Russian Postpunk: Sierpien Interview, Review, and Streaming new LP
Moscow-based Sierpien have an LP coming out on California’s Mass Media Records on November 28th of this year. Besides recent Western headlines about Pussy Riot, not a lot of people know much about Russian punk. American label Mass Media has been on a roll lately, with releases from Lost Tribe, Cemetery, Masquerade, Moth and others, and planned releases from Annex as well as a couple of other cutting edge dark punk bands (I count Mass Media among Deranged, No Patience and Sacred Bones as the labels putting out some of the best music these days). You can stream Sierpien’s LP before its vinyl release date, below.
Besides Salome’s Dance from St. Petersburg (who will be interviewed in a post in the near future), Sierpien are probably the eastern-most representative of the recent underground, DIY goth-punk/anarcho/dark postpunk revival that’s primarily to be found in western Europe and the Americas.
Sierpien’s Zawsze Nasze LP takes its aesthetic and musical cues from The Mob. The cover of the LP is reminiscent of Let the Tribe Increase or even UK Decay’s For My Country. Musically, the songs are mid-to-slow-tempo (when compared to normal punk tempos) 4 piece arrangements; the sound is introspective, mature, a little gloomy, sometimes anthemic. Another guiding light for the band is Siekiera, the Polish hardcore-turned-coldwave act, whose stark, severe imagery and sound can also be seen and heard in Sierpien’s material. The influence of Crisis can also be felt – another band that Sierpien counts among its faves – but to me, the band’s sonic approach reminds more of German “depro-punk” (“depressive punk”) bands like Fliehende Sturme and EA80, bands that represent some sort of sonic compromise between the bleakness of Joy Division and the doominess of Dance With Me-era TSOL. That’s what Sierpien’s music is: bleak, doomy, contemplative, solemn, moody punk-meets-postpunk with hints of an underlying grim, slightly gothy, atmosphere. It’s the sort of bleak punk music Westerners would expect to come from the snowy, grey streets of Moscow.
Sierpien’s Artem Bursev was interviewed by Oliver in September, 2014.
Can you tell readers what “Sierpien” means, and when you all started? Who all is in the band?
Artem: The meaning of our name is very simple. “Sierpien” means “August” in Polish. I chose this name because I wanted a word that had a neutral meaning, that sounds good, and could be written in Latin symbols (it’s easier to find information about the band all over the world if it’s in Latin). The second reason – I wanted a Polish word because most Russians don’t like Poland, and I like provocation. And of course, we have some influences from Zimna Fala bands like Siekiera, too. Up to now, we haven’t played any live shows yet. Our birthday concurs with the date when we published our first release – May 29, 2014.
As far as origins, I started working on Sierpien more than year ago. Some of our songs were written earlier – when Denis and me were playing in our previous band – Пора Кончать (Let’s End). Initially, I thought that Sierpien would only be a studio project. So I invited Denis to help me with drums (I played with him many years in some other bands). In two months we prepared 13 songs (4 of them we had played earlier). I made a demo where I played all of the bass and guitar parts, and wrote all the lyrics (except on one song). After that we went to the studio and recorded all the songs. We spent 1 1/2 months doing this.
You are based in Moscow, and in the English-speaking world a lot of us aren’t really aware of a lot of Moscow-based post-punk type bands. What is life like in Moscow and is there a big, thriving punk, postpunk or underground dark music scene there at all?
Artem: Of course there are some post-punk bands in Moscow and in Russia. But it’s a strange thing with post-punk in Russia. For example, I see that the biggest goth-punk/positive punk/anarcho-punk revival is happening in the USA, Canada and Europe now. I could name more than 100 bands doing this – not only Belgrado, Eagulls or Arctic Flowers. And a huge number of bands play this style very well or have an interesting sound. But in Russia it’s only Sierpien and Salome’s Dance that play anything like this style! And only a few listeners and bands know and understand what it even means – the goth punk/positive punk/anarcho punk scenes, that is. Most of them limit themselves to Joy Division (we have real cult of Ian Curtis in Russia after Corbijn’s movie “Control” came out), The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy. They don’t need any more bands than that, it seems. They’re usually only interested in famous club bands and don’t have any interest in the current underground of this style of music.
If you were to ask me to recommend some interesting and active Russian post-punk bands, of course it would be: InVerse (great aggressive post-punk with shoegaze and post-hardcore influences), Valery & The Greedies (started as a “Russian Joy Division,” but later became a “Russian Talking Heads”), dark punks Salome’s Dance, Dottie Danger (all of them are from St. Petersburg). From Ural it would be Городок Чекистов (greatest Russian coldwave band) and Twinmachine (sounds like Flesh for Lulu meets Red Lorry Yellow Lorry). From Moscow it would be Янтарный Копрофил (Russian space punk, as they call themselves), Fanny Kaplan (experimental post-punk), Особые условия (sounds like lo-fi Mission Burma/Big Black/Joy Division) and Sierpien, of course. And I just forgot УТРО (a side project of popular Russian post-punk band Motorama). There were more bands some years ago all over the country, but now many of them are disbanded.
