Tattered Sails (The History of Ashgabat Rock)

Tattered Sails (Rvanye parusa) performing at First Park in Ashgabat in 1998. Posted on the YouTube channel Ashgabat Rock Club. A billion thanks to Sofiko Arifdzhanova for posting this priceless gem on Facebook. || TRR

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimumahmedow. Image courtesy of Yandex

Ten Things Ashgabat has Banned in Neo-Totalitarian Turkmenistan
Window on Eurasia
February 16, 2021

Staunton, February 15 – One of the most powerful descriptions of what authoritarian regimes with totalitarian aspirations do when they come to power is at the end of Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film Z when the screen goes blank after the colonels take power in Greece and ban everything from Plato to mini-skirts.

While what has been happening in Turkmenistan seldom gets as much attention – it is after all the most closed off post-Soviet country about which what reporting there is often has been dismissed because there is not corroborating information – its record of bans is increasingly lengthy and disturbing.

Russia’s Zen.Yandex Central Asia portal has provided a useful listing of ten of the most noteworthy of the bans that the government there has imposed both under the country’s former leader Saparmurat Niyazov and under its current one, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow:

· People in Turkmenistan cannot use newspapers containing a photograph of the president as toilet paper. Given that almost every issue does, that limits the supply of what is a critical sanitary option.
· They cannot use air conditioners despite the fact that the country experiences extremely high temperatures in the summertime. This ban is intended to prevent excessive demand on the country’s weak power grid.
· People in that country cannot talk about politics on the telephone. Doing so would be unwise in any case given the monitoring the regime has put in place.
· Visitors to Turkmenistan have to go into quarantine to prevent the spread of a disease which Ashgabat says does not exist there.
· Turkmens are banned from using cosmetics or dressing in stylish clothes.
· They are banned from taking photographs on the street.
· No one is allowed to import black cars.
· No Turkmen is permitted to leave the country without special permission as a means of ensuring there will be enough workers for the economy.
· All social media are banned in Turkmenistan.
· No one is allowed to produce or disseminate anything that might be considered erotic. Men who run afoul of this rule are punished, but women who do are punished far more severely.

Swine (Remembering Andrei Panov, the Soviet Union’s First Punk Rocker)

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“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)
Sergei Vilkov
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.

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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.

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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

Andrei “Swine” Panov and Automatic Satisfiers play “Cucumber Lotion” live on Channel 2’s “Programma A” in 1992

Andrei Otraskin & Jungle

Jungle, “The Shore,” featuring Andrei Otraskin on guitar. “Musical Ring,” Leningrad TV, 1989

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Jungle was formed in 1983 in Leningrad Rock Club’s new wave milieu, continuing a local tradition of giving groups names that had to with animals and domestication. Jungle, known as Джунгли (Dzhungli) in Russia, was an exception among Aquarium, Zoo (aka Zoopark) and other prominent underground groups in Leningrad in another respect: its music was purely instrumental and its musicians cited European ”avant-progressive” Rock In Opposition musicians and American proponents of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics as their influences instead of The Velvet Underground or British new wave groups. More canonical names they mentioned were King Crimson and Oregon, which both can be heard in Jungle’s early music – Robert Fripp in its dark angularity, and Oregon in its beautiful melodicism, though contorted by a youthful punk urgency and recklessness.

The punk urgency and recklessness of the Soviet 1980s new wave groups can mostly be heard in the live recordings of the time. Studio recordings, especially in those rare cases when they were done in professional studios, tended to be sterile and timid, perhaps as a consequence of a striving for a polished, ”professional” sound, inexperience of sound engineers with this kind of music, lack of producers or audience feedback, or all these combined.

Audience feedback and excitement around the rare rock concerts was tangible. Since the 1950’s the state institutions had variously tried to ban, suppress or domesticate rock music, deemed ”anti-Soviet” in its content as well as animalistic and base by the guardians of the near-Victorian morality of the time. In March 1985 the situation was still very much in check despite the fact the Leningrad Rock Club, the centre of the nation’s rock activity, was able to hold its third annual festival in a 600-seat concert hall just a few hundred meters off the city’s main street Nevsky Prospekt. The Leningrad Rock Club was a rarity in the whole country: a rock musicians’ organisation run by musicians themselves together with officials of the club’s concert hall. It is still a moot point to what extent the KGB had been involved in the foundation of the club in 1981, how much its constant monitoring influenced the music and how much the musicians could guess about its presence. Whatever the answers to these questions are, practically nothing in the Soviet Union could be organised without the watchful eye of the secret police, and the point was in ignoring it, testing limits or sometimes winning micro power struggles.

While these struggles were palpable in and around the lyrics of other Leningrad groups like Aquarium, Zoopark, Televizor or Kino, they also extended to titles of Jungle’s compositions, such as ”Conformism” or ”The War of All Against All”, and their interviews in which they spoke of their ”fight against conformism”. Another trait shared by the early lineups of most of these groups was the presence of both virtuosos and non-musicians who could barely play their instruments in the conventional sense, but who brought grit, avantgarde ideas, or at least a whiff of anarchy into the proceedings. 

Jungle went through endless lineup changes during its entire existence from late 1983 until early 1991, with only two constant members: Andrei Otraskin, the guitarist and composer of the group, and bass player Igor Tikhomirov. A major turning point for the group occured in late 1987, when Otraskin was baptized an Orthodox Christian and ”denounced Jungle’s earlier output as demonic,” as he wrote us now in correspondence concerning the release of ”Live in Leningrad”. Tikhomirov left Jungle in late 1990 after having played simultaneously in Kino, arguably the most popular Russian rock band ever, and joined later the equally popular DDT. In the summer of 1991 Otraskin emigrated to the USA, where he formed the duo Guitar Monks with Timothy Young and released a CD called ”Songs For Oblivion” in 2000.

In 2007, the Moscow label Geometry released the double CD ”Spring In Shanghai/Six Coachmen From Casablanca”, which collects all of Jungle’s studio recordings, including the LP ”Spring In Shanghai” released by the Soviet label Melodiya in 1989. “Live in Leningrad” (usually known as “Live at Leningrad Rock Club Festival 1985”) as well as several other live recordings have circulated in Russia as bootleg cassettes, CD-R’s and recently as mp3’s. So far there is virtually no information about Jungle in English on the internet, but for Russian readers the Wikipedia article about the group will give more pointers.

source: http://www.nbresearchdigest.com/leningrad/. NB. There are several free (and out of this world) Jungle tracks available for listening (and purchase) at this link!

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Guitar Monks (Andrei Otraskin & Timothy Young), “Tulips and Palominos,”
October 10, 2002, Seattle

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Jungle, “Spring in Shanghai” and “Requiem.”
Winter Stadium and Leningrad Rock Club, Leningrad, 1988