Occur Goes Global - The Music of Belarus

Friday, September 18, 2015 at 12:29 AM
Melissa Bobbitt


    Did you know there’s a Belarusian version of Woodstock? The unofficial alias of Basowiszcza rings true to its antiestablishment precursor. Held in the woods of nearby Poland, bands and fans gather to celebrate freedom of speech— a right trounced on by Belarus’ President, Alexander Lukashenko, since he took office in 1994.

    In a nation that formerly belonged to the Soviet Union, patriotism speaks volumes on FM radio. Lukashenko passed a law in 2002 requiring at least 50 percent of the songs aired to be of Belarusian origin. That was upped to 75 percent in 2005. But for outspoken native artists such as Lavon Volski, he has to travel to other countries to be heard.

    Listen to music by Volski and other Belarusians below.


    Lavon Volski

    Like a one-man Against Me!, this music and Soviet Army vet fights Lukashenko with acerbic lyrics and catchy riffs. He also fronts progressive punk band N.R.M. and performs regularly at opposition rallies. He told reporter Ingo Petz in 2006 that “In Belarus, life is difficult but interesting,” giving him plenty of material for his bands, his prose and his paintings.


    Want to know what The Bends would sound like if Thom Yorke’s vocals were swapped with Eddie Vedder’s and Conor Oberst’s? Give a listen to Unison, one of the most celebrated Belarusian albums of 2014. Impassioned acoustic crooner Evgeni Kuchmeyno bares his soul and his seething over 11 tracks and a beaten-up six-string. It doesn’t get rawer than this talent from rural Grodno.


    Natallia Kunitskaya is a solo artist that can out-robot Ladytron. Her debut, Secret, combines English and Russian lyrics with foggy atmospherics and sediments of synths. The tempos are tempting, and her Sia-like hairdo is kitschy cool. Her latest single, “Salut,” owes to the witchery of Goldfrapp and CHVRCHES. She would make a killer addition to a Coachella or Pitchfork lineup.


    Stary Olsa

    Prior to the Soviet Union, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania claimed Belarus. Its folk influences thrive today, mostly in the medieval faire circuit. But the joy and mirth provided by the sextet Stary Olsa aren’t hokum. Their guslis (a sort of autoharp), bagpipes and svirels (reed pipes) hypnotize and free the heart of heaviness. Or, at least to the untrained ear, they sound like the house band for The Legend of Zelda— which isn’t a bad thing. Besides, they do a rad version of Metallica’s “One.” Lead image courtesy the band.


    Drum Ecstasy

    Who says selling out ruins your street cred? It’s not so for these princes of percussion. Their bashing and thrashing has led them from illegal gigs under bridges to scoring ads for Volkswagen and Revlon— and back again. Their muscle, precision and fire (and electric saws and drills!) make Drum Ecstasy a must-see in concert.

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