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5Oct/100

Ural rock – discovering the local psyche

Last weekend I chatted to Rick, an Englishman in Yekaterinburg. Rick used to work in the music industry in London and now he teaches English in the Urals. Naturally, we talked about music. It turned out that Rick is a huge fan of the Ural rock bands even though they sing in Russian. So he gave me an idea to share the phenomenon of Ural rock with you. This is a story about the bands that had and still enjoy a huge following all over Russia and former Soviet territories. What's more important, they made Sverdlovsk-Yekaterinburg a leading music scene in 1980s - early 1990s

Rock music in the USSR was a protest against the regime and mainly became a prerogative of engineering intelligentsia. With a large number of technical engineering institutions in Yekaterinburg (those days Sverdlovsk) no wonder so many rock bands sprang up here before Perestroika. Nautilus Pampilius was one of the most prominent bands of that time. Though often criticised for being too pop, this band formed the core of the Soviet rock phenomenon due to their unusual unsoviet style and their lyrics targeted at social problems. A charismatic front man Vyacheslav Butusov disbanded Nautilus in 1997 when the era of Perestroika turmoils came to an end. He moved to St Petersburg and formed a new band there U-Peter. However, the piercing songs of Nautilus Pampilius are still very popular and sound very much up to date. I particularly love their hit Goodbye America. Butusov is singing about the place behind an iron curtain he will never be able to see. In 1988 it seemed a very true imposibility. 

Yekaterinburg music scene of the 90s is connected with the name of Agatha Christie. The post punk band had nothing to do with English detectives though. It was formed by the Samoylovs brothers, the students of the Ural State Technical University (now named after its famous graduate Boris Yeltsin). The brothers didn't get much into politics and sang about love and deception in a gloomy murky manner so natural to the lost generation of the new Russian country. Agatha Christie proved to be a long lasting project. The Samoylovs brothers started in 1988 and broke up only this year. Here is their top hit of 1993 Kak na Voyne (Like at War)

The real dinosaurs or veterans of the Ural rock are Chaif. The name is a combination of the words chai - tea and kaif - feeling high. The thing is that during the rehearsals the Soviet rockers in the Ural Rock Club were drinking liters of ... tea (those were innocent times) Probably, that was the reason why the band formed in 1985 still works in full swing. Chaif are the best representative of the Ural rock as unlike other bands they didn't move to Moscow or St. Petersburg for better career prospects. They live in Yekaterinburg and regularly take part in charities and activities of the local community: volunteer to clean the city parks and speak against the authorities' decision to tear down wooden houses of the last centuries in the city centre, that has recently become a burning issue in Yekateriburg. Chaif plays a mix of rock and roll and blues sometimes with reggae influence as in their son Argentina - Jamaica 5:0 written after World Cup 1998. They can easily gather a crowd of 20 thousand fans as it was in Moscow at their 20th Anniversary. Chaif 1991 hit Oy-yo Nikto ne Uslyshit (Oy-yo, No one will hear) is definitely their trademark song about existential crisis of a Post-Soviet man.


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