SABAKA AND DYA (farfrommoscow.com 20.01.2010)
Sabaka and Dya: The Tensions between Melody and Primitivism, Format and Noise (farfrommoscow.com 20.01.2010)
As we last noted back in April, Sabaka are a Moscow quartet: Andrei Nikishin (bass), Sergei Ovchinnikov (vocals/guitar); Artem Danilov (drums); and Timur Mukhmadeev (a new guitarist, hired since our first article). 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 labored away under the admitted 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, and indeed it seems fair to say that the band are striving not so much to embody innovation simply for its own sake, but to move further away from the generic limits of their prior project, «The Sportlato» — which would eventually give birth to the early stages of Sabaka.
And indeed, in several PR texts, the band have said as much, in no uncertain terms. They give, in other words, just as much time and energy to the avoidance of convention as they do to the creation of new, novel music.
That push and pull between the past and future might, arguably, create a sense of suspension, rather than progress, and in our last article we touched upon the band’s publication techniques that give voice to this creative limbo, perhaps. Sabaka‘s four members have always been keen on something of a bijou release policy, publishing small amounts of songs — occasionally with an explicit B-Side, just as a vinyl single — which can be explained as a stance against the mass (i.e., sloppy and indiscriminate) release techniques of other collectives.
After the death of vinyl 45’s, 12-inches, full-length albums, and other formats limited by the physical capacity of a hard medium, digital net-releases can, in theory, be any size whatsoever. Rather than succumb to a dump-truck philosophy, unloading any old rubbish onto the public, Sabaka try instead to practice a more selective policy — of constraint.
The more cynical among us might suggest that the band is disguising a squeamish approach to publication aschoosiness; that it to say, their worries about being pigeonholed — within seconds of singing or publishing anything! — might be overcome if one pretends to be working away in the studio. Musicians, hiding from critical attacks behind a mixing desk, would — in such cases — insist that they’re simply busy making «better» music, rather than «nothing at all.»
As we’ll suggest, that would not appear to be the case.
Sabaka 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 not to have been a burden. The Moscow webzineIndievid recently 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.» Parallels are then drawn, justifiably enough, with Interpol; those kind of comparisons would suggest that a potentially popular foundation or trademark sound has now been found, making a grand entrance into public attention both feasible and timely.
And yet the recent change in guitarists, noted above, arose as a consequence of musical differences, leading band members on one of their sites to speak ironically of their «changing, stable line-up.» That same web-venue ends, in fact, its introductory text by claiming that the band «is now working flat out on their debut album.» The big step forward — an album — has still yet to appear; this week instead sees the release of another EP from the foursome, entitled «Rezultat» (Result). The seven-track, twenty-minute recording includes a solid, often catchy range of pop-rock tracks in the same vein as other recent releases, proving yet again that primetime attention remains a reasonable goal.
This new, happy, and occasionally impressive «result» is still not, though, the cherished album of which Sabakaspeak so often. What, then, have they managed to do, if the hallowed goal of an LP still eludes them? On the aforementioned Vkontakte page they speak with self-deprecating irony about the «love of millions» attained in 2009. «We signed a contract, played some successful gigs, and in general everything went really well!» It’s hard to tell whether they’re genuinely happy — or still want very much to attain the long-sought «result» of that debut LP.
We signed a contract, played some successful gigs, and in general everything went really well!
Whatever achievements are garnered, there’s always one eye on the grandest goal of all.
The ensemble’s fans, also keen for progress, keep pushing them to write and publish more: «The group really needs to write some new material, rather than pulling old stuff out of their live shows…» Yet why obsess about the format of an album, when the very idea of marketing a fixed number of songs has little relevance any more? The same could be said of Sabaka‘s worries about generic convention. If success is no longer defined by fiscally sage — and rare — release dates, then any «mistakes» over one’s choice of genre can be rectified with relative ease. Experimentation, in other words, becomes simpler: a few songs are released, they prove to be relatively unpopular or «unwise,» yet a few more can be published in no great time, investigating another stylistic trajectory instead.
