This month we focus on a great Russian city. Not Moscow or St Petersburg, the two biggest Russian cities by far. We look at a city about 200 kilometres south of Moscow. Tula is not only officially designated a “hero city”, for it’s heroic record during the Second World War, but it also boasts one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands in Russian history. In this article you will hear about Tula, about the band in question and also from Alyonushka Krasotulechka, whose role in Russian rock’n’roll you will read about below.

The band’s name is Stressor and I have written before in this column about this iconic group. This time we will go into more detail about the band’s history. First off, let’s hear from Ruslan Yusupov, the group’s bass player. Take it away, Ruslan:

About the history of rock’n’roll in Tula, if we’re talking about the rockabilly style, it all began in 1991 when 18 year-old Andrey Rublyov and his band Zvezdniy Sheyk began playing rock’n’roll hits at dances. The year 1993 marks the beginning of Stressor, the very first rockabilly band in Tula. The Magnetix emerged in 2010, and the Rocket Beats, another psychobilly band, arrived a little later. All of these bands have successfully entered the international stage, write albums and give concerts not only in Russia but in Europe as well.

Stressor began its career in 1993. The band’s line-up then was entirely different from the current one. It’s hard to believe now given his current role in the group, but Andrey used to play the contrabass as well as sing. The main issue in those days was the lack of rockabilly LPs and records to listen to in Russia. We shared albums, got together and listened to recordings. One such album was an LP from the Neo-Rockabilly Story series which influenced us a great deal. We performed several songs from it. The sound of the Tranquilizers, Blue Cats, Honey Hush and Dave Phillips entranced us. Of course, the Russian masters from the rockabilly band Mister Twister influenced us as well.

Towards the end of the 1990s, Stressor was invited to give their first concerts in Moscow. That was a big thing for the group and a turning point in it’s history. One of the most significant events of that time was their performance on a giant stage at the Olympic Stadium before an audience of thousands. Afterwards, Taras (Terry Drybones) took on the contrabass, and Andrey became a free vocalist. That’s how Stressor became a quartet.

In 2007, our first album (and the only one in Russian) Russia’n’Roll was released. In 2010, Terry (who had switched to playing the guitar) decided to launch his own band and left Stressor along with the contrabass player.

Andrey and Max had a difficult task – to find musicians who were not only good (incidentally, finding a contrabass player in Tula was practically impossible) but who understood the rockabilly and psychobilly styles and had that line of focus. Their old friend Andrey (another Andrey !) and his neighbour Ruslan (that’s me !) came to the rescue. Ruslan mastered the contrabass in less than a month! This is how the third Stressor line-up’s history began. The band recorded the albums Trip to Mad City and No More Panic, released the Optical Illusion single, produced a video clip and a dvd from a concert in Belgium. With this band line-up we gave the highest number of concerts in Europe and even performed three times at the main summer Europena Psychobilly Festival.

Naturally, at our concerts, we aim to perform the songs which the audience likes best. Our experience shows that people love Hit the Pig, Full of Zombies, 200 Bones and Dance like a Monkey. Plus all of these songs were made into video clips, which made them even more popular. When our performance is more dance-oriented, we sometimes revisit songs we perform more rarely – Mad at you, Lie to Me, Speed Up and Rain. Sometimes we enjoy playing several songs from our Russian language album, Russia’n’Roll. People like them a lot.

The rockin’ scene in Tula isn’t at its best at the moment. This is related to the lack of performance venues. Until just recently, there were clubs where we played very often, but now we perform pretty rarely in Tula.

In Russia, typically everyone got into rock’n’roll the same way – by buying their first LP at a musical flea market, wheedling a guitar from their parents and creating the first music band in school. This is exactly how things happened in our case. At first, we played covers of classic rock’n’roll, then met each other and wrote a few songs of our own. Then studios, first concerts, first tours and as a result today we have this whole mess called Stressor ! Would we like to change something about our lives? No ! Everything happened the way it should and we’re incredibly glad about that.

To begin with, my favourite Russian bands were Mister Twister and Bravo, who influenced Stressor’s work when we were first starting out. As it happens, we’re very close friends with the guys from the Russian and Soviet rockabilly and psychobilly bands Beat Devils, Route 67, the Magnetix, Wise Guyz , etc.; which is why we highly value and love their works. We’re always happy to meet and play together at joint concerts or festivals. Among the European bands, we always keep an eye on the works of Batmobile, The Quakes and Frenzy. Besides the psychobilly interests, each of us has favourite bands from other genres. Someone loves jazz, someone else loves Russian rock and there’s someone who can’t live even a day without listening to death metal albums. Such things happen !

When Stressor was just starting on its path, as I said one of the most significant events in our own rock’n’roll history was the performance on the huge stage at the Olympic Stadium and the broadcast of this concert all over the country. In recent times, the most important event in the band’s history is definitely our performance on the main stage at the big European Psychobilly Meeting in 2015. It was a long journey, starting with the pre-party in Magma in 2012, then performing in the Beach Bar in 2014 and finally in 2015, we played a big set on the festival’s main stage, along with the evening’s headliners Mad Sin and Toy Dolls.

