The Russian rock band Auktyon has been around a long time. Its members came together in the days of the Soviet Union. They're aging rockers but they're still going strong — Here's Marco Werman's Global Hit.
Auktyon's music reflects their own lives. It was inspired by the insular and dark Soviet period they lived through, and by Auktyon's need to create their own identity. Western rock interested them, but it was far from their only influence.
Nicolay Rubanov, the band's saxophone player, says he is just as interested in industrial noise, Balkan music, jazz, chamber music, traditional Asian music, and hip hop.
Like the other eight members of the band, Rubanov says he's most interested in what happens when sounds are created. Even the words, often non-sensical, have more sonic value than they do a literal meaning.
Auktyon's lyrics is a big part of Auktyon's music. But it's not the main part. If you do not understand lyrics, you have more freedom intepretating the songs. Because you can feel foreign words by your own sense.
This song is called Kniga.
It starts out with a slightly ska driven beat. And then Auktyon takes it decidedly elsewhere.
If the music Auktyon makes gets people nodding and saying, «hmmm, interesting,» that's because Auktyon grew up in interesting times. They formed their group in 1983, when Russia was still part of the Soviet Union. Auktyon's members are all from St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg has its own art scene. And that fact alone has helped keep Auktyon out of the mainstream.
But in 1983, the way you got known as a rock band in Russia also ensured that Auktyon would sound weird. Their first gigs, recalls Nicolay Rubanov, were at a place just off the busy avenue, Nevsky Prospekt. It was known simply as the Rock Club.
Rubanov: «It was organized with participation of KGB. It was made specially to allow our secret service to know what the young people do, what they think.»
With bands like Auktyon as the talent, the KGB played tastemakers as well as secret service.
Rubanov:«Officials in rock club their main duty was to check lyrics and to approve it or reject it. Every band was obliged to bring all the texts in one room to show to special committee, and they decide, oh well, it's not too strange, or it's very non-polite, or something like this.»
Rubanov says Auktyon was never seen as subversive by the KGB. By the late eighties, the writing was on the wall anyway. Soviet officials had a pretty good sense that their world view was slowly imploding. All the same, attempts were made to read between the lines of rock songs, even Auktyon's surreal and existential tunes.
Rubanov: «We are playing until now a song which has the refrain, «money is paper.» The main part is the refrain, «money is paper.»
MW: The communist government must have loved a song like that because that's basically ideologically speaking exactly what they feel.
Rubanov: «Yes but we had trouble with that song because they decided we are speaking about Russian money.»
These days, the members of Auktyon are in their fifties. Since the collapse of communism, they've been able to say, «music is our day job.» More recently, an older tune of theirs made its way into the soundtrack to a popular movie in Russia. Now Auktyon is playing to a new generation of Russians who would otherwise be listening to teen pop.
Rubanov: «Now we have young fans, 15, 16 years old, and it's very funny because sometimes they knew lyrics of Auktyon better than we knew.»
The music scene in the new Russia has become very competitive. Everyone wants a record deal. Everyone wants to be an overnight sensation. Nicolay Rubanov and his bandmates in Auyktyon reckon that if they were coming up today, they'd have a harder time making it as rock stars in Russia.
Rubanov: «The whole musical situation is much tougher than in 80s because every young band has to survive, and we are in a very good position. We are rock legends, we are part of Russian rock and roll history. Well, we are great. (laughs) It's rubbish, but…»
MW: …But that's allowed you to survive.
Auktyon begins a two week tour of the US this Thursday in Austin, Texas.
March 14, 2006