Berlin, Berlin, DEU

The best of contemporary world music from Ukraine. Minimal ethno, psychofolk, hip-hop, trance, acoustic trip-hop, folk music of the future


Russias Auktyon is a lost folklore ensemble darting behind an avant jazz collective, hidden inside a hugely popular rock band. Its Animal Collective tangoing through the salon with The Art Ensemble of Chicago, nodding its Radiohead. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Heres the real mystery: a gaggle of out-there bohemian musicians not only became stars at home, but managed to stay relevant in the minds and on the iPods of two post-Soviet generations. They rock a mean tuba. They have a dancer-declaimer who spouts sudden poetry, jerking and trembling like a holy madman.

But this is no under-the-radar cult group; its one of the biggest rock bands to burst from the Soviet collapse, with a defiant devil-may-care attitude and a keen sense for improvisation. This improv instinct led the band to Top (Geometriya; release: February 14, 2012), a wild, catchy spin through Auktyons magical paces. Recorded live at breakneck speed and with sheer joy, the album draws together the eerie folklore (Shiski, Polden/Noon), edgy urbanity (Mimo, Yula/Top), exuberant word play (Homba), and well-honed musicianship of a group uninterested in laurels or resting.

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Auktyons first album came together as tanks stormed the legislative heart of Moscow. Yet the album (1994s Ptiza), arguably a major landmark of Russian rock, rippled with a thoughtful happiness and bittersweet energy that mysteriously defied the madness erupting outside the studio. Perhaps because of that defiance, the curious mix of punk, reggae, klezmer, and a specific but elusive flavor of Russian creativity won the hearts of urbane listeners, turning the band into chart-topping pop darlings.

Things changed in Russia. Life stabilized. Rock stars of the Soviet underground got eccentric religion or got rich and arrogant. Not Auktyon: their live shows continued to be curious explorations, sparkling blasts of pure enjoyment. Fans packed their concerts, tearing the doors off the club that hosted their first U.S. appearance. They parsed and sang their untranslatable, playful lyrics. Though never political on or off the stage, Auktyon became a symbol of all that was progressive and possible in a country still in the throes of economic hardship, political struggle, and cultural upheaval.

Top rushes into this strange evolution, presenting both the essential sound and spirit that made listeners fall in love, and its continued musical maturation. Though they meticulously crafted a follow-up to their hit, the band decided to do something different: They sat together in a big room and started toying with compositions brought in by the band members, most notably Leonid Fedorov, guitarist, singer, and singular songwriter.

Then, eyes locked and ears open, they let things spin off in a new, wonderful direction. Since we didnt have any set compositions, its hard to define what was improvisation on the album and what wasnt, reflects Auktyons Nikolai Rubanov, who plays sax and horns. Improvisation becomes possible when theres an initial structure. If you dont have that, then the very notion of improvisation gets fuzzy. Ours was a process of collective creation. The songs sound fresh but finished: Meteli bounces with upbeat pop sensibility that belies the bands jamming approach, and Homba surges forward with a gleeful momentum.

As part of this collective composition, words swim upfragments of long-lost ballads, funny turns of phrase that suggest melodieslike a friends voice in the fog, setting the tempo and evoking entire worlds. Take, for example, the song Homba, Auktyon producer Sergei Vasiliev begins, discussing the lyrics to the fast-building song with echoes of both Jewish folk melodies and surf rock. It has elements many other Russian authors have already played with: woulda coulda shoulda but then it flies off somewhere completely different, somewhere ideal in my opinion. The burden of meaning locked in the text doesnt keep you on the ground. As you fly off, you get the maximum emotional impact.

Alongside the texts, the bands instruments fly in new directions, while Fedorovs urgent guitar establishes an axis. Everything elsebuzzing tuba mouthpieces, overblown flutes, creepy squeaks, and ethereal chorusesrotates around it. The spontaneity of the exploration is palpable, as is the bands complete comfort crafting songs together, live.


Return to Sorrento 1986
D'Observer 1986
Hangover 1991
Bird 1993
Auktyon 1995
How I Became A Traitor 1989
All Quiet in Baghdad 1989
Asshole 1990
It's Mum 2002
Pioneer 2006
Girls Sing 2007
Top 2011