Neo-Folk from Russia
31/01/2017, Xavier KRUTH
Sistema Bezopasnosti: In periods of trouble, appealing to eternal values as traditions, love, art, brotherhood and friendship always had a positive result
Neofolk from Russia. As fans of both neofolk and everything Russian, it had to attract our attention. When we were confronted with the eclectic oeuvre of Sistema Bezopasnosti - or ‘Safety system’ - we felt like we had discovered something special. When we found out that the man behind this project - Vladimir Doronin, also known as VlaD or Letzte Soldat Nord - also taught and published on philosophy, we crawled into our pen to ask him a few sharp questions. And of course we got as many sharp answers back on subjects like neofolk in Russia, Siberian punk, esotericism, spirituality, rebellion and the relations between East and West.
Hi VlaD. Sistema Bezopasnosti was created in 1993 as a rock band. From 1993 to 2000, you enjoyed considerable success, toured Russia and even had a deal to record with the famous Russian rock band DDT. Can you tell us more about the forming of the band and the beginning years?
Yes, of course! I founded the rock band in 1991, under another name at first. It is called Sistema Bezopasnosti - System of Safety - since 1993. It was a chaotic but very interesting period. Big changes happened in our country, society and in people’s lives. Crisis in one sphere was compensated by rise and development in other ones, including in the arts. For us, the 90s of the 20th century became a time of searching for ourselves and our creative way and style.
We made a few demos and recorded our first official album in 1994. There were a lot of underground concerts and festivals that gathered many, many people. By the middle of the 90s, Sistema Bezopasnosti became very well known in some circles and we ranked as a leader of the Siberian Punk movement. Siberian Punk has a special place in general Punk with its geographical facilities - basically it’s three cities: Tyumen, Omsk and Novosibirsk - and because we didn’t put the accent on the image and music, but on our intellectual-poetical side.
Siberian Punk differed with its harshness and rigidity. It was never orientated towards the western analogies. It often had a folk base with a ‘raw garage sound’. We did everything ourselves, in line with the ‘Do it yourself’'-principle: self-made instruments and equipment, soldered strings, self-made drums, percussions, hand-painted posters… Even the records were duplicated and distributed by ourselves. We still use this principle and all of our experience in this field. Slowly, our albums on compact-cassettes were distributed around our country.
Yuri Shevchuk of DDT learned about us in 1996 and invited us to perform with DDT. So we performed on the big stage of a stadium for the first time. We have a warm relationship with DDT. We used their recommendations and made our own home studio. We started to perform outside of Siberia, in the Ural, then in Moscow and since 2000 also in Saint Petersburg.
You took a turn towards neofolk around the beginning of the new millennium. Why did you decide to turn to neofolk? Did it affect the position of Sistema Bezopasnosti in terms of success?
The style changes became an eye-opener for our label back then, but also for the public and even for the musicians with whom I played apocalyptical folk or dark folk. It wasn’t so popular in Russia, only in circles of big music lovers. I also didn’t know about this kind of rock music. We called the style which we played ‘experimental psychedelic punk rock’, close to the band Swans. One day, when we started playing ritual music, the drummer of the band Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Citizen Defense) - who took part in the recording of our albums - told us about a band called ‘Current 93’. He said that we sounded almost the same.
I found a record of this band, listened to it and understood that it was really close to what we were doing. We never were orientated on someone. We played what we liked. Sometimes we supposed that we were the only ones who played this music, and even now I think that not many bands play like that. But we hoped that there would be someone else playing this unique music somewhere. It’s interesting that, in my opinion, Current 93 are now playing psychedelic rock with a ‘dirty garage sound’, which reminds me of our sound at the end of 90th. As for me, I want to have a clean transparent sound.
My education and self-education played a big role in the style’s changing. My first education is classical guitar and folk vocal. I went on folk expeditions around Siberia and the Ural when I was a student. I was in remote villages, gathered folk songs, epos, etc. My second education is culturologist and my third one philosopher. This all and my enthusiasm in the esoteric slowly lead me to the changing of my worldview. I increased the circle of my interests; I started to change the songs’ subjects and musical priorities.
