A Darker Side of Happiness: Wasp’n’Hornet, Sabaka, and Jack Wood (farfrommoscow.com 27.06.2011)
An intriguing sound has appeared from the streets of Minsk, courtesy of the duo Wasp’n’Hornet. One of the project’s members — Vitalii Sidoruk — has connections to the nationally famous ensemble Lyapis Trubetskoy as an animator and video director. Sidoruk’s partner, Nikolai Storozhuk, is the son of а drummer… who has enjoyed even longer experience with the same band. No sooner, therefore, does a conversation start regardingWasp’n’Hornet and their «novelty» than certain traditions also need to be considered. This link between innovation and heritage will continue among the three groups on display today: pleasing novelty will show itself as part and parcel of something much older.
That complex relationship between new sounds, long careers, and long-standing habits certainly comes to the fore in a short paragraph that accompanies some songs from Messrs Sidoruk and Storozhuk. «W’n’H has been built through the joint efforts of a musician and a video artist: together they’ve got a clear idea of what they want to say. This is archetypal, contemporary DIY music — but if we’d rather avoid those tags and labels, then you could simply call Wasp’n’Hornet an independent electronic duo who are developing a range of ideas.»
An initial nervousness over pigeonholing is immediately evident: it ties a hopefully unique, modern-day expression to somebody else’s output from the dim, distant — and demeaning! — past. The very notion of anything «contemporary» emerging from within audible «archetypes» is complex enough. Somehow, it transpires, we’re dealing with both fashion and tradition at the same time. That issue alone begs clarification.
The struggle between innovation and influence continues: «When it comes to lyrics, everything’s pretty straightforward… although some people might, perhaps, find some signs of debauchery here and there… If we simply put all metaphorical trickery to one side and state things in a straightforward manner, then W’n’H write songs for people who feel good. The music’s the main thing! It’s actually hard to add anything else…»
We’d rather put all metaphorical trickery to one side
That text has been translated from Russian, but there is also a slightly different, English version available online. Here readers are informed of the musicians’ intent to develop «a new concept of morality and/or ethics.» Talk of some universal balance and harmony even transpires. Somewhere within «simple» and «straightforward» material reside grand hopes. An allegedly no-nonsense aesthetic does not obscure a serious, social goal. Yet what, exactly, is it?
We move on… Those brief anglo-musings then conclude with a quote missing from the Russian version: «Evil makes sense only when it’s virtual and beautiful.» Put differently, we appear in the small, yet promising catalog of Wasp’n’Hornet to be toying with the appearance of bad behavior, yet for all the devil-may-care behavior on display, Sidoruk’s and Sotorzhuk’s ethical imperative resides in the advocacy of some ideal kinship.
Designating that ideal, though, is evidently difficult. A simple, upstanding and inclusive goal has no name, it would seem.
Generic tags are therefore listed — in order they be rejected. This is a tricky engagement with language that’s equally evident in the most recent material from Moscow’s Sabaka. Entitled «Secrets of the Third Planet,» the band’s new EP takes its name from a well-known Soviet cartoon, in which a good-natured expedition travels through space in search of wild and wonderful creatures. Themes of preservation overshadow those of conquest. The story is one of charity — and remains famous for that reason.
The new songs, two of which we offer here, may lay brief claim to what the band calls «philosophical profundity,» but equal — if not more — weight is placed upon the foregrounding of «indie-rock melodies, combined with facets of post-punk and some electronica, too.» Melody is outweighing meaning — at least in the strictly verbal sense.
A long-running discussion has been conducted on one of the band’s websites, in which our musicians ask listeners to define Sabaka‘s sound — using generic tags. Very quickly the debate lapses into pseudo-serious options, full of wordplay and even some surreal nonsense. Pigeonholes and standard, sensible vocabulary are avoided with great effort — even if the band’s music is clearly designed with respect for the aforementioned traditions of indie- and/or garage rock.
What remains important is that the same rock legacy, as we see with Wasp’n’Hornet, is more affective than lyrical.
Hedonism and themes of heartfelt support are more important than debate. If there’s any sense of rebellion here, it comes from an unwillingness to adopt society’s heartless ways. Kindness itself is an act of subversion — and inclusiveness becomes a breakaway gesture.
