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Kirill Ivanugo 19-May-2006 Grazhdanskaya Oborona: 1982 - 1990

Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defence) is one of the leading bands of 80ís Soviet underground which has its roots in early Siberian punk movement. The band was founded in Omsk in 1982 (initially under the name Posev which means 'Sowing') by a very remarkable figure - a poet and a painter Egor Letov who became a kind of guru for both angry teenagers and intellectuals. By 1987 the band became the most popular and influential punk-rock band in USSR due to its minimalistic but powerful and highly energetic music, gravelly and fervent singing of bandís leader Egor Letov and, the last but not the least, his provocative, ironic lyrics often criticizing the society and political system. Numerous Oboronaís albums recorded between 1985 and 1990 were made by Letov himself in his home studio called GrOb Records using the unique handmade equipment largely adapted from diverse technical devices. Some of the albums were entirely recorded by Letov alone: heís done everything from singing and playing all instruments to sound engineering and painting the cover artwork. This "do-it-yourself" attitude was one of the cornerstones of Oboronaís music.

The first three records, Poganaya Molodyozhí (Rotten Youth), Optimizm and Igra v Biser pered Svinyami (The Glass Bead Game Before Swine) represent the first period in Oboronaís history. The former two had the group playing naÔve, but smart mixture of garage rock, punk & new wave combined with witty, slightly Zappa-esque lyrics. The latter album was more experimental - entirely acoustic with guitar, flute and harmonica arrangements and strong psychedelic feel.

In 1987 Letov alone recorded five albums in a row - in a nutshell, it was angry and straightforward punk-rock with with heavy and dry sound, madly howling vocals and bitter, nihilistic, explicit lyrics. Three of them - Myshelovka (Mousetrap), Totalitarizm and Nekrophilia - are often regarded as indisputable classics of Soviet punk-rock. Krasnyi Albom (The Red Album) was nothing more than electric version of The Glass Bead Game Before Swine.

On the next three albums recorded during just 10 days in January 1988 the band tried in vain to repeat the artistic success of last yearís session: Letovís voice sounded rather tired, the lyrics were too political, lacking wit and brilliance evident on the bandís best songs. Still, these albums werenít bad at all sounding often more diverse, personal and even more experimental than Oboronaís classic punk works. In fact, the band was ready to move further to a more versatile and complex music.

All four albums recorded by Grazhdanskaya Oborona in 1989 helped them gain a reputation of one of the most original and creative bands of Russian underground. They moved from their punk roots to an eager, dark, experimental hardcore with strong psychedelic and industrial influences courtesy of Letovís avant-garde side-project Kommunizm. The sound quality remains rather poor but now this is made intentionally, in accord with the bandís conception of sound production. A variety of hand-made instruments and gimmicks, largely borrowed from junkyards, was used during the recording sessions. The music covers a vast range of styles: from folk and 60ís singer/songwriter patterns to typical American hardcore and dark Joy Division-style post-punk, from soviet popular songs to Sonic Youth-esque guitar sludge and Butthole Surfers-like sonic freak-outs. The lyrics became more profound and allegorical dealing with stereotypes of Soviet mass consciousness, left-wing social ideas, and filled with literary and philosophical references. Russkoye Pole Experimentov (Russian Field of Experiments) is arguably the bandís best album mainly due to the fantastic 14-minutes eponymous track.

The first live album Pesni Radosti i Schastya (Songs of Joy and Happiness) was recorded with technical help from members of fellow band Auktyon, who often supported their Siberian friends. The bandís live sound was even more extreme and raw, sometimes closer to death or black metal. The last studio work of classic period Oborona consisted of songs written by another Siberian punk-rockers Instruktsiya po Vyzhivaniyu (Survival Tactics) whose leader decided to quit rock music and offered the rights to all his material to Egor Letov.

Soon after that the band split and Letov continued playing and recording with his new psychedelic rock combo Egor & Opizdenevshie (which translates into something genuinely obscene).




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