Underground tweenoise masters in the post-USSR.
Part 1: Solntsetsvety (part 1 first appeared in Stylus)
In mid 2010, I started billing myself as a DJ who played Solntsetsvety. Solntsetsvety, or Солнцецветы, a Russian word that translates to Sun Flowers (abbreviated СЦ in Cyrillic), is an artist network which has since the late 90s been spawning lo-fi tracks and albums ranging from harsh noise and pure experimental to transcendental kraut jams and lo-fi reggae, based sort of in cities Minsk, Belarus and Moscow, Russia, and sort of on their website, lesom.ru. The groups belonging to Solntsetsvety were hard to penetrate, even armed with digital translation and English articles on David MacFadyen’s Far From Moscow, but Solntsetsvety was magic – a mystery too intense to shrug off.
The groups belonging to Solntsetsvety are almost impossible to list. One is called Solntsetsvety. Then there are folky Magnit of Solntsetsvety, pop leaning Mohk, catchy Batmen of Grande Ukraine, noise-infused Simptom Pogremushki, pop concrète Sybarites, and, amid many more, the ever-shimmering, heavily manifesto’d Magical Unicellular Music (Volshebnaya Odnokletochnaya Muzyka, abbreviated as VOM). Perhaps the most famed СЦ projects, VOM are divided into countless factions in multiple countries (each labeled with a number: VOM1, VOM4, VOM5, etc), many of which have toured and recorded with Damo Suzuki.
Early on I tracked down a guy in Moscow, Аnton Krivulya, who seemed deeply involved with at least one Solntsetsvety project, Mokh or Moss. I sent him some DJ mixes, but he firmly denied any understanding of the English language. I accepted temporary defeat.
Fast forward to fall 2011: I’m at a Kram Ran show in Toronto with an original СЦ member, Aleksei Malakhov, who’s recently moved to Canada from Belarus. He’s trying to teach me how to pronounce Solntsetsvety; I’m making an ass of myself. This has been arranged by another СЦ-er, Belorussian Roma Bernstein (who has taken part in Solntsetsvety, Mokh, Sybarites, VOM and Simptom Pogremushki, among others), whom I met by chance while scouring the internet attempting replace some albums I lost in a hard-drive crash, and to whom I am completely in debt for organizing these interviews – which are at heart attempt to explain what Solntsetsvety is: an important apparition in the bleak, heroin-scar marked post-Soviet world.
Below are select answers I received from Roma, Roma’s young brother Tim Bernstein (Mokh, VOM, Simptom Pogremushki), old-school СЦ-er Aleksei Malakhov (now a Torontonian, past member of Solntsetsvety and VOM), and Solntsetsvety mastermind: recent Moscow immigrant Anton Krivulia: member or contributor to just about every Solntsetsvety project, described by some members as a magical genius. Many thanks to Roma for his help with translations* and organization, and to Anton, Tim, Aleksei, and past Mokh member Mitya Matievich (who helped out but did not answer these questions) for their assistance.
Solntsetsvety sound is bound by something unexplainable – it’s free, DIY, allows itself to blur the line between real and fiction, and the people who make it seem to know that the gross output of the collective is greater than themselves. In speaking with five of its countless members, I found a brilliant combination of humour and frustration: anger at the dysfunction of post Soviet life wrapped up in jovial, loose, sovereign spirits.
*Just prior to my second round of questions during this interview, Anton conceded that he does know English quite well, and would be communicating with me in English for all further investigations. Roma translated between us prior to that, and also assisted with other necessary translations.