Auktyon
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Auktyon

Berlin, Berlin, Germany | INDIE

Berlin, Berlin, Germany | INDIE
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Jay Ruttenberg, "Time Out New York", March 23-29, 2006
An Auktyon concert begins like this: The Russian band vamps wildly—an agitated burst of guitar, tuba, sax—as an oafish man, Oleg Garkusha, saunters onstage. Wearing the garish suit of an old-time huckster and carrying a briefcase, he begins to dance and yelp into his microphone, which sits center stage. In the course of a show, he loosens his tie, shakes a tambourine, jumps about and recites Russian poetry. It’s difficult to take one’s eyes off of him—which is notable, as he is not Auktyon’s true leader, but rather the group’s hype man. Look closer and spot the true top dog: Leonid Fedorov, a humdrum-looking guy who performs in Cheney-esque shadows, singing lead and playing guitar while a veritable circus erupts around him. - Jay Ruttenberg, "Time Out New York", March 23-29, 2006


Aileen Torres, "The Villager", March 22 -28 2006
Auktyon, a hero of Russia’s avant-garde rock scene, is getting less and less underground these days, which is quite a bit of luck for Europeans and Americans. Together since 1978 and a member since 1983 of the subversive Leningrad Rock Club, Auktyon has gone through several incarnations and earned a cult following in their homeland and beyond. They may sing in Russian, but their music exudes a worldly eclecticism that dispenses with genre boundaries. Expect to hear elements of punk, jazz, North African rhythms and ‘60s American pop — all in one song. To top it off, their stage shows are always theatrical, dismissing draconian political gloom and doom to another era - Aileen Torres, "The Villager", March 22 -28 2006


Carl Wilson, "Zoilus", 3/29/06
They're an eight-piece, folkloric-new-wave-jazz-ska cocktail at least as combustible as the Czech massives' molotovs. The jousting voices of leader Leonid Federov and hypeman Oleg Garkusha add up to a lyrical-inflammatory hybrid of Jacques Brel and David Thomas of Pere Ubu. - Carl Wilson, "Zoilus", 3/29/06


Stewart Mason, "All Music Guide"
Part of a long-running history of once-underground Eastern European art rock bands (Czechoslovakia's Plastic People of the Universe are probably the best known to Western audiences), Russia's Auktyon blend abrasive free jazz and prog rock (think of Henry Cow and the rest of the European "rock in opposition" scene) influences with loose, danceable rhythms that will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever seen a jam band. The combination enhances both sides of the equation, giving the more experimental aspects an approachable context and making it harder to dismiss Pioneer as an album for recovering Deadheads to do the Awkward White Boy Wiggle to. This results in tracks like the bizarrely tuned "Son," which sounds like a mash-up of one of Robert Wyatt's acoustic tunes from the Soft Machine's Volume Two and a particularly noisy and lurching Residents track, alongside more familiarly Eastern European-sounding tunes like "It's Not Late," which slowly envelops a gypsy-style acoustic melody in waves of cacophony. Auktyon is not for the faint-hearted worldbeat listener -- at the very least, some familiarity with Captain Beefheart will be a tremendous help, especially with co-lead singer Oleg Garkusha's bearish growl of a voice -- but most of a musically adventurous bent will likely find it quite fascinating. - Stewart Mason, "All Music Guide"


Their music gathers rock, jazz, and ethnic elements into an irrepressible eclectic sound, anchored by Leonid Fedorov’s smoky baritone and Oleg Garkusha’s energetic vocalizing.. - "New Yorker", 3/24/08


Brick Wahl, "LA Weekly", 3/25/08
Their album Girls Sing was a real surprise — experimental Slavic weirdness with a typically Russian sad streak (those people sure know how to bum out). The result sounds way cool, so much so that trumpeter Frank London (of the Klezmatics), guitarist Marc Ribot and organist John Medeski got involved. Not sure if any of them will be joining the Russians onstage at Sam’s, but no matter, as they ought to be creative enough to impress all on their own. - Brick Wahl, "LA Weekly", 3/25/08


After getting rave reviews in the U.S. press, the Russian art-rock band Auktyon is releasing its long-awaited “American” album this week. But does that mean they are set for a new, brilliant career in the United States?

