Pushing the Envelope
For the past 17 years, SKIF has been keeping the musical ethos of Sergei Kuryokhin alive.
Published: May 14, 2013 (Issue # 1759)
Michael Rother plays the music of influential German groups Harmonia and NEU! in St. Petersburg this week as part of SKIF.
Michael Rother, the influential German musician best known for his work with Krautrock bands NEU! and Harmonia in the 1970s, will perform at the 17th Sergei Kuryokhin International Festival being held this week. Known as SKIF, the annual local festival of avant-garde and leftfield music is held in memory of the late St. Petersburg musician Sergei Kuryokhin.
In 1971, guitarist Rother was briefly in Kraftwerk with drummer Klaus Dinger, when the two left to form NEU!, the Dusseldorf-based band that influenced everybody from David Bowie and John Lydon to today’s electronic musicians.
According to Trouser Press, “NEU! were punk before punk; they pursued sounds and approaches that would become commonplace in industrial, ambient and other electronic musics; they were precursors of post-rock; and they experimented with what would later be called the ‘remix.’”
In addition to NEU!, Rother also co-founded Harmonia, a Krautrock supergroup, which started as a collaboration between him, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Möbius, who were in the band Cluster, and later included the British musician Brian Eno.
Rother will bring his current live project “Michael Rother presents the music of NEU!, Harmonia and selected solo works” to St. Petersburg. He will be accompanied by Berlin-based band Camera.
SKIF’s eclectic lineup also features Northern Californian singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, whose music is described as black metal and deep blues-informed electric folk. Wolfe is due to release her fourth album later this year, which will concentrate on the “elements and natural disasters, humanity, love, desolation,” as stated on her website.
From London comes the U.K. alternative-rock duo 2:54, comprising Ireland-born, Bristol-raised sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow. Formed in 2010, the band released its acclaimed self-titled debut album last year, produced by rock drummer and producer Rob Ellis, best known for his work with PJ Harvey.
This year SKIF also features a Toronto-based Canadian synthpop band called Trust, which released its debut album “TRST” in February. The electronic musical duo Kap Bambino and psychedelic drone electronica musician High Wolf, both from France, and Finnish Krautrock-influenced electronic music band Siinai will also perform.
The improvisational/experimental scene is represented this year by German trio NOHOME, formed by electric guitarist Caspar Brötzmann, as well as by the British band Volcano the Bear and the American band Les Rhinocéros.
Hailing from the Washington, D.C .area, Les Rhinocéros was formed in 2008 by bassist and composer Michael Coltun. The trio’s self-titled album was released in 2011 by record label Tzadik — owned by the influential American avant-garde composer, musician and record producer John Zorn.
“AMAZING… I LOVE the music… ALL OF IT…,” Zorn was quoted as saying about the band, which blends world, noise, ambient and jazz styles.
SKIF was launched in memory of the late St. Petersburg musician Sergei Kuryokhin and aims to continue developing his ideas about music and performance by inviting experimental bands that are believed to be kindred spirits.
Kuryokhin became active on the local scene in the 1970s, first as a jazz and rock pianist and a keyboard player, then as a film composer. He would be seen playing with the seminal rock band Akvarium as well as at avant-garde jazz performances.
From the mid-1980s, he led Pop-Mekhanika (also known as Populyarnaya Mekhanika, or Popular Mechanics), a band with no permanent lineup whose large-scale, happening-like performances featured brass bands, string ensembles, ballerinas and animals. He died in 1996 of a rare heart disease at the age of 42.
It was in January 1997 that Boris Rayskin, a cello player who had earlier emigrated from St. Petersburg to New York, decided to launch a festival in the memory of Kuryokhin.
Rayskin, who had played with Kuryokhin in Pop-Mekhanika, had the idea of bringing musicians from diverse music fields together.
The very first event, which was called SKIIF (spelled with two “I”s), or the Sergei Kuryokhin International Interdisciplinary Festival, took place at a number of New York venues such as The Knitting Factory, the Cooler and the Bitter End. The event lasted 11 days and featured Cecil Taylor, David Moss, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and others.
The second event, in March 1998, was held to mark Rayskin’s sudden death, after which the festival was moved to St. Petersburg, where the third event was held in October that same year. Since then, the festival has been held annually in the city.
Originally migrating between various city venues such as the St. Petersburg Palace of Youth and Baltiisky Dom, SKIF moved to the abandoned Soviet-era Priboi film theater on Vasilevsky Island, which was transformed into the Sergei Kuryokhin Modern Art Center in 2005.
Since it began, the festival has featured both well-known and aspiring artists, including Genesis P-Orridge, Terry Riley, Swans, The Ex, Keshavan Maslak, Faust, Keith Julie Tippett, Borah Bergman, Frank London, Fred Frith and Chris Cutler.
SKIF is held by the Sergei Kuryokhin Foundation, an organization chaired by the musician’s widow, Anastasia Kuryokhina, and supported by City Hall as well as numerous foreign embassies and cultural organizations from different countries.
According to the organizers, the music performed at SKIF defies stylistic and aesthetic boundaries. It draws upon the challenges and accepted notions of jazz, electronics, classical and world music.
All events are held at the Sergei Kuryokhin Modern Art Center at 93 Sredny Prospekt, Vasilyevsky Island. M: Vasileostrovskaya, Primorskaya. Tel: 322 4223. www.kuryokhin.net
Sergei Kuryokhin International Festival: SKIF 17
Friday, May 17
Colette and Hannah Thurlow named their band 2:54 after part of a song by the Melvins.
8 p.m. NOHOME
9:30 p.m. Siinai (Finland)
11 p.m. Michael Rother Camera (Germany)
12:30 a.m. 2:54 (U.K.)
1:45 a.m. Molly Nilsson (Sweden)
3 a.m. Camera (Germany)
4 a.m. Pavel Dovgal (Russia)
7 p.m. Air Canda (Russia)
8:15 p.m. Home Swinger Orchestra
9 p.m. Bismuth (Netherlands)
10:15 p.m. Analog Sound (Russia)
Saturday, May 18
8 p.m. Les Rhinocéros (U.S.)
9:15 p.m. Volcano the Bear (U.K.)
10:45 p.m. Chelsea Wolfe (U.S.)
12 a.m. High Wolf (France)
1:30 a.m. Trust (Canada)
2:45 a.m. Kap Bambino (France)
4 a.m. The Shapka (Russia)
7 p.m. Velvet Breasts (Russia)
8:45 p.m. Shortparis (Russia)
10 p.m. Sonic Death (Russia)