Saturday, 18 December 2010

Urals Federal District - Urals Rock

As part of my learning experience about the Urals region, I decided to immerse myself in Urals Rock!  Not as painful as it sounds, Urals Rock was a music scene that developed around Ekaterinburg (then known as Sverdlovsk) and spread across the Soviet Union like wildfire, with bands such as Agata Kristi, Nautilus Pompilius and Chaif topping the charts and becoming associated, like all the best music, with the changes that were happening in society, as the Soviet Union fell apart. 

Agata Kristi

Russia's version of The Cure, Agata Kristi are a rock group from Sverdlovsk Oblast who named themselves after the English writer, Agatha Christie - eternally popular in Russia.  They come from a small town called Asbest, which has the dubious honour of being named after the towns's Asbestos industry - only in Russia!

I was a massive fan of The Cure, when I was a teenager and, whilst I quite like Agata Kristi, I think they sound quite different to The Cure and probably earned the comparison because the lead singer's hair looks a bit like Robert Smith's. 

The video I want to share with you is called Сказочная тайга (Skazochnaya Taiga), which means Fairytale Taiga from their 1995 album Opium.  The Taiga is a massive boreal forest that stretches right across the top of the world, including the Urals region.  To be honest, it's not so much a Fairytale Taiga, as a nightmare one.  The imagery is dark, angry clouds, drunken stars and Satan lurking in the forest at night collecting fresh souls!  The song makes an interesting reference to the розовый снег (rosovy sneg) or pink snow, perhaps a reference to the fact that the last Tsars' family, the Romanoff's, were murdered in Ekaterinburg?

By the way, the video shows scenes from one of the most famous and best-loved Soviet movies, Иван Васильевич меняет профессию - Ivan Vasilievich changes Profession - which is a comedy about Ivan the Terrible time-travelling and arriving in the Soviet Union.  It also shows the actors as they were in the '90's, having a reunion and watching scenes from the movie. 

Nautilus Pompilius

Nautilus Pompilius (named after a type of sea mollusc), also known more simply as Nau, were big in the 1980's and possibly started the trend of rock bands coming from the Urals region.  I must admit, I know quite a lot of Russian music, but I didn't listen to any of these bands, as they were popular long before my time in Russia.  I really like this band though and they remind me of The Cure much more than Agata Kristi does.

They were also from Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk) and a lot of their hits in the 80's will long be associated with the Gorbachev regime and perestroika

The song I want to share with you is from their 1989 album, Человек без имени (Chelovek bez imeni) or 'Man without a name' and is called Падший Ангел (Padshiy Anghel) or Fallen Angel.  It's not one of their most famous songs, by any means, but I really like it, especially the opening riff, which could be straight from one of The Cure's albums.  Sorry about the sound quality, which is a bit tinny!

The lyrics are, predictably, quite gloomy - dreams about running in the forest at night, being chased by wild animals with eyes like lamps.  The singer describes himself as an angel who has been ripped from the sky and thrown to earth - I guess it could be a metaphor for the political situation people found themselves in, one day living in the clouds of a socialist dream, the next day finding themselves in a depressed world, being hunted by wild animals!


The song I've chosen by Ekaterinburg rock band Chaif is an iconic song that many Russians love and will sing at parties.  It's a bit maudlin, but being Irish, I like that!  It comes from their 7th album Давай вернёмся (Davai verniomsa) Let's go back which was released in 1991, around the time the Soviet Union fell apart. 

The name of the song is Никто не услышит (Nikto nie uslishit) Nobody's Listening, but it's also known as Ой-йо (Oi-yo) after the plaintive refrain of the chorus.  In the first verse, we hear how the singer misses his friends and feels depressed by the news in the papers.  In the second verse, he explains that his neighbours have hit the booze, because the factory is on strike, his wife has left him for another man and all the time in the background, politicians on TV are telling him how society is going to continue, but he rejects this because he knows that they are lying.  In the final verse, he dreams of the spring time when he'll be able to go fishing with his mates and forget about the troubles of the world.

It's a very Russian застольная песня (drinking song) and I feel his pain!!


A much lighter sound, also from Ekaterinburg, is a soft-rock band called Chicherina (named after the lead singer, Yulia Chicherina).  The song I've chosen Блюдца (Bludtsa) Saucers, is basically a love song about a young girl who sees that everything around her, even the sky and sea, have got someone, but she hasn't.  The main lyrics are all about broken plates/a girl cries/girls laugh, which I think is a metaphor for having your heart broken, then crying about it, but eventually you'll be able to laugh again! 

Interestingly the video shows Yulia messing about on a golf course with her mates, smashing up expensive vases and having a tremendous amount of fun - I guess that was their idea of a good day out in Ekaterinburg in the 1990's. 

Smyslovye Gallyutsinatsii

Not the easiest name to remember, but a fantastic band, I've become a bit obsessed by one of their biggest hits, Вечно молодой (Vechno molodoi) Forever Young, a song that was also made famous as the title track in Брат 2 (Brat dva) Brother 2 - a popular Russian movie from 2000. 

Smyslovye Gallyutsinatsii translates as something like 'Semantic Hallucinations' and the lyrics of the song are quite cryptic 'I could drink the sea/I could be someone completely different' - the sound of the sax in the background absolutely gets under my skin and I love it!  There's also a fantastic remix by DJ Nejtrino, which you can also find on YouTube at the following link:
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