Rock Goes Red
It did not take long for rock and roll culture to begin to permeate the Iron Curtain. The 1960’s spawned the era of rock with the advent of some of the most influential bands, such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, producing some of the most famous music in modern history. The west was producing great bands and great music, exporting yet another form of cultural imperialism around the world, but the west was not the only place where rock and roll gained momentum and popularity. Behind the Iron Curtain the youth of Soviet Russia began to party, and not in the communist way, pioneering yet another underground movement that put rock in full swing by the 1970’s in Russia.
Rock music was very similar to other forms of western influence in the Soviet Union. The Soviet party did not allow for the distribution of records, airing of songs, or performance of any of the music that was becoming so popular in the west. Rock and roll became popular and proliferated through the country the same way that most other illegal things did, such as American blue jeans, secretly, and underground. Although the state controlled record label and largest controller of music, Melodiya, did eventually allow some hits to air and be sold on record, the hunger for more music was already set in motion and Russian bands began forming across the country.
Early music emulated the sound of their western originators and found success in the underground scene by primarily performing rock and roll covers of popular western music, undoubtedly the performers were blue jean Levi clad and away from the prying eyes of officials. The first band to eventually popularize and champion true Russian rock would be a Moscow based group named “Mashina Vremeni“, or Time Machine, in the 1970’s. Rock was not allowed to be performed publicly, and bands did not receive permission from the state to participate in festivals or concert series for quite sometime. Not until the 1973 did Russian rock make it’s first actual appearance by official channels. The song “My Address is the Soviet Union” was a break through, overly patriotic song, that made Soviet approval while maintaining the rhythm and sound of early western rock. Shortly after, rock bands were allowed to perform under the state approved category of VIA (Vocal-Instrumental Assembles), a title less offensive and less western than Rock and Roll.
So what is the big deal? Why should anyone care about rock and roll invading Soviet Russia? The issue was never necessarily the music itself, but rather the message that rock and roll carried. Rock wasn’t an all age phenomenon in the west either, largely championed by the younger generation, but Soviet’s saw rock as yet another conduit towards the rebellion and materialism that they categorized as their capitalist western counterparts. However, Russian rock was actually unique and should be considered a source of national pride. Elsewhere in Europe, rock was considered an English language phenomenon and was reproduced, written, and created primarily in English. Russian rock took the lead in producing the genre in their own language, with a message for their own people.
*** Side note, Time Machine actually sounds pretty good. Kind of like a Russian version of The Beatles…kind of. Here’s a Youtube link to one of my new favorite songs.