As we’ve noted before, Sabaka are a quartet: Sergei Shevtsov (bass), Sergei Ovchinnikov (vocals/guitar); Artem Danilov (drums); and Timur Mukhmadeev (guitar). They’ve been in existence since March 2006, when they decided to start work upon “music that lies outside of any stylistic limitations.” Then, as now, they have admitted to the influence of U2, The Killers, Angels and Airwaves, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Nirvana , and Fugazi.
Claiming to operate outside of generic limits and then throwing up a list of mainstream artists may seem a tad contradictory. Indeed it seems fair to say that the band members have been striving not so much to embody innovation simply for its own sake, but to move respectfully away from the generic limits of their prior project, «The Sportlato» — which would eventually give birth to the early forms of Sabaka.
The musicians on their Vkontakte page are brave enough to accept the limits and/or advantages of branding themselves as «indie rock,» which in recent months seems to have been a burden. The Moscow webzine Indievid once defined the group as «ex-members of various punk bands who’ve decided to experiment with their sound. They’ve moved away from primitivism, all to the benefit of a certain melodiousness.» And so we slide back, one more time, from the risk of tags, labels, and lengthy lyrics to metaphorical harmonies — in the following fashion.
I’d like to hear songs about a journey to Nepal
Elsewhere in the same location at Vkontakte, fans are asked whether they’d like to suggest the subject matter for some new songs. What’s surprising is the speed and consistency with which escapist themes emerge: not in any sexual or «debauched» sense, but as thoughts of universal membership with something bigger, better, and fairer than modern society. «I’d like to hear songs about a journey to Nepal»; «I’d like something about the way ‘holes in my pockets remind me of loftier matters»; «Yesterday I thought of something that involved chasing a white rabbit through eternity…»
At this point, things take a dramatic turn. Exit rabbit, enter wolf.
The desire amongst audience members in Minsk and Moscow to escape actuality is high — yet it’s better done through empathy and thoughts of eternity(!) than through any singalong protest songs. It’s apolitical and therefore often wordless. This is a quiet, committed stance to communal experience that forms a telling comparison with an equally tight-lipped combo known as Jack Wood. Unwilling to name their hometown, they nonetheless appear to live somewhere close to Tomsk, Eastern Siberia. There are certainly connections here to the Tomsk outfit te Disband, about whom we’ve written before.
Drawing overtly upon the «lo-fi blues traditions of the ’60s,» the band makes the somewhat daring suggestion that God(!) has already assessed their music as «orgasmic» in tone. Equally unlikely is the claim that these songs are enjoying high rotation in the music stores of Bristol.
What seems at first glance to be mere epatage actually begins to show signs of the yearning for social membership noted thus far. Jack Wood, clearly influenced by the White Stripes, link their page at Vkontakte to a couple of private profiles — presumably those of the group members. As the one (and only) promotional image below shows us, the absence of textual information makes establishing concrete identities very difficult.
The flight from speech is made in favor of vaguer processes.
Although those linked, often gothic pages are full of monochrome misery — and worrying assertions that «the dead have no emotions» — there are still clear signs that even this lo-fi, confrontational sound is designed to offer consolation and therefore (eventually…) contentment.
Walking the fine line between lyrics and pure lament, between logic and empathy, these latter-day aspects of a blues heritage dissolve concrete lyrics into the pure sounds of sympathy. Emoting is more important — and effective — than stating. And so we read on one of the pages linked to Jack Wood‘s reticent profile:
We cannot distinguish between sufficiency and excess
«The world is totally f***ed up. We’re all dumped upon by a ton of information that we confuse with knowledge. We cannot distinguish between sufficiency and excess. Nor can we separate wealth from happiness.» Over a few brief sentences, complaint and condemnation both switch to matters of advice — and even the hope for amelioration! A gothic context does little to diminish the importance of loftier goals. In fact, as we’ll see, the opposite might even be true: points of light shine brighter on a somber background.
The failed ability to distinguish greed from satisfaction is a verbal one. Language, with its need to designate or categorize — and thus establish the gap between itself and actuality’s plenitude — is a poor tool with which to consider social betterment. The ideal of inclusiveness should not be handled verbally.
Surely nothing blurs the lines between speech and sentiment, lyrics and yearning better than the slow, feral enunciation of the blues. The sound, rather than the discussion of discontent gives rise to the related intonation of commiseration, solidarity, and therefore improvement. The sadder the song, the more inclusive. As Janis Joplin once said: «Audiences like their blues singers to be miserable.» It makes them happy.
As one of the images used by Wasp’n’Hornet implies, even in the worst moments a hope for happiness will endure.