Monday, February 29, 2016

V/A - "Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the USSR" [1986]

Artist: (various)
Title: Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the Soviet Union
Genre: Psychedelic Rock (side A), Post-Punk/New Wave (side B), Rock-n-Roll/Boogie (side C), Ska (side D)
Country: USSR
Release date: 1986

Track List:

Side A (Аквариум):
  1. Пепел
  2. Сегодня ночью
  3. Танцы на грани весны
  4.  Жажда
  5. Сны о чём-то большем
  6. Рок-н-ролл мёртв
Side B (Кино):
  1. Видели ночь
  2. Фильмы
  3. Ночь
  4. Город
  5. Проснись
  6. Троллейбус
Side C (Алиса):
  1. Экспериментатор
  2. Мы вместе
  3. Доктор Буги
  4. Плохой мальчик
  5. Соковыжиматель
  6. Ко мне
Side D (Странные Игры):
  1. Метаморфозы
  2. Хоровод
  3. А телефона нет
  4. Эгоцентризм
  5. Если ты думаешь 
Yes, I know this 4-way split isn't as "underground" as its title suggests: in fact, 3 out of 4 bands on there are actually very big names on the Russian rock scene nowadays. However, its historical significance is huge.

A little backstory: in 1984, Joanna Stingray, an young pop-rock singer from California, visited Leningrad as a tourist and was surprised to find a relatively big rock scene there. After getting acquainted with several bands from the Leningrad rock club, she started to think that they'd be huge stars and earn millions of $ in any Western country with a developed music business industry. In 1986, she managed to take some tapes to the USA with an intention to find a recording company that would agree to release them on vinyl.

Initially, her idea was met with a strong opposition. While the Soviet music recording monopoly Melodiya was also highly reluctant of releasing popular music from the Western bloc, especially rock music, they did have released dozens of Western pop and rock records - usually the most family-friendly stuff like ABBA or The Beatles, but some of more serious rock releases as well (notably, the Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann's Earth Band LPs in 1980). On the other hand, releasing any Soviet rock band on a American label was a big no at that time. However, Joanna Stingray managed to reach an agreement with an Australian independent record label Big Time Records (I guess the fact that she was from an affluent family helped her a lot), and "Red Wave" was released on July 27, 1986 as a double LP (one side for each band taking part in the compilation).

The exact amount of copies is uncertain, but most sources put it between 10 and 20 thousands. The material presented on "Red Wave" was recorded at Andrey Tropillo's studio in Leningrad, which was the only professional private recording studio in the Soviet Union in early 80s. From 1981 to 1986, Tropillo produced at least 30 independent rock albums, many of which later became classics. The quality of sound was satisfactory at least, and certainly better than what these bands could do at home. In 1983, Tropillo managed to get access to the British-made mobile recording unit (similar to that used by The Rolling Stones) with some of the best equipment of that time, which was owned by Melodiya and was never used for recording rock music before. The result was 3 Soviet rock albums with nearly world-class quality of production, which was very hard to achieve before the late 80s.

"Red Wave" got mostly positive responses from the audience, and sparked a short period of interest in Soviet rock, which was exploited later by other bands like Gorky Park. Quite predictably, it didn't last long because most Soviet bands didn't have much to offer to the already highly competitive Western rock market. Imagine a split album featuring 4 Korn or Linkin Park clones, released in 2016 with a mediocre quality of production? That's pretty much the equivalent of what was "Red Wave" back in 1986. The real historical value of this split is its impact on the Soviet policies towards independent rock bands. Joanna Stingray has sent the copies of "Red Wave" to Reagan and Gorbachev, and the latter actually took the time to check it out. Shortly after that, Melodiya has released the first official LP of Aquarium (containing the songs that were recorded during 1984-1986 in Tropillo's studio). Shortly thereafter, the 3 remaining bands on the split also got their first official LPs. Through the next couple of years, almost all restrictions on the independent music in USSR were lifted, and the Soviet rock finally broke into mainstream.

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