Love Rock and Roll
Dibenko Street is on the other end of St. Petersburg,
about an hour by subway from where I live. Emerging from
under the ground with guitarist Alexander Liapin, I was a
little shocked by the flat, empty landscape, broken up here
and there by bleak 9-story Khrushchev-era buildings and
undeveloped plots of green land. But in an apartment deep
within this soul- sucking landscape, a progressive music
project is being developed by Liapin and Oley Elate. It has
little to do with Russia.
The smell of incense and the sounds
of flamenco were in the air and there were various objects of
Eastern faith on the shelves of Elate’s apartment/
computerized studio. Bronze Buddhas, books depicting
Hindu goddesses, and an English-Thai dictionary
intermingled withmusic-editing equipment. This cultural
mix in the apartment fit very well with the theme of visit.
RockMehanica (Rock Mechanics) is a project based on the
idea of fusion and collaboration, not only of musical
stylesand sounds but also of technology and live human
improvisation. Eventually, the project will showcase
theatrical performances and audio-visual presentations. The
goal here is to create something organic, combining the
obviously live humans and the not-so-dead technology
created by them. “Technology is created by humans, and
therefore has a human side to it; it can help us grow if we let
it,” said Liapin.
Surprisingly, Liapin has not seen a market in Russia for the type of music he and Elate are making. Apparently, no one here is interested in this innovative fusion project, regardless of the high-quality production. “They say they don’t need it here” and in the meantime the project has garnered plenty of interest in the US.
The guitarist thinks culture in the city if headed underground, to apartment settings like this one. A lack of spirituality combined with an over-ideological tendency in modern Russian music leaves little room for expression as Liapin and Elate intend of develop it through RockMehanica.
“New music, new culture, isn’t going anywhere, it doesn’t get past the clubs. It doesn’t get to the masses. People want to say so much that it seems like in each piece they say everything. In my generation, when jazz and blues culture was developing here, there existed a feeling of space. We could play two notes and everything would be understood; this would leave space in which other people could participate. It was spiritually interactive. Now it’s like they try to cram as much information as possible into everything they say. It’s like they feel as if there’s no tomorrow, like there’s not going to be another time to say something. And so nothing new happens, the music scene doesn’t develop. It’s just the same thing over and over again.”
What would he like his project to transmit to the Russian listener? “Nothing.” Liapin believes that music doesn’t have to say anything. It does not have to address anyone or any issue in particular. No matter the genre, he believes in making high-quality music that will, first and foremost, relax the listener. “Music should create a feeling of internal comfort,” he said.
Perhaps the creative musical standstill he described happens because there’s a feeling of hopelessness among Russians. At the same time there is a rather snobbish attitude toward changes, as if whoever is running the music business thinks he’s got it all figured out. I feel this every time I turn on the radio or television. There is a certain type of pop music that gains a lot of attention and makes plenty of money. On TV, there is an endless parade talent-less pretty faces and washed out old “stars.” Both groups incessantly lip-synch (often badly), yet dominate popular culture. And then, when one such figure, Dima Bilan, wins the Eurovision contest singing in broken English, people are proud to call him one of their own. There is also a Russian rock scene but according to Liapin nothing new happens there either.
“Spirituality went away somewhere. There’s no faith, no hope, no love,” Liapin muses. He thinks that educations is key for spiritual development but that schools today no longer cater to such growth. The fact that there’s no educative basis for spirituality brings about the deterioration of faith and hope, and subsequently of the willingness to take creative risks, to change the musical conversation.
Meanwhile in the little Krishna haven on Dibenko Street, the creative process continued. The jean-clad Liapin and Elate sporting yoga-wear completed a flamenco piece set to the rhythm of Indian drums, a collaboration of styles and moods as different from one another as the musicians’ clothing.
The Russian music scene may not find this kind of development worthwhile but the two are looking at offers for their art elsewhere in the world. Unlike many others, Liapin and Elate are not about to fight for acceptance in Russia in order to stick with the place they were born.