Sunday, April 12, 2009

DDT and Akvarium: A Fond Look From an American Fan

American rock music is at the hub of world popular music. Even European groups who make it big do so not in their own language but in English. There are tens of millions around the globe who can sing along in flawless English to music in English yet do not understand what they are singing. They focus on the human voice not as a vehicle of literal meaning but as a conveyor of mood, as yet another musical instrument.

I always have wondered what local people listened to in their own language. Going abroad and only listening to music in my own language seemed like seeing the world and only eating at McDonalds. It is hard to look too long at the ocean horizon without wondering who is looking back.

Western music always had a strong following among Russian youth. News stories ran regularly during the Soviet era of bootleg Beatles albums fetching hefty sums on the black market in Moscow, Kiev and elsewhere. While this may be an ego boost to westerners, it leaves unnoted the wealth of popular music that is as rich as anything in the west.

There is Russian music which in style and tone is simply American musical styles dubbed into Russian. Some of this is high quality. A lot is not. My favourite Russian music is Russian in language and in style. Some of the best groups got their start during the Soviet era when they were of questionable legality, performing in private apartments and at unauthorised gatherings. Two such groups are Akvarium and DDT.

Akvarium was formed in 1972 by Boris Gribenshikov, a student of applied mathematics and Anatoly Gunitsky, who was a poet and playwright. The two performed in private apartments for years before bribing a technician from the government studio, Melodiya to record one of their albums under the table. Some of their best music is from this semilegal period in their career. Their music is influenced by musical forms from outside Russia, such as Jethro Tull, Reggae and Bollywood.

DDT was founded in 1971 by Yuri Shevchuk, who remains its lead vocalist to this day. It went through a phase similar to that experienced by Akvarium of producing underground music. It is stylistically more mainstream than Akvarium.

DDT's big break came in 1982 when they won a competition sponsored by Komsomolskaya Pravda to perform at officially sanctioned gatherings. Throughout the 1980's and beyond, their music continued to increase in popularity as they performed in legal venues and even went on tour.

Although they have been joined by many new groups since the fall of communism, both DDT and Akvarium have many devoted followers of their music.

I am presenting two music videos with this posting "Veter" by DDT (wind) is a soulful song. The video is done in black and white.

The Akvarium video has footage interspersed of documentaries from the Stalin era. Some of the clips show a famous church being demolished during a time in which Christian and Jewish houses of worship were being shut down and their clergy deported to Siberia. I do not speak Russian, but it is hard for me to imagine that the video is approving of the subsequent Soviet religion and its accompanying communist icons.

I present this music with the image that has remained with me for years of looking out to sea and wondering who is looking back. I hope my readers enjoy it

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