A Culture Stuck
by Iryna Byelyayeva
Slavic countries have some of the most tumultuous relationships with their culture and history than any other. Many post-Soviet countries find themselves unable to return to their past way of life while simultaneously finding it impossible to progress is ideas and enter the new, modern world. Strict religious ideals and youthful nihilism mix together in a poisonous cocktail, with money ultimately ruling both.
Oligarkh is a Russian band which fuses EDM with Orthodox lyrics and folk songs in an incredible exhibition of the corruption that pervades Russian culture. Technically the music is young and loud—electricity runs out of the songs and forces its listeners to dance. But the idea of allowing rave music to seep right through you and completely take over your being, allowing you to forget all your worries while you dance, is broken in Oligarkh’s music. You can’t fully let go when there is a chorus of women singing ‘forgive us’.
Zemlya i Volya (2015), which translates to ‘Land and Will’ (or ‘Land and Freedom’, is a crazy blend of techno energy and Orthodox motifs. The beginning of the album, with the trio of songs ‘Forgive Us,’ ‘Hey Woohnem’ and ‘Father’ starts us off with a sinister feel. With the chanting in ‘Forgive Us’ being the Slavic translation of the Lord’s Prayer and the rapid beat of ‘Father’ being made by sampling the giant church bells in Orthodox churches, the omnipresence of religion in Russian culture is set up. But it’s not a peaceful religion in these songs—the tone of the voices sampled is low and menacing. The album opens with this ancient religion’s pervasion in contemporary culture as something to be afraid of, like the Church is never going to truly allow the State to progress.
After ‘Black Raven’ the mood lightens. The singing and lyrics in the rest of the album as still taken from hymns and prayers, but the music is lighter and more upbeat. ‘Molitva’ (‘prayer’) is a wonderfully inspiring song. When it comes down to it, Slavic people are also fiercely proud and the later songs of the album show the lighter side of combining spirituality with contemporary ideas.
Young Russians, and generally other Slavic people, are stuck. These countries historically never truly gave themselves room to develop. The Church had immense power for much longer than other monarchic countries and that power was overruled by the Communists. Before the revolution the upper classes despised Russian culture and emulated the French whenever they could, like the lower classes were all uneducated and highly superstitious. The Revolution of 1917 brought equality to the people on a general level, but it didn’t help culture progress—in fact, it stunted it.
So now we have a people who are trying desperately to find the connection between their history and customs which are so ingrained in their views of the world around them, while also building a sound future.
Oligarkh are this connection—musically, at least. The music is hard to listen to if this is your culture. Resentment sparks from both sides—the religious will find this album blasphemous, the staunchly atheist will be reminded of how their great-grandfathers still rule their lives. But this is the album that this culture deserves right now. It’s a modern work of art.
Iryna is a creative lady living in Melbourne, Australia. She is the editor of The Wall Mag and gets published here and there. She can be followed on twitter @irynabyel