How to Be Sad with Frightened Rabbit

Why the sad face, Frightened Rabbit?

Why the sad face, Frightened Rabbit?

Having a bad day? Bad Life? Are you “looking for a place to lie, guess a grave will have to do”? Then I would highly suggest that you turn on some Frightened Rabbit. This Scottish Indie-Rock band has perfected melancholia, and validates your sadness in a way that you didn’t know you wanted. 

The band formed in 2003, in Selkirk, Scotland, but is now based in Glasgow. They’ve spent their

Frightened Rabbit rocks out on stage

Frightened Rabbit rocks out on stage

last 11 years touring and making music that is both sad and deliciously clever. Their own blog is surprisingly upbeat (I was shocked my all the exclamation points), but don’t let it fool you.

While they probably aren’t coming to a city near you anytime soon, I would argue that sometimes the best way to listen to them is while you’re crying on your bathroom floor.

In preparation for that moment, I have compiled a list of 5 Frightened Rabbit songs you should listen to and when you should listen to them.

“My Backwards Walk” 

Type of Bad Day- Your soul has just been crushed and you now need to start your whole life over.

While this song is most explicitly about a break up, it could suffice for any major screw up or loss. It very perfectly illustrates the feeling of needing to move on, but not being able or ready to do so.

 “Footshooter” 

Type of Bad Day- You keep making the same mistake over and over again, and now you have confined yourself to a life of misery.

Everyone does this. You know something is going to end up badly, and you do it anyway. And then it ends up badly. Frightened Rabbit would call that “shooting yourself in the foot.”

“If You Were Me”

Type of Bad Day- You had to make a tough decision, and it is haunting you, and may continue to haunt you for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and you choose the hard place. But it’s the only thing you could’ve done.

“Nitrous Gas” 

Type of Bad Day- You are so sad and you would prefer to just sit in your melancholy forever and ever. You’d prefer to bring everyone down with you too. Everything sucks. Leave me alone.

“The Loneliness and the Scream” 

Type of Bad Day- You feel all alone in the world, and there’s no one there to care. That’s not true though. Frightened Rabbit is always there for you.

Well, I hope you are all prepared for your next bad day, and if not, Frightened Rabbit has 4 full-length albums and 2 EPs! There’s got to be a song somewhere in their discography to sympathize with your sadness.

…and for a little lit of Eurokulture, Frightened Rabbit’s love/hate letter to Scotland in song format:

“Scottish Winds”

Europe’s Jihadists

The conflict in Syria is now in its third year. It can be characterized by the heavy influx of foreign fighters – up to 11,000 as of December – as well as the sustained use of social media, particularly Twitter and YouTube, by rebel groups.

To set the stage for readers who are unfamiliar with the Syrian conflict, here is a VERY superficial, and entirely insufficient summary of the situation. Bashar al-Assad has been the president of Syria for 14 years, following his father who ruled for 30 years prior. Assad is the leader of the Ba’ath party, which promotes a pan-Arab state and is ideologically tied to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party in Iraq, as well as an Alawite. Alawis are a branch of Shia Islam, generally ideologically opposed to the vast majority of Muslims – Sunnis.

In the general upheaval of the Arab Spring, Syrians protested for better living conditions and political representation and were met with harsh retribution by state forces. Soon, the protests evolved into outright civil war which has devastated most of the country. There have been accusations of chemical weapons and other extrajudicial killings by both the Syrian regime and rebel factions. Both sides receive heavy support from external actors – generally aligned with their respective religious ideologies. For a really good breakdown of these groups, see this series of Reddit posts: One, Two, Three, Four.

Of particular interest (and concern to some) is the increasing number of foreign fighters coming from Europe and North America. Germany, this blog’s focus, has contributed about 270 jihadists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm5CQOUrhYo

One of these Germans, a rapper named Deso Dogg, made headlines inside and out of the social media community after he converted to Islam, moved to Syria as a jihadist and was reportedly killed, then confirmed to be alive. He now goes by the name Abu Talha al-Almani and outspokenly encourages German-Muslims to leave Germany and participate in jihad.

Though Germany is Europe’s most populous country, many European jihadists have come from smaller nations like the Netherlands and Belgium, although that trend seems to be changing. They increasingly use social media to document their lives as jihadists; one Dutch fighter posts regularly on his Tumblr (WARNING MAY BE GRAPHIC), mixing images of dead fighters and children with AK-47s and even posts titled “cats of the mujahideen” (NOT GRAPHIC, JUST KITTIES). He even has an ask.fm account set up to answer questions that his followers might have. While many foreign nationals join existing factions, there is at least one faction that is comprised entirely of foreign fighters, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters) who you can follow on Twitter here.