So our transition to the dark folk did not happen like in other bands, where the performer chooses a style that is close to his soul. We have come to this in a natural way, the way of progress and creative development. The changing of musical style didn’t impact the band’s success in a negative or positive way. I felt like I started all over again, but I just had some experience. I like the Norway band Ulver who started as black metal band and then did some experiments and became ambient and eclectic.
In fact, the cds I hear from Sistema Bezopasnosti are all very different. It’s amazing how many different things you make. What moves you towards making such varied things?
I am moved firstly by the wish of telling this world a lot of things, by my creative passion, my searching for meaning… It’s a kind of wish to resist the injustice of the material world. As I sing in one of my songs from the album “Martian Dust”: “I want to win very much, but if I have to lose, I want to do it worthily”.
To use Hinduism’s terminology, I am moved by “raga” and “dvesha”. In other words – love for the things which I want close to me (raga) and hatred for the things that my soul can’t accept (dvesha); two eternal determining bases that are expressed in the philosophical law of unity and struggle of opposites.
I am impressed by a manifold of creative thoughts, magic and art celebrating the spirit’s victory, which were made by interesting, talented and brave people – people-creators, demiurges, romantics and heroes who continue to fight, despite everything. Other loners like me also impress me. They are unnoticeable but always believe in what they do and in its rightness.
The latest cd ‘Antidote’ contains covers from different artists. We’re acquainted with neofolk bands like Current 93, Death In June and Sol Invictus, but the Russian bands on the record are unknown here. They seem to be mainly Siberian bands. You were part of the Siberian scene and had good relations with several of the bands. Can you tell us more about this?
Yes, we were part of Siberian underground stage. In the 90s, Sistema Bezopasnosti entered the so-called Moscow rock laboratory, but that was mostly formal. Despite the fact that we are far removed from Siberian punk at this moment, it cannot be denied that it had a big impact on us, just as we brought a lot of new things to the Siberian punk scene. This is why I respect most of the old Siberian bands. Additionally – maybe someone won’t agree with me – I think that the best Russian rock bands were from Siberia.
The album ‘Antidote’ is a tribute to the talent of the authors of the songs and in memory of those who have already left us. Some of them are well known in Russia and some of them stay unrecognized. I tried to represent my vision of other people’s tracks, at the same time singing them like if I wrote them myself. The Russian authors, whose songs I performed, are people whom I knew. We performed on the same stages or met along the way. As for the foreign authors, I chose mostly performers I feel close to, who I collaborated with.
I wanted to show a kind of symbolic connection, to represent the analogy between the different musical traditions. I wanted to demonstrate the fact that creative ways can be different but the meanings and goals can be common. As someone wrote in a comment: ‘For me these songs became an antidote for and healing from the abominations of life. They set the bar for creative exorbitant heights and, most importantly, they left a bright and indelible mark on my life.’
Some of these bands - and especially Instruktsiya po vyzhivaniyu (Instructions on Survival), who you have worked with intensively - have been accused of anti-semitism. Instruktsiya po vyzhivaniyu wrote an infamous song titled ‘Kill a Kike’ or ‘Kill a Jew’. Were these charges justified, was it provocation or misunderstanding?
I am not the author of the song that you talk about, so I can’t give you an objective answer. It was written a long time ago, in the 80s, and I think most of the people got it wrong. I think it wasn’t a call or a signal to act, but it just stated some phenomenon of that moment and it talked about a strong problem in our society. This song is the link to the track ‘Kill the Poor’ of the band Dead Kennedys, which we drew a parallel with.
VlaD, you also teach philosophy at the State University of Tyumen. How does that influence your work with Sistema Bezopasnosti?
My base activity is creativity, but science is closely connected with it. Indeed I teach at the University and taught at the Institute of Culture. Thanks to science I managed to get a lot of knowledge, to systematize it, to raise my erudition. It helped me a lot in my creativity. It learned me to work conceptually, holistically and with a specific methodology.
My second education as a culturologist helped me become a specialist in the sphere of culture and postmodernism and the presentation of my research work “Rock Culture as a modern embodiment of heroes’ traditions” gave me the chance to get a philosophical base of this knowledge. By the way, in this work I consider problems of postmodernism and traditions and the main chapter deals with dark folk. So incompatible things unite inside me – scientific academic knowledge and esoteric knowledge. Although I have a mostly mystical-mythological worldview I manage to evaluate critically and look at a lot of things objectively thanks to science.
