June 21, 2022 20 years ago, the social network MySpace ushered in a whole new era for musicians. All you had to do was upload four of your own songs and a few photos to become part of a massive, global community of musicians.
I set up a MySpace profile in ten minutes and by the end of the day I’d become friends with David Byrne, Iggy Pop and a dozen underground Eastern European bands. With some of them I then maintained pen pals for years, for example with the Ukrainian experimental trio Ya i drug moy gruzovik (Me and my friend truck).
The guys lived in Dnepropetrovsk and sang in Russian, like many post-Soviet bands of that period. With their minimalist, guitar-less sound, they would have fitted in just as well in Berlin or New York.
In 2003 they recorded an EP with another band I followed on MySpace, Deti Picasso from Moscow. The founders of the band, the Arutyunyan siblings, later moved to Budapest, I met them on a tour of Hungary.
Times changed, Dnepropetrovsk became Dnipro in 2016, Ya i drug moy gruzovik didn’t exist anymore, singer Anton Slepakov moved to Kyiv (where he actually came from) and start new projects. The last time I met the Aturutunyans who returned to Moscow was three years ago.
They reported on the varied musical life in Russia and when I said that my Ukrainian friends and I and all my bands have been boycotting the country since Crimea was occupied, we had a long discussion. My Moscow friends said that as an artist you should remain apolitical and play for everyone, because there are good people everywhere.
Last week Kharkiv curator and organizer Alena Vorobiova wrote to me. In my hometown, Alena knows everyone and everyone knows her and loves her too. Lately you can see her more often than before because her daughters have moved to Berlin. Alena asked if I might have a room available – she is organizing her first Berlin concert and is looking for a place to stay for Anton.
It’s Anton from Ya i drug moy gruzovik! Although I had to realize that I was going to miss the concert because I was playing in Erfurt, Anton is of course very welcome, I wrote to Alena.
When I come home late Monday evening, Anton is still in my apartment. We stay in the kitchen for a long time and talk. We, Russian native speakers, converse in Ukrainian and it feels very natural. Anton now also writes his texts in Ukrainian. Last Saturday he presented his new program in Berlin, a kind of war diary, often incoherent sketches of wartime life in Kyiv, which he recites monotonously to a minimalist electronic tapestry of sound.
Until a few days ago he was in Kyiv and experienced everything that the residents of the capital had to go through in recent months. Even though he seems almost emotionless in these latest compositions and his voice barely rises, his lyrics scream, the scream hiding between the lines. The pain. The fury.
We have a lot of friends in common – at one point Ya i drug moy gruzovik even had a drummer who was in my first band in the early 90’s. He stayed in Russia on one of their tours and suddenly turned up in Berlin in March. I ask Anton if he is still in contact with Deti Picasso. I remember how a year after we met in Berlin, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh started and they got political on social media.
They wrote that God is on the side of the Armenian people in this war and sold all their guitars to help the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Yesterday I saw her singer’s latest Instagram post. Beautiful smiling dancing people. “With its warmth, Moscow embraces the city’s friends,” read the caption. “How I missed all that!”
No, Anton replies, they haven’t written to me in the last few months. Neither do I, I say.
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