Kavel Alpaslan / Gazete Duvar
The “end of the world,” which we have been discussing as a remote possibility, is undergoing a quiet revision. Since the end of the 1980s, the inexorable increase in income inequality, the loss of social rights one by one, the climate crisis, wars and waves of migration... The state of futurelessness created by all this raises a question: What if the “end of the world,” always postponed as a distant possibility, has already arrived? What if that future is now living in the present, even in the past?
If we want to find our way in such a period of time, we can start digging into history with the guidance of music: The collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to the “end of history” triviality, and the post-punk.
Today, post-punk bands are making a strong comeback in the former Soviet Union countries. Post-punk, which shook the Soviet Union in the 1980s with the band KINO led by Viktor Tsoi, is again attracting great interest in post-Soviet countries like Russia and Belarus, led by bands like Molchat Doma and Ploho. This genre, which goes by names such as Coldwave, Darkwave or Sovietwave, resonates worldwide as the music of an internet-based pessimistic character called “Doomer.”
What kind of a come-back is post-punk making? Is it possible to build certain bridges between the 1980s and today? How are the post-Soviet countries leading today's post-punk? Do the melancholy and darkness that prevailed in the last years of the Soviet Union and after its collapse meet the futurelessness of today? We asked Roman Komogortsev (lead songwriter, guitar and keyboards) of the Belarusian band Molchat Doma and Victor Uzhakov, frontman of the Russian band Ploho.
The post-Soviet countries first came to mind when we talk about post-punk. Aside from the increasing number of productions, the region's “depressing” Soviet legacy, which is identified with abandoned buildings today, seems to accompany this music. When we ask Uzhakov how he has experienced such a strong comeback in the Soviet geography, he tells us that it is not surprising at all:
"I try to think beyond the genre. I think it has different forms. The music of unhappiness can always find something in its heart. In the past in Russia there were Vertinskii, Utesov, etc. These names represented romantic songs. But if we talk about the music of the 80s and after, I don't think the fact is surprising. The cold and dark music of oppressed and disenfranchised people will of course be popular nowadays. Isn't it obvious why? This music is like a mirror of reality."
So why do former Soviet Union countries like Belarus and Russia come to the fore as come-back locations? The cold feelings that music evokes in us cannot be explained only by “weather conditions…” Komogortsev says that life has a different rhythm in their geography and draws attention to the legacy of the Soviet Union:
"This music became popular in the Soviet Union in the early 80s. Today it is still popular and relevant, even though it has partly changed. I attribute it to the fact that life in our countries is different than in other regions. The Soviet heritage has left us a lot of human-made artifacts from that period and that's where musicians find inspiration. Life in these regions is often very hard and gray, especially if you don't live in the capitals. And people found salvation in this kind of music, because it suits their mood and lifestyle."
When it comes to temporal parallels, Uzakhov says that the 1980s and today can be connected, and explains it as follows: "The 1980s was a period of great energy unleashed. It was the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the USSR and a time when people in many countries around the world were fed up with their governments. This is the music of a troubled time. If today can't be considered in the same way, then what is a troubled time anyway? (laughs)"
A public property: KINO
As Komogortsev says, post-punk has a long history in the region. With the movie Leto (2018) and the popularity of post-punk, many of us are now familiar with Viktor Tsoi and his band KINO, a star of the Soviet scene in the 1980s. Tsoi died in a car accident at the age of 28, and we can see traces of his music in today's post-punk.
When we talk about the background of post-punk in the Soviet space, Uzhakov reminds us that KINO alone does not represent the roots: "There were many bands doing this music in the USSR at that time, and KINO was not even one of the first. Nevertheless, we can say that KINO was one of the most popular and important bands in Russian music of the 80s.”
Komogortsev also tells us how KINO became a public figure along with its music: "Pioneering for Soviet and post-Soviet post-punk, yes. But not pioneering for the world, of course. Let's put it this way, KINO was the first band to reach the 'stadium level' and became a kind of 'public property'. Naturally, it's on everyone's lips yesterday and today, a phenomenon in a way."
When analyzing today's post-punk music, we come across a new word: Doomer. This term emerged on the internet in the late 2010s. The term Doomer, which contains a lot of pessimism and nihilism, describes those who are aimless because they are condemned to work in mediocre jobs, especially in their 20s. It is used to describe a depressed, melancholic mood that laments the aimlessness of the world and has no hope for the future. Like most internet terms, there is an image that embodies the doomer persona: We see a face with a beanie and headphone, stubble, bruises under the eyes and a cigarette on the lips. In the background, there is usually rain and a bleak cityscape at dusk.
But in today's meme culture, the musical echo of this word is much bigger than its counterparts. So much so that “doomer” playlists appear everywhere. Molchat Doma and Ploho take their place almost completely in these lists that evoke gloomy and dark feelings in us. Playlists made by users from different countries are listened to by people from different geographies but trigger the same feelings.
Is such a meeting a coincidence? Or does sharing the “apocalyptic end of our planet” make it easier to be together? Komogortsev says that this is a source of happiness for them: "Thanks to technological development, people from any country can easily find each other. Like-minded people interact easily and it helps them to live. How beautiful! Music, including ours, is the bridge between them, and it's a pleasure to be able to be a part of that."
Uzhakov, on the other hand, believes that this interaction is not a trend. In fact, he thinks that this sharing is not the same as the widespread use of post-punk songs on TikTok: "I think that thanks to the internet people have realized that they are not so different from the rest of the world. We like similar music and movies, and people want to communicate. Before the internet age, people were victims of the propaganda of the countries they lived in. And now we can share experiences without any permission. And this sharing does not require any visa or passports. And the fact that you are now interviewing our band is a result of the internet giving us this opportunity. (As a figure of speech) Who in the West would have thought before that there would be very good post-punk bands in Russia? Nobody! I don't like the world's interest in the Russian scene to be seen as a coincidence or something like a 'tik-tok trend.’ The world has never looked in this direction before, or never could..."
As Uzhakov emphasizes, music is really the mirror of life. But we cannot say that music is too orthodox about time. Not only because, like post-punk, it travels between decades and rebirths itself, but also because the journey is not only one-way from the past to the present. There are also voyages between the future and the present. The “end of history” has already given way to the “end of the planet,” and music from the future that doesn't exist only reflects darkness and melancholy.
However, melancholy is not always passive. It has a transformative power compared to mourning. Whether the mourning lasts 40 days or 40 years, it has to end one day. When it is over, it can easily surrender itself to those it rejects. However, the raison d'être of melancholy is rejection. The melancholic atmosphere that post-punk carries in the geography of the post-Soviet countries, which was plunged into darkness and where the world is lost in futility, seems to convey this hidden power to us.
*Molchat Doma's album covers often feature the brutal architecture associated with 20th century experiences of socialism. When we asked the band, whose name means "The Houses are Silent," about the obvious inspiration they take from brutal architecture, we got the following answer: "I don't know how it will be in the future, but we want to move away from it a bit because we don't want to repeat ourselves. Usually our covers reflect the music we make. It's like music frozen in a picture frame. Now we have a slightly different direction in music and I can't even imagine what the next cover will be like."