A Vague Sense of History: Nick R 61, Evil Minds, Maestropiano, and Vodasound
March 7, 2011 | Electro-/technopop, Instrumental, Noise pop, Pop
Visitors to any web resources run by the Fusion Netlabel will be struck, perhaps, by the organizers’ deliberate avoidance of geography. Establishing the project’s physical address is no easy task, and the artists themselves do little to help. In fact they now define their collective output with the stylistic tag of “fusion/ confusion.” Mergers and mysteries galore.
When we first ran across these efforts at Fusion, we noted that the project at least declares specific interest in a wide range of genres: abstract, dubstep, glitch, hip-hop, idm, and reggae. Those individual styles, however, are not promoted in isolation. The label’s founder, who performs under the name of Nick R 61, encourages contributors to mix and muddle canonical forms as much as possible.
Are there any guidelines for this disorder? The folks at Fusion have little to say for themselves, preferring instead to gather a large number of images, many of which celebrate the lives of history’s iconic rebels. Foremost in these ramshackle galleries are the figures of Che Guevara, Bob Marley, and a host of Soviet heroes, all the way from “dissident” bard Vladimir Vysotskii to cosmonaut Iurii Gagarin and late comedic actor Andrei Mironov.
In short, therefore, Fusion’s sense of adventure comes primarily from a nostalgic view of daring – from times when life was simpler and social goals were clearer. This same yearning for uncomplicated romance is evident in the label’s recent graphic work, too, as we see above.
The love affairs with things Caribbean and communist endure. Tales of marijuana and social upheaval.
Why, though, do we encounter this yearning backwards, especially among such young performers? One good reason appears to be Fusion’s hometown – once it has been discovered. Although Nick R 61 claims at several resources that Fusion operates from Puerto Rico(!), we can state with relative confidence that its location is actually the southern mining town of Shakhty – which itself simply means “shafts.”
Functionality, therefore, clearly has an upper hand over local romance – as today’s skyline also shows. Private rooftops are dwarfed by public, pragmatic ventures.
The town, in fact, didn’t even exist until the industrial revolution. By the start of WWI, Shakhty (as it would soon be known) was home to maybe 50,000 miners, family members, and their neighbors. Many local men were thrown into military action, first by the wartime draft and then by the equally cruel events of 1917. The area was invaded and claimed three times by opposing forces during the Civil War.
Manual labor, armed conflict, and death are unlikely to form the basis of a stable settlement. If it seemed, at least, that faith might offer some release from this suffering, the Soviets decided during the 1920s to destroy most centers of worship. Conditions of emptiness seemed to prevail, both above and below ground.
It will come, perhaps, as no surprise to learn that the collapse of the Soviet Union brought little relief to Shakhty. The end of state subsidies and most industrial infrastructure(s) has meant that unemployment, alcoholism, and drug abuse are now especially high in the south.
I’m sad. I want the Soviet Union back!
Although the other recordings released or managed by Nick R 61 this month are from Moscow and environs, they echo the same troubled experience. As we write today, even, the tagline running across Fusion’s homepage at Facebook reads: “I’m sad. I want the Soviet Union back!”
This view is mirrored, for example, in the music of Evil Minds, about whom we’ve written before. Now, as then, this solo performer draws heavily upon the work of UK street artist Banksy. On this particular occasion, as we see above, he uses a Banksy illustration made for a security wall in Bethlehem, showing a young girl frisking a soldier.
In prior months, our Moscow instrumentalist has combined the deconstructive spirit of UK graffiti art with some vague, yet enduring fatalism, no matter one’s “revolutionary” gestures. Some of that overarching pessimism had come from references to the Steven Spielberg film, “Poltergeist.” In other words, the value of revolution continues to be questioned in the face of some ubiquitous, if not invisible force… that simply is.
Will, in short, anything be improved by private acts of subversion? The new breakbeat and glitch recordings from Evil Minds continue these doubts with tracks such as “Beat the Reaper” and “The Nerd Writes Music.” The ability of any geeky endeavor to overcome or even trouble pervasive forces seems moot.
Grand structures loom large, no matter one’s private worry or whim. Those same structures are then made synonymous with death itself. Not the jolliest outlook.
Somewhat more confident is the St Petersburg dubstep/D&B project known as Maestropiano. The slight immodesty of that stage-name comes, no doubt, as the result of an impressive CV. The figure behind these recordings and shown above, Vladimir Chernyshov, currently studies piano at the Rimsky-Korsakov Academy.
In a few brief and programmatic statements on some domestic portals, he declares his desire to foster parallels (be they real or metaphoric) between musical and civic harmony: “I’m particularly fond of appealing, harmonically rich music, be it classical or electronic. I value individuality especially highly – both in terms of one’s ideas and creative approach.” Subjectivity and self-determination have found a champion, at least for a while.
He states, conversely, a particular dislike for today’s “musical material that’s devoid of sense or content.” He therefore finds both of those demands handsomely satisfied by the (classical) canon. The past gives sense to the present day. The doubts of our other Fusion artists are here answered with a call to reinstate values of a prior age. Whether we’re talking about the Soviet experiment or even older decades, the desire to “return” in some fashion is very strong indeed.
The fourth artist showcased by Fusion this month is (Andrew) Vodasound (above), also from the Russian capital. By his own admission, he began his career composing “works in the style of black metal. Truly depressing material.” Nonetheless, after plowing his way through “five extremely noisy albums,” he came to reach the “calm, experimental, and ambient” music on display here. He came to terms with his surroundings, rather than change them.
In short, most of the artists associated with Fusion hold that revolutionary or subversive acts of individual “bravery” will probably come to naught. History has offered the residents of Shakhty – and countless other Russian towns – some tragic examples of how crude, public forces can smother private desire. The only sense of passage from that “truly depressing” actuality to something “calmer” will come, it seems, through patience.
To take the example of Vodasound and his new recording (below), we’re informed that beyond the limits of a “sad childhood” resides a vague sense of rosy optimism. It is, however, very much divorced from individual decision-making. Positive outcomes are as unpredictable as their negative equivalent. A famous Soviet saying held that “patience and effort can achieve anything.” That spirit endures, but confidence wavers increasingly. It’s a beautiful theory – yet suffers terribly in practice.
The newest release by Nick R 61 published through Fusion is called “Carte Blanche.” It draws both textually and thematically upon the 1995 romantic comedy, “French Kiss,” in which Meg Ryan falls – finally – in love with a petty thief played by Kevin Kline. The romance occurs, however, only after Kline’s character has abused the heroine, both financially and emotionally. In fact, their mismatched encounters almost aid the romance, since they provide a depth of experience lacking in prior, “safe” relationships. For those who wait, therefore, bad luck might even work to future benefit. Maybe. The consoling, conservative patterns of romantic comedy at least offer a little respite from history’s fickle path.
The residents of Shakhty also wait patiently for better times. In the meanwhile, Fusion provides some suitably wary music – and, in the graph below, an attempt to make sense of history’s audible patterns, both now and in the future.
Aliens and various deities appear to be involved. While they fight over actuality, marijuana also seems to play a prominent role. Given the social skepticism outlined here, we should expect those Jamaican references to endure in Fusion’s next newsletter.