“I Don’t Think Punk Rock Is Very Viable”: Andrei “Swine” Panov’s Widow Talks to Us About Him and the Soviet Underground
Ona Razvalilas (It Fell Apart)
April 1, 2020
A week ago Andrei “Swine” Panov, the now deceased founder of the first Soviet punk rock group, Automatic Satisfiers (AS), would have celebrated his 60th birthday. In an interview, his widow, Olga Korol-Borodyuk, talked to our community page about how Soviet youth of the late 1970s managed to move in sync with the second wave of British punk; what ideology Swine and his crowd professed; what he thought of the political events of the Yeltsin era; Panov’s image in the movie Leto; how the current troubled times differ from the troubled times back then, and much more.
What kind of person would he be now, if he’d lived this long? I didn’t want to touch on this topic because I can’t say anything good. I think it would have been very hard for him to survive. When he left us he was 38 years old; what his health would be like now, 22 years later, is unknown, you understand. When everything commercial is totally alien to a person . . . It’s really difficult to live, to survive in Russia nowadays, even in comparison with those years that were so . . . precarious. Incomprehensible, troubled years. It’s become 100 times worse now. So, I can’t even imagine what he would have been like in this situation. Holding those same noncommercial punk festivals without money would be impossible.
To me personally it’s a great shame that Andrei couldn’t realize himself as an actor. Because in that capacity he was astonishing, profound. His origins as an actor were the main thing about him. Back in the day, he had left the theatrical world: he didn’t want to play Communist Youth League members. Well, it’s also unclear how it would have played out in the Soviet period. It all somehow fell by the wayside.
On his attitude towards politics: the events of 1993, Yeltsin, the war in Chechnya
I’m probably going to deeply disappoint you: Andrei tried as much as possible to separate himself from [politics], because he had had very negative experiences in his life. In the first place, there was his father, who went abroad permanently. (Panov’s father, a well-known ballet choreographer, abandoned his family and emigrated to Israel when his son was 14 — editor’s note.) In the Soviet period, that caused particular complications in one’s life: you were the “son of a traitor,” as it were. Then, you see, the word “punk” itself means “anti-social.” The punk denies his own social affiliations, he cannot take an interest in politics in principle. [Andrei’s] attitude towards [the Soviet Union] was of course negative, but he never went into it and didn’t discuss it.
How it was possible to play punk rock in the USSR in the late 70s
It’s very simple. At that time there was a whole cohort of music lovers who practically lived on the musical “can.” They bought records and hung out with each other. Basically, new records got to the Soviet Union rather quickly. There are at least four versions of our crowd first heard about the Sex Pistols: all of those stories are credible but different. The main thing is that Andrei found out about the Sex Pistols practically right away. Meaning that in 1976 the Sex Pistols album came out. [Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols actually came out in 1977 — TRR], and AS was formed in 1978. There was a crowd led by [Yevgeny] Yufit (one of the founders of Soviet “parallel cinema” — editor’s note). It included Andrei, Khua, [Alexei] Rybin [co-founder of Kino], and [Viktor] Tsoi. They fooled around, ran around the garbage dumps. Basically, they were having fun. Then they started shooting their escapades, first with photo cameras, later on video. This was where Yufit got his genre [necrorealism] and how Andrei formed AS. At first, it was all a lot of fun. But there’s nothing surprising about this: information was getting to us very quickly.
Was Panov a punk?
Andrei never called himself a punk at all. He very much disliked it when he was called that: he considered it a label. They called themselves “anarchists.” They denounced the established order. Another very telling point is that this crowd had this thing. You know the song “Commissar”? (Also known by such titles as “A Bullet Whizzed Past,” “My Steed is Black,” and others, the song is mistakenly thought to be a 20th-century Cossack folk song — editor’s note). The song has been attributed to any number of people. In point of fact, the song’s lyricist, Misha “Hefty” [Tinkelman], is alive and well. We’re friends. He lives in Petersburg. He’s just a humble person and doesn’t want to get mixed up in this story and that’s it. And it was like this: when they were at school, they had this crowd who amused themselves by making up songs à la the White Guards.
