Rock’n’roll is alive and kickin’ in Russia ! Russia and especially Moscow is one of the fastest growing rock ‘n’ roll scenes in the world.
The clientele are predominantly young people. Russia has much fewer older rockers going back to the 50s or our UK Revival period of the 70s: The Communist Party and the history of the Soviet Union didn’t encourage such capitalist culture. I left the UK to live and work in Russia in August 2004. The contrast that immediately struck me most between the rock’n’roll in the 2 countries was the different generations who follow the great music. Here in Russia young people are joining and staying with it. How Russian rock’n’roll got to this healthy position is linked to Russia’s recent history.
During the 1950s in the USSR some people were playing rock’n’roll records but mainly at home. Then in 1957 the Soviet authorities organised a huge youth and student festival in Moscow. They invited musicians from the USA and the UK to come and play, comprising mainly rock’n’roll and jazz bands. One notable performer was none other than Tommy Steele! The influence of this festival on some young Russians was immense. It kick-started a significant youth culture movement in Russia, centred on St Petersburg and Moscow.
But the communist authorities made it clear that whilst they were happy to allow a one-off festival, fraternising with the “class enemy” and engaging in “decadent” capitalist culture was still forbidden. However after this festival some of the youth refused to be intimidated and began a youth culture of their own. Foremost in this Movement from the early 60s was the Stilyagi (based on the Russian word for “style”). They were more or less the first real rock’n’rollers in Russia. Their style was not 100% rock’n’roll – they also listened to and followed other brands of music such as jazz – and this was also reflected in their style of clothing. But it was close enough to establish them as the original Russian youth rebels.
This rebellion continued up to and into the period of Glasnost and Perestroika which began in the mid-80s (These were the terms used for the momentous changes in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev).
And from 1979 a new phenomenon – a group openly calling themselves Teddy Boys ! Based in St Petersburg they were formed from out of the Stilyagi movement. In 1982 they formed their own club “the Leningrad Teddy Boys Club”, based in the centre of the city. Their unofficial “leader” was Anton “Teddy”. He was an icon amongst the youth at that time and a well known figure in cultural circles during the 80s. The Teddy Boys’ Club was very knowledgeable on western youth culture and were instrumental in giving information and advice to the rockabilly rebels of that period, on such things as the correct style of dress, authentic sound of music, etc.
The Teddy Boy Club lasted up to 1984. Unlike in the UK, the youth identities were much more fluid: By the mid-80s these Teds who were still very much part of the Stilyagi culture had adopted other styles such as punk, biker, rockabilly or new wave, etc.
In the 90s in true youth culture tradition the Stilyagi and the Rockabillies had serious feuds and fights against each other ! This included many criminal arrests, mainly in St Petersburg. Russian friends who lived through those times tell me this violence was inspired mainly by what the 2 groups had learned about British rock history e.g. 50s Teddy Boys’ aggression, Mods vs. Rockers, Teds / Rockabillies vs. Punks / Skinheads, etc. In other words they felt this was what they were expected to do. So this was another famous British export !
These Russian pioneers of youth culture deserve praise. Supporting rock’n’roll (and even more so in the period before Glasnost and Perestroika) at that time carried dangers with the authorities so they were real rock’n’roll revolutionaries. Their rebellion was social, not political.
The history of the old Soviet Union meant that most members of the bands never grew up with the authentic r’n’r sound like we did in the UK i.e. listening to it on the radio, TV, or other mass media outlets. So what they did was play and re-play vinyls of the original r’n’r recordings when they became more available from the 1980s onwards. After countless hours of such “homework” the musicians finally acquired the authentic sound, adding on their own individual styles. And the results were impressive.
ROCK’N’ROLL IN RUSSIA NOW
The best bands here in Russia are not just cheap imitations of the Western sound – they have their own style and stand up in comparison with all but the elite bands in the West. The quality of the best groups here is excellent. See what I mean by checking out the following great Russian Bands on www.youtube.com (in the youtube search engine box add “Moscow” after each band’s name):
STRESSOR – GREAT PRETENDERS – BEAT DEVILS – ALLIGATORS – CORAL REEFS – RAW CATS 88 – LEX AND TEAM
So hail Russian rock’n’roll, an important member of the World’s rock’n’roll family !
Finally, a totally unrelated rock’n’roll joke, dedicated to a band that allegedly did rock’n’roll no favours –
Q: What were the worst words ever said in rock and roll?
A: “How about we let Ringo sing one.”