From Russia With Rock!

Pусский рок (Russian Rock) developed behind the Iron Curtain during the 1960’s. In the Soviet Union people went through great trouble to illegally import Beatles albums and roots music, avoiding the harsh gaze of the KGB. Russian rock music has as it’s roots music that came from America and the UK but it would soon take on forms of it’s own that would exhibit a slavic temperment and cultural asthetic. The phonetic sounding of the word rock (рок in Russian) has itself a connotation different than what Cleveland disky jockey Alan Freed had in mind when he coined the phrase. The word (рок means “fate” or “doom”. The mostly poetic term embodies the sense of somber earnestness in the music that is often political or about serious issues.

Things have undoubtedly changed and diversified with Russian exports of groups like T.A.T.U. who are a manufactured project intended for creating pop friendly dance music. However, many Russians view this music to be popsa, a term that is connected with the type of “safe” music that was released under Melodiya, the only authorized state run music distribution outlet in the Soviet Union.

The “Golden Age” of Russian rock music was during the 1980’s. Artists that had existed mostly underground and only able to play in other musicians apartments and other low visibility outlets were able to take advantage of the changes with perestroika to get wider audiences.

I am going to go through a brief history of various artists that have gained vast appeal amongst Russians but due to the cultural and political barriers have little to no ground in the western world.

In 1986 4 bands served as ambassadors of the Russian sound. The Album Red Wave highlighted bands from then Leningrad. It was brought to the U.S. through the efforts of Joanna Stingray, a native of L.A. who developed a strong relationship with underground Soviet bands and Boris Grebenshchikov, of the band Aquarium, an important band in the formation of Russian rock. The project was done without commercial profit and had to be smuggled by Joanna Stingray to the United States with final production done by Big Time Records in Los Angeles.

One of the bands on this album, Aquarium started out in the 1970's during a time when unauthorized musicians held apartment concerts, usually unplugged in intimate quarters so as not to alert the neighbors to call the police. They were a part of the folkish bard style of Vladimir Vysotsky but had as their muse the prog rock from the U.S.