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Galia Chikiss and Her 80s Soviet Time Machine

The Russian composer and singer creates a sound collage of her childhood.

Russian composer and singer Galia Chikiss has assembled a nostalgic mixtape entitled “80s Soviet Time Machine.” The mix contains authentic Soviet and post-Soviet tunes, soundtracks from iconic 1980s films, and rock classics. She lives and works in Berlin. 

AZ: How did you choose the tracks for the mix? What served as your inspiration?

GC: I had several reasons for doing this – one being education. I am a Russian expat in Europe, I don’t try to be a European and I promote my own culture. I have a large collection of rare records both from the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, and I know a great deal about it and want to share my expertise – especially as I happen to be at the center of the music world.

AZ: Why did you choose to draw from the 1980s?

GC: In November the Berlin club SAMEHEADS, which has achieved cult status in the trendy Berlin neighborhood of Neukölln, released my compilation of Soviet electronic music: “Magical Soviet Soundtracks of the 60-70s.” It includes unique records of the Russian composers Kreychi, Gubaidulina, Schnittke, Petrov, Eduard Artemiev, and Vladimir Martynov using both electronic and live instruments. It is beautiful, profound music from films and digital versions of vinyl records. Some of these names have been almost forgotten – barely anyone remembers them at home and no one knows them in Europe. So it was logical for my 1980s mix to become the continuation of that story.

Plus, it’s the very end of the Soviet epoch, which I remember from childhood. People had good taste and a sense of beauty back then, and I believe they were purer and kinder. Music became more influenced by the West in the 1980s and the first wave of synth-pop took place. I cut out phrases and samples from films and animated films – it’s all recognizable, a sound collage from our childhood.

AZ: What is your favorite film from that time?

GC: It has always been “Gostya iz Buduschego” (Guest from the Future). I have watched it with my daughter Marusya five times in recent years. It’s an ingenious Soviet blockbuster. But there is no music from that film in my mix, nor from the film “Assa.”

Photo by Alexander Smirnov

AZ: Can you tell us a bit about the musicians whose tracks you used?

GC: The mix starts with the intro from the “Sezon Chudes” (Season of Miracles) soundtrack by Yury Chernavsky, my favorite composer from the 1980s. He wrote beloved songs for the film “Vyshe Radugi” (Above the Rainbow), performed by Alla Pugacheva. It’s very beautiful and weird synth-pop music. His solo album “Bananoviye Ostrova” (Banana Islands) was also ahead of its time and was not quite understood when released, maybe because of the strange lyrics and music. It has only now been released on vinyl – it’s a great record.

There is also electronic psychedelic music from the animated films “Na Zadney Parte” (At the Desk in the Back) by Vladimir Martynov and “Baba Yaga Protiv” (Baba Yaga Against) by Eduard Artemiev. We had both of these films at home, in the 8mm format, and I watched them in the evenings using the “Rus” projector. Due to a technical malfunction, throughout my childhood we watched them without the accompanying soundtrack – listening to other records instead. I only watched them with the intended soundtrack when I was an adult, which is pretty funny. And now this music, which I didn’t hear as a child, has a place on that mix.

Psychedelic electronic folk by Alexander Gradsky “Tanya Belaya” (Tanya the White) from 1980, I believe, was ahead of its time. It’s an absolutely futuristic piece that doesn’t adhere to any musical definition. 

Sergei Kuryokhin, Mikael Tariverdiev, Shandor Kallosh, Vladimir Dashkevich. These names mean a great deal to me. Viktor Tsoy, Boris Grebenshchikov, the band “Kofe” (Coffee) – we couldn’t do without these musicians. Of course there were other heroes, just as important. But then the mix would have been a multi-hour experience. I wanted to do something short and concise, that manages to reflect the atmosphere of the era.

AZ: You are from Vitebsk originally, but then you lived in St. Petersburg, and now you are in Berlin. How does geography affect your music? Do you miss the St. Petersburg music crowd?

GC: I don’t miss St. Petersburg that much. I didn’t have my own crowd there and the last years I spent there were rather lonely. My music didn’t interest many people in Russia, not promoters, not regular concert goers. Since I started my solo career and worked with synthesizer music, I did not perform at any significant Russian festival. For a musician, who spent many years on this it’s a failure. I decided enough was enough and left.

Life [in Berlin] is more interesting and fun. There are people from all over, it’s like a Babylon, and everyone is interested in music and goes to concerts. I play here on a regular basis, enjoy a certain attention and see future prospects that I couldn’t see in Russia. Of course the environment affects me. I am surrounded by interesting people.

The center of Berlin’s cultural life is now in Neukölln, a neighborhood of immigrants, students, and artists. Even with my somewhat reclusive family life, I still make new friends among musicians from all over the world. If I want to learn about something, I attend parties or check out a cool DJ or concert. I know about many things happening in music today and not via the internet, but from first-hand experience on the dance floor. I even have some favorite DJs now. In the summer I went to several small, so-called “family” electronic music festivals outside of Berlin and even played at a couple of them. This is the best format: the music is awesome, the people are beautiful – it’s all inspiring.

AZ: There seem to be many references to the 1980s and 1990s in your music, nostalgia even. Why is that? Does contemporary music influence you, and if so, in what way?

GC: I have recorded vastly different music over the past 13 years. My new album is a contemporary electronic fantasy with no concrete style. There are no references to the Soviet past or the 1980s. Well, maybe academic electronic music of Soviet composers. I am proud of these influences, but if I record a songwriter’s album, it will be in Russia with a vintage sound. I love vintage and old electronic music, it has something from outer space in its sound.