As you may know I’m heading to Russia later this week to try and find out a little of the lowdown on the punk, rockabilly and psychobilly scene. Russia is a BIG country (the world’s largest with 6.6 million square miles), I have a short time (8 days) and have just limited myself to the two largest cities (Moscow & St. Petersburg).
If you live in the U.S. you know how New York City is NOTHING like the rest of the country. Nor is Los Angeles or Las Vegas or Miami or any number of places a traveler who only has 8 days might spend in the U.S. In Colombia, the same could be said of the differences between Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena, really like visiting 3 different countries.
So I know I’m missing a lot of what Russia is about but as I said, I have 8 days not 8 years, so I am going to do the best I can.
Luckily, the response from Russia has been incredible with people emailing me and offering to show me around Moscow and St. Petersburg and eager to participate in the documentary “Punktology” so I hope by later this week, there will be some first hand photos, video and reports from Moscow.
In the meantime, I’ve made contact with a few punk rockers who don’t live any where near Moscow and St. Petersburg and I really wanted to try to at least get some of their point of view.
Now granted I can only really communicate with people who speak at least some English and this is not to be representative of the entire Punk culture in Russia by a long, long shot. This is just meant to help me prepare for my trip and my interviews and I thought might be cool to share with you.
So here goes. Sophia is a punk rocker that lives in Perm, Russia, a city of around 1 million or so located in the European part of Russia. She’s an English teacher (hence her excellent English skills) and a punk musician, having played in no less than FIVE punk and ska bands.
Sophia agreed to answer a few preliminary questions I had about Russian punk and they are below for your (and mine) reading enjoyment! Thanks to Sophia for taking the time.
As for me, I’m busy getting ready for what Russia has to offer. So wish me luck!
P.S. The ??????? are where Sophia is naming Russian bands using the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. The blog software won’t accept the names for some reason and turns it into ???? My apologies on this technical difficulty. I’ll try figure this out and fix.
PO: HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO PUNK MUSIC?
SOPHIA: Well I was about 13 years old, and the first band I heard was Green Day. Then I went with Ramones and Sex Pistols, and some Russian bands like Purgen and NAIVE, I also listened to ????????? ??????, ????????, ????????? ????.
Discovering punk-music was kinda revelation for me, I started to search and listen to anything that people can call “punk” I knew this was MY cup of tea. And after like a year of being involved into punk I met my named brother Ramon and we decided to arrange our first band called HandGrAnade 😀
PO: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BANDS?
SOPHIA: Nowadays among all the kinds of punk music my favorites are oi! and California punk (Green Day surely, Yellow Card’s “Ocean Avenue”, Blink 182, Offspring, anti-flag, Captain Everything!, Rancid, NoFX, MxPx, early works of A.F.I. etc & Cock Sparrer, Sham 69, Dropkick Murphys, Brigada Flores Magon and so on). But there are some other bands to my liking not connected with these genres, like Misfits, Mad Sin, Nekromanticks, The Cramps, Bloodhound Gang, Buzzcocks, Tiger Army, Dead Kennedys, Rollins Band (btw being a Henry Rollins fan now I translate his Black Coffee Blues into Russian)
PO: TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE BANDS YOU’VE PLAYED IN?
SOPHIA: As I already said my first band was called HandGrAnade (the mistake is made deliberately as there should be the anarchy symbol instead of the wrong letter “a”). Actually it consisted of Ramon playing the guitar and me singing. That’s what I started with, to tell the truth it was not really serious, Ramon and me arranged about two more bands and after that he became interested in the hippie culture, got involved into “Beatles” and things like that, as far as I know now he deals with psychedelic rock.
So when he left punk I stayed alone in my musical aspirations, but fortunately two more friends were near me that time and the last punk-band I organized with them was called “St. Patrick’s Days”, we even gave one concert and I still have the shittiest record ever taken there 😀 I can’t help mentioning that we played two covers on Rancid there, “Roots Radicals” and “Radio”. And if in the first bands all the lyrics was russian, for S.P.D. I started to write songs in English and working with music now I still prefer to write in english as I consider the language to be more preferable for expressing the thoughts, though now I deal with music which is closer to ska and reggae.
PO: ARE THERE A LOT OF FEMALE PUNKS IN PERM, RUSSIA?
SOPHIA: Ha ha ha well, there are plenty of them I think, but in perm (and generally in Russia) people are not used to express their opinion really freely (it’s the consequence of mentality formed in the soviet time, it works subconsciously), so it wouldn’t be easy for you to find a girl with a mohawk in perm 😀 a guy – possible, a girl – I don’t think so. What is more Perm’s equivalent of punk culture is closer to the English variant of culture, than to the American. So our punk is connected with ska and indie better than with rockabilly or psychobilly, as far as I know we don’t have a single psycho/rockabilly band here (it’s for the question #9), so girls here (as the majority of the guys) prefer to look more casual as English traditional skinheads and mods did. It’s pretty and at the same time points out your belonging to a certain group of people.
