Rock It To Russia

Like many things in the former Soviet Union, rock & roll ain't what it used to be.

Furthermore, Western music is often cheaper than Russian music. Record companies won a war with bootleggers in Russia last year, and it is now difficult to find CD bootlegs of Russian music, at least in bigger cities. But bootlegs of Western music abound. You can buy the newest Madonna CD for $4, while a new Russian CD will set you back $14.

There is also, not surprisingly, a new generation gap. The younger generation of musicians and consumers barely remember Soviet times. For them, as in the West, music is more fashion than significant social statement. The desire for money and fame seem much more likely to motivate twentysomething musicians than the artistic and social concerns of the previous generations. To the older generation, the youngsters seem lazy and misguided; the younger generation, meanwhile, find their seniors increasingly irrelevant to the real world of Russian capitalism.

At Fish Fabrique, Winecaster has finished its set. Winecaster is the kind of band that should inspire hope for Russia's rock scene. In true underground fashion, it features three teenagers and a 40-year-old cellist. Their music, sounding like Nick Cave with a touch of Tchaikovsky, fits perfectly with the club's atmosphere. But ironically, the Russian influences in their music seemed to undermine the band's credibility. After asking me what I thought of the band, which I had enjoyed, one student shook his head and said, "We [Russians] don't have what it takes to make good rock & roll."

Perhaps, as Thomas Cushman has suggested in Notes From Underground, his new study of the rock scene in Russia, it will simply take time for innovative music to find its market niche. In a few years, then, a more varied musical scene may arrive in Russia. For now, however, the spiritually deadening sounds of banal Western pop are the soundtrack for Russia's transition to capitalism.

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