By DEMETRIA PHLORENTIA
With no music label to assist in digital distribution, Russian experimental rockers RADIOMANIAC released their 2nd self-funded LP early last week rather haphazardly. Following the link on their Facebook page where I was taken to a file retrieval server on Vk.com, the process of downloading SYNDROME in its entirety was a little too cheap, fuss-free and painless than the masochist in me would have preferred.
“Can free Art ever be good Art? Don’t you think you guys are giving it away too easily?”, I posed 26 year old frontman YURI CHE, not long after my one-click download of their album was complete. “I don’t know…”, the Uglegorsk native typed rather noncommittally, “nobody ever buys music in Russia… Perhaps only as an act of support…”
As capitalistic consumerism poisons the masses with false promises of substance and quality, the ignorant is not to blame for dismissing SYNDROME as another inferior product in the age of sub-substandard Internet music; where bedroom musicians produce lo-fidelity sounds of questionable taste. After all, if the suburban hipster brat next door only manages to churn out pretentiously uninspiring shit, why should you waste your time and bandwidth on the musical output of a bunch of crass, boorish, working class youths from a backwoods island in the middle of nowhere?
Radiomaniac first appeared on my radar in late 2012, when then-bassist Yuri messaged me on Facebook to promote 1st Transmission, their debut EP. Obliging him by going through two videos of their live performances, I was spellbound. While You’re On Air sounded like an industrial clone of Bauhaus and with its clicky double bass drums and scratchy, hair-raising guitars, It had me floored with it’s inventive synthesis of electronic samples with live instrumentation. This band will go far, I thought. I was getting goosebumps from their two and a half minute odes to existentialism, but hey, is that creepy looking bass player ever going to open his mouth and sing or not? Intrigued, as much as I was intimidated by this pale (no pun intended) likeness of a Pan-Asian Ian Curtis, I nonetheless started talking art to Yuri on Facebook. This whole feature, I would say, is a compilation of all our exchanges, as far as the written word can go…
I. CONCEPTION : FORMATION
“I see nothing offensive in combination of the words ‘low lives’ about me or our band, cause it’s true. We really are somewhat ‘low live’ musicians.”
Hailing from Sakhalin, a coal-rich archipelago tucked amidst the Eastern coast of Russia, the volatile quality of Radiomaniac’s music could perhaps be traced back to the island’s troubled history and industrial aspirations.
Spearheaded by the 3rd generation spawn of a WWII Korean slave and a Russian schoolteacher, Yuri Che’s brooding air and mixed ancestry is many a times a dead ringer for Russian rock legend Viktor Tsoi. A shining example of a true blue proletarian rocker, this theatrical college graduate administers physical training to elementary grade students on his days off from the Sakhalin Puppet Theatre. His musical ambitions however, were ignited by a long time friend and collaborator, ANDREY ROZHKO.
“Radiomaniac began when two young people met in the night. They were drinking coffee, smoking, talking, listening..talking again.. These two people were none other than our old bass player, Andrey Rozhko, and I. We wanted to gather a band that plays psychedelic music full of energy, a band that mixes noise and melody. We had a rule: we must experiment. I like it when I don’t know what sound, style, mood our next work will take on next. It intrigues me.”
Despite Rozhko’s recent departure from the band, the duo nonetheless managed to assemble a permanent line up of like-minded collaborators in the short span of two years. The first two being ANDREY TRYASTSIN and VLADIMIR GORBACHEV.
Lending complex Math Rock-esque polyrhythms to the tunes of Radiomaniac, this 22 year old walking metronome has a knack for dicing and doubling time on command. Many might tell Andrey that abandoning his last semester of Japanese studies at the Sakhalin State University, despite his stellar grades, to tour the Mainland with his bandmates, is sheer foolishness. Perhaps, only time can tell if Andrey will end up a naive youth chasing childish dreams.
With his gangly frame and gaunt cheekbones, I have always thought of 23 year old Vladimir Gorbachev as a young David Bowie Doppelganger. Naming the glam rock god as one of his chief influences, it is highly likely that those spacey, discordant drones and jagged, punchy riffs you hear were once conceived in Vladimir’s head.
If Vladimir is weed, 22 year old DANIL KHAZHAINOV is unmistakably speed. Touted by Yuri as “the most technically competent amongst us all”, Radiomaniac’s 2nd guitarist adds sonic contrast to the band’s sound by doubling Vladimir up with his slinky licks and sleek lead lines.
Replacing former bass player Andrey Rozhko, the latest addition to Radiomaniac is none other than 22 year old Egor Rychkov. No stranger to the music scene, Egor was fronting a cover band in one of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk’s many pubs before he was invited to join the quartet.
