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It’s Cold Over Here: How Russia’s Latent Bassline Scene is Flourishing in the Ural Mountains and Beyond

In recent years the UK bass music scene has been awash with excitement, with many of the scene’s major players exporting the sound to stages unknown. From the dingy basement clubs of post-industrial England to Lengoland hosting a Tokyo show in the dying weeks of 2020, I have had no shortage of material, nor enthusiasm, to report on.

Perhaps most surprising for me was learning of the dedicated bass music culture that is flourishing in Perm, Russia—an industrial hub located in the Ural Mountains that boasts a storied history of writers, inventors, philosophers and, as I’m coming to learn, Bassline artists. ‘SightBySight’ (run by seminal talent ‘baadwrk’) is a label and promotion that platforms many of Russia’s boldest and brightest, enjoying recent collaborations with scene favourites and Sheffield stalwarts, Chip Butty Records.

It is not just that legitimacy is lended to this newly formed culture—Perm’s bass line is icy, aggressive and uncompromising, and it doesn’t require too much reflection to recognise the cultural similarities between Perm, city of munitions and Sheffield, city of steel. There’s an authenticity to the sonic qualities of Bassline forged in the colder climes of Russia that might seem disingenuous coming from the sunny shores of the mediterranean. In many ways, music has long been considered as reflecting the conditions it is made in, and Perm’s underground bass music is no different.

Belying the sounds on offer, however, were the disarmingly friendly conversations I had with the Sight by Sight crew, who were forthcoming about the scene’s history out East, its development within Russia and the struggles they have faced in propagating a scene. This has all been done whilst contending with the payment, politics and logistics of such a vast land mass.

I caught up with baadwrk and the Sight by Sight crew via the magic of the internet, which you can catch in full below!

Translations were generously offered by Ivan Morse, a member of the Sight by Sight crew.

[Interview]

Q: Ey up 3000, it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce the leading lights of Perm’s bassline scene, it’s baadwrk along with the Sight by Sight crew! How are you doing gentlemen?

baadwrk: Hello from the Midlands of Russia, Jordan! It’s nice to be in touch with someone part of such an important cultural resource like 3000 Bass; we know about your work and we appreciate it! It’s all good with us, as far as that’s possible in today’s conditions. We’re still hosting events, promoting our label and the SBS crew, composing music and putting together releases for artists from Russia and Britain. We’re also trying to shake off the blues like crazy.

Q: Could I get a brief overview of the Crew?

baadwrk: My name is Gosha ‘baadwrk’, I’m 30 years old, I’m a music producer and the founder of the Sight by Sight community in Russia. I’ve been making bass music for over five years and I work in videography, graphic design and content creation.

I’d also like to introduce you to my mates working in Russian bass music too. We’ve got Rodion Gataulin aka ‘B-founder’—he’s a DJ and someone who has always really surprised me with his production and promotion talents. When I met him he was under 18, but he’s since come to provide the A&R for our label. Like myself he’s one of three guys who manages the Sight by Sight project.

We’ve also got Ivan Morse aka 2oubleeskei (Double SK). He’s an MC, a DJ and a promoter. We became acquainted through his project ‘Loyal Lads’ and several years ago he moved to Perm from Rostov-on-Don (Southern Russia). He does marketing in all domains of SBS work. Besides him there are another 3 producers and 3 MCs in our crew: ‘Bearonbike’, ‘Unplaced’, ‘Dottyboi’, ‘Tempotem’, ‘bqpd’ and ‘Dirty Whity’. They are all fixtures of our team and play at every event, helping us along the way with the organisation side of things.

Nowadays ‘SBS’ is the biggest regional bass promotion in the country, as well as the largest digital label and artists’ crew. We host raves in Perm, promote British sounds among Russian listeners, help Russian and European producers obtain new audiences and release our own tracks. We want to keep presenting our music to global audiences, despite living in Russia!

Q: What is it about Bassline music that’s so special to you?

baadwrk: When I first heard Bassline, it became the alternative to all electronic music that I’d liked before. At first I loved Drum ’n’ Bass, but then Bassline came into my life and it stole the show! That doesn’t stop me from loving other genres, and I’ve played in several live projects outside of Bassline.

B-founder: Most people I know wouldn’t talk about the following since it’s illegal, but I’ll do it anyway.