There are many interesting stories connected with Stressor and they’re all connected to either music or concert tours. For instance, we traveled to Moscow to receive our visas for the tours in France and in the car on the way back from Moscow to Tula we created and came up with one of our band’s hit songs, Dance Like a Monkey – without musical instruments ! Also in 2013 we traveled from the Netherlands to Potsdam for the Psychomania Festival. We had to travel the entire way by train and change trains five times, with intervals between the trains of no more than 2 minutes ! How we managed to run out of one train and jump onto the next one – that remains a mystery to this day. We got to the festival on time, though.

As soon as you watch our performances live, everything will become clear regarding our success: We don’t stand in one spot for even a second and we give it our all at every concert. We often hear from people who’ve seen us, telling us that at our concerts it’s impossible to stand still. People like that. Also in our view, we work hard on writing the songs and always work on performance quality. If we gather all of this together, we get the Stressor we have now; the Stressor which has big popularity on the rock’n’roll scene for sure.

About individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that we particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here, in terms of the Tula rock scene there are only a few such people. But each one of them has left a significant mark on Tula rock music. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us. For instance, Aleksey Krutko, a very good friend of ours and a talented guitar player. Stressor’s song Loneliness was his work entirely. Plus Max Maximov and Vitya Kukoverov are very significant personalities in the Tula rock world.

Our biggest rock’n’roll heroes are the guys who started playing it way back in the 1950s. Why? Well, because they were the ones who changed not only our lives but the lives of millions of people all over the world. They invented and created all of this. My all-time favourite rock’n’roll song is definitely Rock Around the Clock. I can listen to it over and over for ever !

Regarding the future of Russian rock’n’roll, including Tula, unfortunately the contemporary music trends don’t yield an optimistic outlook for the near future. Computers and software programs replace musical instruments and singing well is no longer necessary – everything can be edited. Learning to play a musical instrument is becoming unpopular. I think the song lyrics in Russian rock music are the main thing, because they provide a unique ambience. Luckily, there still are bands in Russia who consider this current state of affairs unacceptable. They strive to perfect themselves and look for something new while keeping the old in mind. It’s thanks to them that we can have an optimistic view of Russian rock’n’roll’s future in the long term. I believe everything will be fine!

The most significant events in Russian rock’n’roll are still happening to this day! We need to bear in mind that over a long period of time, Russia was closed off from the rest of the world in terms of culture and music. In contrast, now bands come here, bands which we have listened to and which influenced us dozens of years ago. We can travel freely to see any concert in Europe. For me personally, every new concert I get to see is the most significant event in my life. And there are many more to come!

No matter which way you look at it, music is the centre of our lives. Everything revolves around it. For instance, Andrey works at a radio station, Max collects rare Russian LPs, myself and (the other) Andrey work in the field of concert and festival organization. Music is everything to us. It has been, is and will be!

Thankyou, Ruslan. And now, let’s switch tack. One of the key contributors to the success of Stressor has been their talented and hard working manager, Alyonushka Krasotulechka. Especially in Stressor’s later years, she has been a real driving force behind the popularity of the group. So let’s hear the rest of the story from Alyonushka:

I know less about Tula than my dear friends in the band Stressor. I myself was born in Moscow. Originally I didn’t know anything about rock’n’roll. Back in school, I listened to a lot of heavy metal music. One time, my father and I went to a music market near the Gorbunov Palace of Culture and picked up many different albums of Deep Purple, Nazareth and Uriah Heep. They gave us a bonus gift, The Best of Elvis Presley disc. Naturally, I just put it to the side. Literally the very next day, I saw a movie about Richie Valens on TV, and that’s what got me interested in the 1950s culture. Everything began with that Elvis disc !

In the beginning of my rock’n’roll education, Bravo and Secret were my favourite Russian bands, of course. Nowadays, it’s the Beat Devils and Stressor. Incidentally, my first rock’n’roll concert was going to see the Alligators (a famous Russian group). The next one I heard was The Wise Guyz: That was their very first Moscow concert, and my friend Dima’s obsession with their music completely astonished me. Not counting Muslim Magomayev’s Twist group, in my opinion rock’n’roll appeared in Russia in the early 1980s. For me personally, this is and will always be period of the band Mister Twister.

Of course I’m optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. As long as you can see Russian rockabilly and psychobilly bands perform in dance clubs, there is a future ! Rock’n’Roll continues to be my main hobby and passion. It so happens that all my adult life I’ve been connected to rock’n’roll in one way or another. If it’s a workday, I listen to music on my way to work and back. If it’s a weekend, I consider it wasted unless I can go to a live concert. Vacationing at the seaside means a festival in Spain. For a regular vacation, trips are always planned with an eye toward catching some festival in Germany, Finland or someplace else. Looks like my entire life is rock’n’roll all the time!

My number one Rock’n’Roll hero ? – Elvis, of course! Because he is The King. I myself don’t have one specific favourite song. But of course there’s that same long-ago disc The Best of Elvis Presley, it will always be my favourite album; maybe because it was my first !

Good Work, Alyonushka ! And her last paragraph above is a great link to the series of articles about the King of Rock’n’Roll, Elvis Presley, which I began earlier this year. In future columns we will continue focusing on Elvis, including finding out why he is so special to so many people. But next month will be a little different. Two huge and important festivals took place in Moscow in the summer of this year and in both of them Rock’n’Roll played a big big part. Stay tuned to find out more about this next month. Until then, Keep Rockin’!

Richard Hume