THE WISDOM OF MOVING SLOWLY (farfrommoscow.com 21.04.2009)
Sabaka: The Wisdom of Moving Slowly (farfrommoscow.com 21.04.2009)
Sabaka are a young Moscow-based band who have been in existence for three years. They describe their style as «unconstrained.» While that might have an air of rather unoriginal self-promotion, the term has an interesting commercial connotation, too. It relates to how the band release their material, as we’ll explain.
By way of introduction, Sabaka is/are four young men: Andrei Nikishin (bass), Sergei Ovchinnikov (vocals/guitar); Ruslan Abdurakhmanov (guitar), and Artem Danilov (drums). They originally came together in March 2006 with the self-confessed intention to «create music outside of any stylistic limitations.» Once again, they stress an audible modus operandi beyond genres, canons, and other troublesome confines.
The truth, however, lies elsewhere. You’ve time for a quick cigarette before we get to an answer.
Their name is a phonetic spelling of the word «dog» in Russian — «sobaka.» When spoken aloud with convenional pronunciation, the first «o» sounds like «a.» But why choose that word in particular? It seems to arise from a mild irritation caused during language lessons at school: «No matter how hard they try, the editors of today’s language textbooks simply cannot reflect the true nature of contemporary Russian! For example, go and ask your friends why we all say ‘sabaka’ and not ‘sobaka.’ Or, looking at things from another point of view, there’s no reason why the word should be written one way and not another! We write it our way and it becomes a kind of new word, not a grammatical mistake!»
That still doesn’t answer the question of «why,» though…
The next query concerns the issue of why — for argument’s sake — the band doesn’t use a misspelling of the Russian words for horse (loshad’), let’s say, or pig (svin’ia) instead? The initial level of irritation rises: «Going back to our first point, ‘sabaka’ is a fundamentally new word, and it’s not connected in any way with members of the animal kingdom.»
Going back to our first point, ‘sabaka’ is a fundamentally new word, and it’s not connected in any way with members of the animal kingdom.
We beg to differ.
Risking the likelihood of a fight at his point, issue is taken with the band’s contention that they’re driven by a boundless, «unlimited» aesthetic. The answer is feisty: «What did you think? That our name somehow defines our style or level of skill?»
We take a step back, and hear a clarification of that limitlessness with some rather clear-cut parallels: U2, The Killers, Angels and Airwaves, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Nirvana , and Fugazi all pop up in a long line.
The band continue: «It’s hard to say in which of those directions we’re striving most of all!» This is closer to the truth of Sabaka‘s style. For such a callow — and unsigned — outfit, they have a very professional sound. It’s a bold, radio-friendly aesthetic that would surely appeal to Nashe radio. What, however, keeps Sabaka at arm’s length from such traditional trajectories, as we’ve suggested, is the way in which they deliver their work to the public. It is directly related to issues of distributional norms.
It’s hard to say in which of those directions we’re striving most of all!
At a time when the «album» has surely passed away as a rather monolithic format, even more flexible entities such as the «mini-album» or EP are becoming increasingly unclear, as the number of songs on each is open to constant — and rather tedious — debate. Sabaka have opted for something even more interesting: their interpretation of a «net single» dispenses with the canonical and somewhat constraining concept that a B-side is required. It remains surprising how many web-singles still come in pairs, even today, as per vinyl traditions. Sabaka have decided to release one song: no more and no less.
One would think that a new band would rush to throw at least a handful of songs at the public. Debuts, after all, don’t appear from thin air; they mark the end of songwriting far from the public eye. Once this new material has been showcased, especially if it represents the band’s entire «catalog,» then — like it or not — the thorny issue emerges of «what next?»
Hence, of course, the equally unpleasant phenomenon of the «difficult second album.» We have memories of the Jesus and Mary Chain saying many years ago that musicians have twenty years to write their first album, but a mere twelve months to write the second.
Where’s that difficult second song? Sabaka are clearly pacing themselves.
Their first (and only) two releases have appeared in 2009, sufficiently close in publication dates that they could easily have constituted an A and B side, so to speak. And yet each song is kept separate, with well-considered artwork. The first of these releases — a couple of months ago — was called «Change the Whole World» (Izmenit’ ves’ mir).
It was hosted on the site of one netlabel; beside an image of the cover (below) was a standard button that read «Download the Entire Album.» Even though the recording was free(!), he public started to sulk: «Where’s the ‘whole album,’ eh?» «The chorus reminds me of The Killers»; «Interesting stuff, but why is there only one song? Give us more!»
If net-based music has, with free distribution patterns, been able to challenge the relationship of songwriting to consumerism, it would seem that access to free compositions can also be spoiled by a similar avarice. Whatever our opinion of Sabaka and their output, one has to admire the high level of respect for their own endeavor. They’re showcasing one song at a time, in slow and studied ways that are «unconstrained» by traditional publication formats, requiring 4, 6, or 12 songs to be released simultaneously.
In a culture of mass downloading, where many of us unceremoniously grab more than we can ever possibly enjoy, a bijou or boutique attitude to distribution is laudable. We only wonder if their concerts operate on the same principle.
No sooner will these young women reach the stage, than the band’ll leave it: «Hello,» «Goodnight,» and «Thank you!» in six minutes flat.