Opposition groups have always used social media to promote their message; they often post videos of successful missile attacks or hard fighting to improve their image. Just as often they post ultimatums, decrees, or threats towards other groups. The Syrian conflict’s fighting has spread to the internet. Journalists (and regular people) have jumped at the chance to follow every detail of the conflict via primary sources. The entrance of western voices into this mix is a way for Syrian groups to reach out to western audiences who are mostly disinterested and possibly gain support.

For more information on the Syrian conflict, check out http://reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar which is a great example of citizen-journalism, essentially collating the thousands of social media posts into a more coherent picture.

Against All Good Taste: New-age Music’s Global Reincarnation

To ensure the proper state of  mind for reading this post, find a comfortable chair, do some deep-breathing exercises, and let it all go. We’re about to get mellow.

At the end of last year, the fantastic reissue record label Light in the Attic put out the wonderfully blissed-out I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990, compiling twenty new-age composers, both well-known and obscure.

I should note that well-known is an extremely relative term when speaking of New-Age music, a genre generally cast aside as being boring, cheesy, and generally laughable. Auftouren argues that “Spätestens seit dem Italo-Revival ist „cheesy“ kein klares Schimpfwort mehr,” that is, “Since the Italo-revival, ‘cheesy’ is no longer an insult”. Take a look at Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco:

Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco

Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco

If Giorgio is no longer cheesy, then it follows that nothing else can ever be cheesy ever again.

Anyway, I feel like New-Age music as a whole is grossly misrepresented in the public imagination. Die Presse makes the argument that “New-Age” tends to be a pseudonym for poorly-produced soundtracks, used to dress up pseudo-spirituality, and I’m sort of required to agree. But you don’t have to buy into all of the metaphysics of it in order to appreciate it.  The point isn’t to be catchy, nor to be popular, but rather to be meditative and serene, and if you don’t like it, then get out. New-Age musicians wouldn’t put it that way, though. They’d be a lot more mellow about it.

Iasos would be especially mellow in telling you to chill out and enjoy the music

Iasos would be especially mellow in telling you to chill out and enjoy the music

So, if an American compilation of New-Age music is getting German-language press– favorable press at that, then what is the German connection? It’s a story that goes back to the heady days of 1960s West Germany, where people were taking loads of drugs and messing with huge synthesizers. German groups like Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel are the direct progenitors of New-Age music worldwide, and I dare you to listen to Ashra’s New Age of Earth  without being swept away on waves of synthetic bliss.

In response to the publication of I Am the Center, the New York Times ran an interesting post entitled “For New Age, the Next Generation“. It’s well worth a read, but I’ll summarize for you here: New-Age music and German progressive electronic music of the 1970s and 1980s has crossed the pale of “cheesiness” into the safe harbor of popular appeal.

The Times includes a quote from I Am the Center mastermind Douglas McGowan, and I’d like to use it to close out this post.

“Getting away from the noise of society is such a central idea in that space is silence and nothingness and emptiness…Once you wrap your head around nothingness as being a virtue, it becomes so much easier to appreciate the music on its own terms”- Douglas McGowan

Maybe we should all just get away from the noise of work, traffic, the kids, what have you, and slip on some headphones and embrace wonderful, peaceful, beautiful nothing.

Bach to the Basics

I plan to engulf myself into a completely foreign land and culture this summer. Even though I’ve studied German since junior high school, I never had the chance to make it across seas. Now, the time has come. Leipzig, the city of music, is my summer destination.

04nextstop-span-articleLarge

Photo courtesy of Oliver Hartung for the New York Times

Because Leipzig is known to be such a vibrant city, I wanted to familiarize myself with some of its musical sites and sounds, or at least some upcoming concerts. A New York Times article, while a bit dated, shows Leipzig as a huge art hub, and I don’t see this scene dwindling in popularity anytime soon. Songkick showed more than 400 shows coming to Leipzig, and naturally, I YouTubed as many as I could. Just as expected, I found a range of bands varying from folksy, fun tunes to electronic ragers.

Obviously every band wasn’t German-speaking, but my curiously leaned more toward those that were. Next year will be the 330th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth, so hopefully I’m traveling into a musical whirlwind – or these days some electronica rather than graceful compositions. However, there’s more than just electronic music, don’t worry.

Whether you fancy classical music or modern alternative music, it can all be found right in Leipzig. The Bach Museum plays instrumentals and hymns of Bach’s work, while the Werk II moves away from that style and into hosting popular multicultural events. To find more music like the links I posted, I think the UT Connewitz and Conne Island seem most appealing. The UT Connewitz shows modern, alternative films and Conne Island features hip-hop, ska, and again, more alternative.

Bach’s birth isn’t the only reason for Leipzig to celebrate at these venues either, keeping the music industry going strong. In June of this year, it will also be his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s 300th birth anniversary. In honor of this event, along with  anniversaries for Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss, a series of events and exhibitions will open, adding to already-standing museums and complimenting other festivals like Bachfest Leipzig.

For the full report, click here.

Bushido for Berlin: German Rap and Politics

In June 2012, he completed an internship in the office of Christian von...

