RUSSIA: Klyukva - Staritsa
Challenging the stereotypes of their nation, Staritsa have made a folk-electro album with a mission statement
Folk fusion can be a tricky genre to pull off. Folk music, depending on the country of course, can have an image as a stuffy and old-fashioned genre that is closed off to outside influences, and as such, folk fusion music can be seen by some traditionalists as modernising for the sake of modernising, without actually adding anything of value to the music. While I feel this can be an unfair criticism, it is sometimes understandable, especially in countries that are wary of losing their traditional music culture. However, while Russian electrofolk band Staritsa certainly do add modern elements to their traditional music, in doing so updating it for the modern day, they still retain the intrinsic Russian-ness of their folk roots. Hailing from the Central Black Earth region of Russia, Staritsa their music sounds both old and new, bridging the gap between the music of their ancestors and the more Western pop and rock that is played across Europe and Russia nowadays.
“It is this musical playfulness that marks Klyukva out as an interesting album with a lot to say, inviting the listener to partake in Russian folk, but also to challenge any stereotypes they may have around Russian music.”
Klyukva allows the listener to be understand the roots of Russian folk music, yet the electronic music elements give it an accessibility that allow an outsider to Russian folk like myself to be able to grasp just what Staritsa are trying to do. Klyukva itself means ‘cranberry’, but more importantly the word is a part of a Russian idiom which refers to Westerners othering Russia, and only referring to Russia by its stereotypes of bears, balalaikas, and borscht, which the band said was a very deliberate provocation on their behalf. Therefore, it seems that this album is intended to make people think twice about what they view as Russian music, and hopefully to give them a way into this vast yet fascinating folk music scene.
The music itself takes you on a journey, introducing you to what Russian folk music sounds like and how a song progresses in that genre, before introducing electronica elements. Indeed, the first two songs Razbeschastniy Kazachok and Kak U Nashey U Dunyashi are, electric guitar aside, seemingly are taken wholly from that wellspring of musical ideas, maybe intentionally drawing one in with those “klyukva” clichés. However, it is on the third song where Staritsa’s full ambitions are revealed, and those typically Russian beats take on a different meaning. The third track, Razlivische, begins with synthesised bass notes and a droning sound, before a drumbeat is added, followed by an electric guitar. This could almost feel like a song from a completely different album, were it not for the guitar and drums being of a similar style to the previous tracks, and furthermore, the singing on all these tracks is in the Russian folk mode, allowing it to feel just as much a part of the whole as the previous two songs. It is this musical playfulness that marks Klyukva out as an interesting album with a lot to say, inviting the listener to partake in Russian folk, but also to challenge any stereotypes they may have around Russian music. Svyatki, for example, sounds as modern as you would expect a song released in 2021 to sound, with its electronic ballad feel, but it still retains its Russian core, Similarly, Tetuskha Ulyana is almost like a rock song in its beat, but it still retains a uniquely Russian sound to it. It also must be noted that the singing, from both band members, is really excellent, and their harmonisation throughout the album is top notch.
The music itself is energetic and vibrant, and as such, it fulfils what I believe should be the focus of modern folk music. It shouldn’t be a relic of the past, it should be a living, breathing entity that people can gather around and enjoy. Klyukva is the first album from 2021 that we have reviewed on this website (thus proving how #onthepulse of the world music scene we actually are) and it is a good album to have started the year with, inasmuch as it looks back to the past for inspiration, but is keen to forge a new path forward. Staritsa wanted to challenge stereotypes of Russian music, and they have succeeded in doing so. Their album is certainly Russian folk music, but with a twist as they innovate and fuse it with modern electronica, allowing for it to be brought into the 21st Century. Folk music is not mainstream in Russia, as Staritsa have noted, and folk music of all types has to be sought out. In that spirit, this is definitely a good place to start that search.