It's been almost twenty years since the Iron Curtain that separated the West from the East came tumbling down. Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and what was then Czechoslovakia had all been satellite countries under the thumb of whoever was in control of the Kremlin in Moscow. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, (USSR) stretched from what are now the independent Balkan countries of Latvia and Estonia, to the borders of Mongolia in the East and the Himalayas in the South, and included within its borders Georgia and The Ukraine.
The Cold War, so called because neither side ever faced each other directly and only fought each other through puppet states all over the world, had raged since the day Germany surrendered in Europe after World War Two. When Stalin refused to withdraw his forces of "liberation", the West led by the United States and Britain began to wage a war against Communism that would shape foreign policy for the next fifty-five years. Both sides became ridiculously intransigent against anything that was remotely reminiscent of the other. While America black listed intellectuals and artists who were even suspected of having "un-American behavior" by having been members of the Communist party at some point in their lives, Russia was equally vigilant in protecting its citizens against the corrupting influences of the morally decadent West.
Chief amongst those influences was popular music. While some jazz was tolerated rock and roll was considered far too subversive, and even innocuous music like " I Wanna Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles was considered too immoral for the innocent ears of the Russian citizenry. Even in the satellite countries rock and roll was considered an act of subversion. The Plastic People Of The Universe in Czechoslovakia could only give concerts by letting people know the locations and times at the last moment, and even then they ended up doing jail time for sedition.
So the idea of a rock and roll band, or any sort of popular music for that matter, from Russia is still enough of a novelty for me that I jump at any opportunity to listen to one. Quite a few of the earlier ones ended up merely being clones of power trios, or heavy metal/hard rock bands, so once the novelty wore off of hearing them sing in Russian they quickly became boring. Yet, that still doesn't prevent me from checking out each new band that I come across.
I'm glad I do, because otherwise I might never have bothered to listen to Auktyon, a twelve piece band from Russia who has created a sound that blends elements of both Eastern and Western Europe. The result is something that I doubt you've ever heard before. When I listened to "Profukal," the first song of their new album Girls Sing, it reminded me of was the former Canadian band Lighthouse. It has the same very large sound that you only get with a multi piece band including brass and wood winds. But as the song progressed I changed my evaluation, realizing that although there were similarities, Lighthouse never played music that sounded like psychedelic, punk, polkas.
There's something about the sound of a tuba playing in a rock band. I've always thought that brings a certain level of absurdity to the proceedings. Not that it makes the music sound ridiculous, rather it makes the band sound like they don't take themselves too seriously and lets you know that you are allowed to have fun listening to the tracks. Of course with the lyric in Russian it's hard to know what they are singing about, but the impression I got was here's a band that does a lot of their music with their tongues planted very firmly in their cheeks.
Having brass and wood winds gives them far more flexibility than the would have if they were a band made up of your standard rock and roll instruments. It seemed to me that aside from the polka type sound they were chugging out on the first track, they also were incorporating elements of various Eastern European folk melodies and what sounded like gypsy music. It's on slower tunes that you really notice the European influences and the difference that it has on the way the music impacts you emotionally over regular rock and roll.
Don't get me wrong, I love great rock and roll, but there is only so much that you can do with it musically – it is limited. So when your music incorporates other instruments and is not confined to the basic chord progressions of rock, the potential for what you can do increases. Of course, you still have to have the talent and the skill to take advantage of that, and know how to create music that's rich and inventive enough that it sounds natural and not contrived.
On Girls Sing Auktyon show that they can take the various styles they use and create amazing music that is emotionally honest. There weren't any moments while listening to the CD that I was given the impression that a moment was being manufactured with the intent of manipulating the listener. There was nothing at all contrived about their sound.
In the old days of the Cold War I'm certain that Auktyon would have been accused of succumbing to decadent Western influences and would have found themselves running afoul of the cultural police or some other organ of the state. Instead what we have is a wonderful gift of music that combines great rock and roll with the wonderful energy and emotional depth of Eastern European music. Auktyon is proof positive and that East and West can meet in harmony and make beautiful music together.