The other night I watched the DVD of the movie Moulin Rouge! for the first time in about a decade. While I enjoyed the movie as much as I did the first time I watched it, one scene in particular stood out, a tango performed to the old Police tune "Roxanne". In particular I was fascinated by the actor singing, a man named Jacek Koman. Upon further investigation, I discovered he was an expatriate Pole living in Australia working as an actor. Even more interesting was the discovery that he's the lead singer of the band called VulgarGrad. After being blown away by a couple of videos of the band performing on YouTube, I wanted to hear more.
While they don't have a physical CD available in North America, you can download it through iTunes or order a hard copy of King Of Crooks through Indie-CDs (there's no direct link to the album, so you have to use the site's search engine to find the listing). They also have a seven inch single, in yellow vinyl called Limonchiki which can be ordered from the German label Off Label Records or downloaded through Bandcamp. This might seem like a lot of trouble to go to in order to get a recording by some obscure band from Australia. However, once you hear them, I'm sure you'll agree they're worth the effort.
VulgarGrad play adaptations of music that spring from the Russian criminal culture, specifically the thieves. They are songs (blatnye pesni) performed by, for, and about criminals in the prisons, gulags, and seedy bars of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Drawing upon the work of performers dating back to the 1920s, including one of Stalin's favourite singers, and contemporary Russian groups who incorporate the blatnyak style and content into their music, VulgarGrad create songs firmly rooted in tradition but which are updated for audiences who don't speak Russian. While still sung in the original language, musically the songs have an appeal that makes their lyrics' vocabulary irrelevant. It is not only almost impossible to prevent yourself from dancing to their music, there is something about Koman's delivery of the lyrics and the band's playing that makes them irresistible.