I have spent a good bit of time exploring Russian music and I am continually stunned at the wonderful sounds I keep coming across. While Western music is extremely popular here – I’ve heard everything from ABBA to Pink Floyd to Thievery Corporation – Russian music deserves more respect than even some Russians give it.
A few disclaimers before I share my findings: First, I consider myself a bit of a music aficionado with somewhat picky tastes. As such, the artists included in this list are those that appeal to me personally; art appreciation is all subjective, of course. I’ll try to provide some variety so hopefully everyone will be able to find something worthwhile!
Let’s get started. How about we start with some of the big names and classics?
In Russia it is a rare open mic night or bar cover band that does not involve a cover of at least one song from the famed Soviet-era post-punk/new wave act, Kino. Perhaps the nation’s most celebrated band, only those Russians living in a cave are unfamiliar with them.
Formed in the early 1980s, Kino gradually grew to popularity. Much of this revolved around Viktor Tsoi, the Soviet-Korean co-founder of the group and one of its key creative forces. In many ways, I think of Tsoi as the Soviet analog to Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, or Marc Bolin; in 1990 Tsoi died aged 28 in a car accident in Latvia.
I think Kino’s music would (and still could) find a following in the West, fitting in easily with many U.S. radio stations’ programming.
Pack of Cigarettes
Another very well-known band in a similar vein as Kino, Nautilus Pompilius has a much larger discography, one I have yet to fully explore. Though they started off in the last years of the 1970s with a sound reminiscent of British hard rock, over the years their sound has varied, going from new wave and post-punk to, later, a more lyrical and art rock-oriented style.
It seems that one of biggest boosts to their popularity came after several of their tracks were included in the ‘90s Russian gangster classic, Brother (I will almost certainly be doing an article on Russian film in the future and this will be discussed).
On the Shore of a Nameless River
A more contemporary and still active Russian act, Zemfira is an extremely popular solo female rock guitarist and vocalist. Most Russians can instantly recognize her tracks.
As a popular musician, Zemfira has earned a bit of a reputation for her political views, including her apparent opposition to the annexation of Crimea (though she has since softened her stance on this). Zemfira is also somewhat unique because she is not Slavic and is Tatar.
Personally, I think she might be my favorite Russian act I have yet stumbled upon. Here are a few of her best tracks, in my opinion.
The Snow Will Begin
And now for something completely different. Leningrad is a band from, you guessed it, Leningrad (well, today it is known as St. Petersburg). They have been around since the late 1990s and are still active.
Leningrad is enormously popular and can probably be best described as rowdy, bawdy punk rock. Whereas many Russian acts have a strong emphasis on poetic, deep lyrics, Leningrad tends to favor crudity and glorifies the hard partying life.
Those who like Gogol Bordello will likely enjoy Leningrad; both are a pretty fun listen (though I think Leningrad is much more exciting).
This is an artist I have only just begun to explore but she has really impressed me so far. She began releasing music in the ‘90s and is still active. While I don’t know terribly much about her, her output is a thoroughly enjoyable mix of electronic/trip hop and world beat (and a splash of goth rock) tied together with wonderful production and engineering.
Circle By Hand
There are more acts I wanted to include, but I think this should do for now. Keep an eye out for my next post about Russian music and thanks for visiting!