The current level of understanding of Belarus among Western journalists is in a sorry state. It seems that every story about the country is reduced to the same old tired cliche of it being “The Last Dictatorship in Europe.” Although the political conditions in Belarus remain dire, what cannot be forgotten is the wealth of culture emerging from the post-Soviet generation that has rejected, en masse, the malaise of the Lukashenko government. Instead, they are utilizing every imaginable creative outlet to construct a new Belarus that is progressive, open, and proudly Belarusian.
One of the consequences of this has been the emergence of a hugely underrated music scene that is filled with talent to rival much more higher profile cities. The prevailing trends have been toward electronic music and bedroom production, which creates a distinctly Minsk aesthetic. Although not absolutely complete, these are our current favourites. Make sure to follow them on social media!
Mustelide is a solo project by musician & sound producer Natasha Kunitskaya, who (I must say, by right) wears the title of the “Belarusian Electronic Princess”, a.k.a. “Snow White and her Seven Synthesizers“. Natasha cooks up thoughtful and dreamy analog synth-pop, touching on all things strange and beautiful, such as pictures of baby universes, tender love confessions to Turkish Delight (symbolizing the hedonistic joy of living), subconscious journeys through childhood memories, nameless strangers you meet in dreams and never forget, or waking up to find you’ve turned into a creature stuffed with weightless fluffy substance called synth&puh.
Having turned down a few offers from more commercialized producers in favour of total creative freedom, Mustelide produces all of her stuff independently at her home studio, where she works her magic, bravely exploring the sound and her own subconscious which often bears pretty idiosyncratic results, e.g. a drum section sampled completely out of recorded cries of owls (check out her track “Opushka”).
Whenever you get to see Mustelide live, you either can’t help but lose yourself to cosmic intuitive dance almost straight away, or just stand there captivated by Natasha, as she moves in mysterious ways over her numerous synths and loopers, like an experienced futuristic urban shaman.
One Belarusian critic, Tatiana Zamirovskaya, once wrote that “Mustelide is like someone who’s trying hard to pretend they’re normal, but fails to hide the idiosyncrasy and uniqueness that just pops up no matter how hard they try to keep it down”. Maybe this kind of natural sincerity, alongside the talent and dedication, is the key to Mustelide being the most successfully touring non-commercial artist to come out of Belarus in the last couple of years.
Bonehider is a melancholical electro-pop duo founded by two Minsk enthusiasts – electronic musician Sergey Smirnov (aka Phil Anker) and prolific singer-songwriter Ana Zhdanova, both known previously for their various musical collaborations, as well as their solo work.
Ana’s mesmerizing vocals and the textured electronic sound with the minimalist “better-remove-than-add” approach sends you off into a light trance, where you may find yourself tripping without doping in the dark single playroom of your mind and soul, never knowing what kind of bones and skeletons might be hidden in the closets you encounter on the way. Faded memories, echoes, feelings, moods, all the beautiful nonsense of life the reflections of which you see in the mirror – all so intriguing to explore when you have those philosophical “me-time” moments. And to such moments, Bonehider is definitely a perfect soundtrack that you would want to come back to over and over again.
Ayva is a project by Minsk-based electronic musician Ivan Kilin, who has already released five albums under this nom de plume, all of them united by some kind of careful, introverted intimacy and the complete absence of pathos.
Although not sure if such a comparison is fully appropriate here, I can’t escape the desire to call Ayva’s records the little black dress in the world of Belarusian music, for their seemingly uttermost simplicity while being stylish, classy and sophisticated AF at the same time.
His latest album “Tochno” (which translates as “definitely”, “exactly”, or “indeed”, if you like), probably, deserves special attention, as it differs from the previous four (which mainly consisted of exquisite meditative instrumental pieces) by being coloured by some interesting and fresh vocals from Egor Yavorsky (Ayva’s ex-partner in crime in their joint project Hum Flying Bulletproof Noodle) and Alya Tkacheva, whose unique manner sort of makes you think of the old school Soviet female performers at their best.
This peculiar record, besides being the latest, is also officially the last (as Ayva himself has announced), but let’s hope he stops screwing around and changes his mind. Because we all need more quiet, cozy and sophisticated simplicity in our life, indeed.
Since independence in 1991, Belarus has suffered from many attempts to delegitimize their national identity and language. Whether it was the diminishing significance of the Belarusian language or the replacement of the national flag in 1995, the national identity has constantly been under assault from the Lukashenko government that smeared it to be a peasants culture. However, Šuma has been on the forefront of creating progressive electronic music mixed with Belarusian folk songs.
Šuma have a remarkable pensive quality. Their music steadily moves without crescendo or pause in almost a motorik-esque fashion, building and building. Unlike so many attempts at incorporating folk culture into electronic music, Šuma does not haphazardly push Belarusian culture, but intertwines it with a skill and taste. They are in equal measure proprietors of their beautiful culture as they are skilled producers.
Kassiopeja are an absurd theatrical trio of musicians making music that incorporates assorted mediums of art. They playfully sing ironic lyrics while playing children’s instruments and dressing up in makeup and tights. Unlike many of the acts here, they are veterans of the Minsk music scene, but are undoubtedly the defining cult band of the city.
Attending one of their shows, you’ll see people from all classes, ages, and backgrounds wildly dancing and singing along to the lyrics of the songs. They are a true cult band with a devout base of fans. Recently, they played a show on a shitty March Sunday evening at Graffiti Bar. While many bands would struggle to attract attention and interest under those circumstances, Kassiopeja had a full house of enthusiastic fans dancing away their Saturday regrets and fears of Monday. If you’re in Minsk and they’re playing, don’t be silly and miss out on their show. Pure class.
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