Music transcends borders, boundaries, politics, big mouthed opinions, and a current state of affairs. Art is art, and people are people (just ask Depeche Mode). So when I recently browsed the Danish label Virkelighedsfjern‘s discography and found a Russian band called зелёный дядя u сёрферы чёрной дыры (Green Uncle and the Blackhole Surfers) I decided I wanted to know more. The crazy artwork is what drew me at first, the even crazier music is what made me stay. The music consists of a nonconformist mixture of postpunk, spacey synthesizers, heavy galloping drums, and reverb puking vocals, all in Russian and absolutely unintelligible to these ears. I saw the Finnish band Circle once at Roadburn in their “heavy metal” period, and they came close to the madness these Russians have on display.
But there was more, lots more. In The Animal World was just a snippet of what these guys had in store for us. While their country ruthlessly bombed the shit out of their neighbouring countries, these guys were holed up in their psychedelic venue in Nizhniy Novgorod by the illustrious name of Tago Mago. There they worked on their creative psycho outlet, all the while with nowhere else to go than to express themselves artistically.
They released a more straightforward and smoothly produced album called Delight In Octaves (the “crazy cat” album pictured above-the cover depicts a popular motif in medieval iconography-the mouth of hell), which showed a more ambitious side to their music with a slightly more approachable sound. They are still way too weird for their own country, and so they are planning on heading over the border one day to show the more psychedelic minded people of this world what they are capable of.
If only for the horrible godforsaken war that leaves artists in Russia to be pariahs in the world and cut off from most communication methods and ways to reach out (PayPal and Facebook for instance). The band was pretty desperate and fed up with their own country and its stupid war they started on their own anti war statement, their new album Collective Irresponsibility, which will see the light of day digitally at the end of this month. The artwork is featured below. It might not be a literal upfront political album, but the lyrics leave nothing to be guessed:
“God be with you//go ahead! //straight into a fresh graveyard!//best will gesture-negative growth”
Collective Irresponsibility is the best produced recording of the band so far. They might have lost a bit of their wild fuzzy ferociousness along the way, but they bring a cool and freaky progressive post punk side in return. And still they can rage like a bunch mouth frothing lunatics, just check out Negative Growth, it is heavy and characteristic like nothing you have heard before…
Their absolute uniqueness is why it is such a damn shame that they find themselves in such a shitty situation. While everyone should be able to enjoy their stubborn self-minded anti-war anti-Putin anthem, they are being cast out and regarded with apprehension at best. I must admit I thought for a minute about writing this too, but especially after contacting the band and hearing them out I understood that in the end it is still just a matter of people being people. These Russians are people, pretty cool people actually, and some badd ass must-listen musicians while we’re at it too.
I contacted the band through their Bandcamp, and found singer/guitarist Vova Sokolow very much inclined to reach out. Reaching out and contacting the outside has been more and more difficult for normal Russians these days, and the boycotts see Black Hole Surfers and their underground scene in hometown Nizhny Novgorod in absolute tatters. Their dreams of releasing an international record and touring extensively crushed, they have very little to look forward to these days. Like the people on the other side in Ukraine they find themselves only cogs in a machine, played by powers much bigger than themselves….
Hi guys, how are you these days?
Hi! First of all, I would like to thank you for your attention. We sit in this depressive country and look at colleagues in psychedelic rock, we see how they go on big tours, play on big venues – and we only give concerts in our city and somewhere else around once every six months, without having absolutely no possibility of being heard outside this close circle. building a tour of russia with our music is very difficult, as these are huge distances and, most often, terrible venues with a disgusting sound. the music we play is not popular here – young people prefer rap, pop punk and midwest emo. I follow many bands from different countries and envy them, because they were not born in Russia, not in this terrible time. We dream of the same venues and tours, but so far everything is not going as we would like.
Can you introduce your band to the Weirdo Shrine audience, who are you, when did you meet, what style do you play, etc…
Our band consists of 4 people, we play a mixture of garage, psychedelic and kraut rock, but lately we are moving into other directions, such as post-punk and goth stuff. We live in Nizhny Novgorod and run the coolest underground club in the city – Tago Mago. We live with music from morning to evening, despite the fact that we very rarely play concerts. My name is Vova and I am the author of Black Hole Surfers music and the owner of the club. My friend Misha plays the drums – and this is the best drummer in Nizhny Novgorod, he is crazy for drums. Nastya plays the keyboards – she is a musicologist by profession, but alas, the education system in Russia is terrible and a diploma is worth nothing, yet she is passionate about her profession and classical composers. Kostya plays bass – he is a virtuoso and is known far beyond the borders of Nizhny Novgorod, especially in metal circles. He plays in a huge variety of teams, some of which are international, and he is the only one of us who has had the opportunity to tour all over the continent.
Last year you released the amazing In The Animal World which was released by the Danish label Virkelighedsfjern, what can you tell me about that album and its creation process?
In The Animal World came out 2 years ago, but on physical media it appeared only last year, when we had already released the first full-length (Octave Delight). It was the last release recorded somewhere other than our practice space. I wrote almost all the material at home in Ableton, we rehearsed it (then still three of us) and recorded it in a couple of weeks. Back then there was no bassist in the band and I played with an octaver and created my own playing technique – without solos, but with a lot of rhythmic patterns. I played both bass and guitar all my life and I wanted to combine them, but, alas, this drove me into certain limits, so we decided that the group should have a bass player.
