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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Fakel Junket
Noah Buckley
Photo courtesy of Kushnir Production

The train started with a shudder as my voyage to Kiev as a music reporter began. I was sitting in a train car reserved entirely for the elite press corps of which I was a part. We were en route to the capital of ancient Rus’ to witness the opening of a new chapter in Russian popular music...or at least the debut CD release party of a “cyberpunk” band. It was not clear to me at that point what exactly cyberpunk entailed, but I chalked that up to being a bit out of touch with Russian musical genres — especially the cyber ones. In any case, I figured this band, Fakel (Russian for “torch”), would put on a good show, and a junket to their gala in Kiev was an intriguing bonus.

The next morning, groggy late-night border checks notwithstanding, we arrived in Kiev and found our way to the tour bus. At that point we paused for a 9:00 am beer break. Some members of the entourage looked a bit queasy from the jollity of the previous night.

The rest of the morning and afternoon were spent on a whirlwind tour of the city. We were provided with a nice biznes lanch, a chance to peruse the wares (mostly suspiciously similar to those at the Izmailovsky market) for sale along Vasilievsky spusk, and an expert, Cliff’s Notes version of the history and geography of Kiev. Most eye-catching was the profusion of multicolored tents that were tightly packed into seemingly every available space on Kiev’s historic squares. They turned out to be campaign outposts for the mayoral race raging in the city. Many were staffed or featured loudspeakers blasting stump speeches, but despite the obvious public display of superdemocracy, no one really seemed to care.

By late afternoon the trip organizers returned us to the matter at hand and shuttled us off to the club for the press conference. We descended into a smallish, almost rustic-style club, where we were introduced to the band, including the keyboardist, the aptly named Blondinka. The leader of Fakel, Andrei Yakushin, explained to the gathered Moscow journalists his motivations for finally producing a full album based on texts he had written over 20 years before. After waxing philosophical about the many interpretations of the band’s name and the true nature of cyberpunk, he suddenly veered off into a short diatribe on the need for Russia and Ukraine to finally reunite and form a true Slavic nation like in the old days. Some laughed awkwardly, others were supportive, and the press conference was drawn to a close. After a stroll down Kreshchatik, Kiev’s main drag, we returned to the club for the big show.

The four-person band played a short set of energetic music on a cramped stage as videocameras hovered and the press corps looked on. Cyberpunk turned out to be something like dark, very danceable techno reminiscent of bands like KMFDM but with more pop sensibilities and a bit of a retro touch (or was that just the production?). The songs were very catchy, and Blondinka and the guitarist put on their best rock-star faces as Yakushin pumped his fist and strutted in place to the four-on-the-floor beat. What I caught of the lyrics during the show featured such esoteric gems as “an office of robots” and “a rat in kerosene doesn’t burn,” but it seemed that the esthetic of cyberpunk didn’t leave much room for any particularly nationalistic sentiments.

A quick ride on the surprisingly cramped, overloaded Kiev metro took us to the train station for the trip back to Moscow. Everyone was in a good mood, but it turned out that the life of a traveling music journalist is tiring, so before long most of us turned in to await the border guards. By midday the next day we were flying through Moscow oblast as our whirlwind trip to Kiev came to a close. Look for Fakel’s CD, 1985, at Gorbushka (but don’t expect the experience to be the same without Blondinka on keys and Andrei pumping up the crowd on stage).

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