I’ve seen that you cite bands like Crisis and The Mob as your main influences, and you can definitely hear that in the sound (along with, I’d say, some German depro-punk a la Fliehende Sturme!). Are you primarily influenced by English-speaking or Western European bands? Which ones? Are you influenced by any earlier Russian punk or postpunk bands?
Artem: Of course, Sierpien is mainly influenced by western bands, and mostly bands from the different British scenes. Of course, Sierpien’s main influences are bands like Crisis, The Mob, Joy Division, Lack of Knowledge, Zounds, Part 1, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Sound, Leningrad Sandwich and others. Because I sing in Russian, we sound close to some Zimna Fala bands from Poland (Siekiera, 1984, One Million Bulgarians). Also, I like the sound of the modern post-punk bands like Belgrado, Spectres, Bellicose Minds, Arctic Flowers, Alaric, Lost Tribe, Dekoder, Wieze Fabryk, Kandahar, Dystopian Society, Moth, Frustration and many others. A lot of these bands sound not like they were recorded in 2000s or 2010s, but like they’re from the 1980s. When we started to record our album I was inspired by this kind of sound.
Really, I am simply a great fan of post-punk, new wave and punk in general. I think I may have one of the biggest collections of this sort of music in Moscow! The best national post-punk scenes that are not in the USA or UK are probably in Poland and Greece. If you ask about my private influences from across the globe, however, I’d say that some Russian bands inspired me a lot many years ago. First of all, there’s Гражданская Оборона (Civil Defense) – it’s “the Russian Crass.” Secondly, it’d be Кино – the greatest Russian post-punk band ever. I like a lot Russian post-punk bands too, but Кино and Гражданская Оборона are my favorites.
By the way, there was really great post-punk scene in Russia and USSR. But most of bands don’t have high-quality records. It’s a pity. For example, the Polish Zimna Fala scene was more interesting to my mind because most bands had good quality records and the musicians played well.
What releases does Sierpien have out so far? Where can readers go and get these releases?
Artem: At this moment we have two releases. First is our debut album Zawsze Nasze, which was released on CD by polish label Bat-Cave Productions in late August (in “Sierpien,” ha-ha). Also, a small number were put out on the small Russian label Siyanie, but I think that would only be of interest to Russian listeners. And the LP release for Zawsze Nasze will be on November 28 in the USA on Mass Media Records. I like them very much and respect everything that Tricia and Cameron at Mass Media do.
Some days ago we also presented, on Bandcamp, a S\T Split EP with our friends Salome’s Dance. It consists of 3 of our and 3 of their songs. Also, it includes our internet-single “Tragedy On Kornichyka Street” (published in early August). Now it’s available only on Bandcamp, but of course we are looking for a label to release it. I think that the easiest way to get our releases is to visit our Bandcamp page: (https://sierpien.bandcamp.com/).
About that split with St Petersburg based dark punk/deathrock band Salome’s Dance: can you explain how the St. Petersburg and Moscow scenes are different, and how you found out about Salome’s Dance?
Artem: I’ve known the guys from Salome’s Dance for many years. Our previous bands – Grotesque Sexuality, Breathing of Bones, Variola Days, Prazdnik and Пора Кончать usually played together when we visited each other’s city. Vadim (SD vox), Pavel (SD bass), and me have a common interest – we collect music. Also, Vadim is my close friend.
By the way, I originally wanted to run Sierpien as a common project between Vadim of Salome’s Dance, and me. Last Spring I was inspired by a lot of the newer goth-punk and anarcho-punk bands and he said that I needed to start a new band. Because we thought that it would only be a studio project, we decided that it would be no problem to live in different places. But it did end up becoming a problem when Vadim tried to write some of the lyrics for my music. Also, we found some ideological discrepancies and I decided to continue play with Denis and use only my own lyrics. One important thing to note, though: Vadim advised me to use name “Sierpien”.
As you want to know something about split, I think that both bands used their less actual songs here. For example, we gave our oldest songs for the split. They sound a little bit different from our album because mainly they’re songs from our previous band. But we recorded them with the Zawsze Nasze LP all together anyway. In the future, the songs will have a sound that’s closer to our album’s sound. Salome’s Dance had a similar story with that split. And that’s the main conception of this split release, to my mind.
Have you all played any live shows out yet? If so, what was the crowd reaction to the music you were playing? If not, when do you expect your first live show will be?
Artem: We haven’t played live yet. Now that we want to play live shows we need to find a guitarist. At this moment we’re looking at one guy for the role, and if he fits we’ll play our first show on September 20th (it will be band’s and album’s live debut). I hope people actually show up to hear it, but usually there’s very poor attendance for post-punk, underground gigs in Russian clubs.
I’m unfortunately unable to understand Russian or read the Cyrillic alphabet very well. Can you explain what Sierpien’s lyrics tend to be about – are the songs political, are the personal, or are they a mix of both? Can you give an example of what a few of your songs are talking about, lyrics-wise?
