Grazhdanskaya Oborona

 

Гражданская Оборона (English: “civil defense”, or abbreviated GrOb “coffin”) is the most famous and probably the most influential of the 1980s Soviet punk bands. The only constant member was Egor Letov, who was active right up to his death in 2008 (many of his friends, bandmates, etc. ended up committing suicide in the ’80s and ’90s). I don’t speak Russian, but the songs seem to be about anarchism, running from the KGB (they had Letov committed to a mental institution in the mid-’80s), totalitarianism, depression, feelings of powerlessness, and all that kind of stuff you’d expect to hear from a punk band from a country with an overtly repressive government.  Musically, it’s lo-fi punk (most GrOb recordings were recorded to tape on boomboxes in various apartments and kitchens) with chord changes and melodies characteristic of Russian folk music. Letov has an extremely expressive singing voice, and, like a good deal of other Russian punk musics, he communicates a desperate pathos commensurate with the fucked-up conditions in which he lived. Complete and total outsider music.

Egor was seriously prolific in his lifetime, with most of his earlier work coming in the form of homemade tapes traded among the Russian punks. My own collection of his stuff doesn’t even scratch the surface, but here is Optimizm (1985), Poganaya Molodej (1985), and a double album of two live performances (which, you must understand, were risky and infrequent events) from 1988 and 1989 in Novosibirsk and Moscow, respectively. It’s as good an introduction to GrOb as any, and the songs are all great. If none of this intrigues you, I have no idea what would. I’ll finish by saying this band is one of the inspirations behind Pink Reason (you can hear Pink Reason covering a Grazhdanskaya Oborona song on Freakout zine).

And here is a WFMU show on which Kevin Failure of Pink Reason plays GrOb and a bunch of other great Soviet underground bands, and shares some knowledge. The Russian sites linked below are pretty readable using Google Translate, so have at it.

GrOb official site (Russian)
GrOb fansite (Russian)
Polish blog with more GrOb albums

Most of their albums are long out of print; You can download some here :

Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Optimizm

Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Poganaya Molodej

Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Svet & Stulja

(thanks to Jerry from Creep Scanner for the links)

Others albums can be found on Soulseek.