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Siberian Frontier

Krasnoyarsk-based musician HMOT and his colleagues are pushing the boundaries with their new music festival.

HMOT performing at Boiler Room Siberia in Krasnoyarsk, September 2015. Photo by Evgenia Manerova

The Frontier Festival for Far Out Sound and Art will be held on Dec. 2-3 in Krasnoyarsk, with the support of the Goethe-Institute Novosibirsk. Local composer and musician Stanislav Sharifullin, known as HMOT, is one of the festival organizers and will be performing at the event. Here, he talks about the value of attracting international artists to a Siberian festival, particularly for local talent, and the strong influence the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk exert over their young creatives.

AZ: Where did the festival idea come from and what does the word “frontier” mean for you?

SS: Well, on the one hand it’s an obvious, even overused cliché. Siberia has always been a frontier in the colonial sense – like the late 19th century in North America. It’s an area to develop, an area where the wild things are. Actually, if you search through the internet, you will find papers comparing the Americas with Siberia – some of which, of course, are utter bullshit, but the fact they exist tells you a lot.

On the other hand, it’s an exploration into the dialectics of “barriers” against “boundaries.” Kant’s stuff, you know. In which all barriers are obstacles, something you can’t cross. While boundaries are more like creative tools which help to define things – marking lines by crossing them. Basically, we want to know whether it’s the first or second thing in this case. Whether people are stuck within the borders of their minds or they understand how insane our world is. The last thing we need now is the building of more walls. Of course, music and art, in general, are not universal languages, but one can easily learn if there’s intent.

AZ: Alongside live music performances, the festival lineup includes sound and video installations. Why do you think the visual element is important?

SS: It’s a double-edged sword. It seems like the public responds better when there is something visual. But sometimes it also distracts if the music itself has a strong narrative. Like, the extra information busies your sensory channels. Of course it depends. When I think of what Raster-Noton label puts out, it’s one thing – it’s a complete whole in which music and video are scrupulously synchronized. It’s synesthesia, another kind of affect. But when there is just random footage shown over a DJ set – I’m not really sure it’s worth it.

Photo by Liza Kin

AZ: Last year, with the support of the Goethe-Institute, the CTM Siberia festival took place in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, with performances by both local and German artists. Did the event have any influence on life here?

SS: Sure. We needed the Other to get rid of our complex. For many people it was an eye-opening experience to compare and realize that some local artists are even better than their European colleagues. I think there are at least ten people I know personally who were inspired to start writing music. That’s why we need more of this – it’s another important goal of our current endeavor.

AZ: Is there some kind of unified “Siberian scene” forming in these cities?

SS: Personally, I don’t believe in local scenes anymore – it doesn’t work since we have the Global Network. And as you may understand, Siberia is definitely not a favorite hipster destination. Usually people say that Krasnoyarsk is considered to be more “cool” – the region’s self-proclaimed cultural capital with its huge, contemporary art museum, book fairs, underground clubs, and so on. Novosibirsk is a kind of a financial and industrial center, focused on earning money. These are local stereotypes, of course. I mean, it’s two different cities within 800 kilometers of each other. Yes, there are some great artists. And yes, we communicate a lot. If that means that there is a “scene” – I’m fine with it. In the end they’re just words.

AZ: Do these musicians and artists work with the local context?

SS: Some of them, but in a tricky way. Let me explain. In the early 2000s the new generation of Siberian contemporary artists appeared – I don’t want to list any names, but they made fun of all those local stereotypes: snow, fur hats, bears, etc. They were working a great deal with the visuals, all those snowflakes and so on. In the beginning it was fun, all this “Siberian ironic conceptualism,” until it started to become trendy. That’s where they screwed up.

Nowadays it is annoyingly mainstream – snowflakes are literally everywhere, everything is Taiga-related, they even have a Siberian Burgers cafe in Novosibirsk where the entrance has a real axe welded to the door as the handle. It’s just ridiculous. What once was a laughingstock has suddenly become the new norm. And everyone is pissed off with this capitalist approach – as if someone’s selling your identity. That’s why new, emerging artists are trying to avoid this topic or to deconstruct it. Good examples of deconstruction are the works of visual and street artist Sasha Blosyak – his psychedelic approach, all these smiling pinecones and fir trees. Others are trying to reduce this trend to absurdity, to overwhelm and destroy it so everybody feels nauseous just looking at the image of a snowflake – say, Philipp Krikunov, for example .

It's more difficult with music, of course, because it doesn’t have any visuals. I’m thinking about Nikita Bondarev and his “Siberian” series – but he works a lot with images, photos. Of course, he has fun with it – all these snowscapes, melancholic tunes, and cheesy track names like “Siberian Loner.” I also remember reading a review on one of my records and there was this “percussion is crunchy as snow” metaphor. What else I can say?

AZ: What’s currently happening with your Klammklang imprint?

SS: It’s alive and well. But we think it’s the right time to make a proper deal with some distributor in Europe because we suck in customer support. So I guess that will require some time. Before the pause, there will be this compilation coming out on December 26th with some exciting new names on board – Roma Zuckerman, Maria Teriaeva, the2vvo and others.

Maria Teriaeva performing at the home studio using the Buchla Music Easel and Eurorack modular synthesizer.

AZ: At the festival, you are introducing your new program “Death Studies.” What’s it related to?

SS: It’s connected to my album, which is hopefully coming out next year. A boring blah-blah-blah conceptual thing. Related to death, eventually. Let’s talk about it when it’s released.

AZ: Do you find it difficult to combine the roles of promoter and musician?

SS: I hate being a promoter. Please let someone else do this job. It takes so much time, money, and nerves, which I could use much more productively. I still suck as a musician and there’s room for improvement, but I always end up expending energy on something else. It’s a great relief that we have a great festival team who have most aspects covered. So, thank you very much, guys.