A compilation album out last month featured artwork typical of a Russian kitchen: a colourful Mondrian-esque cupboard standing next to an old school gas oven. Inside, however, the vibrant dance music is closer to what you’d expect from the heyday of the Chicago house music boom in the Eighties than from Nordic St Petersburg. In a nod of acknowledgement, Contemporary Sound of Russia was released by Chicago-based label Glenview Records.
The man behind the compilation is 28-year old Kirill Sergeev, a DJ and producer who works as the St Petersburg Disco Spin Club (SPDSC). Skinny with dark hair and dark eyes, Sergeev is relatively new to the Russian electronic music scene, having only released his first EP around two years ago. When I meet him at Dom Byta, one of St Petersburg’s best bars and home to the city’s best house music, he’s dressed casually in light blue jeans and New Balance trainers.
"What I don't like about Russia is the massive following of trends"
In the last few years, Russia has seen the rise of electronic music, in particular house music, with artists such as Nina Kraviz, Proxy and SCSI-9. One reason is the new breed of clubs and bars whose DJs play a carefully curated soundtrack of house. Solyanka in Moscow, Dom Byta in St Petersburg and Dom Pechati in Yekaterinburg have all influenced their local music scenes. The logic goes that if venues invest in decent sound systems and vinyl decks, there may as well be decent music to play. “Electronic music is very practical,” says Sergeev. “It has a straightforward purpose. In the end it’s produced for people to dance in clubs and bars.”
Russian house music has emerged in an environment different to that in the US or Europe. In general, the development of musical genres is hindered by the dearth of local music “scenes”. The upshot is a lack of the collaboration and exchange of ideas between musicians, which could lead to the creation of new scenes. “What I don't like about Russia is the massive following of trends. Once something becomes popular everybody's doing exactly that. This wave grows, becomes massive, then it dies down and disappears. We actually do not have scenes,” says Sergeev.
Although late to making electronic music, Sergeev has been involved in playing music his whole life. “My parents forced me to play the piano when I was four years old,” he says. “For me it was very boring, so as soon as I learnt how to improvise that’s what I started doing.” After playing in a nu jazz band for five years, he wrote his first house track, Marwencol, in 2011 before launching SPDSC. The track brought him to the attention of the international electronic music scene and led to collaborations with top music producers.
“As soon as I recorded Marwencol it was immediately released on Moscow’s Shanti label,” says Sergeev. “A month later I was invited to play at a festival in Bucharest.” At the Poolsize Festival, Sergeev played alongside a host of critically acclaimed DJs including British rising star Jay Shepheard, veteran Chicago DJ Tevo Howard and disco duo Tiger & Woods. “The festival was closed due to the noise restriction so we moved to another city and I ended up sharing a room with Jay Shepheard,” recalls Sergeev. “I’m quite outgoing so we all became friends.”
Leonid Lipelis, DJ and St Petersburg Disco Spin Club collaborator
Unlike other Russian cities, Moscow has a sizeable community of DJs and electronic music producers who mainly congregate around a handful of the city’s hippest clubs including Solyanka and Denis Simachev Bar. With the buzz created by Sergeev’s first EP, he has begun to collaborate with luminaries from the city’s music world and frequently performs live with a band comprised of some of the capital’s leading musicians.
Despite regular gigs in Moscow, Sergeev still lives in St Petersburg where, in addition to SPDSC, he releases music under a second alias, Kito Jempere, and runs his own record label, Beats Delivery. Besides these projects, there are plenty of reasons for him to resist moving to the capital. St Petersburg’s profile as a place for cutting-edge Russian music is on the up. Last summer, Taiga Space, a creative hub in a 17th-century mansion, organised a music festival, showcasing young talent from across the country. And, at the end of March 2013, the city played host to Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp, a three-day programme of lectures, workshops and club nights to which 21 up-and-coming Russian artists were invited. Although the city’s music scene is still in its early stages, enthusiastic musicians such as Sergeev are contributing the development of an independent music industry — and the creation of a Chicago for Russian house music.