Russendisko: Hits (2003)

Russendisko is compiled by Moscow-born Vladimir Kaminer and Yury Gurdzhi, from Kharkov, Ukraine. The venture started in Berlin when they founded a Russian Disco in the Kaffee Burger to provide something alternative to sleazy German idea of "Russian Soul" and music; this venture provided a major hit with German and Russian residents of Berlin. The CD is really a sampler of the type of music they play there.

Being somewhat ignorant of current Russian music trends, I've undertaken a little research to get up to speed. The album opens with a band called Nogu Svelo (Cramp in the Leg!). It turns out that Maxim Pokrovsky's Nogu Svelo was founded in 1988 in Moscow. They have released 9 albums and 2 singles, "Penis" (2000) and "Gasoline" (2002). They have also composed music for the Old Moscow Circus and this showmanship comes across in the opening track, the Little Chinese Bells, the laughing, screaming and shouting seems to reflect the strangeness of the circus, or is that my imagination?

Moscow seems a long way from the sound systems of early1960s Jamaica, but it seems "ska" is a major influence on the Russian music scene, which is represented on this album by Spitfire's Rio-Rita and Markscheider Kunst's The Dance. (Incidentally, punk exploded on the Soviet music scene in the late 1980s and many of the bands on this album have their roots in this era). The Dance is more jazzy, or even funky, and Rio-Rita grander and more electronic. St Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review is a collaboration of both bands. On this album, Trip Back to Childhood is very danceable jazz track, which recalls the heyday of the genre.

Red Elvises's Cosmonaut Petrov seems from a different planet. When I read that they are based in Santa Barbara, California, I'm not shocked, though I would expect their address to be at least in the Earth orbit. The song is definitely full of drama and creates a sense of occasion as through a pinkish cloud of rocket smoke. The use of an electronic balalaika and what sounds like Russian intercom edges to the gimmicky. An entire album of this stuff might be painful.

In contrast, La Minor's A Girl in Cotton Dress is an example of typical Russian genre banned in the past, now a favourite in taxi cabs across the Russian-speaking world. These "Blatnyak" songs have their roots in peasant music, and prison life, vodka, love, women and confinement are their subject. Though like Cosmonaut Petrov, irony have lessened the gravity and sadness of these songs, and their machismo may not be to everyone's taste.

Then we listen to Sveta Kolibaba's Hey DJ, which has to be the sexiest song on the album and the simplest, we feel a lot better. We can sing along to this one. This is pop with sensuous edge. Just enjoy. You may prefer an aggressive edge to your music, listen to Leningrad's WWW or Rot Front re-working of Kraftwerk's The Robots, both bands use rap and expletives to get their points across. They definitely have more a street sound and an urban feel. In case of overdose, an antidote can be provided by Alec Kopyt and the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, which updates klemzer to the 21st century.

The album offers a balance of artists in exile and those based in Russia today, across genres, bands from the near abroad, California, Berlin and Amsterdam. You're bound to find something you like on Russendisko. Let's get down to the Kaffee Burger. Hey DJ.


Compliers: Vladimir Kaminer and Yuriy Gurzhy

Record Company: Trikont

Trikont: history

Trikont, which was founded in Munich in 1971, is run by philosophy and political science graduate Achim Bergmann, and what you wouldn't guess from the catalogue today is that it grew out of a small left-wing Publishing house that was distributing Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and the Diary of Che Guevara.
"We were part of the non-dogmatic, "sponti" left radical people," explains Bergmann.
"All important things are political and we wanted to put out the music of the people that was not available in Germany at that time."



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Copyright ╘ 2003 by Melvyn Dresner
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