Artem: Nearest variant is “mix of both.” They’re complicated and surrealistic. I think most of our Russian listeners often can’t understand all that I want to say in my songs, too. So it’s not a general problem. I usually think that the main thing is music, not not the lyrics. People can understand the main idea of a song without them, usually. Emotions – they’re general, I think (my favorite citation for this position is “no language, just sound – all we need know” – from Joy Division’s “Transmission”).
By the way, my dream is to make album in two variants: in Russian and in English. Of course I think that the ideas of my songs will be understood by a majority of folks across the world if I use English. But I don’t know it as well as I know Russian, so I can’t write songs in a language which I don’t know as a native speaker. Maybe in the future I’ll try to do it, when I improve my knowledge. I don’t want to look like a naïve or foolish man with bad English lyrics.
If you want to know what I sing about I’ll give some examples: “Tragedy on Kornichyka Street” is about a bloody massacre in December of 2011 in the north of Moscow. A fucking bastard with a mental disorder killed two and hurt ten people. It’s not a historical crime, like Charles Manson, for example; it is a little tragedy, but I think it was really important for some people who lost their relatives and friends. One December day changed their lives.
“Total Revival” – on the one hand it is about the evolution of music and the end of rock’n’roll. On the other hand it’s about savage Russian reality with homophobia, the rise of pseudo-patriotism, Cossack patrols (a kind of Christian militia) on the streets, and hate for everyone who goes out of step. Also, this song explains our complicated and ambiguous position about the annexation of Crimea.
“New Middle Ages” is a song about the cultural conflict between the global south, and the west. The conflict between Europe’s urban civilization and traditional civilizations from Asia and Africa. In Russia, especially in Moscow and Saint Petersburg nowadays it’s very actual. I think in European countries like Germany, France, or England with large numbers of immigrants it’s actual too.
“Ortodoxy opt. Islam” is about the renaissance of religious obscurantism and traditionalism in Russia.
“Korrespondents of News Agencies” is about the sad situation with journalism in Russia and my own experience of working in the biggest Russian news agency, “RIA Novosti”.
“New Turn” is about two old friends. One of them found out that his best friend is gay. He is confused and he didn’t know how to take this fact. Should he hate and renounce his friend, or he should accept diametrically opposite point of view of a loved one? The gay theme isn’t the main theme in this song, though. When we wrote “New Turn” we chose it because it’s a painful theme nowadays, especially in Russia. It can be another case – religion, beliefs, political views and so on.
“Punitive Campaign” is about political manipulations. People choose leaders. People want to live better. People think that new leaders help them. But usually politics ends up not being about this. So even good intentions are doomed and often people unaware that they chose the dark side. I think now this song became more relevant with the dramatic and tragic events in Ukraine, which has turned into genocide and civil war.
“Dagon loves surf”, “The Line”, “The Last Day For Excuses” are more personal songs but also with allusions to reality.
What are your feelings on Vladimir Putin and especially the situation with Putin and what’s going on in Ukraine?
Artem: It’s a really difficult and complicated question. First of all, I think that no one can see the full picture of what is happening in Ukraine now. Russan, Ukranian, US, European news – it’s all some kind of propaganda. So I can’t say that I like what Putin or Poroshenko are doing. I don’t know their real plans. Also, I don’t like Russian militaristic pseudo-patriots, but I hate Ukrainian Nazis, too. To my mind in general all politicians are bastards and they pursue their own interests and do nothing for ordinary people. Ordinary people can only suffer from wars and revolutions while the powerful do business. Fucking blue bloods! It was in every time the same. The main thing is that I am totally against war. I hope that most people in world think so.
A question I ask all bands: If you were stranded on a desert island and somehow had the ability to play records, but could only bring 5 records with you, what 5 records would those be, and why?
Artem: Hmm… It’s a very difficult question. I need to look at all of my CDs, LPs, and cassettes to find the answer. By the way it’s really big and it will be a lot of hours to think about the important choices. I will be more spontaneous and I’ll chose records in five minutes… (5 minutes later) … I think may it be:
1) Kino – “Blood Type”
2) Metro Decay – “Ypervasi”
3) The Comsat Angels – “Sleep No More”
4) Siouxsie & The Banshees – “Nocturne”
5) Aerial FX – “Same River Twice”
Where can folks go to hear your music online? What are your Facebook and Bandcamp sites, if any?
Artem: We have a page on FB (https://www.facebook.com/sierpienband) and Bandcamp (https://sierpien.bandcamp.com/). Also, people can send us letters on (firstname.lastname@example.org) if they have any questions. And we have page on LastFM (http://www.lastfm.ru/music/sierpien) and on the Russian version of Facebook – Вконтакте (http://vk.com/sierpien) – maybe some people will have an interest in that.
Thanks so much for your time! If there’s something else you’d like to say that you didn’t get a chance to, you could do so here. Thanks!
Artem: I hope that some day in the future we’ll visit the USA and play gorgeous gigs and our USA listeners will have fun. It is my biggest dream to visit the USA. By the way, I know all 50 USA states names and can paint it on a map. And I am really interested in the US Civil War, seriously.
Thank you for questions and good luck!
P. S. I wrote some new songs and in nearest future we will start to prepare new album. I think it will be sound little bit harder than Zawsze Nasze, but we will improve our goth punk style.