Sunday, 14 July 2013


As far as most maps – literal and figurative – are concerned, Rostov-on-Don is the gateway to The Sea of Azov, the massive inland expanse of water which, via a strait, drains into The Black Sea. Beyond: there is Turkey, The Aegean and The Mediterranean. Rostov-on-Don is obviously strategic, and also located where Russia is at its narrowest between The Ukraine and Georgia.

Historically, there have been Armenian, Greek and Turkish influences. Trade from and with Italy has also been important. Industry, as well as export, dominates Rostov’s economy.

But music? Motorama excepted, the million or so population doesn’t seem to have made a mark, both within and without Russia. The band seem to be a one-off.

The emergence of Motorama as the city’s most notable musical offspring is about more than their context – wherever Motorama come from, they would still make a mark. The reissue of their first album Alps (reviewed here) when taken with their recently released second long player, Calendar (reviewed here) has underlined just what a great band they are.

Alps' arrival brought an excuse to check in with their main man Vladislav Parshin to try and find out a little about what they’re about.

“I started playing in bands in 2001,” he says. “The first was a rock band with a Velvet Underground influence. I was 16. In 2009 I invited my friends to join the band, not professional musicians, but mates with similar music tastes. From the very beginning, Motorama was rough post-punk band. We were fans of ‘80s post-punk. Later, I started to experiment with different harmonies and atmospheres, jangle pop, twee guitars and so on. At the same time I have two another bands: Bergen Kremer, it's me and my wife Irene [Parshina – who plays bass in Motorama]; and Ytro, with the same Motorama members where I sing in Russian.”

“I think we are not popular here,” continues Vladislav. “Rostov is mostly a hip-hop city. Rostov is a big, busy, dirty. It’s not friendly. The youth here are hip-hop fans, football hooligans, indie kids, skaters. We have a river, traffic jams, a big cemetery, hills, a stadium, a forest and only one club where it's possible to play concerts. On the other hand, it's a great city to be isolated from everything and I think that works good for us. But we use the internet to know about music, art, videos, etc. Families and friends are here. We never thought about leaving.”

Explaining more about the origins of Motorama, Vladislav says “I had several songs as demos, they were written for another band, I even had a name for this imaginary band, then I realise that we can try to rehearse them with Motorama. We have no free money for expensive gear. We use what we have or what we can borrow from our friends. I think it's good to make limits for yourself. We are totally DIY and free with all our things connecting with the band and I’m happy that we can do all things by ourselves. For Alps’ guitars we borrowed an old soviet amp - I don't know the name - from our friends. We used very simple mic and record everything directly to the PC. Drums were recorded at our friend’s flat. It was easy, no stress at all. We spent two weeks, sitting together with Maxim [Polivanov, Motorama’s guitarist] after work at his flat. We were recording instruments and voice. Roman [Belenkiy] recorded his drums at our friend’s home studio. It was also rather fast, cheap and easy.” The five-piece band is rounded out by keyboard player Alexander Norets.

French label Talitres picked Motroama up and the band now have, as Vladislav says, “some strong fans in Mexico and Peru.”

Motorama’s path is certainly unusual, but there’s no doubt they’re Rostov-on-Don’s most significant export success.

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Sunday, 7 July 2013


Here are some more pictures from this remarkable event and place - including roast reindeer and the miniature miners in Røros Museum.

Monday, 1 July 2013


A first encounter with Eplemøya Songlag isn’t easily forgotten. Seeing them in Oslo a few years ago left an indelible impression.

A trio, they used no instruments. The vocals were wordless. There were some subtle treatments of the voices: a touch of reverb. Rhythms came from the voice, but this wasn’t a tripled-up human beatbox. When the vocals – rounds, soaring passages, whispers – were punctuated, it was with sharp exhalations like hammer blows or bubbling. Arresting and powerful, yet tonally shaded, it was utterly memorable and unlike any other music.

The arrival of their second album, Möya Og Myten, brought the opportunity to check in with Eplemøya Songlag and find out about their world. Although bracketed as folk, they breach musical boundaries, setting their own style.

Eplemøya Songlag are Liv Ulvik, Wenche Losnegård and Anja Eline Skybakmoen. Each is solely credited with vocals. Liv’s background is in folk, while Wenche and Anja come from jazz.

Möya Og Myten goes further than their 2011 eponymous debut album as it captures the impact of their live shows. Being all in Norwegian brings no barrier to being bowled over. Translated as Maiden and the Myth, the album collects songs about women. Mostly allegorical, but still direct, they address perception and place. Some are arrangements of traditional material, some bring melodies to poems. Others are new compositions.

Helpfully for non Norwegians, the new album’s booklet has short English-language summaries for each track – on both the background and genesis of each song, and its narrative. It’s not strictly necessary to know that Huldresong is about the huldra (the hulder), a siren-like, forest-dwelling mythical woman with a cow’s tale who lures men to her cave (who also crops up Swedish and Sámi stories). The song is quite spooky enough without knowing the meaning of the words. In Olav Og Elvarkvinnene, Olav has a fateful encounter with female elves while riding off to invite guests to his wedding. The newly composed Kvelerslangen carries a warning about a python. Even without any knowledge of Norwegian, Möya Og Myten is a pleasure as it’s so atmospheric, so powerful.

Stylistically, Eplemøya Songlag draw on Norwegian kveding singing. “Liv has studied the kveding,” explains Anja. “Her way of singing, combined with two jazz singers, becomes something new and fresh. The three of us have very different musical backgrounds and very different voices, and we sing together with that in mind. The difference between us is important. We look at our different approaches as a strength. We use these differences as much as we can to reach a result that everyone is satisfied with. We both try and want to bring out the best and most special in all three voices.”

Although the stories on Möya Og Myten look to the past, Eplemøya Songlag take care that they still resonate. “We find the Norwegian music tradition, with its bizarre stories and beautiful melodies, very enchanting,” says Anja. “It´s important to us that the stories we pick are somewhat relevant for our lives today. And many stories are. On Möya Og Myten, we searched for old myths, urban myths and mythical characters in traditional Norwegian history and culture. We used about a year to find the right stories and melodies for us. We search online, in archives at the libraries, talked to story tellers here in Oslo and so on. On our first album we searched for stories about strong women taking responsibility of their own lives no matter what. For example, the story about the girl who didn´t have a man. She was so desperate to find a man that she eventually made herself a man out of branches from trees and intestines from one of her dead sheep. And this self-made man was as good as any other man. That´s something to think about.”

The music is as exacting as the search for subjects and songs and, especially live, sounds difficult to create. “Our main goal is to maintain an acoustic sound,” says Anja. “If we use microphones on stage, we always try to reach the same sound as if we were singing with no amplification. Because our repertoire is challenging when it comes to voice technique and register, we often need microphones to get the details in our music out to the audience.”

As to whether the music of Eplemøya Songlag is folk – or not - Anja says “our music is a kind of folk, I think. But it´s not so important that we label our music. We have three feet in folk music. But the other three are set somewhere else - inspired by Bulgarian women´s choirs, jazz, world music, vocal styles from other countries and cultures. As long as we can perform these stories and this music that we love, we´re satisfied.”

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