Center, Rapper Bushido

When I first visited Germany I was surprised to see the differences between their rap music and ours in America. The styles, messages, and even the beats seem to be quite different in some cases. The biggest thing that stuck out to me, though, is how political their rap can be. Sometimes American rappers will touch on political topics, but in Germany there seems to be an entire branch of political rappers. They rap for and against political policies, and even world issues.

Die Fantastischen

Die Fantastischen 4

Rap, or hip-hop, in Germany came about in the 80’s, and was quite similar to the rap in the United States, including the fact that it was made in english. Since the style of German rap was so similar to American old school rap, it did not grow in popularity until the 90’s. A notable name for the rap scene during the 80’s was Die Fantastischen Vier (Fanta 4) from Stuttgart. In the 90’s Fanta 4 followed suit, with the group Advanced Chemistry, and started rapping in German. This would be the moment that German rap rose in popularity within Germany. Rap was not the only thing on the rise in Germany during the 90’s, though. After reunification between East and West Germany, there was a rise in immigration, and this is the period that one can notice the use of rap as a voice for current affairs. Billy Jam, a radio host from New York’s WFMU, wrote:

“By the early ’90s, Turkish-German, the country’s largest minority, became a powerful voice in German hip-hop. German-Turkish rap essentially came into being in the 1990’s as a direct correlation with the rise of anti-immigrant feelings in Germany and violent attacks upon Turkish immigrants in the country. Hip-hop quickly became a voice for this marginalized sector of German society and consequently the number of Turkish-German rappers has multiplied vastly.”

Immigration to Germany had been going on since the 50’s, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, there was a rise in violence against Ausländer or foreigners, especially those of Turkish decent. Consequently, from the 90’s on German rap has become very politicized.

Rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the complex, trapping residents inside. It...

Riot against foreigners at Rostock

Not all German rap is political, but mainstream German rappers like Sido, Fler, and Bushido all are known for their politically controversial lyrics. The rapper Bushido is a great example of this. Bushido’s real name is Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi. He was born to a German mother and Tunisian father, and grew up in middle-class Berlin, but soon after leaving school he was charged for crimes of vandalism and drug possession. When he started his rap career he joined with German hip-hop label Aggro Berlin, who is also known for provoking controversy. In a paper on changing demographics in Germany, J. Griffith Rollefson states, “as the racialized descriptions, symbols, and alter egos of the label’s artists indicate, Aggro Berlin is in the business of capitalizing on government and media fears in a racially hypersensitive nation.” This fit well with rapper Bushido who’s lyrics are known to be misogynistic, nationalist, homophobic, and crude. Other controversies of Bushido include tweeting anti-israel posts, having possible ties to a Lebanese organized crime gang, assault, and copyright infringement. One of his latest controversies comes from his single Stress ohne Grund (Stress for no reason). In the song he says:

Und ich will, dass Serkan Tören jetzt ins Gras beißt,
Ich schieß auf Claudia Roth und sie kriegt Löcher wie ein Golfplatz

In this segment of the song, he is speaking about two politicians. The first one, Tören, he wants to “bite the dust”, and the second one, Roth, he says, “he shoots [her] and she gets hole like a golf course.” Also, in the song he speaks about the gay Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and others. Bushido had charges filed against him, because the song was considered homophobic, racial, and violent. In a later interview, he stated that the song is “in no way a call to violence and that if he shoots with anything, it’s words.” Bushido also wrote a bestselling autobiography and played himself in a film about his life, but after all of this controversy, the next step he takes in life is quite surprising.

Bushido Internship

Bushido interning in German Parliament

In 2012, Bushido announced on Twitter that he would be starting his own political party. In an interview with Bild Magazine he says, “he was seeking to become mayor of Berlin and win a state parliamentary seat.” This comes as a surprise to many, and Bild Magazine even asked him if it was a joke, which he said it was not. He even did an internship in the German Parliament to learn more about politics. At the time of the interview, Bushido did not know what his party would be called or what platform the party would have. He did say, however, “while the platform for his as-yet unnamed party is not complete, he’s committed to helping those in problem areas, especially immigrants.” His goal is to make life easier for immigrants living in problem areas. He doesn’t just want to give them money though. He “wants to create more incentives [for immigrants] to voluntarily [learn German],” which would be a start to making life easier for them. He also wants to bring other German celebrities into his party, like actor Moritz Bleibtreu from Lola Rennt, former Wimbledon champ Boris Becker, and music producer Dieter Bohlen. When asked about his past lyrics of homophobia, misogyny, and violence, he says, “These texts are past … I have nothing against gays. And my God, we love women, women are sexy.” While the next elections are not until 2016, I think it will be very interesting to see what comes of this. To see a rapper, who has a controversial and criminal past that made his living on crude and violent lyrics, step into the political realm is something to follow in the future. It is hard to say how much success he will garner politically, but maybe his popularity in the rap industry will help him to become mayor of Berlin. Since rap has such a strong political voice in Germany, maybe it is possible for the two worlds to collide. 

