Moscow is stunning: from the view our attic window affords you see the old town adorned with the hypnotising plethora of gold onion domes of Orthodox churches. The Kremlin shoots out of the ground like a psychedelic flower you’re not supposed to eat. Also, in comparison to other major cities, the old city appears largely shielded from the encroachment of modern developments, making for a wistful, enchanting architectural cityscape – one difficult to peel your eyes off.
As for the street beneath the attic window (on Khokhlovskiy Ln) it’s not dissimilar to that of a Greek island village – tatted walls, a quaint courtyard, gated parks, an under-visited church. The occasional car passes but nothing seems in a hurry. This serenity is not something we expected to find so close to the heart of Moscow.
But what good is a beautiful city if there’s nothing fun culturally going on? Exploring what’s exciting now in Moscow – and in other Russian cities and post-Soviet countries represented by the few ambassadorial artists who’ve made the trip here – is our prerogative. Luckily, we’re in good company to find it.
Gigwise is among a group of industry delegates from across Europe – which, remarkably, includes John Robb of Mark Lanegan favourites The Membranes, and Siggi from Bjork’s first band The Sugarcubes. He works promoting Icelandic music now.
We’re also joined by the festival’s organisers Tanya Makarova and Stepan Kazaryan who’ve put together an industry conference and 26 different showcases over four days (Thurs 30.08 - Sun 02.09) at different venues across Moscow. Visited predominantly by Russians, the event makes for a complete immersion in a new language for Gigwise. But a new culture? Tricky one. The concept of culture built on nationalism has been discussed in great detail on panels at industry showcases in the last months.
Gigwise concurs with the perspective that Othering the East is unproductive and misrepresentative. The fall of the Iron Curtainand simultaneous irrepressible rise of the internet has facilitated a new music culture driven to gauge on materials that excite irrespective of the nation state they’re from. Perhaps, we’re entering a post-nationalist era where people are connected differently. Largely, the emerging bands here, though nurturing for local community, are pining to be - or are already - part of a pan-European network of truly independent artists, driven to succeed on an international stage.
Subsequently, the draw of Moscow Music Week is not that the crop of bands are from Soviet and post-Soviet countries; it’s the concentration of truly independent artists making great music. Acts that we believe takes curation to highlight – yes to a naturally strong counterculture, but yes also to curation: there’s no government funding / big brand sponsors influencing the decision making at Moscow Music Week. And everything we see here is like a journey through the crème de la crème of underground music in Russia and nearby places. Something we deem unachievable if tied into too many corporate partnerships. It’s like a fanzine lived out in the flesh; a festival by a fan for fans – which is a cliché, maybe, but it works to bring a concentration of talent that many major festivals struggle to match. And hosted in a city that’s truly invigorated creatively - on a tipping point, about to grow exponentially we feel - makes it all the better.
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Anyhoo. To the live acts. After being immediately being impressed by Inturist, Lucidvox + Marzahn on our opening day (which we reviewed here) here are more bands or solo artists from across the three days’ worth checking out in different short chapters that summarise only parts of an incredible festival. First up is:
Magic maverick Maskeliade
Sunday afternoon, Powerhouse.
“I think there’s a revolution happening, and it’s happening now. This is why I’m doing it. It might not happen in a few years,” says line-up curator Stepan Kazaryan, relaxed after spending the last six hours cooking gulash on a wood fire in the garden of the Powerhouse venue. I find it invigorating to hear Stepan imply his role is not only curator, but a facilitator of an invigorated music scene that’s happening regardless of bureaucratic industry sorts being involved – a culture too embryonic to be commodified, and too underground for the Kremlin to be concerned about.
And we understand what he means when we travel down to the Letchik Jao Da and Downhouse venues moments later. We see the young people outside venues making it look like music tribalism is forming just as it is disintegrating in the UK – this is the atmosphere that spurs Stepan on. As for the disintegration in the UK, it’s well analysed in this piece about the era of the catch-all festival and pop music taking over Reading. Here in Moscow it looks somewhat like we’re wondering through a British town or city back around the turn of the Millennium, when more kids hung out on the streets, drinking, talking and wearing punk t-shirts. Bravo.
Inside the above mentioned venues, there’s a no holds based approach from fans egging on their mates on stage: shirts are off; drainpipes on, and relentless pogoing the modus operandi. The best of the music we catch between these venues are The Jam and Libertines-esque Last Party at the Liverpool Cavern-esque venue Downhouse. And the experimental thrash two-piece KnightKnights, who make spectacular use of an octave-shifting and other wild effects pedals on the bass guitar. With deranged Beefheart-ish melodies at times, it’s intense yet quite original stuff.
