SKIF turns fifteen

SKIF turns fifteen

It’s a good year for the annual alternative music festival that takes place this weekend.

Published: May 11, 2011 (Issue # 1655)


The New York group Swans will headline this year’s SKIF festival.

Legendary New York noise pioneers Swans will headline SKIF 15 — the 15th Sergei Kuryokhin International Festival — an annual festival of all kinds of off-beat music that kicks off this week.

Dedicated to the late local avant-garde rock and jazz pianist, SKIF has always brought some interesting and challenging international artists to the city, but this year’s lineup is perhaps even more stimulating than usual.

Formed by singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira in 1982, Swans emerged from the ashes of New York’s avant-rock No Wave scene and became one of the most influential acts of the 1980s, alongside artists such as Lydia Lunch and Sonic Youth.

Gira (pronounced jhee-RAH) disbanded Swans in 1997 and continued with Angels of Light and solo, but reformed the band in January 2010 and released “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” — Swans’ first studio recording in 14 years — later that year.

Gira, now 57, once described Swans’ concerts as both “soul-uplifting and body-destroying”. The musician came to St. Petersburg in 2004 and performed a solo set of dark folk ballads, singing and playing guitar at the now-defunct Red Club, but Swans’ SKIF set will be the band’s first appearance in the city.


Zombie Zombie will perform works from John Carpenter movies.

Dutch avant-rock band The Ex was one of the first Western alternative acts to come to St. Petersburg as early as in the late 1980s, when the city was still called Leningrad. Its underground concert at the Leningrad Rock Club’s basement room remains an iconic event in which the Russian rock public and musicians, then still locked within the borders of the Soviet Union, were exposed to the energy and experimentalism of a truly innovative band, whose highlights include brilliant recordings with the late cello player Tom Cora.

The Ex returned to the city to perform at SKIF in 2006, but this year’s festival will see The Ex’s new incarnation. Its singer and co-founder G. W. Sok quit in 2009 after 30 years with the band to be replaced by singer and guitarist Arnold de Boer.

De Boer is a familiar sight on the local avant-garde scene; he performed with his previous band Zea at both Dutch Punch and SKIF in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

De Boer’s voice, guitar and samples can be heard on The Ex’s most recent album “Catch My Shoe,” which was released last September.

Artists who are brand new to St. Petersburg audiences include Las Vegas-based mystical singer and yoga teacher Gonjasufi. Known as a rapper named Sumach Ecks, who has been active on the hip-hop scene since the early 1990s, he reinvented himself as Gonjasufi and released his debut album as such, called “A Sufi and a Killer,” in March last year.


British 12-string guitarist James Blackshaw will play on Saturday.

American film score legend Alan Howarth, who composed soundtracks for almost 40 films and is most famous for his work with horror director John Carpenter (including every “Halloween” movie), will come with French electro-pop duo Zombie Zombie to perform works from Carpenter movies.

The band, which comprises Etienne Jaumet and Cosmic Neman, was formed under the influence of Krautrock and horror soundtracks and is known for its penchant for vintage synthesizers and a Theremin. They paid homage to Carpenter on last year’s album, called “Zombie Zombie Plays John Carpenter,” which features the theme tunes from “Assault On Precinct 13,” “Halloween” and “The Thing” as well as pieces from “Escape From New York” and “Escape From L.A.” soundtracks.

Other international acts include the Arnold Dreyblatt Ensemble, led by the New York-born, Berlin-based composer and visual artist; Norway’s “extreme” audio-visual project Killl; and British 12-string guitarist James Blackshaw.

Kuryokhin was active on the local scene from the 1970s, first as a jazz and rock pianist and keyboard player, then as a film composer. He could be seen playing with Akvarium and at avant-garde jazz performances.

From the mid-1980s, he led Pop Mekhanika, a band with no permanent lineup whose large-scale happening-like performances featured brass bands, string ensembles, ballerinas and animals. He died of a rare heart decease at the age of 42 in 1996.


The Arnold Dreyblatt Ensemble will also perform on Saturday.

The festival dedicated to his memory was launched in January 1997 by Boris Rayskin, a cello player who had earlier emigrated from St. Petersburg to New York.

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, Cooler and the Bitter End, lasted 11 days and featured Cecil Taylor, David Moss and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

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 in the city annually.

All events are held at the Sergei Kuryokhin Modern Art Center, 93 Sredny Prospekt, Vasilyevsky Island. M.: Vasileostrovskaya / Primorskaya. Tel: 322 4223.

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