When I was 14, I went to a party hosted by the ‘MOWA crew’ (Most Wanted Squad, a former project by baadwrk which gave birth to Sight by Sight). I’d been trying so hard to get in but it was almost impossible due to my age. I persisted and finally, for the first time in my life, I made it to one of their events.

I was so inspired by what I saw and heard inside—DJs, music, atmosphere, plenty of lights and hundreds of people. I wanted to be a part of the culture straight away, and within a few months I had managed to save up enough money to take DJ lessons with Max Solo at the local ‘A’punkt School’. I kept developing on this path and started composing tracks, eventually throwing parties. Bassline became my favourite genre through all of this and that remains true today.

2oubleeskei: I adore the insane power of Bassline! Tinges of its sound have made their way from Sheffield’s old school right up to the new wave, where it’s become mixed with contemporary genres across the board. I love Bassline and other British music not just for its sound, but for its history too. Jamaican sound system culture, the pirate radio stations, stories about Niche club, the contributions people like Jamie Duggan and DJ Q made to the genre etc.

I became so acquainted with the background of Bassline music, and there’s a lot about it that I think could resonate with others. I recognise what we’re trying to do here and I’m able to present it with that history in mind. This is why I’ve ended up on the marketing side of our project.

Q: What’s the Russian bass music scene like at the moment?

baadwrk: Russia has been infected by commercial American music, which is usually called ‘EDM’ here. This is mostly because the sound is supported by commercial radio, and because so much attention is paid to it on social media. On the whole the average consumer tends to gobble up the American stuff, and it’s really only regional rap music that gets any further attention.

I do have hope for local promoters, producers and enthusiasts because the future belongs to them. On my native soil, in Perm, it’s all clear—at the parties here you can listen to: Dubstep, DnB, UK Funky, Garage and Grime. There are quite a few competitors to American House or new school Hip-Hop here, though not within mainstream clubs. Our community and its enthusiasts strongly support British sounds, and we have a lot of them!
For us, it doesn’t matter how great our commercial success is—the main thing is our passion for it.

B-founder: In 2020 we discovered a lot of new names beyond Perm which means we inevitably made a few changes. Despite some of them having existed for the same period or even longer, we’d never crossed paths. Perhaps it was brought about by the new wave of interest in bass music here in Russia? In any case we’re glad it’s happening because our city is considered to be Russian capital of bass, and we want to see that growth continue in neighbouring cities. We really hope that in the near future there will be even more promotions, producers and labels, all of which will be able to represent Russia’s sounds on the world stage.

During my work on the label’s repertoire I became acquainted with various artists through 2020 and I’d like to take the time to highlight several Russian producers here: Digital Koala, DNL!, Swamp Cake, Scansis, Monista, Gofra Maslow. There’s also a ton of artists that we either have already worked with, or are going to in the future.

2oubleeskei: The Bassline sound reached Russia a long time ago. In the city where I grew up, for example, it was easy to get Speed Garage mixes of local DJs on tape, and there are still really solid projects out there like ‘Pirate Station’ (one of Russia’s oldest DnB projects).

Why didn’t the same level of development take place here in Russia, as it did in England? I suppose it’s that we lacked new blood—DJs here grew old together with their audiences. In their place foreign trends and enthusiasts from different genres took over. That’s why EDM, Trap, House and Techno have been so popular here for such a long period of time.

There are pros and cons in what we are now doing in Russia. For example, in the region we are not bothered by politicians or the police. We are still ‘illegalised’, but we are able to make events in the spirit of good old English raves—loud, yet inconspicuous. To that same point however, we have no industry, no normalised inner market and instead have the savage politics of clubs, where many DJs get less money for their sets than a security guard would for an evening’s work. A lot of promotions struggle with marketing and monetising their projects, and sometimes DJs have to take on two jobs in order to support their hobby. We are all used to doing this for passion, but we have been made to think that these conditions are normal. We all know what it’s like to play for just travel and accommodation; to gather half a thousand people in our home city, but when we travel to another region there might only be 30 people at the party. It’s time to put an end to it! We really need professionals who know that their job isn’t just to rent systems and to call on friends to play sets.

Were British people offended when the music community didn’t get any support from the government? We’ve been offered to play for 1000 roubles (10 pounds) and 2 pints for the last five years—we can’t even afford to buy tracks for our sets this summer or to take a taxi from the club back to our homes. It’s high time we stopped it—we are the members of the night entertainment industry and we’re the ones who bring people to the clubs and set up the good vibes. We’re doing our job!

