Dive into the Russian Experimental Scene with Dmitry Vasilyev

For the last fifteen years, Dmitry Vasilyev has been documenting the experimental music scene all over the world thanks to his label, podcast and the many concerts he puts on in Russian and Ukraine. Check out our interview with him and corresponding playlist below.

Dmitry Vasilyev is an independent journalist based in Moscow. After many years of being active in the local and international music scenes, he launched the Monochrome Vision label in 2004. Since then, he has released over 50 experimental albums by artists from all over the world.

Recently, he had the honor of being one of the judges on the panel for the Russolo Award – one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for electroacoustic musical composition. Since 2002, he has organized countless experimental concerts and music festivals in Russia and Ukraine featuring artists from all over Europe. He’s also just released a major publication (800 pages!) entitled Viva Italia, chronicling the history of the independent electronic music scene in Italy over the last sixty years.

Can you tell us a little more about your background?

My career began at IEM magazine, which was founded in 1995. IEM progressed from a very small fanzine to a professional publication after only four issues. Later on, in 2007 I transformed my music reviews into podcast format, and released over 250 radio shows covering many genres and names in the experimental music field. IEM podcast is a series of weekly radio shows. Each one is devoted to one particular artist or label, and we share information about them through the web.

The Monochrome Vision label expanded to become one of the most active music distribution networks in Russia, working directly with dedicated and innovative labels from all over the world.

With the podcast, just like with the label, my main goal is to share any information I know with people who might be interested. I also want to support the scene, and give artists more publicity and more opportunities. And I believe this is just as important to other people as it is to me.

One of the unique things about my podcast is that there is a lot of me speaking over the music. I always tell the listeners a story, I provide comprehensive information about what we are listening to. So, it’s not just the playlist – after each podcast, the listener should have learned something new. The only thing is, the podcasts are intended for a Russian audience, so I speak in my native language. But I was surprised to learn that there are actually some people who can’t understand Russian who still follow my podcasts. I hope they at least enjoy the mix…

Your podcast explores experimental scenes from all over the world, but you don’t tend to talk much about the Russian scene. Why is that? Is your main goal to introduce Russians to music from other countries?

Yes, you are right. I was very influenced by the radio when I was young and there was no other way to get information about music. Nowadays, we have the opposite problem – too much information, information overload, as they say. Even though it’s impossible to imagine broadcasting experimental music on the radio in Russia right now, thanks to the internet, we can still point people who feel lost in the sea of information in the right direction. My goal is to make it easier for artists to reach their audience, and I am completely devoted to that exciting process. In the experimental music field, a lot depends on self-education. Young people who are interested in exploring music may want to learn more about it, but there isn’t really an adequate social structure for that. I’d say the cultural situation in Russia is getting worse and worse every year. Corruption is so overwhelming, sometimes I think we have no cultural future as a country. But what we can do is take matters into our own hands, regardless of what’s going on around us.

What is your opinion on the Russian experimental music scene? How has it evolved over time?

Well, the Russian experimental scene is really very small, especially if you take into account how large Russia and its population is. Of course, we have some interesting artists and musicians, but it’s not easy to find them. They all suffer from a lack of schooling, tradition, support, economical problems, and an absence of art infrastructure. I know of only a few names I can appreciate, but I imagine there are more out there for me to discover.

The main problem here, in my opinion, is the very conservative consciousness which has been typical in Russia for centuries, and this never seems to change, for reasons I can’t explain. The same goes for education and art direction. We’ve always had a few responsible institutions but they are controlled by very restricted, passive individuals who are not able to understand the value of a free-thinking society. So, while the western DIY aesthetics of the late 70s was a new form of expression, here it’s the only way to survive.

The IEM site says “in Russia, [we’ve been] isolated for so long from the international music scene.” Why and how are things different now?

In Soviet times there was very strong censorship on art, and since there was no internet, it was much easier to control. Before the 80s, we only had access to official music: traditional, classical, cinematic, popstars, etc. It was all very connected to the communist ideology, of course. The most underground and nonconformist activity was related to the rock music of the 80s – not musically, but mostly in the form of social protest (in lyrics, images and demonstrations). And of course, there was nothing like industrial, noise, ambient, electroacoustic or vanguard music – all those music genres were entirely unknown here because of the Iron Curtain.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a big economic breakdown, which made the vast majority of people barely able to survive in the 90s. But because freedom and curiosity was no longer considered a crime, that created some art movements and very low level activity, which still persists today. All the musicians I know do everything based on intuition, without any professional background, and with varying degrees of success. Personally, I feel a bit sceptical about it, but the power of creativity can still fill me with a sense of wonder and make me hopeful. The only major change I’ve noticed is that now it’s easier to spread information (and art) through the internet. It gives beginners a better chance of being heard, and that’s pretty much the only way to do it here.

Who are your favorite Russian artists at the moment?

There aren’t many. Cisfinitum and Bardoseneticcube are all time faves, and there are a few new ones like Oil Texture, Five Elements Music, SiJ, Beautumn and Manunkind, but again – I am mostly interested in names I haven’t heard before, I believe that I am still an open minded listener.

Dmitry Vasilyev’s Russian Playlist

Cisfinitum – District Delta

Oil Texture – On The Safe Side

Five Elements Music – Radiola

SiJ – Forwards in Time

Manunkind – Russian Paradox

Bardoseneticcube – Naegleria Fowlery​-​08

Main photo: Dmitry Vasilyev at the tomb of Italian noise experimental composer Luigi Russolo
Article translated and edited by Andrea Perdue

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