Sources: A Brief Overview of German Hip-Hop from Billy Jam /// Changing Demographics: Migration Flows from or to Germany /// Bushido Ballyhoo: When Hip-Hop and German Politics Collide /// German Rapper Bushido Starts Own Political Party /// Rüpel-Rapper Will Eigene Partei Gründen

Germany’s Elektronische Musik

WDRstudio

The WDR Studio in Cologne

Long, long ago, long before the days of blaring techno and warehouse raves, electronic music got its start not in dance clubs, but in radio studios and laboratories near Cologne. As far back as 1950, there were Germans splicing tapes, turning dials and making loads of bizarre noises in the studios of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk and Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk radio networks.

Now, in the late 1940s, some Frenchmen, namely Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, began experimenting with musique concrète, making compositions with tape recordings as the principal instrument. In 1949, Werner Meyer-Eppler published Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache, a thesis encouraging the production of purely synthetic music. Meyer-Eppler’s text presented a new German form of music, consciously different from French musique concrète in that where the French worked with recordings of acoustic music, the Germans would use only purely synthesized electronic sounds.

karlheinzstockhausen-sized

Karlheinz Stockhausen himself

The WDR studio in Cologne became the nexus of this new so-called ‘elektronische musik’, with Karlheinz Stockhausen as its most charismatic representative. Stockhausen’s studio produced not only music, but also a following of students who would take their studies in electronic music, combine that knowledge with rock music a la The Velvet Underground and created the progressive rock music dubbed “Krautrock” by British press. Among Stockhausen’s students was Holger Czukay, who along with Irmin Shmidt, another of Stockhausen’s students, formed the musical group that would later become Can, probably the most well-recognized group of the Krautrock era.

Kontakte, 1960

Score for Stockhausen’s 1960 composition “Kontakte”

Stockhausen’s music is alienating at first- completely absent of melody and harmony and entirely unpredictable. Analog synthesizers, as well as various filters, potentiometers and shortwave radios were manipulated to produce entirely new sounds, in entirely new musical forms. Pieces could be brief or extraordinarily lengthy– the idea was that this would be entirely new music, so no traditional musical conventions can really be expected to apply.

This profound newness in art developed contemporaneously with the student movements of the 1960s which demanded newness in politics and education, and the German Krautrock bands such as Neu!, Can and Faust combined these two influences to create the first progressive rock music, eventually leading to the creation of ambient music years before Brian Eno ever touched a synthesizer. I’ll be tracing the further development of Germany’s electronic music history in following posts, so be sure to check back every week or so to catch up on the news.

It’s a bird, It’s a plane, It’s a brand-new song

No matter your location, language or taste, discovering new music is a fun experience for most people, and when it’s free—even better. Air France realized the appeal of this activity and looked to the sky to create an innovative app for discovering new music.

Air France is “known for its music selection in on-air entertainment,”according to Skift.com. In fact, its “Air France Music” Facebook page has more than 165,000 fans.  The airline is taking its reputation for good music to the next level with its new app, “Music in the Sky,” released on November 13.

The app is simple to use: point your iphone to the sky, aim it at the music note that appears on your screen and discover a new track. What will make users keep coming back is the fact that the songs that are available change with your location.  According to Air France Music’s Facebook page, “From Paris to Tokyo via Buenos Aires, every sky in the world has its own music with our Air France Music iPhone application, Music in the Sky. Make new discoveries every time you travel!”

Of course I had to try the app for myself. At first I was skeptical. There had to be a catch. Would I be able to use it without being an Air France customer? Would a track be available to me in the middle of Missouri? So I downloaded the app, pointed my phone up and “caught” the track. Within seconds I was listening to a new song!

The app is cool because of how easy it is to use and the access it gives users to undiscovered artists and songs, but it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the year, the airline will give users access to unreleased tracks, concert tickets and even plan tickets “by discovering undiscovered hidden games in the sky,” according to an article from finchannel.com.

So far, users seem to be happy with “Music in the Sky.”  It’s got a five-star rating on Itunes, and all the comments on the app are positive.

User comments on iTunes

User comments on iTunes

Though I don’t think the app or Air France’s music selection would convince people to choose the airline over others, I think the app and interactive Facebook page are a great way to engage young travelers especially. The app will help Air France stick in the minds of travelers, so they log on to the airline’s website when they are looking for plane tickets.

 

One of the hidden games the app offers

One of the hidden games the app offers

 

Overall, I think the app is a great idea. It’s a smart move for Air France because it will help people become more familiar with the airline, and it’s a good opportunity for music-lovers to test their music knowledge and discover new music no matter where they are in the world.

I will definitely be pointing my phone skyward again soon to see what other songs I can discover.

