The Outlook from Home



The St. Petersburg outfit Theodor Bastard (Fedor Svolotch) has traditionally liked to position itself between “world music, trip-hop, and folk.” Despite those three flights from modernity, there’s plenty in the band’s catalog to suggest an ongoing concern with modern civilization. The past is used to interpret and critique the present. TB’s vocalist Yana Vena has claimed before to work “under the inspiration of various traditions and faiths, which have represented aboriginal peoples from far-flung corners of the planet… They all live side by side with nature’s wilderness, in places where ancient traditions endure. It doesn’t matter which culture we’re talking about – spiritual traditions just survive in places like that. For some people they might be little more than myth and fairytales, but for others those rituals are as real as our own urban jungle!”

Landscape – or the sweep thereof – inspires its residents to look beyond material existence. Nature operates far beyond the supposed “permanence” of human planning. Modern society could learn a thing or two.

The band’s newest recording – “Vetvi” (Branches) – comes with several new interviews in the Russian press. Journalists have noted that the LP evinces a swift return to Russian folk music and the traditional instruments thereof. “[As we composed the album,] new songs took shape with some absolutely amazing Russian lyrics by Yana. I immediately understood: this is what we need right now.” As we’ll see, the rationale for this patriotic statement recalls the linguistic logic of Jars.

Theodor Bastard and some local trajectories: “Vetvi” (2015)

The interviewer digs a little deeper and asks why Theodor Bastard has turned “dramatically” towards Russian lyrics and the folkloric heritage of Russia’s northern wilderness. The musicians reply: “There’s madness all around us today. It’s hard to ignore. Whenever there’s civic instability, then – on an unconscious level – you always seek salvation in your own culture. Your native language becomes something you can grab onto. And you know what? It really does help.”

“Why should we be looking over our shoulder [at Western artists and trends]? We simply do whatever our heart desires. It was [the writer Nikolay] Karamzin [d. 1826] who said that people living in Russia might think and dream about other lands – but their most heartfelt enterprise will always be here, in their homeland. All of us are forever bound to our native land.”

“No matter how you consider things, [therefore,] Theodor Bastard are a modern band. We’ve got electronica, [contemporary] instrumentals; plenty of everything! Folk music lies at the root of all that. Modern music won’t develop without an awareness of folk culture…” And then, lest the group be accused of escapist and outmoded “new age tendencies of the 1990s,” the musicians instead assert their allegiance to “trip-hop, ambient styles, clicks & cuts, industrial modes, and the extremes of our own ‘dark scene.” Modernity and melancholy suit each other. Anxiety becomes a prime connection between the past and present.

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