Various Venues, Moscow, Russia.
Photo: Sasha Mademuaselle
Moscow Music Week is a festival that celebrates new underground music. It has been described by Russian culture website The Village as Russia’s answer to The Great Escape and SXSW, although it doesn’t yet match the size or status of either. Its fifth edition took place in a dozen different venues spread throughout the centre and northeastern quarters of the city, competing for the public’s attention with the Russian capital’s 872nd birthday celebrations.
Thirty events were programmed over the course of four warm September days. These included concerts, panel discussions and a cinema screening. It’s a tough calendar to follow and impossible to see everything, especially when considering the distances involved in getting from one venue to another. Due to the majority of the festival being held on weekdays, the gigs were programmed concurrently in the evenings, hence many unavoidable clashes.
Most of the gigs at Moscow Music Week were marketed as showcases. These were organised by external promoters affiliated with record labels, other festivals or radio stations, each with its own specific audience and sound. The online radio station New New World Radio, which was founded in 2017 by Arthur Kuzmin and Ivan Zoloto, took over the Powerhouse late on Friday night. Describing itself on Instagram as “post-genres, post-geography, post-politics”, NNW’s showcase focused primarily on experimental electronica in a 19th century house not far from the Moscow river front.
NNW regulars Electro-haram began the night with a series of textured sound collages assembled from a bank of blinking effects boxes and rotating flexi discs. In a questionable choice of stage attire, one of the group’s members wore a niqāb. It is unclear if this was a ‘post-political’ provocation, but if the wearer isn’t Muslim, then this action is extremely disrespectful. Judging from some of the group’s releases, namely Rape the tape >> Tape the rape and Taharrush Gamea (Arabic for group harrasment), they also have a fixation with sexual assault.
When questioned about the set post factum, the project’s representative Dalia Bakunova claimed that “this practice is the theatrical embodiment of the metaphysical synthesis of tradition and modernity, religiously-mystical components and a reflection on the subject of global culture.” Perhaps it wasn’t their intention to equate Muslims with rapists and terrorists, but it’s hard not to come to that conclusion when presented with overwrought PR statements such as the one above.
One of the real highlights of the festival was the sovietwave four piece POEXXXALI (pronounced poekhali – meaning ‘let’s hit the road’) who performed at the Aglomerat creative space. Claiming on social media to hail from “Darkmenistan”, the band is a conceptual project that began life on YouTube. Their videos made liberal use of 1990s cable television aesthetics and exaggerated performance art. Co-fronted by the alleged vampire Poko Cox, whose skin was painted entirely in red, and Valdis Bielykh (former art director of the Dozhd oppositional TV channel), the band cycled through a set of songs that were both humorous and thematically basic, but nevertheless got to the core of the Russian condition.
For example, the lyrics to the song Chai list different sorts of tea, as well as all the things you can do with with the hot beverage, namely drinking or spilling it. Another key song is Zarplata, which is about spending all your payday money in one go. Western audiences may hear echoes of the Beastie Boys or Devo in POEXXXALI’s prankish style, but the band make their new wave allegiances clear by covering Imperiya’s 1992 synthpop hit Poezd na Leningrad (Train to Leningrad) towards the end of the show.
POEXXXALI’s concert was part of the Bol Festival showcase, which mostly confined itself to the Aviator Loft in the Basmanny District. Bol promotes homegrown indie acts and there were many artists on the bill, but Lucidvox, who have already made waves in the UK press with their blend of desert psych and Russian folk vocalisations, were perhaps the most memorable.
In the Zamoskvorechye District, just south of the Kremlin, the DOM culture house presented a showcase of free jazz and improvisation. Speedball Trio came close to forging a new unstable element with their transgressive fusion of jazz and metal, while the improv four-piece Dukkha, lead by the sound artist Viktor Dryzhov, mined for fleeting instances of textured serenity, before collapsing time and time again into freeform noise. However, it was the Saint Petersburg quartet Kubikmaggi who were the most arresting act of the evening.
The self-proclaimed jazz-punks synthesized radically disparate styles that included electronica, dub and minimalist composition to create an enchanting atmosphere that had people daydreaming in the mezzanine lounge area. There were moments of grinding tension, too, such as the track Summertime. Bass player Max Roudenko, drummer Ilya Varfolomeev and saxophonist Alexander Timofeev wove in and out of Ksenia Fedorova’s piano melodies, which started off playfully meditative, before swelling into an ambulatory groove and, finally, concluding in a thundering crescendo.
Originally published by Wire, December 2019