For years Moscow has been known as the cultural Cheese Capital of Eastern Europe, a hotbed of shitty disco pop music and style so shamelessly lame that it made Milan or the Castro District seem like grimy punk zones by comparison. Moscow took the popsovi cheese to its most painful extreme, while the kewl krowd went raver-techno with a vengeance, meaning the entire city spent 15 years doing nothing but dancing and dressing like eurofags. But over the past year or two, we've noticed that things are changing just a little bit. The latest fad slowly taking over the Russian capital isn't the same old euro-trash techno we've been enduring all these years. Incredible as it may seem, the guitar is making a comeback. And so is not acting like a dancefloor eurofag (sorry eurofags, you're going to have to take it on the chin like men for this article.) Yup, it's true. Two decades late, indie music has finally hit Moscow...and it's The Kewl Thing.
But what is this "indie" music? Is it worth actually getting out of the house for? We bounced around Moscow's indie clubs, going from one forgettable gig to another on the local indie rock circuit for the past week, and here's what you should know.
First the basics. If you want to scope the scene yourself, you've got three main options. There's Zhest, Aktovy Zal, and Blow Up. Between the three, you can usually find a gig that's happening any day of the week. Zhest is a straight up OGI bar in the center of town that packs more of a hipster crowd than other OGI's tend to. Blow Up and Aktovy Zal are a bit different. The two places are parts of the same music compound out near the Baumanskaya metro. The Blow Up/Aktovy Zal compound is operated by Maxim of Avant Music, a dedicated promoter of both local and international indie talent. Blow Up usually swarms with rank grunge, punk and other amateur quasi-indie teenage bands from Thursday to Saturday. Aktovy Zal is a bit spiffier and attracts more seasoned bands.
But in reality, the venue doesn't really matter. With a few rare exceptions and minor variations, the crowd and the music is always pretty much the same each time, each place. And unless you're an indie junky jonesing hard for a regular fix, no matter what the quality of the product is, chances are you're not gonna be a satisfied indie consumer. No matter who plays, the music isn't all that. After a day or two, the hard riffs, up-tuned notes, time-change progressions, and atmospheric emo-guitar distortions that Moscow's indie kids love to play all begin to sound the same. That is, a repetition on derivative indie-rawq.
So who are the new indie kids? For a full week I pried indie kids at every gig I went to for some information on how they ended up in the indie scene. They answered appropriately, you could say... no one wanted to be pigeonholed into a music tusovka and no one wanted to "explain" what indie was in their minds. They seemed genuinely worried about seeming too uncool. They avoided my questions about their musical preferences, they skirted questions on fashion and some of them flat-out refused to even talk to me. The only thing I could really get a handle on was their socioeconomic position.
Most of the kids in indie scene are somewhere between 16 and 25 years old. All come from middle class families that lived out on the outskirts of Moscow. You know, "ekologicheskii chisti" areas. All of them had been to Europe more than once, along with the usual CIS countries. And all were either studying or graduated from an art or liberal arts institute. All in all, the emerging indie kids are just a part of Russia's educated suburban middle-class. Interestingly, America's indie scene sprang from the roughly the same demographic.
The Russian indie chicks, just like their American counterparts, were also busy at work cultivating an air of in-the-know snottiness that comes with a pampered middle class upbringing. Unlike cheesy popszovi types or even ravers, these indie chicks only talk to dudes from their clique. And, what's really interesting, they were too self-consciously cool to dance. They barely even moved. They'd learned. We thought all Russians danced, no matter how cool or Americanized.
We'd say a lot more about Moscow's emerging indie scene, but then we'd just be uncool. In fact, even writing about it here is already uncool, which in the aesthetics of indie, actually makes us supremely cool. It's hard to calibrate, but the coolest among you understand what we're talking about.
The fact is that Moscow's indie scene has almost nothing to do with "indie." And in part, that's because "indie" itself has pretty much become little more than a stance or a fashion choice. The original "indie" grew out of the post-punk college radio scene during the 1980s. It was a mostly Middle American avant-garde movement that took anti-fashion and anti-commercialism as seriously as Middle American Protestants would. That meant wearing worn-out clothes, not combing your hair, and basically not caring. Punk was too fashion-victim. Indie was all about not giving a shit. Or at least pretending to not give a shit.
From what I could tell, the context was all lost on Muscovites. Indie here is just a way of differentiating yourself, of being a bit more Western, a bit more kewl, than the tired old raver hags. As Walter Sobchak might say, Moscow indie in Moscow has no frame of reference, it's like a child wandering in the middle of a movie and...
...And here the Dude would say, "So what's your point, eXile?"
Well Dude, we just don't know.