Since it was the Soviet period, this was the form their internal protest, or hooliganism, took. They liked that kind of aesthetic, and so on. “Commissar” is one of those songs. The aesthetic was White Guard-anarchist, at the level of denying the Soviet system. Is it really possible to compare this with the way Sid Vicious wore a swastika for the shock value? I don’t think it’s worth comparing them: all these stories are completely different. I wouldn’t draw any parallels at all.
They were schoolboys, and theirs was a very romantic generation. But the romanticism was expressed idiosyncratically, and it included White Guard lore. All of the people from this crowd who are still alive are still the same hopeless romantics. There’s nothing like them nowadays: people are very cynical and pragmatic.
How they met
We met at LenFilm studios in around 1985. They were filming Burglar (in which Leningrad rock stars Konstantin Kinchev and Oleg Garkusha also acted; Panov himself appears in one scene — editor’s note). A group of punks was hired as floor hands on the set: Alexander “Ricochet” Aksyonov, Yuri “Scandal” Katsyuk, Andrei “Willie” Usov. Alexei Rybin was also among them: his wife worked there officially. I’d been working there since 1983 in the costume shop. We had such a cheerful Komsomol committee, headed by Masha Solovtsova. Later, she also had a group, 88 Air Kisses, but unfortunately, Masha’s no longer with us. She would simply take the keys to the snack bar, and in the evenings we would go there, lock ourselves in, and hold improvised concerts. Andrei was still playing the guitar then, and he would be squatting down on his haunches with the other musicians in the middle of the room. And he still smoked then. Basically, the young people at the studio were very progressive and very tight-knit.
Andrei was a person who thought in his own utterly particular way, who hungered for knowledge, who read an awful lot. He had a good knowledge of history, including art history. He had his own brand of logic, which couldn’t be simplified. I remember him being asked whether it was true that he’d begun to play as soon as he heard Iggy Pop. He only laughed in reply. He was a very complicated figure psychologically.
On the character “Punk” in the movie Leto
It’s a confusing story: the screenplay was rewritten numerous times. I know this well, because I’m friends with the guys from Zoo (Mike Naumenko’s group – editor’s note). At one point, a girl from the film crew called me to ask whether I could find an actor who outwardly resembled Andrei. I expressed the opinion that playing Swine was madness: there was no way to make a copy of him. I proposed that instead we proceed from a prototype, keeping the concrete person somewhere in the back of our minds. Thus arose the character by the name “Punk,” who was conceived with Andrei in mind, of course. The most interesting thing is that he was the most authentic character in the whole movie. [Alexander] Gorchilin, who played him, was able to capture exactly that childlike quality, the purity of a harmless fifth-grade delinquent. That was the essential thing about Andrei. Even his mother, Liya Petrovna, admitted that he was really quite similar.
On punk rock in our time
For 22 years I’ve been organizing a festival in memory of Andrei. This year I’m doing it for the last time. You have to pay for everything, and I do it at my own expense. I’m a one-woman organizing committee. And so very little remains of the audience for whose sake I do it. More and more people drop in just like that, because it’s a freebie: entry is free, and they’re simply random people. In 2004, when I did it at Port [a music club in Petersburg], which is rather large, the place was packed: I gave out only 800 free passes. But now I can hardly herd them in. Many folks have died. There are ever fewer people to whom it matters, people whom I know by sight. And none of the musicians are left: everyone’s died. Its time has probably passed. I don’t think that punk rock is very viable. Each musical genre has its own audience, but there’s just no mass audience [for punk rock in Russia]; There was Korol i Shut, but that’s not punk rock at all. It was called punk, yes, but that’s another story. Andrei’s punk is pure punk, it’s not for the mass market.
All photos courtesy of Ona Razvalilas. Translated by Mary Rees