Rocking the boat of dictatorship from the 1980s until today, this Soviet rock record is not to be ignored
As far as I am concerned, any music that undermines and disrupts the order of the day gets a seal of approval from me; when those powers that be are an oppressive regime, musicians that follow this path earn extra brownie points. Despite this, as much as I love the sense of rebellion behind anarchistic music, one must admit that the emphasis on the message can sometimes lead to a lack of importance being placed on creating an enjoyable high quality sound for the masses. Russian post-punk rockers Kino, however, did not suffer this same fate. Instead they marked their legacy as arguably the best rock band to come out of the country, whilst at the same time being part of a movement of rubbing up the right people the wrong way.
“...a rare breed that has found the magic formula of sticking two fingers up to the establishment by luring many people in with their varied yet always deeply intriguing sound.”
Formed in Leningrad during the Soviet era, the band obviously had to make a name for themselves via the burgeoning underground movement that existed in the Soviet Union. Though censorship was of course present during the 1980s, the band managed to record albums and go on tour, albeit with some inevitable challenges. Recording songs that featured on the first release of Posledniy geroy throughout the decade, the tune that of course gained most attention was the absolute humdinger that the album opens with. With a rockier undertone, the track Khochu peremen begins with a captivating instrumental sounding not too dissimilar from Dead or Alive’s hit song that was released a year before You Spin Me Round (Like A Record). However, rather than gaining anthemic status due to it being an inherently danceable a frivolous synth-pop tune, Khochu peremen was popularised for its message.
Translated as ‘I want changes’ in English, the song had a variety of interpretations. Though the band’s lead singer Viktor Tsoi, who sadly died in a car crash shortly after the album’s release, maintained that it was about personal change the song was perceived by some people to be about Perestroika, however, by the masses it was viewed as a more general plea for political and social transformation. At a time in which the tides were changing the song became important as it became a rallying cry for civilians fed up with oppression. It was played on speakers by barricaded civilians during the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt and recently made a reappearance during the 2020 Belarusian protests in which two sound engineers, who have sadly been imprisoned, heroically included the song in a pro-government concert.
Not only does the song have an important message, reflective of the band’s important role during social change across Eastern Europe, but the song is a genuinely fantastic tune that even without lyrical understanding is still thoroughly enjoyable. The drum beat is simply superb carrying through the energy that any good protest song requires. Though the album can often include shades of darkness throughout, often due to Tsoi’s sometimes weary vocals, particularly notable on the second track Elektrichka and the incapsulating penultimate track V Nashikh Glazakh, the record for the most part is incredibly upbeat skirting nicely around the new wave genre. In all honesty, the album is full of bangers with perhaps my favourite being the fourth track Trolleybus, but what I find particularly remarkable is their varied styles. Songs like the title track Posledniy geroy have echoes of Talking Heads on them, whilst track seven Gruppa Krovi almost feels like a precursor to a lot of the best commercial indie-rock music to have been released in the 21st century, with a highly competent stripped down guitar-heavy effort. Throughout the listening of the album I find myself physically going through a range of motions; at many points I have the urge to move my body to dance, even to headbang, and at others I feel that deep warmth and comfort that only the best music can provide. Though it is an album that having looked at some of the translation of the lyrics would be further appreciated with a greater grasp of the Russian language, I feel that this album was not only vital in its era due to its societal implications, but I also consider it to be a rare breed that has found the magic formula of sticking two fingers up to the establishment by luring many people in with their varied yet always deeply intriguing sound.