Lena !

This month we continue a crucial and exciting rock’n’roll issue. Yes folks, we look at the role of women again in our rockin’ culture. As with previous articles, I have chosen a big name in Russian rock’n’roll who is beautiful and talented. Her name is Lena Kopyltsova. She is the saxophonist with the Russian group “the Lowcosters.” And here is her rock’n’roll story, from a woman’s perspective.

As a woman, I have not experienced any difficulties specifically because I am a woman. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Even though nowadays many women play all kinds of instruments, for some reason people are surprised that a young woman like me plays the saxophone. Although truth be told, playing the saxophone isn’t any harder physically than playing the flute! This isn’t the tuba, after all.

In rock’n’roll, just as in jazz and other live music, it isn’t that important if you’re a man or a woman. The important thing is how good a musician you are. Since rock’n’roll is often a joint art, personality traits are important as well. Being sociable, able to compromise if needed, and having a sense of humour – both men and women can have these and many other qualities.

I started playing rock’n’roll just a little while ago, since I joined the Lowcosters band. There was one difficulty – joining an unknown male band. However, in addition to the men the band included a young woman, and that gave me confidence at the start.

My first steps into rock’n’roll were my Dad’s LPs of The Beatles. It was then, as a child, that I was swept by that energy; those homespun, simple chords and lyrics which were nevertheless performed and sung so vibrantly, so wholeheartedly as only young, twenty-year-old men can sing. One can say I grew up together with The Beatles, listening to their albums one after the other. Their music kept getting more complex, too. It started featuring jazz chords and the solidity of rock and even some India overtones. And even though this isn’t quite rock’n’roll, their entire music emerged from rock’n’roll. In all of The Beatles albums, rock’n’roll would sometimes come gently through and at other times would again sound in all its might.

Later on, acrobatic dance rock’n’roll entered my life like a brief but very bright spark. I attended the classes for only a short time and couldn’t feel the joy of moving to this music. But I endlessly admired the young, good looking, very athletic young people who moved so easily to the sounds or rock’n’roll and performed incredible acrobatic moves as if they were weightless.

Some time later, I myself started dancing, but boogie-woogie, not acrobatic rock’n’roll. At first boogie-woogie seemed a little strange and somewhat boring: You don’t do impressive moves like in acrobatic rock’n’roll and don’t need to lift your legs as high with each movement. However, the music the dancers move to is much closer to the sources. There were recordings of the 1950s and1960s, as well as contemporary recordings styled to resemble that period. It was a completely different approach to dancing. As it turned out, dancing to real rock’n’roll doesn’t require acrobatic and athletic training, age isn’t important and even dancing experience isn’t important, either! The desire to move is much more crucial. Boogie-woogie entails a desire to submit to the dance, submit to your partner, to the impulses emerging momentarily in a unique moment born from the dancers’ moods, the musicians’ drive and everything that surrounds the dancers and excites them.

My next step in rock’n’roll was The Lowcosters band. I saw the rock’n’roll dance from another side. Now I watch the dancers from the stage with great interest. In rock’n’roll, we don’t just play on stage for the dancers. We’re at one with them. We can influence dancing in many ways; the tempo we set, the drive, varying from less intense to more intense, the type of instrument that joins in and even our mood during the solo and the entire performance all determine the dancing’s nature. Our performance often depends on the dancers themselves as well. They infuse us with energy, and thanks to this energy we feel less tired on stage. A special positive mutual connection and energy exchange takes place. These are very pleasant emotions!

The support of other female rock’n’roll performers and their friendship is of course very important! At one point I played in a band where I was the only woman. I can’t say this made me feel harassed in any way but I did miss having female company.

Now that I’m playing in a band which includes another young woman, I feel more confident at rehearsals and concerts and besides, there’s always someone I can have a friendly chat with about feminine topics.

For me, the main rock’n’roll heroes of all time aren’t women but four men known to everyone – The Beatles. They sparked my love for rock’n’roll and I know their works better than anyone else’s.

Among the female bands, as a child I listened to Bravo [an iconic Russian group from the 1980s and 90s]. Zhanna Aguzarova sang in it at that time: “Yellow Boots”, “Leningrad Rock’n’Roll” and “Cats” will always remain songs which warm up my heart. I recently learned about Suzi Quatro. She became one of the first women who created her own band and performed rock’n’roll. I think her example can inspire many, even today.

I do not have an all-time favourite rock’n’roll composition performed by a woman. There’s no such song. At different times in my life I liked different music, different performers. Regarding rock’n’roll, I’m currently enjoying the Sugarpie band. They primarily perform covers, but do it at a very high level and are worthy of note. Their main vocalist is a woman.

I am optimistic about the future of women in the Russian rock’n’roll. Of course ! I think all women in Russia, regardless of their occupation, will enjoy a great future, acceptance and growth. And rock’n’roll will be popular for many decades to come. That’s why women in rock’n’roll in Russia have all the chances for a long and fruitful career.

Richard, you asked me regarding the following: For many years now, in both the UK and Russia, from time to time, one hears rocker friends saying that rock’n’roll is men’s music and that real rock’n’roll should be performed by men. My answer is that rock’n’roll may have initially been like that. When it first emerged, it was a “hooligans’ genre”, boys tore their vocal cords and their guitar strings up and the girls watched them in awe. Of course, if we look at the first rock’n’rollers’ biographies, it becomes clear that women could have had only secondary roles there, hanging out with the musicians before and after the concerts. However, rock’n’roll has long ceased to be viewed as something forbidden, as just a young people’s genre. Now rock’n’roll is considered academic music listened to by men and women of all ages.

Outside of rock’n’roll my main interests include a love of travel, getting to know different countries and their people. I love active leisure time – skating, for instance. I do a little bit of diving. In my free time, I read fiction and go to the theatre. I love learning new things.

Thankyou for your great insights into your rock’n’roll life as a woman, Lena. My only very tiny gripe – praising the Beatles as a rock’n’roll inspiration ! But take no notice of me, Lena. I’ve disliked the Beatles since the 1960s when I was a young boy, as being some of the music “criminals” who killed real rock’n’roll with their music. So take no notice of my prejudice in this matter against the Fab Four ! And keep playing the great music, Lena !

Next month will be the concluding article on the theme of “Women in Rock’n’Roll, with another big Russian female rock’n’roll star !

Richard Hume