New Model DDT
A new-look DDT prepares to showcase its new album in the city.
Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)
SERGEY CHERNOV / SPT
DDT frontman Yury Shevchuk pictured at a rehearsal in St. Petersburg for a tour promoting the new album.
Yury Shevchuk, arguably Russia’s most popular rock musician known for his political dissent, walked out during a press conference in St. Petersburg last month.
He had just performed an unpolished set of new songs, complete with elaborate video art and a light show that he is going to premiere in the city with a mostly new lineup of his band DDT this Wednesday, and wanted to discuss his work, but the questions were too frequently about politics.
“I’ll leave for ten minutes now, and you ask questions to the musicians,” he said before departing. The conversation with the musicians sitting on the stage quickly died, and was replaced with silence. After a while, Shevchuk returned, dealt with a dozen more questions and then called it quits.
DDT’s press officer said recently that Shevchuk did not do interviews, and that he received about 30 requests every week.
Shevchuk, who has been compared to the iconic late Soviet singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky for his broad popularity with people of diverse backgrounds, even had policemen listening to his songs and taking pictures of him on their cell phones when he performed several songs at a rally.
On Sunday, people reportedly spent hours standing in line outside a record shop in central St. Petersburg to get his autograph during the official signing session for the new album and upcoming local concert.
The 54-year-old Shevchuk was born in the Magadan Oblast and lived in Ufa from 1970 to 1985, when he moved to Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then known. Having formed the original DDT, which enjoyed some popularity with rock fans through self-made tapes, in 1980 in Ufa, he reformed the group with new members in 1986, and the new lineup made its debut at the Leningrad Rock Club in January 1987.
Shevchuk became a national star following the huge mainstream popularity of his song “What Is Autumn?” (Chto Takoye Osen?) in 1991.
Shevchuk has occasionally been described as “Russia’s Bruce Springsteen” in the past, but after what he called a “dress rehearsal,” at least two local music critics compared the new set to Nine Inch Nails, Roger Waters and U2.
Called “Otherwise” (Inache), the show — and DDT’s new album — presents an almost totally new DDT and new, alt-rock sound that is a far cry from the “Russian rock” that DDT largely defined in the 1980s and 1990s.
Gone is drummer Igor Dotsenko, the only other member who had been with the band since its debut in Leningrad in 1986 and who was once described by Shevchuk as the band’s “axis.” Shevchuk admitted that Dotsenko was more “into blues,” than the music that Shevchuk wants to perform these days.
There are some new faces in the band, most noticeably — both to ear and eye — the cropped-haired background singer Alyona Romanova, who was originally with the Russian folk-influenced band Zventa Sventana.
With a penchant for all things gigantic, Shevchuk’s ideal of a stage show has for a long time been U2, and his duet with Bono on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” during U2’s Moscow concert last year was therefore nothing but logical.
Premiered nationally at Moscow’s Olimpiisky Sports Complex on Nov. 9, “Otherwise” is an ambitious conceptual work that involved a theater director and libretto and essentially follows the protagonist throughout the 18 songs of the live set.
Shevchuk said that there are no more than 25 to 30 venues in Russia able to host his new show, which requires three trailer trucks packed with equipment and screens, adding that in cities lacking such venues, the band will perform a “chamber” set called “Solnik” (Solo).
SERGEY CHERNOV / SPT
One of the new additions to DDT’s lineup is Alyona Romanova, pictured here with Yury Shevchuk.
“The main objective of this set is to create tension between music, words, video art and light,” he said.
Perceived by some as a perfect people’s candidate for the presidency, Shevchuk made headlines last year when he confronted Vladimir Putin over the lack of free speech and continued dispersals of peaceful rallies in Russia at a meeting after a charity event in St. Petersburg, apparently managing to irk the prime minister.
“Will you invite Putin to the premiere at Olimpiisky?” was one of the first questions.
“If he comes to our premiere, rather than us going to his premiere, that would be OK — there’s a difference, isn’t there?” said Shevchuk, adding that he had invited “all the politicians” to the dress rehearsal in St. Petersburg, but only “a few guys came.”
Present at the local event last month was Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the oppositional Solidarity movement and the Party of People’s Freedom (Parnas).
Since 2008, Shevchuk has annoyed the authorities by attending protest rallies and speaking out against the controversial planned Gazprom skyscraper and Kremlin-backed plans to build a highway through the Khimki forest near Moscow.
Soon after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008, he held stadium concerts titled “Don’t Shoot” in Moscow and St. Petersburg featuring a Georgian act to protest the war. Speaking about “Otherwise,” the musician said he was thinking about “Armageddon and war” when writing the songs.
Shevchuk has also supported political prisoners such as Taisia Osipova, an oppositional activist who has been held in pretrial custody in Smolensk since November 2010 on what her supporters say are falsified charges, despite the fact that she is diabetic and has a young daughter.
At the press conference, Shevchuk described President Dmitry Medvedev’s statement about seeing Putin as Russia’s next president as the “last elections.”
However, the event demonstrated Shevchuk’s apparent reluctance to get further involved in politics, and perhaps a lack of clear vision for the future of Russia, even if he has a keen sense of what is wrong and unfair.
“‘Otherwise’ is a concept, an alternative way to experience existence in time and space, unlike the slavish consumerism imposed on society together with all of its “positive” reinforcement,” Shevchuk wrote on DDT’s web site (complete with an official English translation).
“Everyone is capable of basking in the warmth of inner freedom. Everyone can choose to live ‘otherwise,’ refusing to allow cynical propaganda and banal, hollow voices to answer the eternal questions of existence.”
With his references to private lives and “being nice to each other,” this sounds quite a lot like Brezhnev-era “internal emigration” — something from which Shevchuk originally emerged in the 1980s.
DDT will perform at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Peterburgsky Sports and Concert Complex (SKK), located at 8 Prospekt Yuriya Gagarina. M: Park Pobedy. Tel. 388 1211.