Hi Ivan! You’re in Kyiv, right? I know you’ve been volunteering recently. What organizations do you work with?
I’ve been in Kyiv since the first day of the full-scale invasion, working with various volunteers. The longest collaboration has been with the Territorial Defenses Forces of my home district. For a month and a half, we had been digging trenches, building dugouts, setting up Czech hedgehogs, etc. As there is no fighting on the outskirts of the city right now, this activity is no longer relevant. Still, there have been smaller tasks: to bring someone food or medicine or send something somewhere, to buy some thermal imagers, or just to find some information in various group chats. During the first two weeks of the invasion, we’ve also been making Molotov cocktails, and I enjoyed dumpster-diving for empty bottles. Now I often go to deoccupied cities to clear the rubble, but it’s getting harder day by day since I don’t have a car and those who do often decline me because of the fuel shortages. I’ve been able to go a few times to Borodianka or Hostomel, where we’ve been clearing the debris of a destroyed school and moving furniture out of a bombed kindergarten. All this is done by ordinary people and grassroots initiatives, coordinated in local group chats.
Is music relevant now at all? Do you think it can be truly political?
That’s a good question. Being political means having a real influence on society and asking questions that are to be answered with real changes. In what form do you put these questions isn’t that important.
Like any art form, music can be politicized, or tied to certain political ideas or movements, most often through lyrics. It is especially interesting, however, with regard to early electronic music, which was politicized because the art form was so original and seemed to foretell a new world. Now originality is of lesser importance, although the most “contemporary” sound — hyperpop — is clearly connected to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Likewise, club culture is connected to human rights issues in general: diversity, anti-xenophobia, and progressive drug policies. Club culture can’t be traditionalist.
Since the beginning of the war, the boldest collective statement of our electronic scene has been an open letter calling for a boycott of apolitical russians. The same goes for the Nina Kraviz controversy. The letter had little effect on Western clubs, labels, or promoters, though. All I know is that Clone Records refused to cooperate with Kraviz. This is clearly not enough.
Overall, if being “relevant” is meeting societal demands, then music definitely is. Many musicians have released albums or tracks about the war. I hope that after the war we’ll have a lot of political musical projects: rap-, rock, indie-, whatever. There are plenty of things to protest against in Ukraine, even without an external enemy.
How do you manage to combine music and volunteering?
In fact, I struggle with combining music and volunteering. This live set is mostly last year’s music, and mere finalizing took umpteen evenings after work. I only wrote a single track after February 24, impulsively, and it is not on this live.
Tell me about this live set and what it consists of.
There’s a lot of different material: singles from previous years, demos from a future EP, a track I’ve been working on the night of the invasion. There’s also a fragment of a live set I played at the last event of “Heavy Culture”, a collective we’re running with Sasha Guzeev, which includes orchestral instruments: a flute, a clarinet, and a trumpet.
The live set opens up and closes down, like an envelope for a letter full of personal experiences, woven into the political situation. A love poem at the beginning and in the end foretells this war, as it seems to me now. After the victory, its lines will become track titles: “anxiety management,” “global warming, cold war,” “heavy steps of death hunting,” “an assassin behind the corner,” “trying to escape the inevitable,” “emergency will replace the contemporary.” The last title is taken from a work by contemporary artist Thierry Geoffroy, shown at dOCUMENTA 2012. This phrase was spray-painted on a camping tent, put up in the middle of a European city, which I now envision as a tent of a Ukrainian refugee. Having said that, we have a lot more agency than mere victims of war, and it is very inspiring. For me, this phrase is an apt remark on what a life of a Ukrainian artist feels like during the war and, in general, a motto of the contemporary world and its art.
Also, this live set has two politicized fragments. It includes a legendary exchange between our border guards from the Snake Island and the russians (thank you, Roman Hrybov!). This is the first political message — to the occupiers. The second one is to our allies — a Guy Verhofstadt speech at the European Council. He handed the EU timid sanctions packages. Finally, there’s a scream rap fragment. I had written a less competent scream about police brutality once, but this screamo-ambient, more personal, has turned out to be more appropriate.
Tell me more about the politicized fragments. First, about the message to the occupiers.
Russian warship, obviously, should go fuck herself. I think that russia can’t exist as something different from what it is now — an empire needs a dictator. I can hardly imagine a liberal russia. All Western attempts to "democratize" the dictatorship have only led to its "marketization." It was believed that a developed free market is something that gives rise to democratic values by itself. Conspicuously, free-market can do well in an authoritarian regime. I think that for russia to be “free”, it has not only to dethrone putin, but also to stamp out its imperial intentions and the soviet myth. And then (if the “good russians” stop condoning themselves, if multiple trials, as well as lots of self-analysis work, happen), perhaps, what will turn out to be “free” will no longer be russia, but some kind of “muscovy” — a smaller state which has given up all of its colonized territories.
