Back to white

Back to white

Russia’s opposition-minded musicians join forces to compile a compendium known as the ‘White Album.’

Published: June 6, 2012 (Issue # 1711)


Vasily Shumov, the album’s producer, has been surprised by both the quality and quantity of submissions.

More than 200 bands donated tracks to the “White Album” in the first 12 days since the project to support Russia’s protest movement — whose symbol is a white ribbon — was announced in Moscow on May 21.

Center’s frontman Vasily Shumov, music journalist Artemy Troitsky and ex-Zvuki Mu musician Alexander Lipnitsky have invited musicians who support the demands of the Moscow anti-fraud rallies and Russian Occupy movement to take part in the album, which will also call for the immediate release of political prisoners, including the imprisoned members of female punk band Pussy Riot.

“White Album” is also a reference to The Beatles’ eponymous 1968 album, which contained the songs “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Revolution,” the project’s initiators said.

“This album is our (musicians’) protest,” the album’s producer Shumov said via Skype from Moscow on Sunday.

“There was the writers’ walk in Moscow, and then the painters’ walk, who supported the protest movement. When the idea for musicians to do something came up, we thought a bit and decided to do an album, rather than a musicians’ walk.

“Because it’s a civic project, we didn’t set any conditions for what style of music we would accept, what song themes we would accept — we accept everybody who supports it. That’s why the album ranges stylistically from instrumental music and jazz to very intricate electronica, and everything in between: Ballads, folk, metal, punk, rock and roll, things like that.”

Shumov said he came up with the idea for the “White Album” after a conversation with Troitsky, whom he met by chance in the small public garden near Barrikadnaya metro station in Moscow on May 16, where the opposition camp was based after it was driven out by the police from its original site near the monument to Kazakh poet Abai Kunanbayev on Chistiye Prudy. An hour earlier, Troitsky had discussed the idea of musicians’ input into the protest movement with Lipnitsky.

The bands were not asked specifically to send protest songs, but several songs that Shumov uploaded last week to give a taste of the album include the Perm-based art group Syava’s “Pussy Riot,” in defense of the young women who have been in prison since April 3 for performing the song “Holy Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” in a Moscow cathedral and “Avtozak” (a police truck in which detainees are put at rallies) by Moscow-based art group Nevry.

“Avtozak is the most fashionable kind of transportation in Moscow,” goes the song, referring to hundreds of arrests in the capital in May.

“I haven’t yet summarized the content of the songs, they are very diverse, I just gave some examples,” Shumov said.

“For instance, [Moscow lighthearted retro rock and roll band] Bravo donated a song in its usual style called ‘Jazz in Orbit,’ but they support our ‘White Album.’”

Bravo’s participation came as a surprise for Shumov, he admitted, as well as that of Alexei Romanov, a musician from the veteran band Voskreseniye. Other surprise volunteers include the Soviet band Ariel fronted by Valery Yarushin and the 1980s band Krematory. Mashina Vremeni’s Alexander Kutikov sent a song called “New Pilgrim.”

More predictably, Yury Shevchuk, known for his civil stance, and his band DDT have sent “Freedom Song” from the band’s most recent album “Inache” (Otherwise). The album so far also includes rappers Noize MC and Vasya Oblomov and rock bands Gleb Samoiloff The Matrixx and Louna from Moscow, as well as St. Petersburg musicians Seva Gakkel and Vasily K.

The principle of the “White Album” is one track per artist. Shumov himself is present on two: Center’s track “Poodle Dance” — slamming pro-Kremlin musicians — and a solo number, “We Are Pathetic Banderlog for Them,” referring to Putin’s derisory description of the protesters in December.

The collection is due to be released for free download ahead of the second March of Millions, due in Moscow on June 12 to coincide with the Russia Day national holiday. The first March of Millions, which drew tens of thousands, resulted in hundreds of arrests on May 6.

“Because the schedule of working days is altered this weekend [because of the public holiday] and to allow people to download it at least two days ahead [of the March of Millions], we’ll have a press conference in Moscow this coming Friday where we’ll announce where the album is available for download.”

By Sunday evening, 212 bands and artists had sent in tracks, comprising a total length of 13 hours and 13 minutes.

“I was surprised by the large scale of involvement, I really was,” Shumov said.

“When I took the job of producer, when I thought up the concept of ‘White Album,’ I didn’t think it would be so large. I am doing it as part of the ‘Soderzhaniye’ (Substance) series, the latest component of which was also a civic campaign in support of Artemy Troitsky, who was facing six lawsuits a year ago. We collected maybe 20 tracks, even though we had much more time — about three months — in which to compile the album.

“We announced ‘White Album’ on May 21, and how many contributions could you expect to get in just two weeks? But all of a sudden it was 50 tracks, then 70, then more than 100… That’s what I did not expect, such large-scale involvement.

“[Contributions] have come from all over the country, plus Kazakhstan, Ukraine, even from Cambodia — it was sent by some Russian guy who lives in Cambodia now. Geographically, the scope is very broad: Tyumen, Siberia, the Far East, every corner of Russia. I was surprised that there was such a large wave of support.”


The cover of ‘White Album,’ featuring a WebMoney account number.

According to Shumov, some artists have explained why they are taking part in the album, while a number of songs specifically offer support for Pussy Riot.

He sees the arrests of Pussy Riot’s alleged members as ongoing repressions against dissenters.

“We call it the Lukashenko-ization of the country (after Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko),” Shumov said.

“The authorities are trying to hold onto power by any means, and repression is the only thing they’re capable of. Cops and lackeys are what they are built on, nobody else. Repression comes from the police and from the lackeys in the Duma who pass draconian laws. It’s shameful.

“They have started to file criminal cases against bloggers now — all this has already happened in Belarus. There’s nothing new about it, but you can’t turn back the clock. Singer-songwriter Timur Shaov sent us a song that has the line: ‘the universe is expanding without a permit from the authorities.’ The march of history has nothing to do with what the authorities want or don’t want.”

Shumov said he was also surprised by the high quality of the submissions.

“Our idea was to include every musician who supports the protest movement, even if they’re aspiring or amateur musicians, and I was surprised that the quality is really decent,” he said.

“Until this project I didn’t know that the general standard of recording in Russia is quite high. I say that as a sound producer.”

He said he only did some minimal mastering to adjust volume levels in certain cases.

According to Shumov, all kinds of protest are effective in fighting illegitimate power.

“I think the authorities are morbidly afraid of any street protests — because the authorities are illegitimate; both the State Duma and the President are illegitimate,” he said.

“When people take to the street, there’s a real danger of it resulting in something bigger, and the authorities will have no choice other than to schedule new state duma and presidential elections. Putin is totally illegitimate, a usurper, while United Russia stole votes, so we have neither a legitimate parliament nor a legitimate president. This can’t last for long. Such a country is unviable.”

According to Shumov, tracks can be submitted until June 12. At the end of the protest rally, a launch concert for “White Album” — featuring some of the bands who took part in the album — is scheduled to take place.

Shumov will perform in St. Petersburg alongside local bands Televizor and NOM at Avrora Concert Hall on June 21.

He said the concert would essentially consist of an acoustic set he performed in duo with a guitarist at the Occupy Abai opposition camp in Moscow last month.

While the early pressings of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ contained a serial number on the cover, the cover of the Russian “White Album” will bear the number of a WebMoney account.

“The album will be available for free download, but people will be asked to donate any sum they like to make it possible to release “White Album” on disc — many people are asking me if it will be released on disc — and also to enable us to support opposition events, including music ones, financially,” Shumov said.

“White Album” will be available on the Internet on Friday, June 8.

See and for updates.

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