But back up the road at the posher Powerhouse venue – this is where well-off people in the city come to quaff margarita – the night gets in fifth gear.
We’re told little more than, ‘oh Maskeliade is worth seeing’. And are delighted they didn’t give away to a much because his beat-led set is an immersive plunge into some of the most hectic and exhilarating left-field electronic music around, and it feels like a lucky punt. An immediate musical comparison that comes to mind is Flying Lotus, who, it turns out, Maskeliade played on the same bill with once: he had a slot on the Silver Hayes stage at Glastonbury.
But what makes Maskeliade such an essential live acts is not just his immense, eclectic beats and effects he’s able to synthesise into moving pieces of music; it’s the strong visual element. And it’s not just whack up a projection and be done with it: the producer – who also founded his own school teaching ableton, and is hosting the line-up here tonight at Powerhouse – is among a number of artists making on the line-up making sophisticated digital music and having the visual far more than a secondary thought. ‘Laptop cabaret’ as it’s been coined by academic Richard Foster. Of note, in this bracket on the Moscow Music Week line-up, is Moscow’s Rosemary Loves a Blackberry. The artist played a compelling set at the Pluton venue earlier this festival.
As for Maskeliade ’s visual niche, it’s his use of the so-called ‘Leap Motion' technology – something Gigwise hasn’t seen used on stage before – that’s special. The gist of it is different hand movements correspond to different sounds, a bit like a more advanced theremin. Those unaware of his technology may think he’s waving his hands around to just be flash. But the Leapmotion is his guitar. Every movement connected with the sensor is essential to the outcome of his tunes, and he’s the natural flair and charisma – and cool, trippy visuals on a projector screen in tandem – to pull off highly entertaining live show with it. One that’s a must-see for fans of advanced visual art and electronic music. The way the room upstairs in Powerhouse is filled to the rafters is the first sign that he’s a fanbase out there seeing what his next moves will be.
St. Petersburg is rock ‘n’ roll
Saturday 0.01am. Venue. Taxi. Venue.
After we went to the phenomenal experimental showcase where Inturist #shutitdown, it’s into a taxi – the sheer size of Moscow makes it a fairly essential and cheap way to get around, you’re talking a two or three pounds for a 15 minute ride – and off to the CMEHA Club 2.0 for a showcase of up-and-coming bands curated by a promoter from St. Petersburg. We get the ride to a fairly unassuming part of Moscow to the event that starts at 11 and winds up around 4am. It’s hats off to the MMW for billing shows around the clock.
The club is discreet, feels somewhat in between an industrial area and listless residential zone. A three-metre gate manned by security soon gives way to a vibing rock venue, perhaps a Bussey Building-sized version of The Windmill, if we’re to find an equivalent back in London. First, it looks like pretty limited with one live room and an outdoor bar in a shed with graffiti and a corrugated roof. It’s a big place, though: a warren-like trail through barely-lit rooms leads us to three more stages with stage on all of them. One of them so makeshift and bare it feels like a swimming pool drained of water with a stage at one end. Here, a gabber-style band called Die Konfekte get everyone more fired up than effigies of Theresa May on Bonfire night.
The bands at this club have been picked by Alex – a respected owner of the Ionoteka venue in St Petersburg. It’s the coolest club in St. Petersburg bar none with many bands using it as a platform to launch international touring careers. “If you play his club you can get famous,” I’m told by Ingrid of Tallinn Music Week.
Here, his showcase is a mix of bands who’ve toured before and other that are in their nappies career-wise. Regardless of how polished they are, the promoter’s an ability to notice budding talent and it contributes to one of the few moments of the weekend where all the delegates are together. With booking agents, festival owners and managers in the crowd, there is a sense of opportunity in the air for these largely unknown bands.
Of the bands Gigwise enjoys here, it’s the most experienced ones that capture our attention first – and this case tonight it’s ОБРАЗ who wow with a stage show - bar slow moments between songs - that’s ready for bigger stages. They’re a side project of Moscow-based Joy Division-esque Brandenburg who sing in English. Singing in Russian, ОБРАЗ still carry similar anglophile troupes, the chorus pedal and bass playing style indicative of a love for late early Cure.
