Techno Tuesday: Julia Govor on Russia’s rich history with electronic music
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
“Nervousness is a distraction,” Julia Govor candidly explains to me as we sit inside a Japanese eatery, waiting for our green tea to arrive. It was February in New York City, and she was just hours away from performing at the inaugural US edition of Awakenings in. Her focus, as always, was solely on the music.
Govor has undoubtedly made a name for herself in an unapologetic, yet deeply inspiring city. Original productions including “Litmus” and her recently unveiled Open Possibility EP have helped define Julia’s prospering career as an electronic musician, though these are only segments of her rich history with music. A former Russian military band singer, the modern-day Julia Govor is a product of both past and current influences. As she pens a heartfelt memoir delineating Russia’s abundant music history, we take a deep dive into the people, sounds, and places that have inspired her the most.
In the 90’s I was taking music classes where I learned how to play piano, but mostly for singing. My parents, who are not musical at all, hoped that music school would help to keep my crazy energy low as I was a very excited kid. 20 years later it still really helps manage and use my energy! 10 years ago I didn’t think that I would end up living in New York and working as a techno producer and DJ.
Music 20 years ago in Russia was absolutely different than today. I truly think that everything is cyclical, but the meaning of music has changed a lot. Technology has shaped music. In the USSR where I grew up, production was based on melody and lyrics, it was very symbolic and meaningful with endless melancholic beauty.
Russians like meaningful songs, music full of stories and dramatic ends. There are not so many happy songs about a beautiful life, there are songs about lost love, dead friends or a complete lack of understanding of what the future holds. The full history about the country is all in songs. The government was and still is controlling all the stories, but real artists have always found a way how to express themselves.
My tough music teacher Ludmila Vladimirovna was playing records of Russian classical music composers such as Galina Ustvolskaya. It wasn’t very happy music at all, the whole class would have their heads down waiting for the song to be over. I was 6 years old.
All our vocal classes were basically like this video above, a song “Krylatie kachely” was one of my favorites when I was 7. The name of the main character is Electronic and he was a hero to all of all kids in the 80’s and 90’s. I liked this song so much because of the lyrics, it is all about how “soon you will become an adult and you will never see your childhood friends again, so enjoy and love the moment you have now.”
I cried every single time. The song was produced by Evgeny Krylatov, who made more then 100 soundtracks for the best Soviet and Russian movies:
There was one movie which changed the thoughts of millions of people from all around the world – the “Stalker,” I still meet young music composers who tell me about how Тarkovskii and his movies inspire them to make music. A soundtrack was made by Eduard Artemiev, he was one of first electronic music composers in the Soviet Union:
One of my favorite albums I heard for the first time 15 years ago, “ Metamorphoses” by Artemiev made in the 80’s blew my mind:
My parents were absolutely in love with Vladim Lyudvikovskiy, who was a jazz conductor, composer and music producer. A highly honored Artist of Russia actually. Lyudvikovsky gained international fame as one of the most progressive bandleaders of swing and orchestral jazz in the USSR. My dad likes him a lot:
My mom was into the band Bravo and Zhana Aguzarova songs called “Yellow Boots” and “You, Only You And New Music.” I still hear them in my head. My mom played them almost every day. Zhana is still one of the most respected rock stars of Russia. Her look and energy always made people thing she was an alien:
My oldest sister Galina was into a band called ”Megapolis”. It was the first Russian electronic music band working with analog synthesizers. The production was absolutely different, not so busy as others Russian bands. I think they were recording albums in real good studios. It was very rare back in those days to record music in good studios, with analog synths. The album “Morning,” for example, was the biggest hit on the dance floors:
After Megapolis came a couple of other underground bands in Russia called “Звуки Му” and “Кино”, they didn’t use too many synths though. The music was mostly bass guitars and the singer looked very charismatic, but the most important element was the provocative lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBhEWLLoQzE ( Petr Mamonov is a singer and one of the most respectful art house actor in Russia this days). My favorite song from this band is “52d Monday” – I always like to play it after a long weekend, sort of my Monday confession:
ДК МАИ was one of the cult places in Moscow where lots of Russian electronic bands would perform and DJs were organizing non commercial techno parties. “Bio” a collective who opened a music studio in DK MAI were probably the first underground Russian techno producers the 90’s:
The next cool band was called “Arrival.” They were two guys who were obsessed with analog sound and had a huge collection of gear, it was very unusual for Moscow, as most producers were using only the “Unost 21” synth and not so good quality samples:
But the most influential person in Russia in the 90’s, and still to this day, is mister Solar X. Roman was the most conceptual and experimental music composer. He was also a scientist and label owner, who showed the world the best post-Soviet musicians. His production was ahead of its time. I am not shy to say that his production sounds like Aphex Twin. He was the first one who released his music on an international label in the 90’s. Roman is still active to this day:
Today’s Russian techno scene looks absolutely insane. Almost every international label has released a producer from Russia, every big festival has a Russian DJ in a line up. There is no longer an “Iron Wall” between Russia and other countries like 20 years ago. Thanks to the internet and technology, now everyone can make music without big studios and share it with the rest of the world much faster.
While I was preparing this list of old school underground electronic music from Soviet Union and Russia, I felt very emotional.
I realized that all those songs are part of me and those songs make me who I am today. The music you grow up with and were influenced by in your past is important, but there is no old or new music, there is just music. We can’t forget this.