You criticize the loss of idealism and spirituality in modern society. Can you tell us more about your analysis?
These themes did not appear in my songs immediately and certainly not by chance. Forming such a worldview happened gradually. It started on the level of general feelings and empirical observations. Later, when science taught me how to analyze, I read works by Lyotard, Toynbee, Marcuse, Heidegger, Sprengler, Fukuyama and others. I compared, drew parallels, noted general laws. So individual elements began to take shape in a certain system of views. Discussions about the degradation of modern civilization and the loss of spiritual ideals in society were underway for a long time and not just in scientific circles. It’s not local; it’s a widespread tendency. And this is a most important question that I see. What we can do with it? How can we correct it? Is spiritual progress of humanity possible?
Your plea for ‘dreams, traditions, love and art’ can be seen as an appeal for more eschatology. Isn’t it also important to face the real world with all its problems?
Is it possible to look at this world this way? Well, that’s the way I’m looking at it! Traditions, love, art, brotherhood and friendship are eternal values and dreams about them are so natural… In our pre-sacral epoch this theme is more actual as ever. Appeals to it are more then a call. It’s an alternative. It’s the base. It’s one of the variants, the possibilities of choice in what’s correct and what’s easier. Maybe it’s the way to the next development of a modern person. I think these values don’t lead to destruction but to creation. In all times, appealing to eternal values had a positive result and helped in periods of trouble. Of course it’s an idealistic approach and I always have to resist the materialistic world. But I also know that I am not alone on this way.
Your music is full of esoteric references: to the occult theories of Aleister Crowley, the Jewish Kabala or the northern mythology of the Ragnarok. Why do you choose to sing about these? Can you draw a red line between all these different subjects or currents?
My songs are full of esoteric links, to literature and other things, first of all because I am interested in esotericism. It reflects my worldview. Its language is close to me. As I said before, I have a mystic mentality. Esotericism made me stronger and gave me a rich soil for my creativity; it’s an inexhaustible topic. If I agree or disagree with something, I have to learn more about it. There are some common things and also differences between different kinds of esotericism. To mix them all would be the top of un-education.
For me it’s the force of opposition against the aggression and the material world. In other words it is a way to resist its negative manifestations; the method to preserve the independence and the relationship with the primordial tradition in culture.
Once this esoteric hobby helped me get out of a creative crisis. Sistema Bezopasnosti is freedom-loving art, it is music of rebellion, rebellion against injustice, tyranny, against alien values, against all enslaving systems imposed on the people. Therefore I accept only one system - security against aggression and the limitations of the material world.
But gradually the rebellion began to bring me to a standstill. I was in despair. I realized that I couldn’t change the world in this way. Confronting it alone was almost impossible. One day my strength wouldn’t be enough if I would continue to do so in a straightforward manner. As Joe Strummer, the leader of the group The Clash, said: ‘I once thought that music can change the world, now I understand that this is not so, but I still continue to do it.’
Something like that happened to me. I discovered the esoteric. I thought that I needed to change my strategy and correct the topics and focus of my art, to make it safer for myself but also more effective. The same rebellion remained, but instead of struggling head-on with the negative manifestations of the world I am now consciously striking them, ignoring the alien system of de-sacral values that prevailes at the time in the real world. Therefore, I choose the position of the trickster, trying to ignore all that is foreign to me, or sneer at it, playing by the rules of translating everything in the language of symbols, signs, hints of ‘sleeping’ meanings and allegories.
In other words, I try to play it safe, describing their space, which is a place of power, shrouded in gloom gothic, dark romance, and full of energy. I feel like a part of this force, of this space I own where I have friends and allies. Through self-awareness on the subtle plans, one becomes aware of ones role, purpose and way in the real world. So I'm becoming more like a kind of bodhisattva.
The tomb of the philosopher and poet Skovoroda carries the words: ‘The world tried to catch me, but never managed to.’ I hope that won’t happen to me either. Once I was singing about things that bothered me; things I didn’t like. Now, on the contrary, I am singing of what I like, what I believe in, the things that help me to live, to fight, to develop, to move forward. I'm glad that it is in tune and close to other people too.