PO: WHAT IS THE PUNK SCENE LIKE IN PERM? IS IT BIG? IS IT GROWING?
SOPHIA: Punk scene in Perm ha ha ha ha ha ha ha well, it’s one of not so easy questions, in no way it’s growing D: unfortunately, even local punk-bands perform very seldom here, they prefer to play in other cities instead. The problem is local again. In Russia the issue of the opposition of fascists and antifascists is very very sharp and it prevents music from developing. As for Perm, once upon a time all the punk-musicians were just labeled as antifa and all the music here almost died, because of constant derangement of the concerts!!!
First punk-bands appeared here in the beginning of the 2000s, the boom of punk fell on 2005-2007 when all our “legends” appear “Pretty Green”, “Linoleum”, “Frenzied Kids”, “Pleentoos”, “Grey Sunset”. After that the culture almost died away because of the “ideological issue”.
Nowadays we have three best punk-bands of Perm, they are like the punk-image of the city: “Linoleum” (punk/ska/core), “Pleentoos” (fast melodic punk) and “???????, ???” (punk-rock). If you want I can send you their CDs, or something. But they play only on some important punk-events in Perm, for instance when some bands from abroad come, as in 2008 “The Useless ID” visited us and all the three bands played with them, this year french band HOGWASH is coming and they are playing with them too. Frenzied Kids, a legendary punk/hardcore band doesn’t exist anymore, but everybody still remembers them. And one more local band deserves to be mentioned it’s Wild Rover it’s kinda punk’n’roll in English traditions and they play pretty often in the small clubs always creating cozy and friendly atmosphere, so their performances for local old punk-company are a sort of family reunion.
PO: DO PEOPLE DISCRIMINATE AGAINST PUNKS? (TREAT PUNKS BADLY?)
SOPHIA: This question refers us to the previous ones, #4 and #5 in particular. Cause as I said in #4 punks here look pretty casual, so ordinary people pay almost no attention to local punk-culture, but there’s an ideological problem. I can answer the next question too by saying that here the society doesn’t need to fight the youth cultures. They do it themselves. Dividing into different groups, for example fascists and antifascist, as I mentioned before. The most of punks disappeared here because one day everything got divided into black & white, left & right, fa & antifa. And lots of free guys had to make their choice. Cause if you are in the middle you’ll be hated by both. I personally had friends in both, left and right sides 😀 I just needed to be in contact with a lot of people as I wanted to develop my musical skills and I wanted to communicate with as many music lovers as possible. And surely I was hated by both. Right now the tension seem to go down in a way, but there are still a lot of problems connected with intolerance and irresistible carving of young people for destroying each other, being guided by some prejudice and double standards – the things that are naturally opposite to the punk itself.
PO: WHAT ABOUT THE POLICE, DO THEY EVER HASSLE THE PUNKS?
SOPHIA: Not really 😀
PO: WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY THINK ABOUT YOU BEING A PUNK ROCKERS?
SOPHIA: Hahahahah well my mom doesn’t pay much attention to it already (at first she was really scared) but she still hopes that I’ll forget it some day 😀 But I don’t think so, punk is not an image, it’s the way of life, the way of thinking so to speak, how can I refuse one day anything that makes me the person that I am
PO: IS THERE A BIG ROCKABILLY OR PSYCHOBILLY SCENE IN PERM?
SOPHIA: Unfortunately no 🙁 There was only one band Catafalque Riders, but they performed long ago only once, and even no records are left after them.
PO: WHY DO YOU THINK PUNK MUSIC IS SO BIG IN RUSSIA?
SOPHIA: Is it? Hahahahaha 😀 Well actually I think it depends, I personally wouldn’t say punk-music is big in Russia, among the famous punk-bands the best is NAIVE, nowadays they don’t play anymore, but Radio ???? are their worthy successors. These are relly well-known bands, speaking about the rest, even more or less known Moscow and St. Petersburg bands, well, you know Russia is a big country and I’m sure there are millions of punk-bands here, but there’s no punk movement, there are few guys with mohawks, there are few bands who play well. There is a try to copy foreign music, but there’s no really thoughtful background. It’s not enough at least.
PO: DO YOU THINK PUNK MUSIC CAN HELP THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE?
SOPHIA: Sure. What people need is to open their mind and let punk make them THINK.