Q: Do you have any major inspirations and what influences, if any, do you think Perm and/or Russia has had on your style of music?

baadwrk: We are mostly inspired by the original scenes in the UK. In the beginning I familiarised myself with Dubstep and a lot of Burial’s work, and I was surprised to learn that this kind of music existed at all. I went on to learn about the history of the UK and started to draw on this energy and its vibes. Living in Russia, I find reflections of your British vibe all around me; the music fits in with my everyday life.

B-founder: Personally my major inspiration has been in listening to the famous artists of the recent British bass music scene. Artists like: Holy Goof, Notion, Skepsis. It all began in 2017 for me and I’m still inspired by their art. Other artists which I’ve more recently discovered include Wulflock and Arc Nade.

In terms of strictly Russian music, the biggest discovery for me took place in my home town. British music events are local to us now, which we have Gosha (baadwrk) to thank for.

2oubleeskei: Indeed. The biggest inspiration for are the original scenes and cultures of Great Britain. I love your music, films, books, accent, slang.

With that stuff it began when I was a child, even before I’d decided that I was going to commit myself to music; I sometimes joke that I was British in a past life! I’d love to visit London, Sheffield, Birmingham or Nottingham one day to get to a real English rave. One of my biggest dreams is to promote our crew so much so that we could go on tour across Britain, or to perform a headline show in one of the big cities at least.

Q: This one’s for baadwrk: How did you become involved with Chip Butty Records?

baadwrk: I’ve been making music for a long time, and for a long time I didn’t show it to anybody. Even at the parties we hosted I just couldn’t let myself experiment with dropping one of my tunes. One day, having pulled myself together, I took emails off all the labels and artists that I love, and I sent them my demo, grouping them together in one letter.

I didn’t know that it would have been better to send them the material individually…

I received quite a few negative responses like: ‘First, learn how to send a promo, son’. That was very disappointing, and it was hard not to lose a lot of confidence. Musically, I felt like I didn’t deserve any attention.

Literally within a day of that I got an answer from Dr. Cryptic, the head of Chip Butty. I already had so much respect for him, so you can imagine how overjoyed I was. He agreed to release my track and then an EP! He helped pave my way into the world of Bassline music and with his support I started to believe in myself again. After my EP dropped over on Chip Butty I was filled with confidence, and tried to pass that motivation on to those close to me.

Big respect to Sam Cryptic and all the Sheffield mandem!

Q: Are there any other crews or collectives in the country that you’d like to talk about? For many of us here in the UK, this is the first we’re hearing about bass music in Russia whereas I know that Bassline Blog is another hub for Russian bassline music, for example.

2oubleeskei: It’s cool that you know Bassline Blog, send our best to Grisha Novikov! As I’ve said, we lack professionals over here, including journalists and publishers. We don’t have resources like 3000 Bass, Complex, TrenchTrenchTrench, British Mixmag etc. We had Russian Mixmag here, in fact, but it closed down in December 2020. Recently their chief editor wrote on his Facebook about UKG in Russia saying that ‘the genre didn’t get acclimatised here’ and that even for the British it ‘was just a temporary trend’. We know that there are several Garage promos in the country, and I throw parties with ‘Loyal Lads’ every month with another crew. We play several British genres there but Garage is definitely our favourite. To put it bluntly, we’ve been laughing at him and the general level of Russian music journalism for several weeks already.

There are Russian-speaking communities that write well about British music though. Selector, for example, along with website ‘12edit’ and Telegram channel ‘Look Mom No Hands’. Sometimes I write myself—Loyal Lads is not only an event. I created it as a blog in order to cultivate a taste and devotion to British music among listeners.

As for the promo, everyone moves along with their own theme, some within a genre, some promote only British sounds; some promote popular international music in general. It’s easier to specify the names of crews and their cities, so I will try to mention the ones I follow: United, ГЭРИДЖ (GARAGE), Саундсистемная Москва (Soundsystem Moscow), Russian Style (Moscow), Fat Vibez (Saint-Petersburg), Pustyle (Pushchino), Lighta! Sessions (Rostov-on-Don), Flava (Yoshkar-Ola), Ill Connection (Samara), DUB’RAW (Krasnodar), Radio Invisibility (Ivanovo), G42 (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk).