Suburban-French Hip-Hop?

Banlieue, the word seems harmless enough, even pretty, when pronounced. And when looked up in a French-English dictionary it translates most commonly as “suburb.”

Into my head images pop up instantaneously of cookie cutter houses with finely manicured lawns, cars in the driveways, fences securing dogs, and the occasional kid outside hula-hooping while their younger sibling practices writing their name in sidewalk chalk.

But what if I told you that French banlieues do not look quite the same as American suburbs. Imagine this picture instead: tightly scrunched, low income  apartment buildings, run-down government housing, riddled with graffiti, violence, and the more than occasional drug deal.

A photo of a government housing in a crowded, Fench banlieue

 

I will be the first to admit that the term “suburb” in English does not bring me an overwhelming sense of joy, however, I do not associate it with poor living conditions and social unrest.In fact I think of quite the opposite.  So what are banlieues, really, if they are not truly suburbs? It seems that they are more or less ghettos, or areas where North African immigrants are shuttled so as not to disrupt the pristine image of the of French cities. Left on the margins, they are seldom thought of.

Colombe Brossel, a French activist for educational reform who keeps a blog spoke about her discontent for how the balieues are so often ignored in politics. She said that during this past election the word balnlieue diappeared from the French vocabulary altogether and that it “seemed to have become a dirty word that should be avoided when speaking.” She both criticizes and calls to attention the fact that nobody is willing to deal with the banlieues, even though they are in need of urgent attetntion.

A photo that I took from the lookout point described in the video of Lyon, France.

 

Likewise in this video, a man in Lyon points out that on the map of the city, shown at a tourist point that looks over the sprawling urbanization, the banlieues are completely left out from being labeled, even though they are clearly visible from the lookout point.

 

 

While there are few people living outside of the banlieues speaking up about the conditions inside, voices from within the social confines of the benlieue not only speak about their lives, they rap about them. Paradoxically enough while politicians may be trying to muffle the cries of immigrant populations in banlieues, some of the most famous French hip-hop and rap artists have risen to both fame and popularity by reciting lyrics about the realities of their lives.

Hip-hop artists in France are most often find their roots in the Moroccan or Algerian working class population. They see their work as a means of reporting about the seldom-mentioned slums that they once called home growing up, as a way of getting their perspective out to the rest of the francophone world, since the French media often chooses to ignore them.

Since their beginnings, French hip-hop  and rap have been highly controversial. From its rapid popularization in the 1990s it has been both loved by French youth and protested against by French adults. Due to its often  graphic content, the music gets blamed for encouraging violent behavior.

L’espoir des Favelas, the song title of the popular French hip-hop artists of Algerian descent, Rim’K, translates to something like, hope for the slums. In his lyrics Rim’K speaks about the conditions of French Banlieues. He does not refrain from using graphic language or profanities, and while the picture he paints of the slums is not attractive, he does also pose hope that with knowledge and education, one can break free from the cycle of crime in which they were born.

Hip-hop artist, Rim’K, a member of the group Maghreb United

 

A blogger from NationPresse, a blog which supports the conservative, French right-wing, does not like Rim’K, not even a single bit. He says in his post that Rim’K’s music is “racism (against whites) expressed freely on the radio in rap songs that dome intellectuals dare to call ‘music’ or ‘culture.'”

His blog post struck me as funny. How can somebody from the position of white, male privilege, write a racist blog post about the so-called racism that he feels is coming from a French-African, a group notoriously  and often brutally discriminated against in French history? How can you accuse someone of being racist, when you yourself are also racist? While perhaps I could agree  with the author, that violence is never a good answer and I do not really appreciate listening to violence in songs, I found his post to be highly contradictory considering that in his posts, he describes himself as favoring militant action.

Something about the French hip-hop scene seems eerily similar to the American hip-hop culture. I wonder, since hip-hop appeals first and primarily to youth, is it creating a future in which people will be more aware of the social disparities that exist in banlieues and will therefore more inclined to take action? Or, are the banlieues being glamorized in their minds, while creating even more tension and amubition for French people to call those living in the banlieues violent and dangerous?

In my opinion, the fact that music has been a platform for a marginalized group of people to share their story is pretty exciting. It is simply my hope that as hip hop and rap artists from banlieues rise to fame, that they would give back to the communities that they came from and act as a positive voice of change.

Writing this post made me reflect on the complicated history of North Africans living in France and this quote from a blogger who writes about the common misconceptions of Islam wrote this about France, which I found to be thoughtful enough to share.

