SOVIET PUNKS AND PUSSY RIOTS 1980-2012

Posted: August 18, 2012 in History, Music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Willie and his comrades. Andrew Sweeney, Girl, Lonely, Willie and friends shooting the movie “Without a uniform.” Volgograd, 1988. From the archive of Villi.

With anti-establishment act Pussy Riot now performing from a cage, it’s interesting to see how their own antics have carried on one particular Soviet tradition. And despite Putin’s best attempts to muscle in on the music scene – witness his moving rendition of Blueberry Hill – the KGB crooner might have his work cut out for him.

Since its underground rumblings in the 1980s, Russia’s punk subculture has had a fair bit of practice in bringing it to the people. The Soviet Union’s first punk band, Civil Defence – or Гражданская Оборона – or GrOb (ГрОб, Coffin) for short – had to duck and weave both censors and KGB. And they still found time to release illegal recordings; apparently known as “Bones” – homemade bootlegs often made from discarded medical x-rays.

In the 1970s and 1980s a growing surge of blackmarket fashion and underground music – openly challenging the Soviet-grey old-guard – delivered a dawning sense of freedom. By the mid-80s a tide of avant-garde artists, punks, rockers and psycho billies were roaming the streets, often meeting with spontaneous public performances – and the occasional police crackdown. Fashion shows could easily devolve into raucous rock gigs; catwalks and gigs colliding in places as diverse as Sergey Kuryokhin’s Popular Mechanics Group, the Sovincenter Hall, squats, concert halls and busy city streets.

As the Russian subculture site Kompost declares: “The subcultural people, who established their own market of attributes, had already formed their ideas about the standards of appearance”.

Soviet punk, 1980 – the beginning of the aesthetic war between “Soviet couture” and black market fashion.

‘Mrachnyĭ’ makeup. A common trend of the 80s. Leningrad, 1985 From the archive of Tania Gangrene.

‘Robot’ with ‘Nightingale’. ‘Nightingale’ was the Russian name given to the breed of Leningrad drinker who would stay up all night drinking and singing. 1983. Photo by Alexander Boyko, from the archive of Ruslan Ziggelya.

‘Buster and Dill’ just before the storming of the Nigerian Embassy, Moscow, 1987. Photo from the archives of Yaroslav Maeva Misha Bastera.

Sasha Surgeon, Moscow, 1989. Photo by Petra Gall.

Igor Gans at the entrance to the hall, “Tyazheloĭ athletics” in Izmaĭlovo, performances 1987. From the archive of Dima Sabbath.

Doing the twist – or tvistuny. Subculture, Leningrad, 1984. Photos from the archives of Tanya Aleksandrovoy.

 

Russian Mod with tapedeck, Chelyabinsk, 1985. From the archive of Gosha Shaposhnikov.

“Teddy Boys”. Beer on the Fontanka, Leningrad. In 1984. Photo by Alexander Boyko, from the archive of Ruslan Ziggelya.

Two rockabillys from St. Petersburg, members of the band Swindlers, 1989.

Psycho Billys, 1986, Leningrad – now St. Petersburg.

Moscow, 1980s. The new wave of fashion not drafted by State; includes flares, leopardskins, 50s quiffs and denim.

The new generation of street punk, Moscow, 1992.

Quasi-Western Rambo style. A punk and a ‘Ljuber’ in a photo studio in Moscow, 1988. The so-called Ljuberi were a youth group from the Moscow district satellite Lyubertsy

Punk performer Buster Misha, 1988 – around the time the Govt sent him to work in a dairy for violating some Soviet rules. Misha Buster was just 13 when he dipped into the scene. He took his name from Buster Keaton.

Every subculture needs a motorcycle gang. Russia’s ‘Night Wolves’, 1990 Moscow.

Rebels at the Kremlin. Russian rocker Andrei Melkijy, Dima Sabbath and Sasha Lebed Sabbath demonstrate the dress code in 1987, Red Square.

Moscow’s ‘street punks’, 1988. Soviet uniformity being subverted – courtesy of black market retailers.

Three Russian metalheads scare an old lady. Misha Buster commented: “fear and laughter – that was our trademark.”

