Pan-Russian Ambient Sound

Ildar Zaynetdinov on why his label Gost Zvuk represents contemporary Russia.

Photo by Masha Demianova

Ildar Zaynetdinov is the founder and mastermind of one of the most important record labels in Russian electronic music, Gost Zvuk. Here, he remembers his musical beginnings, explains why Russian sound is to be found in ambient soundscapes and shares the exemplary mix.

AZ: What influenced you in terms of music? Where did Gost Zvuk start?

IZ: My father influenced me a lot as a child. When I was about six, I was already a fan of Queen, collecting CDs, and listening to Vangelis, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. I was even learning to play the guitar and attending music school. As a teenager I got into street culture, started skating, doing graffiti and listening to hip-hop. I went to the United States as part of a student program and bought my first load of records. When I got back to Moscow, I sold my car, bought turntables, and began playing music and holding my first gigs.

Hip-hop is a fundamental thing for me – I am huge fan of music created during its golden age and I particularly like the Stones Throw label’s output. It’s all about beats, I bought MPC 2000 and tried to create my own music inspired by J Dilla and Madlib. I wasn't really interested in dance music at that time, but when I heard the SF-UR radio station in the video game Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, I was impressed with the house vibe. I then started exploring Detroit sound through the records of Theo Parrish, Moodymann, Omar S and many other producers. When Theo came to Moscow and held his first workshop here he was using my MPC. That’s how it's all connected for me. Sound Signature, FXHE and Stones Throw records are the labels that have most inspired me.

As well as the music, the graffiti crowd appealed to me as an underground phenomenon with its own name. You promote your own products, make stickers, engage in polygraphy and typography. I started tracking how labels function, who does the design work and felt distinctly that I wanted to be part of this process. I have always been drawn to beautiful products. Sometimes I think that creating beautiful things is the only thing worth pursuing – nothing else.

The starting point was the RAD community, which appeared in 2010. We held gigs, small festivals, and then we started releasing music. Miracle Libido, OL, Flaty, Fama87, Vtgnike, 813, and Phetish were all set in motion by RAD, one way or another.

In time I decided that I should create my own label and release music on vinyl. We came up with the name GOST [the designation of standard, approved by state – Ed]. Vtgnike added “Zvuk” and supported and inspired me a lot at the time. All the visuals for the label were created in collaboration with artists and long-time friends Adel Saleh and Pavel Kiselev. At first I had two releases ready: Nocow and Flaty. I thought of the concept, name and logo, found a distributor, and that’s how it all started.  

The technical part of the process was explained to me by Nazar Prokopiv, the founder of the label Wicked Bass. But from the point of view of a brand, a record label is not just records and a logo. It’s also a story, a specific concept and an idea. I worked on branding and communications. You don’t sell records, you sell an idea.

AZ: Was the idea initially to show Russian music to the whole world?

IZ: Yes, to share it. And I also dreamed of releasing music by Lapti – I was obsessed by the idea.

Five years ago the world was totally unstable. I understood how talented all the people around me – Flaty, Nocow, OL, etc. – were, but no one knew about them. I felt a certain sense of injustice and decided that local musicians needed to be promoted. And this idea was very honest, organic, and timely. I now feel slightly uncomfortable when I come across pseudo-patriotic hype. But at the time it was a novelty.

AZ: Would you say that Gost Zvuk’s music reflects contemporary Russia? Or does it exist in another dimension?

IZ: In my view, everything boils down to this introverted, but nonetheless contemplative, sense of reality. However you slice it, we all live in a pretty hostile environment. There’s pressure, both internal and external, and a particular climatic specificity. But despite this, there’s an enormous spiritual reserve, however trite that might sound. And there are producers today – they’re hermits – who sit in their dens, all alone. This seclusion is particularly widespread when you go beyond the borders of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

As a result, I came to the idea that, perhaps, ambient music was the place to look for a Russian sound. And I am not only talking about meditative landscapes. It can be cinematic music that tells a story or library music – just something apart from dance music. This is the strength of our producers. I know that every one of my friends on the scene has beautiful ambient tracks which are deep and meditative. I think these will soon unfold still further.

Track “Money Is A Gas” by OL is featured on the “True White” record released by Gost Zvuk in 2015.

AZ: What unites all Gost musicians? What specifically are you looking for during the selection process?

IZ: First of all, my most important requirement is for the material to be recognizable and the person’s character to be clearly heard. For some artists it takes time to find your own sound, for others it's much easier. For example, Pasha Buttechno is someone who found his own style and sound fairly quickly.

That’s why, for me, the most important thing was that every artist at the label had his own character, a set of unique features that were linked to emotions rather than a certain genre. You can sense this on all the releases. It’s most strikingly expressed in Piper Spray’s latest release with Gost. But it’s very difficult to explain. 

AZ: Since you’ve been running Radio Gost [regular evening show on local radio station hosted by Ildar – Ed.], has there been an increase in dialogue between listeners and producers? Is there a difference between the music of big cities and music in the provinces?

IZ: Yes, I didn’t think it would have such an influence and that there’d be such an effect. People write in from all over the place, even from prison. For example, someone wrote in from the Kazan penal colony – they have a so-called “Kazan Prison Music Lab” there. I think it’s great – the government should develop this initiative.

Music from Siberia is very different from that of the central regions. In Siberia, there is more influence from the geographical conditions. It’s cut off from the hustle and bustle of life, it’s more calm and self-contained, and, to a certain extent, more bleak. But even music from Moscow and St. Petersburg differ. St. Petersburg is more romantic and poetic. 

AZ: Would it be right to say that the label remains an underground one, despite the huge interest in it?

IZ: Definitely. We don’t go after quantity. We can afford to release material when we have a high quality product, a work of art which we believe in and are, therefore, ready to share with others. 

However, I don’t aim to be inaccessible. I think that’s an artificial restriction. My aim is quite the opposite – to continue sharing music with as many people as possible.