“If the challenge of ‘integrating’ French Muslims appears to be a throwback to the old colonial paradox (to ‘civilize those unable to be civilized’), it is only because people have made it that way themselves by defining France’s ‘integration’ problem as a question of culture and religion rather than social immobility, housing policy and educational inequality. Discussions of the banlieues themselves can also get transformed into complaints about culture (e.g., “speaking in slang”, wearing hats backwards and the like). Until the real issues are addressed, and until we stop framing the discourse on French Muslims as a cosmic clash of religion and secularism, things will only get worse. Perhaps, in time, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

 

 

A Punk Band’s Prayer – Deliver Us from Putin

“Open all the doors, tear off your epaulets

Come, taste freedom with us.“

Pussy Riot

Russia’s literature and music has always had a political connotation to it. With no outlet to vent their frustrations, Russia’s artists, writers and poets have been some of their country’s greatest patriots and also its biggest critics. The recent controversy over the state’s punishment of a punk bands “concert” has ignited the passions of Russia’s youth about the issue of free speech. The band Pussy Riot performed a controversial anti-Kremlin concert in a Moscow cathedral to the delight of their fans and to the disgust of the authorities all the way up to Putin himself.

Hooliganism is an official charge that can carry a sentence anywhere between 3 to 8 years in prison and it’s the state’s official charge brought upon the bands member. It’s also likely to stick. This is Russia – and sometimes it shows just how different it can be.

 

What drives these young women’s hearts? Nadezhda Tolokonnikova explains in her closing statements.

“We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [holy foolishness] of punk. Passion, total honesty, and naivete are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime. The so-called leading figures of our state stand in the Cathedral with righteous faces on, but, in their cunning, their sin is greater than our own ” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

 

The road to free speech in Russia has long known the heavy hand of the state. Demonstrations have historically been met with riot police, tanks, tear gas and paramilitary police forces. Yet today’s tech-savvy generation has given dissidents a new voice through social media. With the ability to organize protests through online services like Facebook and Twitter, Russian authorities have a hard time in reacting to the growth of such gatherings. Pussy Riots lyric’s might be considered crude by some but they deliver a powerful message of dissent that Dostoevsky would be proud of.

In a way, the band’s usage of Orthodox imagery signals a return to a kind of pure spiritualism that was pervasive amongst Russian literary legends. The nihilistic search for truth, a kind of purity and transparency guides the band’s political and spiritual goals.

“It was our search for truth that led us to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I think that Christianity, as I understood it while studying the Old and especially the New Testament, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming of oneself, the overcoming of what you were earlier.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Pussy Riot’s case is easy to categorize as a simple matter of state vs. free speech, however Vadim Nikitin, a contributor to The New York Times in his article “The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot” points out that the band had a bad tendency to actually incite riots. Despite the apparent “Kangaroo Court” put on by the state, the band does have some legitimate criminal offenses to answer for. Nadezhda’s moving words in her closing statements seems to be an effective smoke screen for her participation in a public orgy – while pregnant as a form of protest – (Nadezhda’s profile). Vadim says,

“The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.”source.

He may have a point as the bands message promotes rebellion against all state organizations not just corrupt ones.

-source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ

An American expatriate blogger in Russia, Почемучка aka “Pochemuchka” (the one who asks a lot of questions) disagrees. The bands more racy activism is irrelevant in the context of their message. She points out that the sheer bravery to stand up so defiantly to the government and corrupt church officials is the real message that needs to be taken away from this case:

“Almost every Russian will tell you outright that the democracy of their country is a farce. But many also support sending these women to prison. In my opinion, seeing these two things as solid opposites prevents any kind of cultural analysis. However, “it’s part of their culture, so it’s okay” is a statement that disregards any universality amongst human beings–like the idea of “basic human rights”… my opinion on the Pussy Riot case is that the sentence these women received for what I see as a logistically simple act of civil disobedience far outweighed the physical damage actually incurred against the church.

This case gives a very exciting perspective into the younger Russian activists and the culture that they are promoting. Despite obvious flaws in their incendiary approach, their message remains the important takeaway. That voice of dissent – delivered through, somewhat unorthodox means was heard loud and clear in the Kremlin. It is interesting to see a new generation of Russia’s warrior poets and their influence on Russia’s historically closed off society.  The question remains to be seen whether this unique approach to activism will lead to any changes in the Russian state’s attitude toward free speech and lend encouragement to others to voice their dissent.

 

Or will their efforts just promote a government crackdown while alienating themselves from the rest of Russia’s citizens?

Please comment and let us know what your views are on the subject. Is this type of behavior justified in the pursuit of free speech and how are these women punk rock activists unique amongst their community? Would this even be an issue in the United States or other countries?

