I had been warned about Peter Mamonov. According to the Soviet rock journalist Artemy Troitsky. one of his Moscow gigs turned into ‘an unpreccndented orgy‘. The lead vocalist and songwriter in Zvuki Mu finished up flat on his back while girls in the audience clambered on stage to lick his black patent leather shoes.
Zvuki Mu‘s concert video gives some idea of Mamonov‘s bizarre on-stage antics. Balding. with gaps between his teeth. he is not exactly a pretty sight — especially when he rolls his eyes leaving the whites grotesquely exposed. One has some sympathy with the puzzled reactions of the official Soviet news agency TASS: ‘Why is this man mad'.’ What illness makes him mad‘.’. But in fact. Mamonov seems a lot saner than many Party men and a hundred times more charismatic.
He is exciting to watch because he is so unpredictable. Most people would not find the music easy to dance to but Mamonov excels at it with his strange body and facial contortions. One minute he is snuffling around the stage in an alcoholic stupor. the next he drops his microphone as if it were a poisonous viper and dives to retrieve it with the grace of an acrobat. Sometimes he makes jerky little
‘Used to frighten people‘
movements like a lunatic robot. then he‘ll break the spell with a scream on animal pain. His face can change from the angelic to the anaesthetised to the aggressive in a matter of seconds. He has been hailed. with his off-the-wall music and outlook. as the Soviet David Byrne.
Mamonov says he is only copying ‘life as it is‘: ‘At this very moment there are people laughing. crying. fighting. making love. getting drunk . . .doing all kindsofthings. Andl have to convey all these moods in a concentrated form — in 40 minutes on stage‘.
Most performers dislike haveing to ‘explain‘ themselves or their lyrics and Mamonov is no exception.
The name of the band. formed around 198-1. is relatively straightforward: literally it means ‘Sounds of Mu' — the noise made by cows — and it is also an ironic reference to The Sound ofMusit'. a very popular film in the USSR. But asking questions about individual songs is not particularly productive. Is there a story behind Krym (Crimea) I wonder. and why is Mamonov wailing about being hot. wet and penniless in a telephone box‘.’ The singer cheerfully shrugs his shoulders: ‘Money is something I need quite often . . . (long pause) and in the Crimea it is hot‘. Oh well. of course. that explains it.
Undeterred. I try again. What is the meaningofthe ‘three hundred minutes ofsex with myself’ song‘.’ And where does the Moscow Metro fit into it all‘.’ Mamonov leans forward and stares into my eyes like a hypnotist. ‘Sex is everywhere . . he answers slowly. ‘It is in the air. the
Peter Mamonov has been hailed as the new David Byrne. Lucy Ash meets the bizarre but charismatic lead-singer of Zvuki Mu. one of the two Russian rock bands coming to this year’s Mayfest.
street - talking to a journalist. I consider that is a kind ofsex too.‘ I decide it is time to change the subject but he continues: ‘No but seriously . . . In our country now we’ve got perestroika‘ — he pronounces the word mockineg with a posh English accent — ‘and that means that everyone is having to get undressed in public'. Literally‘.’ Metaphorically‘.’ Better not ask.
Zvuki Mu may be billed as ‘one of Russia‘s leading underground bands‘ (they are also the first Russian band of any significance to record in Russian on an English label. Brian Eno's ‘Land' records) but it is hard to find an obvious political slant to their music. The focus is more on social outcasts. like alcoholics. hooligans. drug addicts. although of course. such subjects rarely surfaced in pre-glasnost days. The song ‘(irey I)ove' sounds like a punk anthem celebrating the raw energy of non-conformist Moscow: ‘l‘m dirty. I'm exhausted My neck is so thin Your hand won‘t tremble when you wring it off I‘m so bad and nasty I’m worse than you are I’m the most unwanted I'm trash. I’m pure dirt BL'T I (‘AN I’LY‘.
But not all outcasts are the
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stereo-typed ‘dregs ofsociety‘. "Traffic Policeman‘ is dedicated to the hated militia who stand all day in the bitter cold breathing in petrol fumes: ‘Take off your peaked cap. . . Break yourtruncheon in two. . . Nobody likes you — time to go home traffic policeman. go home‘. Apparently the song went down a storm at a gig in the Ukraine where the hall was half full of policemen. ‘We have a very mixed following'. explains Sasha Lipnitsky. the bass guitarist. Not everyone is so appreciative. Old ladies — babushki - used to shake their fists as they passed Lipnitsky's dacha where Brian Eno worked with the band last November. Mamonov laughs: ‘They found the sounds coming out of the recording studio terrifying. especially at night. Some ofthem even talked of‘unclean powers‘. He admits: ‘I used to try to frighten people to get inside their heads‘ — Mamonov mimes a tin opener slicing through a skull and throws in a few sound effects. ‘But now I don't think it is so necessary — a lot ofwalls have come down'.
Lipnitsky adds: ‘At first bravery was what counted the most for rock musicians in our country. But now
the situation is far from complicated. A band called Primus used to shock with songs about sex — now that books like Nabokov‘s Lolita are available people just think so what'.’ Before everything underground was considered dangerous and interesting - now bands are out of the basements and talent and musicians are far more important .'
According to Lipnitsky. Zvuki Mu‘s refusal to compromise distinguishes them from other Soviet groups who ‘sooner or later adopt the rules ofthe ugly ‘local game". Bands all over the world have a hard time combining artistic freedom with commercial success but the conflict seems especially strong in the USSR.
Mamonov says: ‘Musicians are ﬂattered. then told that certain songs are ‘unnecessary' so these get quietly dropped and replaced with nice lyrics about children‘s smiles and sunlight — one small compromise is the beginningofthe end‘. He laments the fact that Zhanna Aguzarova. the talented female vocalist with Bravo. is now singing in Estrad concerts — big budget razzmatazz affairs filled with ‘easy listening music’.
‘Younger bands don't have our experience of life and so they can
‘Sex is Everywhere‘
make mistakes‘. says Lipnitsky. It was Lipnitsky who recognised lVlamonov‘s talent and who supported the band financially for the first five years. But he is a curiously peverse PR man. ()n the press release he writes: ‘I think Zvuki Mu like all the Soviet People. have sad prospects: ()ur physical and moral health is coming to an end.‘
AVIA. the dynamic Leningrad band also appearing in Mayfest. share Zvuki Mu‘s taste for theatrics. A six-piece jazz-rock ensemble with a back-up ‘Physical Exercise Team' of 10 female dancers dressed in the uniforms of Aeroflot hostesses. the group performs a kind ofsatirical cabaret. Their name stands for Anti-Vocal Instrumental Ensemble —- Vocal and Instrumental Ensemble being the bureaucrats‘ long-winded term fora rock group. Deliberately bland lyrics. which could have been written by an official composer. are punctuated by sharp aggressive inusic and the dancers witty parody of a totalitarian state.
AV'IA were due to play at last year‘s Mayfest but the invitation got lost somewhere between the Leningrad Youth Konsomol. (iosconcert and the Soviet Ministry of(‘ulture. Mayfest organiser Bill Burdett-(‘outts is crossing his fingers this time round: ‘I think people will be impressed by A VIA and Zvuki Mu. I‘ve heard a lot ofSoviet music and it is mostly derivative of Western groups but those bands are very. very unusual and indelibly Russian.‘
Zvuki Mu play on (he Ran/raw l’erry from 4-6 May; A VIA a! the Tramway 'l’lu’alre/rum 5—6 May. See 1.1's‘lings.
The List 21 April ——l May 198‘) 21