But nothing will change if russians don’t reinterpret the soviet period which has actually nurtured putinism. Ukrainians, by the way, have to re-examine it as well, but that’s another story. Recently, a volunteer told me that after the condemnation of the cult of putin’s personality, everything will be okay. It won’t, and president navalny won’t save us. Everybody will be happy with “depunitization” just as they were with “destalinization” before as if it is enough to get rid of a tyrant to become free. Condemnation of the cult of any personality, by the way, plays into the soviet tradition of reprisals against the political leaders very well. So, I think of “global warming, cold war” in particular when I see that people treat wars, reprisals, concentration camps, forced displacements, and other crimes like acts of nature that need to be endured.
What is your message to the allies, then?
Despite all the help to Ukraine, Europe is still dragging its feet (I have mostly France and Germany in mind). I used to think of Europe as a world where politics exists, where political demands and changes are possible. Sure, the EU has created comfortable conditions for Ukrainian migrants, and the Europeans are welcoming. All of this help is on a personal level, though, and they do little as a civil society. I rarely see Germans who put pressure on their government or specific politicians who are still afraid of russia. Or on those who are afraid to lose €80 per month to stop a genuine genocide. They still pretend that phasing out russian gas is impossible. Steinmeier and Merkel, who assisted putin in building Nord Stream 2 for years, Scholz and Lindner, who in the first days of the invasion thought that Ukraine won’t last more than a couple of days and didn’t want to help, – they all should face the consequences. There’s already some talk about Scholz’s resignation because their institutions are nevertheless functional. But it feels like the citizens have lost the capacity to be political. In particular, this is indicated by the open letter, signed by several German cultural figures who urge the Chancellor not to provide Ukraine with weapons that will allegedly “only prolong the war” (props to the Greens for their counter-letter which calls for more help for Ukraine). Hitler put forward the same argument when the United States considered supplying Britain with weapons during WWII. Why do the Germans play up to modern russian fascism? This is what my last track, “Cheap Gas, Cheap Blood,” is about. Everything we’ve faced already – we’ll need a lot of time to comprehend it.
You’ve chosen a work by Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan as a cover for your track “Cheap Gas, Cheap Blood.” Is it about suggestion or collective thinking?
There is no thought present, so it’s definitely not about collective thinking. It’s more of a slogan, an incrimination of Europe. These words sounded like a track title to me, and it was appropriate to indicate the source. “Cheap Blood, Cheap Gas” is an almost impulsive reaction to a month of a full-scale war. A simple idea: gas segues into blood – and ambient segues into noise. While the EU is lingering with the ban on russian gas and oil, the revenues are increasing. By the way, you can buy the track and help the volunteers I’m working with.
I’ve noticed a parallel to another track, “love poem,” in the live set. It is intentional?
In a way, the new verse is a love poem as well. The lyrics are mine, though (in “love poem,” a poem by Richard Brautigan can be heard). Incidentally, the introductory track with the poem is called “the desert of the real guarded by fantasies.” Breaking through to the real through fantasies and delusions is a perennial dilemma for me, which I have to solve all the time.
Do you still collaborate with Gin&Platonic label, which released your track “love poem?”
In case one is wondering, Gin&Platinic is a Czech label that released my debut EP “damage.” At the time, I had no idea what publishing music is like, and I still have warm feelings for Martin and Tomasz. We met online in 2018, and have never seen each other. Recently, they helped me self-release “love filled eyes,” and now my Bandcamp account is connected to their PayPal: even though PayPal recently expanded to Ukraine, you still need a business account for Bandcamp. I have been eager to organize a showcase of Gin&Platonic at Heavy Culture for a long time. We should definitely bring them to Kyiv after the victory.
I would like to end this conversation by mentioning your track “love filled eyes,” recorded before the war. It has a softer sound, which is unusual for you. Why did you decide to release it now? And why such visuals?
From what I had written the last month before the war, I had 20 minutes of music where I wanted to deviate from the usual heaviness. So it has more orchestral instruments, some beautiful melodies, and an intro that is quite joyful. It may sound naïve, but I used to have brighter anticipations for the world. Roughly speaking, this track is a “picture from peaceful Kyiv,” a genre which is popular right now on Instagram. A document of what my life and my music were like back then. Now I’m more interested in what life after the war will look like. After Mariupol, Bucha, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Borodianka, and other war crimes, committed by russkies, we’ll have to “fight” on the information front. We will have to demand international trials for russians, and demand the West not to relax the sanctions because russia will only get strengthened for a new offensive otherwise. I don’t really trust Zelensky, but recently he promised he won’t sign any peace treaties except for the act of russia’s capitulation. Meanwhile, sanctions are working, and we’ll have a lot more high-tech weapons soon. In general, now we have to push for a peaceful life. We have to win.