Smells Like Indie Spirit
1. Downcast shoe-gazing expression says "I'm emo, you'd never understand me." Unfortunately, the Cranberries hairdo seriously undermines the indy creds.
2. Fake-ratty sweater one of those pricey items they sell at places like Benneton which are meant to look like they come from a second-hand shop.
3. Useless teddy-bear-like kiddie purse says "I'm so child-like, in an indie kind of way."
4. Skirt meant to appear as if it was just bought from a tkan' store and hastily cut 'n sewn. Cuz you know, she just felt like making a skirt. So she did.
5. The real purse #2 says, "Jesus Christ, this whole naivete schtick is inconvenient!"
6. Plastic ring cost 1500 rubles at the Respublika store off Tverskaya
7. Table-cloth-style skirt suggests that it was just grabbed it from a babushka's shkaf. Oddly enougn, the skirt looks new and freshly pressed.
8. Doesn't even know she got this double-stocking clash-of-styles look from X-Ray Spex, cuz she's too busy listening to My Chemical Romance
9. Retro-80s-indy hi-tops probably cost her poor parents a shitload, but that's supposed to be their little secret.
SERGEY KOSOV, 34, OPENED RUSSIA'S FIRST PIRATE INDIE ROCK KIOSK
You worked full time?
Yeah, I work at the kiosk Sat. and Sun., and during the week, I'd print CDs and deliver them to St. Petersburg and other kiosks in Moscow.
Was business good?
Yeah. No one had internet then. I was the only place in town you could get the freshest tracks from America and England.. I had all sorts of big Russian music producers coming around weekly picking up the new releases.
You make good money?
It wasn't bad. About $500 a week. More than enough to provide for my wife and kid.
So you still run the place?
No, when cheap Internet hit the market in 2004, I lost all my clients and had to close down the shop. Now I sell shoes to get by, but it's temporary. I got other stuff going.
I might start my label back up and if I do that, there's no way I'm releasing any Russian indie rock. The stuff they put out is pure crap. And anyway, I don't listen to the indie stuff as much as I used to. These days, I'm more into the stoner rock.
NASTIA, 19, STUDENT
So, are you indie?
I'm not in the indie scene, not technically.
You sure look like you're in the scene.
I know I look indie, but that's just a coincidence. In fact, I didn't even buy these boots. My sister gave them to me as a gift.
You just hanging or are you here for the band?
I just came to the show to watch an indie band that I know, the Miami Scissors. I like them. When I watch them, I get this feeling that I'm witnessing something monumental. Like it must have felt like back in the 60's watching the Beatles first play some small club or in someone's apartment.
Drugs? You like 'em?
I don't take drugs and I don't drink, although I had a beer tonight. I'm not sure why I did it.
Would you do a dude that listens to Alla Pugacheva?
I would never sleep with someone that listens to pop music.
I listen to pop.
Exactly my point.
ANYA, 23, STUDENT
Hey, so are you indie?
No. I'm not in the indie scene. Just because I like some indie bands doesn't mean I'm indie. There are plenty of bands I don't like.
But you got a indie hairdo.
Yeah, so what if I have an indie haircut? Short bangs don't necessarily mean I'm indie. I just like like the short bangs. Is it my fault that short bangs are an indie style?
So would you do a dude that listens to Russian pop?
Yeah. Why not?
What drugs do indie kids take?
I don't know, I'm not indie.
What drugs do you do?
I don't take drugs.
MIKHAIL, 26, PHOTOGRAPHER
So, are you indie or what?
Naw, not technically in the indie scene; I just got to shows bands play. I'm a melomaniac.. I don't listen to specific genres. Specific is bad.
Are Russian indie chicks easy?
No, they're a tough lay. I never even try with them. They've got their noses high up in the air and have "Hell no! You're not getting any!" written all over their foreheads. But inside, we all know they're screaming to get some.
What if you give them drugs?
I don't do that.
PASHA, 24, PROFESSION UNSPECIFIED
You in the indie rock scene?
No, I'm not. I just got to a few shows here with my buddies.
You keep coming back, why?
I like the music.
There's no particular type of music. It would take too long to explain. I like good music. That's it.
Do indie chicks give it up easy?
I don't go for indie chicks. They're way too prissy. You can't just call and say, "Hey girl, lets go to this concert and have some fun..." They've got to know that you're in the scene. It's not that easy to score. I prefer girls that aren't attached to any scene.
MARINA, 17, STUDENT
What your favorite indie band?
I'm not indie.
But you fit in you perfectly?
Yeah, I fit in. Well, what's indie?
Means independent music.
I don't know.
You shop in second-hand stores?
How did you pick out your clothes?
I'm not sure how I came to like dress like this. I just do. These are stupid questions. Can you please leave me alone?
Um, no, wait, where are you going? Hey?!