The group really needs to write some new material, rather than pulling old stuff out of their live shows…
One need not plow every last penny into 15 songs, published once a year, as a fixed album. All one’s eggs need no longer be placed in one basket. Despite, therefore, Sabaka‘s movement towards the reasonably safe and popular soundscape of bands like Interpol, their tentative publishing policy still makes a lot of sense. It’s a wise form of insurance.
Sabaka‘s technique of web-publication shows how music online today has become more a «fluid» process than with vinyl or CDs of the past. Music reaches the public without the need for rare, expensive, and riskily-released formats; consequently it becomes generically freer, allowing for a more empirical, step-by-step approach. One might even argue that such an outlook would eventually break down the need for complete songs, even, allowing for all manner of building blocks to be tried and voted upon by one’s audience. Melodic lines might be published for approval; what about a guitar solo or drum break? A few turns of phrase from a vocalist?
This slow descent into process, passage, and — arguably — elements of «pre-musical» noise over finished albums brings us to the Togliatti outfit Dya, whom we touched upon last month. Clearly, not much time has passed, but a new 5-track EP has already appeared, called «Beton» (Concrete). As with the Sabaka release, it is also available for free download, and therefore embodies a bold commitment to the distributional potentials of the web.
Sabaka are aware of the internet’s significance for experimentation; they approach it with trepidation, pondering the meaning of «publication» or «result» after the demise of the album as a meaningful format. Dya, however, leap joyfully into the boundless, style-less parameters of the web, tumbling away from all generic convention into their preferred domain(s) of: «russian lo-fi pop, noise, post-punk, experimental, avant-garde, minimalism, psychedelic rock, post-NDW, dirty sound, and intuitive improvisation…..»
Intuition by its very nature sees format and predetermined aesthetic conventions as anathema.
In December we remarked that Dya has its roots in «Mikhail Lezin, a local musician of considerable output. Perhaps as a result of little artistic activity in the area, Lezin has – over the years – fashioned creative outlets through a number of musical projects. Each of them is dedicated to a different style or genre. Spinning this logic and labor further from anything resembling a one-man band, Lezin also is a prolific painter.» At that time, we also wrote that the band did not publish any recent photographs of themselves. As we can see from the second half of this post, that has thankfully been rectified. The images are now appearing with the same speed and devil-may-care attitude as the music.
Having formed in the final year of the Soviet Union, Dya immediately embarked on a wide range of DIY, truly independent (i.e., penniless) noise-recordings, which now number approximately 37 in total — though the band’swebpages list these publications with no great claim to accuracy. There may be more; nobody seems terribly sure. Passage has therefore taken precedence over rare or confident «results»; and, whatever connotations the new EP’s name might have of concrete music, there also seems to be the sense that «concrete results» nowadays, online, take the form of ongoing, never-ending, un-punctuated sound per se. Sounds are more important than anything that’s selected, sorted, or released on rare occasion.
Isolated words, statements, and texts blur into sonic states; pages dissolve in more fluid, non-linear and ongoing events.
And that brings us to the new EP, which over the course of 24 minutes moves from a tinny, often-distorted form of (deliberately) amateurish blues into noise, pure and simple. The outfit’s constant use of distortion, dominating this «stereo» recording’s left channel from the outset, soon triumphs over all else. Initial (verbal) statements of sadness and loss are overcome by the complete removal of objects of desire, in fact, of objects altogether. A total descent into noise occurs in the last track, the magnificent «Singing Torsos» (Poiushchie tuloivishcha; see the final audio file).
If Sabaka are occasionally concerned about a loss of face, caused by the limits of a wrongly-chosen genre, then the members of Dya willingly accept the unbounded — and therefore faceless/anonymous — realm of distortion, feedback, and drone-like textures. Sabaka negotiate the «right place» online; Dya dismiss all notions of position, place, and format. Famous faces are replaced by singing torsos.
How does one go about recording that kind of liberating racket? We’re told that the EP «was recorded on the fly, without any rehearsals, warm-ups, or over-dubs.» What results are the sounds of a boundless nation, currently erased by endless snow and therefore mirroring the «homelessness» of digital spheres. It’s the music of everywhere, and therefore of nowhere in particular. These are the sounds of events that begin — endlessly — and endure, rather than worry about ending. They make no finished statements; they just make.
If that sounds like an unfinished and therefore potential sentence, so much the better.