As the horrors of 2020 fade into the past, soon to become nothing more than a distant memory like Moscow Zoo sweaters or the Soviet Union, 2021 represents the perfect opportunity to make a clean break and get into something new. You could join a gym, write that novel, take up knitting. Or, better still, you could open up your ears to the warm, oddly comforting sounds of Russian post-punk music.
With Russian doomer playlists racking up millions of views on YouTube, listeners around the world are finding refuge in the blend of the bleakness and nostalgia evoked by post-punk with, well, the bleakness and nostalgia of the late-Soviet aesthetic that so many bands draw upon. The Russian-speaking world is experiencing a remarkable boom of great post-punk music: here are Kollektiv’s recommendations to get started in this surprisingly diverse genre.
Alliance – Na Zare // At Dawn
An oldie, but a goodie. A staple of Sovietwave, doomer and other curiously-titled playlists, Na Zare has earned cult status due to its melancholic late-80s feel, soaring chorus and singer’s resemblance to a certain Russian president in his younger days. Everything about this synthpop classic evokes a powerful nostalgia for the twilight of the Soviet era, inspiring countless bands across Russia and remaining a timeless karaoke choice – most certainly not among any members of the Kollektiv team – to this day.
Buerak – Strast k Kureniyu // Passion for Smoking
To say Buerak divide opinion is like saying Novosibirsk gets a bit nippy in winter. While the Siberian two-piece have a strong back catalogue of excellent, melodic post-punk, their idiosyncratic humour has seen them decried as try-hard edgelords and/or music for teenagers. The laconic Strast k Kureniyu is the best example of this. It’s not quite clear if the lyrics are some ultra-ironic in-joke or if singer Artyom Cherepanov just really does love smoking, but you’ll be whistling that melody for weeks to come.
Durnoi Vkus – Plastinki // Records
With lines about how “the world has lost its mind” and the best way to escape the “fog just like in Silent Hill” is by listening to “old records of Lennon and Morrissey, David Byrne, the Cure and Sting”, it’s as though 2018’s Plastinki was written for our era of isolation. At a time when we need it most, Plastinki is a warm hug of a song and the perfect soundtrack to a cold winter evening when leaving the house may be neither advisable nor desirable.
Electroforez – Russkaya Princessa // Russian Princess
Synthpop, darkwave, coldwave, call it what you want: Electroforez are one of the brightest stars in Russia’s alternative music scene. The Saint Petersburg duo’s moody, industrial sound has drawn inevitable comparisons with Depeche Mode, if Depeche Mode were from the Baltic rather than Basildon. On Russkaya Princessa, Vitaly Talyzin’s synths provide a suitably dramatic accompaniment to singer Ivan Kurochkin’s booming chorus about how “it’s hard to be with a Russian princess. So much stress, so much stress…”
Molchat Doma – Sudno (Boris Ryzhy) // Vessel (Boris Ryzhy)
Perhaps the most famous Russian post-punk band due to their inexplicable – but deserved – TikTok fame, Molchat Doma are, in fact, not Russian at all. Hailing from Minsk, capital of Belarus, the three-piece have nonetheless come to embody the Russian-language scene more than any other band. Juxtaposing bleak lyrics from cult Russian poet Boris Ryzhy, who committed suicide aged just 26 in 2001, with an absurdly danceable melody and bassline, Sudno has already become a classic of the genre.
Pasosh – Leto // Summer
With their carefree attitude and big, singalong choruses, Pasosh have won over a dedicated army of fans thanks to their songs about how being young is weird and confusing but ultimately pretty good. The best of these is Leto, an ode to simpler times when it was warm and we could do normal things like stay out all night and have real actual fun instead of Zoom quizzes. In honour of frontman Petar Martic’s Balkan roots, Pasosh is the Serbian word for passport, and Leto will make you want to grab yours and jump on the first flight to Moscow.
Ploho – Zakladka // Stash
The best-known representatives of the Siberian New Wave (yes, that’s a thing) of post-punk, Ploho offer a less cheery angle on being young in Russia than Pasosh, and Zakladka is a pretty damning indictment of just about everything in a nation that “wants to be proud, but not of us.” It’s not all Siberian doom and gloom, though; singer Viktor Uzhakov expresses hope for a brighter future, as Russia’s younger generation make their voices heard, that “the snow will melt and the stash will be found.”
Trud – Pervy Luch // First Ray
Moscow’s Trud first built a small but devoted following almost a decade ago, with a series of mini-albums combining 15-minute blasts of noisy guitar music with imagery of an idealised Soviet childhood. After six such releases, Trud’s latest album, 7, took an unexpected electronic turn. Together with its video, which follows pensive drummer Ildar Iksanov around an overcast Sochi, Pervy Luch’s pulsating sound gives it the feel of the soundtrack to a lost Soviet arthouse film.
Utro – Podsolnukh // Sunflower
One of the forefathers of the Russian post-punk scene, Rostov-on-Don’s Vlad Parshin has fronted several projects worthy of inclusion here, from dreamy, huge-in-Latin-America Motorama to depressive Leto v Gorode. Most interesting of them all, though, is Utro, which fuses folklore-influenced lyrics with dark musical minimalism. The hypnotic atmosphere of Podsolnukh best encapsulates the band’s sound, falling somewhere between a children’s fairytale and some weird midsummer pagan ritual.
Uvula – Ty i Tvoya Ten // You and Your Shadow
Saint Petersburg’s Uvula probably won’t thank us for being included here given their hazy dream pop sound, but it would be wrong not to mention one of Russia’s most exciting independent bands. Much like their hometown, Uvula’s music combines striking beauty with a melancholic, introspective atmosphere. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ty i Tvoya Ten, where shoegaze guitars and a tight beat perfectly compliment Aleksei Avgustovsky’s Morrissey-esque vocals about overcoming dark thoughts.
Read more about Russian music with our articles on Morgenshtern and Husky.