“I feel good in America, it’s a great country. ... Compared to this country, it’s more relaxing there, that’s for sure,” singer and guitarist Leonid Fyodorov said by telephone from Moscow earlier this month.

Based in St. Petersburg, except for Fyodorov who moved to Moscow in 2002, Auktyon is an eight-member group with a distinctive style that draws on rock, punk, world music and jazz. Its new album, “Girls Sing” (Devushki Poyut), was recorded last September in New York’s Stratosphere Sound studios with the help of some prominent U.S. musicians: Marc Ribot on guitar, John Medeski on keyboards, Frank London on trumpet and Ned Rothenberg on reeds.

Originally, the album was meant to be released simultaneously in Russia and the United States. But while the Russian release was launched last week with concerts featuring Ribot and Medeski both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the fate of the U.S. release is unclear.

“The situation there changed drastically over the summer,” Fyodorov said. “Sales of CDs dropped, the famous Tower Records chain closed and I hear that Sony Records dropped acts that sell, I think, less than 5,000 copies a year. The record industry has collapsed, so no label seems interested in signing a band that’s basically indefinable. But honestly, I don’t care. What’s the difference if it comes out there or not? It will come out here, thank God, but who needs it there? Who needs a record sung in Russian in the United States?”

“Girls Sing,” out on Moscow’s Geometriya label, marks a creative breakthrough for the veteran band, one of the most important forces in the Soviet rock revolution of the 1980s, but still strangely relevant in 2007.
Vadim Shesterikov / For The St. Petersburg Times

Auktyon’s Dmitry Ozersky (l) and Leonid Fyodorov.

Although its songs have been used in films, from the art-house cult classic “4” to mass-market action movies such as “Brother 2,” and it has a wide fanbase — the popular St. Petersburg ska group Leningrad and New York’s Gogol Bordello both cite the band as an influence — Auktyon has not released an album of new material since 1993’s “Bird” (Ptitsa).

Fyodorov now describes “Bird” as a “boring” album that suffered from too much rehearsal. Over the past 14 years, Fyodorov has mostly released solo records and collaborations, often with St. Petersburg-based improv musician Vladimir Volkov on double bass.

“At some point with Auktyon, it stopped,” Fyodorov said. “I didn’t feel like we were moving anymore. But here we got a push from the outside, and it sent us into motion.”

That “push” was the opportunity to record in a U.S. studio with New York improvisers Ribot and Medeski, as well as Volkov. Ribot is a well-known guitarist in the city’s New Music scene, while keyboardist Medeski is best known for his work with the jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood.

“We just sat and started to play. The first track was done in one take,” said Fyodorov, who added that he had no previous experience of having 10 musicians in the studio, recording live.

“The songs developed naturally, they developed as we played them. ... The musicians were so great they just couldn’t fail. It was clear they wouldn’t let us down, and I selected more free-form songs that didn’t need written arrangements. We sat and played — it happened as it happened. Then we took what we liked. We didn’t use bad takes.”
Max Milendorf / For The St. Petersburg Times

John Medeski.

The story of the album began in January 2006 when Auktyon performed at GlobalFEST, a high-profile two-day world music event in New York that showcases artists representing a wide variety of cultures, traditions and styles. Auktyon had toured the United States every year since 1997, but like many Russian bands, it had played mostly to audiences of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

GlobalFEST — which is heavily attended by music-industry insiders — gave the band its first real exposure to U.S. critics and producers. After Auktyon played the first night, trumpeter Frank London stopped by and suggested the idea of recording an album in New York with some local musicians. Fyodorov offered the names of John Zorn, Ribot and Medeski, and the stage for the collaboration was set, except for Zorn, who replied that he was not participating in any outside projects at the time.

