It took Boiler Room a while to get to Russia to do a show: our first was in July last year. But the moment we got out there we were hooked, with two more broadcasts in 2014, an outrageously great Upfront mix from the Gost Zvuk collective earlier this year, and a short documentary about our discoveries there.
So when it came to deciding on the next stop in our Stay True Journeys with Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky, it didn’t take much discussion to decide on a return trip. Off-kilter hip hop beats have always been a big driver of Boiler Room shows, and there’s something about the staggered syncopation and building-filling bass of the abstract beat scene that has had strange resonances in the ex-Soviet territories.
That’s why we’re taking two legends of connoisseur’s hip hop – the daddy of jazz-sampling, ultra-finessed rhythm production DJ Premier, and the masked one-man cryptic crossword DOOM – out to meet, perform and collaborate with some of the hottest, oddest talent in Russia.
To set the tone for our trip, we asked our Russian participants to explain their passions for beats, and give us some musical coordinates for what’s to come. Below, St Petersburg grime, ambient and footworking fanatic Raumskaya, and Muscovites Kovsh Beats, Lapti and the boogie-inflected St. Petersburg resident BMB Spacekid explain the meaning of Eastern Bloc-rocking beats.
BOILER ROOM: Why do you think Russia has taken to experimental hip hop beats so well?
RAUMSKAYA: In Russia, hip-hop has made roots and passed into our bloodstreams a long time ago. That’s why a newer more bass-heavy music became a part of people’s tastes at once and started to resound in clubs. And strange as it may seem, we also have ghettotech sounds here and now there’s much more sub bass in it.
KOVSH BEATS: Experimental music has always been loved in our country. Whether it’s jazz or punk, there’s always some kind of schizo element in it. Seems like we have that kind of spirit.
LAPTI: I don’t think it has!
BMB SPACEKID: It’s because there’re no patterns or foundations: everything’s very fickle, and those who float on creative work have to experiment.
What is best and worst about clubs and the scene in Russia?
LAPTI: I think that everything’s fine anywhere when you’re with your friends. Without them – that’s always the worst.
RAUMSKAYA: The best is having an open-minded and kind-hearted audience and seeing their reaction. But St. Petersburg has taken over with 4/4 beat, and this fact doesn’t please me, frankly. There’s less and less space for bass left. Personally I want more diversity.
Who are your personal producer heroes from Europe and the USA?
LAPTI: From the very beginning I was inspired by DJ Premier, Dilla and Madlib. These stay forever.
BMB SPACEKID: There’s a lot but, I could highlight three as my basis: Fly Lo, J Dilla and Rick Rubin.
RAUMSKAYA: DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn — thanks to these guys I’ve found my own way. All-purpose Machinedrum, ideal Cashmere Cat, ingenious frenchman Mr. Oizo and my own one Q-Tip. But forever the best for me are Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross.
KOVSH BEATS: We could list them endlessly! In the American scene I’ll name the first ten who come to mind: DJ Premier, Marley Marl, MF DOOM, J Dilla, Beastie Boys, Erick Sermon, Pete Rock, Madlib, K-Def, and Q-Tip. From Europe: Lewis Parker, Looptroop, Wun Two, Klaus Layer… we could say more.
Who are your local heroes?
BMB SPACEKID: Just speaking about sound I would highlight Lapti, Aleph, Pixelord, and DZA.
KOVSH BEATS: I feel like there are not enough Russian beatmakers to highlight, but there are definitely titans of this business such as Vladi (Kasta), Ligalize of Legalniy Bizne$$ Times, Sir-J (DOB Community) and of course Mikhey, given that he wrote the music for the best Bad B albums together with DJ LA.
In the new school, it is all about our friends DJ Boora, Smuff Da Quiz (from Ukraine), Infinite Ways, KOS and MadChe. There are a lot of interesting guys right now if you want to dig a bit. Just recently the guys from Dope90 released the cassette compilation Soviet Boom Bap where you can get acquainted with our small scene.
“Attention is something you have to earn. When Russian artists create killer stuff, everyone will look in our direction.”
Do you think the outside world is paying enough attention to Russian underground music?
LAPTI: No — but that’s what makes it underground. Those who seek shall find.
BMB SPACEKID: I’ve experienced first-hand that there is interest, and I’m taking part in this show with the express aim of showing how different our scene could be.
RAUMSKAYA: Attention is something you have to earn. When Russian artists create killer stuff, everyone will look in our direction. We have to invent our own style for this.
KOVSH BEATS: They definitely don’t pay much attention to our glorious scene! We wish there were more international collaborations and sharing of broad ideas.
What message do you want to send with this Stay True Journey?
BMB SPACEKID: One aim is to share my energy with people, because music is either energy or information. I don’t know yet!
KOVSH BEATS: We want to take Soviet boom bap international!
RAUMSKAYA: It’s a great chance to show the quality of our scene, our own sound. But maybe the underground should stay in the underground.
LAPTI: Come to Russia and stay here forever. Of your own free will of course!
Our broadcast from Moscow with Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky takes place on Thursday 23rd April with DJ Premier, MF Doom, Samiyam and a host of the finest artists from Russia’s beats scene. Find out more here.
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