treatment soundtrack in it, and some new wave and “alternative” touches, plus a bit of Russian folk and oompah. It’s kind of like what I imagine goes on in Danny Elfman’s head all the time.
I eventually lost the cassette, and for years I’ve been looking at Amoeba and other places to find more of the band. I finally realized today after a thorough online search that what I thought was the band’s name, “Haru Mamburu,” was in fact the name of the album, and that the band is actually called “Nogu Svelo!” That’s Russian for “Cramp In the Leg” in case you needed proof of their New Wave credentials.
Apparently in the years since I first heard them, they’ve grown more and more popular in Russian speaking countries, and in the nineties put out some more “delicate” and “textured” albums–at least, according to what I’ve read. A quick YouTube search has revealed some quite recent songs that seem to show they’ve crossed the threshold into suck, but some of the songs from their “Green” album from a decade ago are really really nice. It’s hard to describe, so I’ll give you a listen here (warning, the video is kind of cheesy and 90’s looking, so if that’s getting in your way, just minimize it and listen to the tune by itself).
I guess it’s good that Russian pop music is getting big enough that there are more and more bands of international caliber. The only thing I mourn for though is that Russia has seemingly forgot its historic rock and roll past. There were a few fantastic beat bands that played in Russia and the Eastern Block in the sixties, but unfortunately, they were only listened to until the moment folks there could get their hands on the Doors and the Beatles (and of course, the fucking Scorpions). Once that happened, from what I’ve read, they basically threw their own oldies in the trash, never to be spun again, in lieu of ours. Luckily there’s always the Planetary Pebbles series for those of us who appreciate it and want to unearth those luscious gems.