On the heels of GlobalFEST, Auktyon enjoyed its first U.S. tour where it played at big venues for American audiences, rather than at small clubs for Russian immigrants, and the release of its first U.S. record: the compilation CD “Pioneer,” which came out on the Circular Moves label in June. With songs picked and remastered by Fyodorov, the disc spans the band’s entire career from its 1986 debut “Return to Sorrento” (Vernis - The St.Petersburg Times


Like the bastard child of Cosmo Kramer and the Contortions’ James Chance, gangly Oleg Garkusha hops and jumps, fluttering his hands like a hummingbird at center stage. All the while, his bandmates in the Russian rock group Auktyon keep him aloft with their fervid rhythms and vertiginous melodies.

The storied Russian band has been making music together for over 25 years, but this is its big American showcase: playing at GlobalFEST, part of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York City. Auktyon played for Russian émigré audiences in the States, but tonight it’s time to convert the uninitiated.

The band takes the stage and gives one of its signature shows: a high-powered roller coaster ride through a fun-house of distorted harmonies and artfully awkward melodies. Song after song, they rev up to a loopy intensity. Drums and bass provide a powerful rhythmic foundation that’s prodded along by electric guitar and the bullfrog blasts of tuba and baritone saxophone.

Any American rock fan will immediately try to pigeonhole the band into some kind of mirror-image mold, as if Russia was some Bizarro world with an anti-Beatles and anti-Stones. Is Auktyon the Russian Talking Heads? They formed about the same time as Talking Heads, and if you want to paint them with an extremely unartful broad brush, they are both art-rock. But Auktyon isn’t about being tightly wound like David Byrne and company. Auktyon is about release—screaming, as Garkusha occasionally does, and pushing their rock up every hill in sight as fast as they can, breaking rules instead of splitting atoms for energy. These kids don’t use their indoor voices. Auktyon stands firmly in the “rock ’n’ roll ain’t pretty” camp.

In a recent interview, Garkusha said the band has never been political or, as far as he can tell, particularly Russian. “We’re not propagandists,” he says. But it’s not hard to see the band’s explosive creativity—not furious like punk, but more Jackson Pollack splatter—as a reaction against the gray, oppressive system that Communist Russia had become by the latter half of the 20th century.

Auktyon’s music has some echoes of the short-lived No Wave movement of the 1980s, during which musicians like the Contortions played edgy funk that was meant to move your body in paroxysms, rather than smooth moves or Electric Slides. When the core members of Auktyon formed during the reign of Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev, they were just kids building their own instruments and banging around in informal settings; there were no rock clubs or record labels to showcase rock bands. The band became part of Leningrad’s underground scene, but in the mid-1980s, clubs opened, notably the Leningrad Rock Club, and Auktyon’s popularity took off. Over the years, the band’s singer and guitarist, Leonid Fedorov, has emerged as the leader of the group, though he takes a somewhat secondary position on stage.

In the early years, the group worked with a visual artist, who helped them stage theatrical concerts, complete with audacious costumes, lighting and set design. For several years, the band included a dancer, Vladimir Veselken, and it has collaborated with Paris-based poet Aleksy Khvostenko, setting his words to music for two albums. While the group has moved away from elaborate theatrics, it is not hard to imagine them going there again at a moment’s notice: at GlobalFEST, one member comes on stage wearing circus-striped pants, brass/keyboard player Dmitry Ozersky is wearing a muscle T-shirt and suspenders that encircle his burly Buddha belly, and Garkusha is wearing white gloves and a jacket with rhinestones outlining the lapels.

As the band made its name across a glasnost-fevered Russia, it was able to travel abroad and develop a following across Europe. It released a steady stream of albums as a group, while the individual members made solo discs and ventured into other media. T - Global Rhythm


When Russian bohemian-rock band Auktyon plays in the U.S.A., they usually don’t alert their émigré fan base. As underground icons back home, expats here show up in droves ready to hear (and sing-along with) the songs that marked the glasnost era. The band stood out for not creating music to accompany the unrest in the streets, but by pre-announcing an era where art and music could be created for its own sake, not inherently subject to, nor protesting, politics. They became known for their innovative music and bouncy stage presence. But once everyone showed up to concerts for nostalgic reasons, it was no longer fun to play. So when they came to tour the United States, Auktyon wanted to play for new audiences.

