One of Ukraine's musical bright spots, and one of three wonderful bands to be featured on the label (along with Foa-Hoka and No Fly Zone).
My words won't do justice, so I included a biography of the band from Tutta Tamsen...
Despite a lot of cleaning in the area, Tutta finds Blemish in a less expected place. It was so ugly that it appealed to her. And she decided to write about...
The country and its musical business
Ukrainian show business of the late 1990s is limited to the mainstream and even in the mainstream market Russia is dominating. The Young Communist League (Comsomol) used to control “music for youth” in the Soviet times, punished those young people who were listening to Western pop and created cheap homemade substitutes for it. It was the former Comsomol nomenclature who were the first to become post-Soviet show businessmen. And their perception of what popular music should and shouldn’t be like determines the situation a lot.
The music beyond the three-chord “popsa” (Russian slang for very primitive pop) or 140 bpm eurotechno is very rare on TV and FM radio. In 1998 there were five audio recording companies in Kyiv dealing in Ukrainian music. By 1999 three of them are nearly dead, and one has been purchased by a Russian company. Four Ukrainian musical magazines appeared in 1995-1996 but were closed in 1997. Several months before the presidential elections the registration of new media was suspended for an undetermined period.
Victor V. “It’s a natural thing for us to stay in the studio and create the music at our pleasure. I work as a technical writer, and a deputy editor of a computer newspaper. Just anything that leaves some free time and free bytes in your head.
Several times we were proposed to switch Blemish to techno, or brit pop, or break bit. It’s stupid to sacrifice a good musical project in favor of the last year fashion. And even more stupid for Ukrainian musicians is to imitate the style invented in Detroit or Manchester, having 1 500 years of our own culture. For me Kyiv is a special place and I feel a lot of inspiration coming out of this city.”
So why are most of Blemish texts in English?
V. “I can write the lyrics in Ukrainian as well as in English. Each of the languages has a different rhythmic structure and phonetics. English makes the same voice sound differently from Ukrainian, actually the voice becomes a new musical instrument.
In our latest album, I did two texts in Japanese. Because of the sound it fits the compositions perfectly. May be next time we’ll resort to Dutch or Farsi or Czech. If I know a language just a little, it’s still possible to choose some words which help the singer or MC to perform the part.”
The ideas and styles
Victor V.: I start from the idea and go to the final result through the right choice of people and right application of technology. Both ambient and darkwave sound good, still style names are big graves for real music. Only eclecticism allows freedom of creativity. I like the word “electronica”, but if we apply it to Blemish, what should be done with live voice and string instruments?
What is the name of a person you see in a mirror? Your answer is different from mine, but both correct. Listen to Blemish your own way and invent the style name yourself, when you need one.”
The story, part Zero
Victor V and Alexander Yurchenko met in 1990 and formed a noisy band Electricians.
Victor V.: “It was pure improvisational destructivity. We ended in a year with 3 guitars, 2 basses and a drummer. My job was to program beatbox, play toy keyboards, sample, and control the mixing console to make all parts audible. Alexander was the first to give the idea of project and the first to get tired of it. His next move was to folk influenced “unclassical” music, like his own Yarn or collaborations with Svitlana Hianio.”
After the split up Poushkar recorded seven electronic tracks called Songs of Brotherly People. All 30 copies of self-made tape were signed “It’s an interactive record. Side B is left free for your own songs.” Later he did several live shows with a video artist Nedzel’sky using the compositions from this album. He currently defines it as “slow minimal pieces for the beatbox, live screaming keyboards and feedbacks”.
In 1992 Victor V joins Shake Hi-Fi. “It was rock. Sort of hardcore punk, with 2 basses and my drum programming. I enjoyed to play it live and was disappointed a lot with our attempts to record.” The band started to attract the fans and the attention of media. Shake Hi-Fi could become a commercially successful band, but 1992-93 was a peak of the economic crisis in Ukraine, and the country didn’t have any business structure dealing with that kind of music. Next year Victor V goes solo again, then makes Yurchenko interested in assisting with his new project, and later he finds the singer.
The Ugly Swans was a project of Sergey Popovich – the former leader of Rabbota Ho, one of very few Ukraine’s rock legends. Currently he is the sound producer of a famous pop-rock band VV.
Victor V.: “Sergey considered me as a very radical keyboard player. Three days before a performance he gave me a tape of nearly complete music and asked to make some noise. For me his songs sound very romantic, so instead of being intentionally weird I just added some colours. Sergey heard what I do first in a rock club with dead speakers, a lot of beer and very friendly audience. He was surprised but in a positive way. That evening we did a good live record.”
Do you feel sort of oppressed being a sideman?
“It is useful for the project leader to switch to a sideman position. You learn to understand other people’s musical ideas, and decide what should be improved in your own project. When one talks about notes to play using certain timbre and fit to established style of pop, it’s boring. Feed it to your General MIDI module and leave me alone, a man with quantized consciousness.”
How do you manage to cooperate playing with other musicians? Is it dictatorship or democracy, or anything else?
“Closer to democracy. Starting the composition I usually think of some people who will help to perform it. Playing with different musicians creates different feelings. I give the initial tracks or only sound objects as the idea and we start improvisation until the result is achieved. Then may be I’ll add the final tracks myself, edit and mix.”
And how do you find musicians for the Blemish?