Thanks

– Dima

Interesting links regarding this topic:

Pussy Riot’s Twitter page

Pussy Riot’s Closing Statements

The Pochyemuchka Diaries – American Expat in Moscow

The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot – Vadim Nikitin’s Op-Ed in The New York Times

Punk Punishment: Pussy Riot’s ‘unholy prayer’ splits society – RussiaToday

Pussy Riot profile: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – The Guardian’s story on the Pussy Riot’s “Evil Genius”

 

PUNK Kultur-East Germany’s Rebellion

Der Spiegel, 1978

DER SPIEGEL 23.1.1978

Punk: a rally call for revolution, candid emotion, and often a violent expression of anger and frustration. This is the face of punk, and it has been often and understandably met with fear and bewilderment. When the punk scene emerged in the late 1970s, it exploded throughout western culture and punk bands like the Sex Pistols achieved wild popularity in West Germany. But even communist East Germany felt the waves of the punk movement, and punk culture took on a special meaning for its disillusioned youth. By the time of Germany’s reunification, punk had made an impact that still endures today, more than 30 years later. Germany still celebrates punk culture in many concerts and festivals held throughout the year, including the annual Punk & Disorderly Festival.

Although the punk scene has come in slightly different forms over time and across geography, a common theme of rebellion, against an authority seen as oppressive or corrupt, has persisted. This is apparent in lyrics from punk-rock band across the board that criticize war, materialism, and political oppression in sometimes metaphoric and often explicit terms.

"The Clash" CD collection. Photo courtesy of _gee_ on Flickr.


“Forces have been looting
My humanity
Curfews have been curbing
The end of liberty”

-“This is Radio Clash” by The Clash

In 1979 in East Germany, young, teen-aged punks began to sprout up across the state with their pierced faces and ripped jeans, inspired by the Sex Pistols and their anger with their oppressive state. It was different there, in the East; to be punk was to face the real danger of a truly oppressive government with spies and stiff jail-time penalties or even exile for rebels. And the tone was a little different, too; as Jane Paulick put it in Deutsche Welle, “Broadly dismissed in the west as nihilistic, punk in the GDR (The German Democratic Republic, or just East Germany) was fueled by optimism and a desire to change society.” Under a regime that required musicians to apply for permission and audition for the state to perform, punk bands naturally refused to comply. And as the movement grew out of control, “punks in the GDR were no longer seen as disaffected teenagers — they were denounced as enemies of the state.”

East German punk teens, photo displayed in the exhibition on punk in the GDR. Image courtesy of theexplosivegeneration.com

Michael Böhlke (aka Pankow), who in 1979 began his punk-music endeavors in East Germany, has vivid memories of the GDR punk scene. “Punk was a cross-cultural phenomenon in the east,” Pankow said, “The ‘tristesse’ of the GDR unleashed a huge creative potential, and the minute you were on the margins of society you tapped into a network of other artistic activity.” In 2005, Pankow sought to memorialize the phenomenon in a first-of-its-kind exhibition of punk in the GDR. The show featured paintings, collages, photography, and rare pop-culture memorabilia that paints a fascinating picture of punk culture in East Germany.

If you are interested in reading more about the early German punk movement, read this fascinating piece from Der Spiegel, written in 1978 in the midst of its beginnings.

Those German Bands Singing In English

Have your heard of Scorpions? I’m not referring an insect, but the band who sings the famous song “Wind of Change.”

Ten years ago, I listened to this song for the first time. I knew nothing about German culture back then. I just felt the rhythm was good and I had no idea about the lyrics and message the singers were trying to deliver. All I knew was that it was a good English song. So I thought they must have been from the U.S. or England. Several years later, I had an intimate contact with Germany and wanted to improve my German by listening to German music, so I sought out some German bands. Surprisingly I found out that the Scorpions came from Germany but never wrote any songs in German.

The Scorpions aren’t the only German band who sings in English. In order to please their U.S. fans, the popular band “Tokio Hotel” had their most successful songs translated in English such as Monsoon from “durch den Monsum.” The English version sounds so awkward to me; maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with the German version. Somehow I felt the German part was missing in the English version.

Source: http://ixmissxhim14.glogster.com/tokio-hotel/

Im Unterschied zu anderen Bands ihrer Zeit schrieben die Scorpions ihre Liedtexte von Beginn an auf Englisch, da sie von Anfang an das internationale Hard-Rock-Business erobern wollten.” This is a quote from Wikipedia about the Scorpions’ choice of English. It says that, in order to gain success in international hard rock, the band decided from the beginning to write all their songs in English. I think this is also an explanation why some German Bands or singers choose to sing in English. My German friend also tells me that if the German bands have English songs, this would help them to achieve success in Europe and even the whole world.

True, nowadays English is becoming more and more important. We also say that music has no boundaries. When the singers perform a song, they are not just saying the lyrics with melodies, they are interpreting the lyric, and they are delivering the feelings which can be expressed not just by words. Sometimes, we hear a foreign song but can still understand it without understanding the words.

Source: http://rammstein-pics.webs.com/apps/photos/photo?photoid=64800301

Besides, if they sing their songs in a language which is not their native language, how can they keep their original identities? I don’t think there is a necessity to abandon their mother language and go English. The famous German Band “Rammstein” also gained international fame without any single songs in English. And there are lots of people who’ve become interested in German and want to learn German because they like Rammstein’s German songs.