Auktyon has been coming to the USA for about a decade to develop new audiences and open new doors. Always receptive to new possibilities, when they played a New York global music festival called globalFEST, they found new inspiration leading to Auktyon’s first studio album in twelve years. The album, titled Girls Sing, features the funk/jazz organ of John Medeski and the avant/eclectic guitar-work of Marc Ribot.

Always the connector, Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London was taken with what he heard and saw at the NYC festival and enthusiastically put Auktyon in touch with the other guest artists. London also makes an appearance on the album. Also at the festival was producer and musician Andres Levin, of Yerba Buena fame, who helped the band find a New York studio and recording engineer, quite a feat for an album made with twelve cramped musicians recording live. The new context and collaborators sparked Auktyon’s imagination.

“They’re punk rockers with a kind of surrealist edge,” says Ribot, who along with Medeski went on to perform with Auktyon in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The two guests joined Auktyon in the New York studio after the Russian band had carefully crafted an album’s worth of new material. But the band wanted fresh and raw additions by Ribot and Medeski. “The band has a very strong energy, both live and in the studio,” says Ribot. “Some bands work very carefully in the studio building a track up. This band creates this big monster in the studio.”

“I think that in all previous recordings,” explains lead singer and songwriter Leonid Fedorov, “I was striving towards intricacy and now I have managed to turn off my brain. The 20th Century gave us an ability to improvise; it’s a freedom as well as a responsibility. I think, that the 20th century also destroyed the concepts of great composers, poets; all grandeur. In reality there is no grandeur. All reflections on the subject of the eternal nature of art in reality are made up fetishes; sooner or later they disappear.”

The band’s live performance also has a monster-like quality. “They’ve got a guy on stage who just kind of gestures,” Ribot describes. “It’s a very primitive form of theater. You’re always wondering, ‘What’s he going to do next?’” Deliberate disintegration of beautiful melodies into a cacophony. On-stage clowning around and the occasional scream. All of it is an attempt to break down the walls between performer and listener. Auktyon does not take themselves too seriously. They are not full of themselves. And Ribot and Medeski took note.

“They’re one of those bands that are really deep, really brilliant,” says Medeski. “They know a lot of different music and literature, yet when they play, they play from their hearts, their souls, their balls. They’re not too intellectual. I love music from someone that’s done a lot of studying and then lets it rip when they play.”

“Their rhythms are kind of crazy,” recalls Medeski. “Some things are based on Russian folk roots rhythms. So we had to figure out where they were coming from. But I found that I just relate to their spirit. It fit like a glove for me.”

Ironically some of the band members of Auktyon were apprehensive about working with Medeski and Ribot. They were not sure what to expect, but they knew the two musicians were heavyweights. Fedorov didn’t mind his band mates being a little scared. He was hoping the emotion would mobilize them to create something fresh. Drummer Boris Shaveynikov didn’t believe Medeski and Ribot were really recording with them until the final moment. As a Led Zeppelin fan, when he realized Ribot had played with Robert Plant, Shaveynikov was ready to get down to business.

Medeski’s and Ribot’s playing on Girls Sing surprised some reviewers in Russia, who commented that they were juicy and edgy, even vulgar, and noting that Auktyon would not play that way on their own. “We are simply afraid of it, since we don’t have the same musical or emotional experience Ribot and Medeski have,” says Fedorov. “Everything on the album is primitive in its essence; anybody could do it. But we would never think of playing that way; not because we are worse, but because this is embarrassing to us. But these people are free as musicians. That’s - rockpaperscissors.biz


Discography

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

Photos

Bio

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.