The frontman – and excellent rhythm and lead guitar player – is a commanding vocalist. This doesn’t come across as well on record yet but he is incredibly strong. Surprisingly so for a 2am slot in the middle of nowhere on backstreet somewhere in Moscow. He has these leftfield inflections, recalling prog, post-punk and psychedelia that suit what I’m told are fairly philosophical lyrics – and it’s all delivered, oddly, through a lad rock gauze. The singer wears a bucket hat, tracky bottoms and polo shirt and has his guitar quite high up like an early-00s indie band or cast members of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps; a style worn now by the DMAs that should never have come back into fashion. But we’ll forgive them: the music’s damn good and the crowd are insatiable.
ОБРАЗ soon makes way for St. Petersburg band Bodonki who we only catch a glimpse of but see the goth-looking lead singer performs rip-roaring garage rock of very high order. Jumping off the stage in to crowd bellowing every word with the mania the best rock ‘n’ roll needs it appears a triumph. Check it out below:
Daxophone is good
Saturday. Tea time. Avant garde.
We’ve been hearing great things about the Dark Jazz showcase from fellow delegates all weekend. There’s one act in particular who we’re kicking ourselves for not having seen called Solo Operator who is Russia’s answer to Colin Stetson.
But tonight, on the Saturday, we thankfully make it to the sister Free Jazz showcase. It’s nestled close to historical landmarks (at 1 сентября) and the touristic heart of the city. It appears, the venue is to the side of a shopping centre but first impressions that we're anywhere conventnional soon dissipate when we get closer to the entrance. It's a reputation for picking out some of the best experimental talent in the world - Jarboe from Swans has played here. And it’s tiny, secret members club but open to everyone lucky enough to know about it, has its own charm.
After passing by people pre-lashing and smoking in the street, Siggi from The Sugarcubes, and our group of delegates, dashes in: “This is exactly what I want to see,” he says referring to the drum and daxophone duo Moshchee who are playing. Gigwise hurries to a seat on the front row, and is greeted by a trippy visual and a drummer who sounds as if he’s embedded himself in musical disciplines from different centuries and schools of thought to create something fairly abstract to Western ears. Things are even stranger on the left hand side of the stage where the daxophone player – an instrument known to be closest to the human voice - is being manipulated through various pedals usually used in shoegaze. For an instrument that’s known to emulate human’s it feels barely of this world when it's treated like this. It’s an intense sound and he makes an assured effort to make each tracl different, pulling out a different strip in a different key much like a harmonica player would. It's quite remarkable.
ГШ / Glintshake the great
Saturday. Arrving at Glintshake.
Another highlight of our weekend is watching prog, jazz and post-punk mashers Glintshake at the Pain showcase at the Aglomerat nightclub, where we hear psych rockers Spasibo just played the set of their lives. Arriving for the Glintshake headline set well into the night before an electronic takeover, we find the 1,000 or so cap venue half-full with the crowd completely enraptured by the band on stage who they look completely at home under the starry lights.
The self-confidence perhaps helped Glintshake are on a run at the moment: they’re fresh from supporting Franz Ferdinand and wowing fans across Europe; making a particularly big splash at MENT festival in Slovenia, where they’ve earned acclaim across the indie press.
And it’s hardly surprising the lofty praise: lead singer and jangly guitarist Kate Shilonosova and - also jangly - guitarist Evgeny Gorbuno have a great bond at the front of the stage with the sax, drums and bass behind them. Their music is disparate, tense, paranoiac, catchy, building to near breaking point then reigned in again.
Kate Shilosonova in her element. MORE: Read our exclusive interview with her here
The addition of the sax adds to the tension whilst the drumming anchors everything. And the drummer’s confidence and power gives freedom to the other musicians to be playful and improvisational whilst always being able to tack back into the main groove.
In addition to fairly high end arrangements indicative of members with a jazz background, there’s some powerful pop melodies at work that could see them elevated on the international touring circuit. Kate is an immense, feral rock/new wave singer with all the star quality and stage presence to go with it. The singer’s connection with the baying crowd comes to the fore when she greets her fans at the barrier. The eruption of noise indicative of fans who've just met their hero. We’ve one of the best bands in the world here with freedom of expression and unrepressed energy. Top notch stuff.
London. Gentrification Zone. No gold shiny onion domes.
Upon reflection, the gigs we’ve seen have been remarkable. The gigs we’ve missed, maybe even better. The list of bands above ought to be noted and listened to as the music speaks for itself. Keep an eye on Gigwise for a playlist of the best music discovered at Moscow Music Week very soon.