From Abba to In Flames – the diversity of swedish music

© altoent @www.wallpaperbase.com

Speaking of Sweden, the first thing I think of is Volvo, the famous but low-key car brand. But the Swedish people can make not only cars but also great pop music. And one music band we can’t ignore is the worldwide well-known band ABBA. If you have no idea about ABBA, you must have heard songs such as “Dancing Queen” or “I Have A Dream” or “Gimme Gimme Gimme”. At least you should have some impression about “MAMA MIA”.

Maybe you’ll say ABBA was famous but it’s too old and it is from the 70s of the last century. But Swedish pop music doesn’t just have ABBA but also Roxette in the 80s, whose most famous songs are “Listen To Your Heart”, “Joyride” and “It Must Have Been Love”. Those songs are so classic that they were reproduced repeatedly by many singers. Although these songs are still popular there are lots of people who have no idea about the origin of the band and thought Roxette is an American band.

Next to ABBA and Roxette, we also can’t forget “Ace of Base” in the 90s. “The Sign”, “All That She Wants”, “Lucky Love”, and “Beautiful Morning” are unforgettable hits from them. I can hardly imagine that such a small northern European country is the birthplace of so many great music bands. But the Swedish people never stop making wonderful pop music. Here is a post, 21 Swedish artists making wonderful 21st century pop music.

©RetroLand U.S.A. @ flickr

ABBA, Roxette and Ace of Base are more likely doing dancing Music. But dancing music is not the only music that the Swedes are good at. The great music Band “the cardigans” whose most well-known song is “Lovefool” from the movie “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996 featuring by Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes. Unlike the dancing music, the cardigans songs are clean, bold, warm and edgy.

© In flames official website @ www.inflames.com

But is that all about Swedish music? You can’t judge a book by its cover; neither can you judge a country by its size. Besides the music mentioned above, the Swedish people are also famous for their gothic metal, even death metal bands such as “lake of tears” and “in flames”. This is really bizarre. According to me, the Swedes live in ice cold northern Europe and have a peaceful life. Because it’s so cold they want to have a little movement, so they have created much dance music to get warm. But, death metal, hardcore metal, gothic metal music? Is that because they have polar days and nights which are so difficult to cope with so they become angry and sad and produce this kind of music? Well, it’s just my hypothesis.

Elle Me Dit (She Tells Me)

The energetic British music artist, Mika, plans to release his new album, “L’Origine d’Amour” in 2012. What’s different about this album is that most of the songs are in French. Mika’s two previous albums were in English despite the fact that he grew up in Paris. This album is also more sophisticated but also encompasses Mika’s happy, upbeat melody. The twelve songs on this album are all about love. The single for this album, “Elle Me Dit,” was released in July. Here’s the music video!

The video kind of surprised me. I thought there would be more dancing considering the chorus of the song is, “Elle me dit danse,” which means “she tells me to dance.” I love the song and the energy that it possesses. Even if you don’t speak French, it’s fun to dance to. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of Mika’s new album.

Mika’s previous album, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” was released in English, but Mika performed a French version of his song “Grace Kelly” while performing in Paris. I think that it’s really great, maybe even better than the English version. You can watch his live performance in Paris of the French version below.

The date for the release of the album has not been determined yet but it will be sometime in 2012. “Elle Me Dit” is still not available in U.S. iTunes stores. If you would like to download the song, you can find it here: Elle Me Dit – Mika

Nina Karlsson – Electro-Jazz Привидения

Classifying the music of Nina Karlsson would probably result in a label far more obscure and foreign than her music itself. Karlsson, along with bassist Victor Sankov and drummer Sasha Popatov,  mixes elements of jazz and electronica, ending up with a very unique, eerie sound.

Her voice has a fragility reminiscent of Regina Spektor, especially on tracks like “Bored and Tired,” though Karlsson cites jazz great Billie Holiday as a primary influence.
The latter influence is evident in Karlsson’s willingness to branch out and experiment with her voice, even delving into some scat singing on “Follow the Dancers” and “I Deny.”

However, some of Karlsson’s songs (“Goodbye”) seem haunted by the ghost of big band jazz, which enjoyed continued popularity throughout the latter half of the 20th century in the Soviet Union, long after it had largely died out in the United States.

Nina Karlsson’s approach to music, as a piano-based singer-songwriter, would hardly be unconventional were it not for the way the music is produced. Karlsson’s voice is modulated and distorted, along with the piano and bass, creating a gloomy atmosphere in the tradition of fellow Russian singer Zemfira, particularly her song Любов как Смерть (Love like Death).

For having just released her first album last week, Karlsson sounds very mature and is a very exciting prospect. According to an interview with Russian music blog Far from Moscow, she still has no plans to tour the United States in the near future, but doesn’t know what the future might bring.

You can hear a lot of her tracks at her myspace page, and read an interesting interview done by Far from Moscow.