Ukraine’s a fascinating place to discover emerging talent. Without a government supported export bureau to push bands internationally just one of the shortcomings of the State faced by artists, the acts there do get signed and big, but not in the numbers that ought to given the extraordinary talent.
There are, however, some intrepid people in the country making an effort to strengthen the foundations of its scene. One such person is Helen Gahan: Ukrainian music export NGO co-founder. Gigwise received an email from her and noted the tireless behind the scenes efforts she makes to give musicians there more opportunities abroad. Encouraged by the quality of the Ukrainian music playlist we were sent, we stopped short at sharing just that and dug a little bit deeper. Consulting promoters, journalists, bookers et al - who are intimately connected to the scene - we listened to everything they suggested was a strong example of Ukrainian music.
After much deliberation, we’ve shortlisted seven truly outstanding artists we loved listening to during this process. It doesn’t include top international acts such as DakhaBrakha and Dakh Daughters (who we do love), but it does include a newer act by their art director. Ultimately, you’ll find a spread of top new talent recently streaming in the millions as well as more underground acts in the list below.
From space rock wig-outs and Dylan folk, to pan-ethnic hip-hop and sardonic cabaret - there's plenty to immerse yourself in:
Pop noir singer Luna, real name Kristina Bardash, blew up in 2015 after uploading a few tunes on social media with self-directed lo-fi videos. The Kiev-based artist has since created three albums of understated, hypnotic electro pop. Composed on synth and electronically, the songs are artfully done and fit the melancholic vocals. Her style, according to an interview with Vogue, is inspired by early '90s post-soviet pop, a time when the fall of the Iron Curtain was close and it meant a rapid, eager devouring of art Ukrainian had difficulty accessing for years. Luna, it seems, can't understand why people let their guard down, and style and music in Russia and Ukraine became a bit lacklustre in many mainstream avenues. In referencing the stylish past, and being mindful of nurturing a better present, Luna's hunger to change culture in a way she sees as better is admirable. A great pop star for future generations to reference.
Newcomers Youra push the boundaries of hip-hop and electronic music with the fierce six tracks that they’ve uploaded thus far: The rap is laced with teeth-shattering fear; the slow basslines are deep and heavy enough to have Japanese knotweed quiver and retreat. White noise and cutting samples filter in on top of industrial clatter. Despite all the darkness, there’s a groove to their tunes that you can imagine gets a dynamic reaction from any crowd lucky and brave enough to be at the foot of their stage. Not much is currently discoverable about the band in English online. But, we have reached out to Youra for comment and will update this page accordingly.
Social rave band TseSho is the vision of artist, director, promoter, and set designer Vlad Troitsky. The same man who assembled and art directs Dakha Brakha and Dakh Daughters. The concept of his latest creation is theatre, social meaning and music. Musical backing is achieved on accordion, drums, cello, harmonica and double bass. Not in all bands do you miss the feeling without knowing the language; but with TseSho, the essential variable, to get the full impact, is their sardonic wit. Partly, it's in Russian so we won't get all of it, but luckily for English speakers their latest single 'Hate' is one of many in English and a great place to start. The track takes a sideways stab at the trendy culture of lampooning everything in society online by listing a series of things to hate. Simultaneously, a weave of occidental and oriental musical melodies and thought-provoking arrangements work to lure you into its theatrical grip.
Though rooted in R&B and hip-hop, Alina Pash's musical style is not, by any means, a regurgitation of a Western norms. Instead, it's a smorgasbord that gives the feeling of something new. Listening to the tracks, which are produced by Suren Tomasyan (A Kiev-based Armenian who has an awesome project of his own called mama13), we get a sense of it her eclectic taste. Hearing the artist speak with press we get a deeper sense of her openness to her diverse heritage that led to this. Speaking with Don't Take Fake, Pash implies due to her hometown in Transcarpthia (in the West of Ukraine) changing hands throughout history - there's Roma, Hungarian, Russian, German, Polish as well as Ukrainian culture - it's left a nuance on her art. Living now in Kiev, Pash is among the most well-recognised left-field artists with mainstream crossover appeal in the country. Her viral debut single 'Bitanga', streaming below, is the best place to start. And if you like that go forward and check out her collaboration with fellow Ukranian rap star Alyona Alyona.
Ptakh_Jung weave electric guitar, synth with beats, samples, and multi-effects to make atmospheric instrumental pieces that are the most left-leaning compositions in this list. 'Black Period' is a highlight. There's no pop structure, the track's appeal lies in its palpable sense of escapism, haunting emotional tenderness, and pummelling, frantic nocturnal energy. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of music. It's plucked from their debut EP which came out in 2018 and they remain an underground concern but definitely have the potential to do some damage overseas and earn some ace festival slots at places such as Transmusicales and Sonar, who recognise quality electronic music. They already played the Slovakian showcase Sharpe festival in Bratislava to critical acclaim earlier this year. So, our bets are, this is just the start of their legacy.
A lot of the music we've heard made in the Ukraine is, ultimately, very dependent on a swathe of studio gear. Fingerpicking Dylan-inspired troubadour Postman, however, can tour his album Everything Is New with just a guitar and his harmonica. That’s not to say the album itself isn't full of sophisticated engineering, and clever sonic embellishments. Postman's rugged voice, and heartfelt, darkly poetic lyricism have earned him strong recognition on the local Kiev scene and he's beginning to make international tracks. A recent showcase representing Ukraine in Poland's most important showcase Spring Break and a Germany tour are his latest moves.
Jazz-tinged space rockers Atomic Simao are an egalitarian force of nature, receptive to new ideas and the melding of genres. The Kiev-based band manage to weave a love of acid-jazz, break-beat, psychedelic rock, and oriental melodies – to name a few touchstones – into their powerful catchy, hypnotic whole. The music on record carries the essence you imagine they manage live and feels uninhibited and infinitely inspiring. Their latest album, Levitation Loom Four, is out via a kraut/psych specialist label based in Germany called Adansonia Records. There’s a Jah Wobble-esque dub-y bent to the rhythm of the track below, which is plucked from said album. And it's a great starting before getting lost in their inspiring back catalogue. Though they already have such a rich oeuvre, most of their gigging has taken place in Russia and the Ukraine. There ought to be space for them at places such as Levitation festival in Austin, and Fuzz Club in the Netherlands. Still niche and like-minded places.
That's all seven. We hope you find something you like. If you're intrigued by the scene, here's another Gigwise article on Ukraine: Marcus Barnes heads to Atlas Festival, Kiev.