The album came out on a Danish label and it’s a miracle for us. the first EP was released on the same label, but on cassettes. Despite the fact that the next release, Delight in Octaves, in material is head and shoulders above that of In The Animal World, no one has published it yet, and I no longer hope that someone will. There are 2 factors here – it’s not popular music and it’s hard to find a label in Europe/USA that wants to release this kind of music, also from a Russian band.
Can you describe what it is like to live in Russia right now for an independent artist like you?
It’s a complete ass! You have a million ambitions and you realize that your life and musical career is actually ruined by your government. Russia had a great music scene in the 13-18s. Now, after the start of the war, all the cool promoters have left here and are working in other countries, for example, in Serbia. We have all become hostages and victims because of the actions of these terrible people at the helm. Of course, we can go on a tour of 10-15 cities in Russia, play in small bars for 50 people, but this is not what we dreamed about and what we want to come to. We should be in the lineups of all these cool European and American festivals. It’s just that it’s a million times more difficult for us to break through there than for foreign colleagues. The music scene in Russia is now experiencing many problems, it has simply been erased from history. despite this, there are many young people in our city who go to concerts and appreciate what we do. Before Covid, a huge number of foreign groups came to us and there was a feeling that you were in the same reality with them. After Covid, the war began and now we seem to be in different worlds, they live in the real one – and we are in a backwards and parallel one.
What has been the biggest change since the war? Do you for instance notice much from the boycotts in daily life?
I feel a little out of touch with civilization. I can’t use Paypal. I can’t sell my releases at Bandcamp. Despite the fact that I have always been against the war and against our regime, I fall on the same wavelength with the rest. About boycotts – I don’t know, we never went on tours in other countries. but earlier it was at least possible, but now I can’t imagine how to do it, getting a Schengen visa has become much more difficult. We were cut off from civilization, but there are pluses in this – we have to create our own reality – without McDonald’s and Ikea.
You speak out against the war openly, and you are about the release an EP against it called (translation) “Collective Irresponsibility”, what can you tell me about it?
To speak openly against the war is to go to a single picket in the center of the city. In this case, you are guaranteed to be detained by the police and can go to jail for it. I don’t want to go to jail, but I can’t remain silent either, so I speak out with the help of my art. There are no slogans in it, but after reading the texts, you understand what it is about. This album is about the four generations that surround me now. Old people – Putin’s only real electorate, like himself, support all this horror. I feel very sorry for them, they live on a beggarly pension, despite the fact that these people survived the Second World War and it would seem that they should understand the horror of the war – but over the past 20 years they have been brainwashed so much that they really believe that NATO and America they want harm. The younger generation – my parents, live under the anthem “we did not live well – don’t fucking start.” They do not have a civil position, it is because of them that a bloody dictator was in power. Many representatives of my generation have now left Russia – there are many creative and intelligent people among them. well, the generation of Zoomers just sits and looks at all this darkness. They can’t go anywhere. They have lived all their lives under Putin and I sincerely feel sorry for them.
If we talk about the music on the album – it’s garage rock, dirty, raw and heavy. but there are also psychedelic elements in it, I grew up on this music.
What can you tell me about the city of “Gorky” where you live? How is the music scene for instance?
Gorky is the pseudonym of the world famous writer Maksim Gorky, who was born and raised here. In English it is translated as “bitter”. In the Soviet Union, Nizhny Novgorod was renamed Gorky, and in the 90s back to Nizhny Novgorod. If we talk about the music scene, it is now in bad shape, it is practically non-existent. Its heyday was at the beginning of the 10’s, then there was a very large and powerful community here, Nizhny Novgorod bands went on European tours and created their own labels. Now there are few really interesting bands here, but those that exist are unique and it is difficult to compare them with anyone. You know, people here make music very honestly – they generally have a shitty life and for us it’s not entertainment, for us it’s survival. I think there is no such honest scene anywhere else, since we are really creating it in terrible conditions, we have something to sing about. If we talk about specific groups that now regularly perform with us – «Yazva“, “the July days» , «Pospish Potom“, «Nochnaya Igroteka», «Orwell’s magazine“, «Magnitola“, «Apodemus“, «Passeisme“. they are all worth seeing!
What are your immediate future plans? And long term?
No sane person in Russia can make long-term plans. We live in one month, already in the summer everything could change. It becomes more and more difficult to survive here, it is difficult to realize one’s ambitions here. There is one good Russian proverb – a holy place is never empty. Now we are a mouthpiece, a voice in the gray crowd and many appreciate it. But everything is stagnant, there is no sense of growth, so sometimes I seriously think about moving to another country. Speaking of our band, we really want to go on a European tour next year. Right now it is very difficult, it is practically unrealistic – first of all financially. Even if you get a visa, it is very difficult to save enough money to recoup all the costs. I want to be where there is a potential listener, and in our case, these are the so-called countries of the “Western world”. Many Russian bands now go to Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan, but most of the locals just don’t understand this music.
What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do immediately after reading this interview?
Of course, listen to all of the above bands! You can also subscribe to us on social networks, but this is not necessary!
@blackh0lesurfer – music, guitars, vocals
@nyanogen – drums (apodemus)
@highbrow_blockhead – bass (Passeisme, Wombripper, ex-7H.Target)
@nosok_v_polosochku – keys