I hope I haven’t missed anybody. This list seems like a lot, but we all work in different cities and contexts, not to mention that Russia is a very big country. The industry we have here to coordinate tour logistics, it’s very little, and everybody has different levels of success. I’m certain there are crews forming right now that will be able to make a name for themselves across Russia. Maybe some of them will read this article and in several years they will give you the same kind of interview! That would be really cool for us—we stand for everybody’s progress and the development of all genres.

Q: Do you have a favourite show or event you’ve played?

baadwrk: Usually these are our own events. We have the strongest genre promo in the country and any DJ from another city who comes to us can confirm it. Sometimes, when you go to another city, you prepare and hope but only 50 people come to the party. As a listener I went to Croatia, over to Outlook festival and I would love to see something similar happen in Russia.

2oubleeskei: Without question I have to mention the DUB’RAW Camp guys in Krasnodar. They own the biggest and the most powerful soundsystem I’ve ever heard in person. Unreal pressure, experienced DJs, and a nice southern audience. It was the first open air I’d been to and in 2015 I went there as a humble listener. In 2017 I asked them if I could MC and I was given the chance—it went down well, we got in touch, and within a year I had performed there as an invited artist.

There’s another snazzy party by Soundsystem Moscow, which I performed at the same year as at DUB’RAW. We were on the second dancefloor but the hall was absolutely packed! It was so hot there was sweat dripping down the walls but nobody gave a damn! The crowd reacted so well and we danced until we knocked ourselves out, even though we all were totally drenched.
That was the only time when I took off my T-shirt after the set, usually I don’t do that.

Q: Do you have a favourite album or single that stands out? This can be from any genre or style.

baadwrk: ‘Murderer’ by Dub Incorporated. It’s a French group that plays Dub and Roots Reggae. I’m very fond of the song and I’m ready to play it at any party, no matter what genre or mood there is—it always puts people in such a good mood!

B-founder: My favourite album is Pure Bassline 2. There are so many different flavours from old to new school on there. My favourite single off it has to be ‘Hanzo’ by Palize, which has stayed in my playlist for ages. When I began my DJ career, I played it so often that it became my signature track, even though I didn’t write it.

2oubleeskei: My love of Bassline notwithstanding, I nearly always return to Grime and British Rap. My favourite album is ‘Constant Dikestar’ by Dirty Dike—It was this album that made me fall in love with British rap. I’m often listening to Konnichiwa by Skepta, but my favourite Grime single has to be ‘Roshi’ by JD. Reid and D Double E.

Q: Do you have any words for the Russian scene, or the global scene more generally?

baadwrk: Despite the hopelessness in politics here, and the fooleries of Russian politicians, I’d advise the people here to believe in a happier future and to attempt to build that with their own hands. As for looking at the world: guys, it’s time for you to notice the endeavours of your colleagues from other countries, not just us here in Russia. It’s clear that some people are already doing it, but there are those who ignore guys like us, or don’t trust us at all. We all do our business with kindness and out of good faith!

B-founder: Learn to promote your music, to maintain a social media presence, to establish contacts with other labels/promoters/artists and try to find the strength to keep making music. Perhaps you can’t see it right now, but it can amount to so much in the future. We’ve made many mistakes but we always look to improve and to fix them. Big results are on the horizon!

2oubleeskei: Don’t be embarrassed! The musical world is ready to accept you. A crew from a Russian province is having an interview with 3000 Bass? Seriously? While we were writing the answers for this interview, Marcus Nasty became acquainted with us and suggested that we record a guest mix for Rinse FM. I don’t know what will be released first, this text or the mix, but regardless, nobody from our crew ever thought this was possible! All of this is unbelievably cool and we’re really happy to have these opportunities. Life has something even greater waiting for most of you, often things you couldn’t take a guess at right now.

Also remember that it’s not enough only to compose music—you’ve got to learn specific skills, learn how to make friends and how to promote yourself. You will need knowledge along with the right intentions.
baadwrk: Also thanks to everybody who has read our interview up to the end, you’ve had members of the Sight by Sight crew here.

Hold tight to the Russian bass scene!

[Interview Ends]

I’d like to thank the Sight by Sight crew once again for this fascinating look into bass music culture in Russia. Many thanks to Ivan Morse for help with the translations and bringing the article together! All links to socials can be found below:

Links:
https://www.instagram.com/sightbysight_/
https://soundcloud.com/sightbysight
https://www.instagram.com/baadwrk/
https://www.instagram.com/b_founder/
https://www.instagram.com/2oubleeskei/