2016 was a year of madness. In the midst of a worldwide political crisis, we're looking for a new language to confront what's to come in 2017. It's particularly poignant for young Russians facing the growing conservatism and their country's aggressive international politics. With the fashion world completely enchanted with Gosha Rubchinskiy's vision of post-Soviet youth, Russian artists and musicians are finding -- and questioning -- their places in a new global context. Providing just one answer are Moscow-based band Glintshake, who paint a vivid soundscape using the bold colours of Russian avant-garde.
"Today pop music more and more often clings to contemporary art, but only in marketing strategies not sound -- melody and texture are just as weak, accessible and non-expressive. This has to change," reads Glintshake's manifesto for their latest album Оэщ Магзиу. In case you're wondering, the combination of Cyrillic letters doesn't mean anything -- it's just like an expressive "Whizz" or "Snap" from comic books. Both the cryptic title and the manifesto are techniques inspired by radical futurists and artists of the Russian avant-garde who rose to prominence around the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917 that brought the Bolsheviks to power. In an era when Cyrillic letters pop up on T-shirts across the world, this approach seems more timely than ever. "It's time to make Malevich's Black Square an official Russian flag", Glintshake proclaim.
The video for Оэщ Магзиу's first single, Quarter to Five, features vocalist Kate Nv performing a convulsive dance in a grey soulless space. The camera shakes uncontrollably magnifying and blurring her bleached cropped hair and bright orange sweatshirt. The high strung aura of the video paired with frenetic guitars and cut up Russian lyrics sums up the band's vibe perfectly -- and also tells a lot about contemporary Moscow. "This song is about a Summer morning when the sun's already up but the parties are still going, someone is already trying to go home but gets stuck somewhere in this inbetween state," explains Jenya Gorbunov, another half of Glintshake.
The musicians met in 2007 and after sharing a flat and years of trial and error learning to work together; in the process they've elevated Glintshake from toying with garage and post-punk into a condensed stream of expressive inspiring madness. The energy of Moscow definitely played its part. "I love Moscow, it's the best city in the world but it's crazy. New York also moves at a mind blowing pace, but there I never get anxiety which I feel every night in Moscow," Kate begins. "I just get on with things and know that everything is going to be fine -- in Moscow for some reason you're never sure. But it also makes you feel alive like nowhere else. This city is like a bunch of electric cables: dangerous, shining, powerful, storing unbelievable energy."
In 2016 Glintshake started navigating the unknown terrain of their own cultural heritage: they replaced the band name with two Cyrillic angular letters ГШ and immersed into experimenting with Russian language. Partly it was their own creative search but partly a newly-found drive for authenticity among the new generation (Russki Attrackion and their impromptu wild parties in unexpected locations is another example of a similar mood in contemporary Moscow). Suddenly spitting out words in Russian felt more real and timely, like a stream of new blood injected into the online-powered international music scene.
"The Russian language is actually quite flexible. It's direct, honest, and rough. At the same time I don't think we are limiting ourselves -- I could sing in any language, even invent a language like I do in my solo project, and I know the audience will understand me," Kate explains.
"We were looking for our own musical language, trying to inject pop music with recklessness and excess it's been missing for a long time," Jenya continues. "At some point along this path we switched to Russian and found new influences in classical music from 19th and 20th centuries, from Soviet rock and jazz, and Russian modernist art as a way to show the complete absurd and madness of living in Russia today."
The Russian avant-garde movement for Glintshake has become one of the key inspirations. The influential wave of modern art flourished in the twilight years of the Russian Empire and during the birth of the Soviet Union reached its height in the period between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and 1932. Now in 2017, exactly a hundred years after the Revolution, avant-garde experiments with abstraction, Suprematism and Constructivism, as well as poetry, film, and photomontage, look unexpectedly timely. The bold colours and angular shapes of the era have reemerged in many works of art, film and fashion -- and is probably not a coincidence that a meeting of Gosha Rubchinskiy and Kanye West took place at Alexander Rodchenko exhibition in Moscow in autumn last year. Translating the unruly energy of the art movement into sound is Glintshake's main preoccupation.
"Everything in the world is cyclical. One could see avant-garde boom coming a couple of years ago. Today it's becoming a bit absurd in terms of how massive it is. But I really do love the 20s, I am a fan of Rodchenko, El Lisitskiy, the futurists..." Kate states.
"The energy of Russian avant-garde is the fuel which gets the blood pumping in our songs. We use different techniques and less obvious musical references; our work does look back to the 20s and 30s, but it also mixes in funk, punk rock and some bits of mass culture," Jenya adds. "I find it strange that Russian musical avant-garde of the 20s is so under-appreciated among Russian musicians. The composers of Hollywood soundtracks reference Stravinsky and Prokofiev more often than our compatriots. There really should be a bridge between the powerful Russian tradition of classical music and pop."
In the catastrophic political context of today, we often perceive art as our last and only hope. In fear of the global catastrophes which could come our way, we often wonder if history still repeats itself and how on time would it be. Revolutionary art from a hundred years ago could perhaps help us break the vicious circle -- or at least teach us some new songs to sing. "Russian modernism of the beginning of the 20th century at the time was very cynical and tried to erase and replace everything which existed before, but today it's perceived as something romantic, like late-70s American punk, as a breakthrough into a new world," Jenya says. "Malevich, Kandinskiy and Rodchenko are now integrated into mass culture -- but they were responsible for major shift in perception, energy which we still feel today. Clarity, boldness and refusal to compromise today should be part of the language of pop music."
Text Anastasiia Fedorova