“First I search for a man or a woman. A human being. Having good listening experience, creative and to some extent unpredictable. Only then - able to play an instrument. My sequencer is 64 times faster and more accurate than any string or keyboard sportsman. Many parts in Blemish are minimal and even naive, but never straightforward, they require clear understanding of the idea as a whole
I got in touch with Alexander through my friends; I met Svitlana in a concert of her electroacoustic project Tzukor Bila Smert’. Igor, besides the music and photography, is an ugly punk and a friend of my younger brother. I met Toma putting the add in a newspaper. Toma is an actress. She plays on stage an “Episode from “Chaika” soundtrack which we recorded together.”
The poem: (victor v., Mr. Sycorsky, 1998)
(the elf’s voice)
The designer of helicopters Igor Sycorsky lived in Kyiv three blocks away from the location of Victor’s recording studio. The former house of Sycorsky stays half ruined waiting to be remodeled or ruined completely…
Tricks and freaks
When I heard the Blemish record for the first time, I couldn’t believe it was a home recording. It was slow, dense and dirty electronica combined with a live female voice and the guitar that rather reminded me of 4AD projects. It was far from anything else you could have imagined in Ukraine in 1994.
A house situated between the Opera House and the Golden Gate. This is the most ancient part of Kyiv. Victor’s bedroom is completely occupied with wires and boxes, and few of them seem familiar to me. It was one of the first interviews for both of us. We talk about music, have tea and I do a short story for the local musical newspaper. He sounds like an egghead who played punk (or a punk with strong educational background). Victor easily switches from music to Hastler type jokes, and sometimes to psychology, high literature or technical terms concerning his audio gear.
Five years after Victor seems to have changed. Just a bit quieter. Now his smile is rather hedonistic than nervous. He carries a white cat who shows nearly the same facial expression. “We were too much destructive. Now I’m getting a positive picture of the world. But find many reasons to say: Blemish…”
This time he points at the computer audio interface. “It’s my latest purchase I used to mix an album. I still use a lot of MIDI boxes. And I still love these synts, transistor organ and guitar pedals. I find kind of own spirit in each piece of equipment in my studio. What’s the point in being “only acoustical” or “only digital” or “only electromechanical”? Do big boys still need a parental permission? Using a plastic copy of vintage groove box or grunge presets in guitar processor is kind of parentally permitted radicalism. Real freaks are freaky their own way. I care very little about being radical. Damned fed up with ideology since I was a kid in Soviet school.
If the instrument is good for a certain part, I just press the keys. May be play bass with pedals and feedbacks. Or generate a loop in the computer. There is a musical project and a lot of good stuff to play in it.”
At the beginning the band was strange, dark and depressive. In 1995 they were still playing slowly, very much unlike Ukraine’s techno/house fashion. Victor retained a lot of his sonic radicalism, but started to play what I would call pop. Want a hit? Listen to “The Man of Snows” or “Infanta’s Birthday”. Knowing Poushkar and his friends for years, I thought Blemish would become a Ukrainian pop band with independent past. And I was wrong.
The album “Pains Go Away” (1997) started a new page of Blemish history. It was connected with band members’ search for centuries old Pagan roots and Victor’s first experience with a Book of Changes. In a “club culture inspired album” Party Down (1998) Blemish plays with the beats of trance and electro, but the work itself represents the ironic position miles away from the dance floor. Vatacushi-va: Vanishment and Reappearance sounds like the end of a long trip. Which will be followed by a new one.
Some people associate your music with ganja and LSD, and they don’t believe one can do it in a “normal” state of mind.
Victor V.: “Playing this music is very “normal”. I was sick when unable to do it. I hate the word “psychedelic” applied to art. Eating the spoons of acid makes you an “acid head”, but not a musician. You would rather start doubting, if you need to play an instrument or better “broadcast” directly to the audience. I hate sharing the destiny of my friends who became zombies because of heavy drugs.
Herb or mushroom is not the only key to a door. Prayer and meditation help much more, sister. (Victor looks too shy and serious while telling this.) “Vatacushi-va” is based on certain personal and transpersonal experience, still you can listen to it without the “decoder”. As we were sober while playing and even able to pass sort of doping control.”
The TV star
In 1996 Blemish won the national hit parade of the ICTV channel. “The Drawing” wasn’t the best video I’ve seen in my life, but it was much better in comparison with the rest of Ukrainian clips. Blemish had been on top for eight weeks, leaving the second for Ukraine’s pop diva Iryna Bilyk. Since Victor and Toma appeared on the screen as an electronic duo, there were several attempts to cover their image and repeat their first shocking success. And no way for mainstream artists to get even closer to the song, which remains the most beautiful track of early Blemish.
Then Ukrainian pop comes into the real age of video: ICTV starts its own production agency for cheap variety of techno and positions in the hit parade, for outsiders, began to cost the money. Blemish was proposed to play other people’s game or quit.
Victor V.: “Three years after this proposal, the ICTV is on sale, and my studio works well.”
During one of his rare TV appearances (it was “Nobody’s Home” – most rating programme for teenagers on 1+1 channel) Victor V took a toy “rap” microphone.
“If I sing into this microphone once, it would be a joke. If I do the same joke on TV 1000 times, this mic becomes a part of my image. I’ll be “that guy with a toy mic”. And please treat me like a pop singer.
Aren’t we both bored with this game? When I leave the mic and switch to another sort of things, I still remain Victor V. Poushkar. The man, able to do many different tricks.”