A photo of aimless rage, vandalism, and the urge to destroy everything they get their hands on. 1990′s somewhere, Russia.

“The music and lyrics of punk rock provoke among the young fits of aimless rage, vandalism, and the urge to destroy everything they get their hands on. No matter how carefully they try to clean it up, it will remain the most reactionary offspring of the bourgeoisie mass culture.” (Pravda, official newspaper and mouthpiece of the USSR)

On May 9th 1991, 24-year-old poet and singer Yana Stanislavovna Dyagileva (Яна Станиславовна Дягилева,) known as Yanka (Янка) left her Novosibirsk country home, never to be seen again. Yanka was Russia’s own Patti Smith, her delivery thoughtful and message sharp. On May 17th her body was found in the Inya River. Her death officially remains a mystery – although there was apparently no water in her lungs and a fractured skull. The fact that she was married to the singer from Yegor Letov may not have helped. Her record sales have grown since her death.

J.M.K.E. was one band whose name made it beyond the Iron Curtain. Civil Defence also survived into the post-communist years, releasing a number of albums and gathering a large following. Unfortunately lead singer Yegor Letov (Его́р Ле́тов) reportedly died in his sleep two years ago.

Yanka (Янка), Russia’s Patti Smith.

My sources are a bit unclear on this one, but I believe it is a photo of Yanka being escorted to an old fashioned correctional gig. Anyone know for sure?

Andrew Kisanov, Gustav Guryanov and Viktor Tsoi in the music video “We saw the night.” Leningrad, 1986. Photo by Harry Assy

Old and new, Moscow 1980s.

State prosecutors yesterday demanded three years each for the Pussy Riot members in a corrective labour facility, after their public anti-Putin performance protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. They each received two years – on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In response to that, it’s worth reading Tolokonnikova’s closing statement before her sentencing (and there’s nothing wrong with Socrates):

“Socrates was accused of corrupting youth through his philosophical discourses and of not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates had a connection to a divine inner voice. What did that matter, however, when he had angered the city with his critical, dialectical and unprejudiced thinking? Socrates was sentenced to death and, refusing to run away, although he was given that option, he drank down a cup of poison in cold blood, hemlock”.

“And I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a demon and out of his mind.”

Pussy Riot Images via English Russia.

“We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in our punk performances” (closing court statements, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Pussy Riot, 8 August 2012)

The motley collection of videos below include:

1.  Civil Defence’s ‘I Don’t Believe in Anarchy’,

2. “Yanka” Dyagileva

3. Viktor Tsoi “Change” that concluded the 2011 protest anti-Putin Twitter/Youtube protest.

4.  J.M.K.E

5. Propeller – Punker.

Comments
  1. nick glossop says:

    Thanks for compiling this. Excellent images.

  2. [...] From the Barrelhouse has assembled an excellent gallery of images from the Russian underground scene (1980 – 2012): Teds, Mods, Punks, Bikers (and of course, Pussy Riot). Check them all out. [...]

  3. nick glossop says:

    Thank you very much. Perhaps you’ll get a kick out of this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFxS7G9iL_w

    • Yes – great clip, cheers Nick. So much action Putin footage at hand these days, must have been hard to know what to not include. And Yeltsin is always guaranteed to provide a seamless cross-cut.

  4. drelectro1 says:

    Reblogged this on Dr. Electro's Mixtapes and commented:
    From The Barrelhouse has collected a great set of hard-to-find photos of Russian music fans from several eras.

  5. Stalin Alive says:

    you might be interested in this by Kuryokhin on TV

    • What a clip, thanks for sharing. I like Kuryokhin’s legacy. “Shot to fame after creating one of the first popular media viruses in the Russian media. It was one of his semi-improvised acts of performance art, broadcast live on Russian television in May 1991. As a guest on the popular talk show Fifth Wheel, Kuryokhin provided “proof” that Lenin was a mushroom” (wikipedia)

  6. Blasés « says:

    [...] êtes blasés comme ces deux chouettes punks soviétiques? Vous n’avez plus rien à écouter? Ok, c’est reparti… J'aime [...]

  7. [...] Anyhow, as I promised interesting stuff as well as my food and exercise diaries on here, there's a really good post and photos on Soviet-era punk here. [...]

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