Musical talent in the former Soviet Union has far too regularly been ignored by Western critics other than to treat it with a degree of disdain or mockery. This has increasingly become more difficult to do with musicians across the former Soviet Union having more opportunities to spread their music and greater visa de-regulation allowing them to perform abroad more frequently. It is becoming evident that artists are creating music that looks to bridge their influences of growing up in a post-Soviet universe along with a host of complex and interesting musical influences, to create something absolutely fascinating and diverse.
In selecting these bands, we looked to find artists that were not just “The Kyrgyz Tame Impala”, but artists that seek to construct their own aesthetic. They are artists forging their own sound using different influences, rather than reducing themselves into a Western template. Equally so, each of them has less than five thousand followers on Soundcloud and we’d like to see that change, so please support their work!
Belarus – Mustelide
Mustelide has been excitingly transforming the cultural impression of Minsk from the capital of the last dictatorship in Europe into a dynamic youthful city. Her electronic pop music has an incredibly earthly sound. Whereas many artists operating as bedroom producers regularly grow tiresome during prolonged listens, Mustelide’s work showcases its complexities and rewards the listener. This is never more evident than in her single Salute, which osculates temperance and euphoria seamlessly. After interviewing her, I’m not sure if she wears her crown as the “The Electronic Princess” that some in the Russian media have labeled her, but whatever she is, she is certainly someone to follow and be excited about.
Georgia – MokuMoku
MokuMoku is one of the major projects of Tato Rusia that has prolifically dabbled in an endless amount of genres. MokuMoku, however, seems to get Tato most excited. Inspired by both the acclaimed (MF DOOM, Portishead) and trash (nu-metal), Tato somehow bridges both together to create a smokey-sounding hip hop that wears its working class heritage perfectly. His music isn’t the sound of the bullshit “New Tbilisi” being marketed in Vogue, but of all the smoke-filled bars in Tbilisi that continue to sell cheap beers and Mexican potatoes to those that haven’t been picked up by the exclusionary wave of neoliberalism.
Kazakhstan – The2vvo
Few cities resemble the wealth of contradictions that exist in Almaty. It is isolated in Central Asia, yet in the center of global economics. It is tolerant and modern, yet controlled by an ageing dictatorship. The 2vvo (zwo) are a logical response to this impossible logic. A wife and husband duo, they work in a number of mediums of art, from video to painting, but their noise work offers one of the most progressive movement in the Almaty art’s scene. Though now based in Leipzig, they continue to make music that perhaps unintentionally offers up the ideal soundtrack to a space that frankly makes little sense.
Russia – Cortel
It is shocking to listen to Cortel, with their heart-wrenching emotions and ability to softly place the heart in the throat, and then to find out they are from the industrial city of Nizhny Novgorod. Novgorod, formally known as Gorky, was the home of car production during communism, hence the nickname “the Detroit of Russia”. Instead of challenging a post-modern alienation that many Detroit artists did, Sergei Kashkovsky and Dmitry Tochilin make richly emotional music that is fragile and delicate, allowing the listener to feel the full emotional weight of their sound. Finding themselves outside of the cultural capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow, these guys ought to be in far more serious demand whenever the next bastard breaks a heart.
Ukraine – её
Listening to её (ye-yo), it is evident that these guys are so much more than a creative force but also craftsman with amazing musicianship. Fluid bass lines, exact melodies, and simply stunning vocal talents, её summarize a newfound confidence in a post-Maidan Kyiv. They are creative and thought-provoking but they continue to make pop music that has major appeal. In this fashion, they are an ideal example of the fact that artists can still operate in pop but they just need to renegotiate what the terms of pop music are. They’re progressive, fashionable, and exciting, just like a re-emergent Kyiv, all while making some of the most interesting music videos you’ve yet to see!