II. INCUBATION : STYLE & METHODOLOGY
“They say we are a synthesis of different musical styles, genre eclecticism…”
Blending the styles of Post Rock, Psychedelia, Post Punk, Noise, Shoe Gaze, Industrial and dare I say Doom Metal into a perplexing kaleidoscape of haunting melodies amidst harsh dissonances, frenetic beats and industrial synthetics, the band would describe their sound as:
“As if Thom Yorke, Thurston Moore, Dominic Aitchison and Stephen Morris got together and played a 65 days of Static tribute gig with a cover of Nirvana done in the spirit of Nine Inch Nails.”
Multifarious influences aside, it will perhaps come as no surprise that Radiomaniac is no stickler for system when it comes to the creative process. Yuri elaborates:
“We strive to create our material in a number of different approaches.
Way #1: Somebody has an idea or rough draft. We work on the different parts and finalize the structure together.
Way #2: Somebody has a finished song that does not require additional work and then each of us just try to play with the different tone and timbre of it, by using different effects.
Way #3: We jam and improvise. Sometimes we get something worthwhile, sometimes we don’t.
Each member of the band has responsibilities beyond just playing his instrument. For example Andrey, the drummer might be in charge of recording and mixing a song, while one of our guitarists, say Danil, might select suitable electronic samples while another guitarist, perhaps Vladimir, invents a title and come up with the cover artwork. However, nothing is fixed, sometimes we choose different responsibilities as long as it feels right…”
If productivity is the result of their chaotic operational style, perhaps I could confirm my hypothesis of Order being the death of Creativity.
Following Radiomaniac through 2 instrumental EPs (1st Transmission & 2nd Transmission) and their debut instrumental LP (Antenna Theory), I was pleasantly stoked to discover the versatility of Yuri as a vocalist in their latest offering. Delivering in a variety of tones – from deadpan lower register mumblings to pitch-perfect emotive wailings on Syndrome, Yuri takes on his new role with effortless ease. He describes the transition in following words:
“It was a natural progression, I guess, and mutual decision made by all of us. We decided our experiments in instrumental music are finished. We have tried what we wanted and gained a valuable experience from them. A band has to keep developing. It is boring for us to produce the same thing over and over again. Instrumental was just one of phases of Radiomaniac’s development…Now it is time for something new.”
III. KEEPIN’ THE GAZE ALIVE – SYNDROME : PRODUCTION
“Yes, when necessity calls, we must resort to cunning ways to keep production costs down.”
Finishing the final mix in July, chief engineer Andrey Tryastsin concludes:
“Estimated budget was somewhere about 15 000 rubles, or just about 500 in American dollars. Everything was recorded at rehearsal point, then mixed at home with my laptop in Logic Pro, and mastered at sageaudio.com. The whole process took about 5 months. “
IV. LIVIN’ IT LOW : FROM SAKHALIN TO ST. PETE
“I want to get a job of a cleaner or a loader. Andrey Tryastsin is looking forward to selling hockey gear in a sports equipment shop.”
With the release of what I consider their most promising effort, it seems like these boondock youths are finally chasing their arena dreams with plans to move to the big city. However, relocating to St. Petersburg came at no small price. Revealing the move as the cause of Andrey Rozhko’s split from the band, Yuri waxes sentimental about leaving his long time friend in Sakhalin:
“It is really a pity, and none of us can say we feel good about it. He was with us since the beginning, the very basis of Radiomaniac. He was more than a bandmate, a worthy friend, a companion. However, he has made the decision with his personal reasons and we understand and respect it.”
Catching up with Yuri this morning, I was happy to hear that he is adjusting well after arriving in St. Pete in less than a week. Having settled in a modest rented apartment, Yuri is hoping to find a job in the next week or so. When asked if he is deciding to knock on the doors of the local theatre, he replies:
“No, I am not looking for a job in the theatre again. If you want to be an actor you have to devote all your life to it. It is almost not possible to be an actor and a musician the same time. How can I combine my musical life and acting?
We need to find jobs that would let us to have a lot of free time and it must not to strain our heads, because our heads will be filled with the rhythms, the melodies, the structures of the songs, musical ideas etc.
We need a fixed schedule, because we must know when we are free to plan our work on the music. I see how people who sit in offices are constantly thinking about their works. They are thinking of their jobs and when they are home they continue to think about finishing their work projects or other paper shit.
Furthermore, because there are many local good qualified workers here in St. Petersburg, so I guess we will all end up working on menial, non-prestigious jobs. And that is good for us, because non-prestigious jobs are just what we need.
I want to get a job of a cleaner or a loader. Andrey Tryastsin is looking forward to selling hockey gear in a sports equipment shop. Perhaps only Danil will find a good job, because he is the best qualified of us all. But there is my one condition: Work must not interfere with our music making.”
With these words reeking of youthful idealism from our protagonist, I close this chapter in the story of Radiomaniac.
It is impossible to know if this pack of mangy underdogs will succeed in exporting the sounds of Sakhalin to the rest of the world or succumb to the pressures of inner city life. Nonetheless, I’d say god luck and good speed for trying.