What is the status of religion in Russia today? I have the feeling that it is hard to criticize orthodox religion nowadays and especially to strive for LGBT rights. This is surprising for a country that has known 70 years of communist rule, in which religion was sidetracked.
I think people in other countries have a wrong image of Russia. It’s far from reality and not always objective. Most of all it’s a stereotype. I can understand it, because everything that is unusual can cause alertness and hostility. But you need to understand that Russia is a huge country with a rich history and an individual national culture. As any great country Russia’s way wasn’t so unequivocal and smooth. Big milestones have always required great effort and even sacrifice.
70 years of communism were an exceptional period on the global scale, a huge experiment. During this time many tragic things happened, but there was also a lot of good. At that moment the role of religion was nihil. Now this situation changed a lot. The status of religion is very strong, its role became active and notable, but now we have other problems. Relations and differences of people on religious grounds strained and sometimes have become aggressive, especially with organizations representing orthodox Christianity and Islam. There were different precedents and provocations: prohibitions of alternative concerts, pogroms on exhibitions of avant-garde artists and others. It is certainly an alarming progress in a part of society.
Many musicians in Russia seem to be attracted to ideological movements like the national-bolsheviks or the euraziatic movement. What are your thoughts about that?
Maybe it’s because a lot of creative people are attracted by broad gestures like patriotism and other emotional outbursts. I can say that Sistema Bezopasnosti always was and remains out of politics and never took part in any political action. We never were members of any political party. Some political organizations have tried to put us on their side, but we always said that we’re not like that. We even did some concert programs with the name ‘Against all’ and ‘Forours’, which demonstrates our unpolitical position.
I think that musicians always have a big impact on people. They listen to them; trust their creativity… A musician is like a tribune,and everything that musician says can be understood in different ways. So the author needs to be impartial in a lot of questions. Actually I think that politics is a dirty thing. It’s not my world, so I do not have any business with it.
On ‘The Magical Lamp Of Osama Bin Laden’ (2004) and ‘Nina, Wendy, Ann…’ (2005), you respectively sung about the east and the west, meanwhile claiming that both belong together. We are now witnessing new tensions between the west and Russia, fuelled by leaders on both sides. It sometimes feels as if a new cold war broke out. What is your opinion on these tensions?
This question is very actual. Yes, we have such problems. The relationship between Russia and the West became much colder and it’s not good. We live in the so-called epoch of postmodernism, which is defined by deconstruction, division, fragmentation, lack of integrity and common structures. We can see how countries and unities are destroyed. People become more aggressive, they are enemies, they live in huge and small megacities.
We can notice it even in art. When rock music was dominant it was united. It was impossible to play it all alone. It could only be played in a band. So we had a rock bands. Dark folk is music for individuals. I also had a band before, now I do everything by myself, alone. Of course I have experience; technical progress increased our chances and potential. But it can’t solve the problem of loneliness on a local and a large scale. So I think that musicians, poets and other artists have a great opportunity to show through their creativity that art doesn't have national or linguistic limits.
Thanks to creative people we can find understanding. Folk national base of cultures is not a base for division, but to find something in common, to have a dialog. These are important things in my publications and in my research. We all are in the same boat and it’s important where we sail. Problems of one can touch problems of others. And even the fact that I am far from you now, but I give an interview for your magazine says that my supporters can find each other and have something to discuss. So thank you for the chance to tell you my point in important questions. I wish everyone the best of luck and success on the way of transcendent experience!
(Published with the kind permission of Xavier Kruth / Dark Entries Magazine)
A;GRUMH... • The post-BIMFEST interview...
HIDDEN PLACE • An interview with head and voice Sara Lux
BLACKHOUSE • 31 years of Blackhouse: 'Blackhouse is not just the antithesis of whitehouse... It's the antithesis of THE White House!
MOREGO ABOUT THE IRANIAN DARK AMBIENT AND INDUSTRIAL SCENE •
DIRK SCHEUBER • The worst thing is to lose myself
BREAKING BARRIERS • People who do not want to take a sincere position, should not think they have anything to do with punk.
CONTROLLED BLEEDING • I never really cared much about the business of selling records
DANIEL HALL • An artist is as good as their reference.
KOBAN • We really didn't have a sound we were going for initially.