Soviet Rock and Roll

By Erik Blasic, Lauren Griswold, and Kate Sullivan

Imported from the West and combined with traditional folk and bard music, Soviet Rock and Roll demonstrates the emergence of a new generation that infused foreign with long-established artistry. The Iron Curtain and censorship attempted to keep any form of rock music out of the Soviet Union because Soviet officials feared the ability of rock to unravel communist ideals through its energy and messages embedded in its lyrics. These fears were unfounded in actual practice, but officials were still worried and wanted to protect their carefully produced propaganda machine. Soviet Rock and Roll was started through people listening to western rock and roll from records that were smuggled over or radio stations that were broadcast over the political barrier which illustrates how technology really helped Soviets to listen to rock and roll. To copy these records, people would imprint the recordings on used x-rays and share them around. Small rock and roll communities emerged, and Soviet artists began to experiment for themselves with producing their own music. These artists could not gain as much as a following as their Western counterparts because they had to stay underground, yet their music still carried messages of change. In our project, we wanted to present different bands and the reactions of “judges” to the music, lyrics, and “tusovka.”


10 Replies to “Soviet Rock and Roll”

  1. I thought the mix of a reality singing competition with the restrictions of the Soviet Union was quite cleaver. Specifically with the part about the Beatles, and how what they sing about and represent was discouraged by the government. Moreover, it seemed like a weird pattern that Societ Rock was inspired in some ways by Western music, in a similar way that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great both utilized pieces of Western culture in Russia. Furthermore, I thought it was quite interesting that while in much Western rock or punk the bands call for anarchy, while in the Russian band’s song they seemed to be calling for a revolution to better human welfare and the government.

    1. Hi Blake! Thanks for the comment. That is an interesting relation that you made with Soviet Rock and Roll being inspired by Western Rock, similarly to how Catherine and Peter were inspired to Western ideas. But also as you mentioned, there is a distinct difference between the two. Just as you point out, the themes of Soviet Rock tend to revolve around a revolution of human rights. In researching for this topic, it was clear that most Soviet Rock and Roll musicians used their music to evoke a certain feeling. As stated in the video this feeling was called “Kaif.” It didn’t matter if they understood the words or not, the feeling that Soviet Rock and Western Rock gave to citizens allowed them to think in terms of human rights and individuality. In this way, Soviet Rock and Roll help revolutionize Soviet culture.

      1. In regards to the video it is worth noting that it provided a well planned and insightful look into Soviet Rock and Roll and the movements or ideologies associated with it. As mentioned by Erik, I also found the parallel between Western Rock culture and the topic of Soviet Rock and Roll to be interesting. In my perspective this comparison becomes unique not only because of the recognizable dissimilarities in the music itself, as depicted by the video, but as well as the personal feeling that Rock music- as a genre- is something so commonly associated with American culture. With that said, this take on the genre was able to display a type of music generally aligned with our society in a way that showed differing cultural origins and beliefs. At its essence, successful rock music is driven by the passion behind the aesthetic and texture of the sound itself. As a person who does not speak fluent Russian, the idea of “Kaif” was appealing to me for more than its revolutionary beliefs. Rockstars so to speak are so commonly associated in popular media with renegade or anti-government symbols or images, whether or not the actual musician may actually identify with the same beliefs. This portrayal of Rock n’ Roll music in Russia during this era is something that can be definitively proven to actually have these beliefs amongst its creators and followers. The very same beliefs that then lead this genre of music, and the sub-culture around it, being able to affect the entire society in a revolutionary way.

  2. The use of Rock and Roll in the Soviet Union reminded me of the use of Rock and Roll during the Vietnam War protests in the United States. Both created a sense of unity in the youth and created a counterculture antiwar movement. In addition, I found it interesting that Soviet youth were listening to the same bands that others around the world were despite not being able to understand them and the inaccessibility of the music. I think that this shows that it was not so much the music that was popular but the idea of being able to unite under a common cause and rebel against the status quo. Again, I agree with Blake that the style of a singing competition with the Soviet era censorship restrictions worked very well for the time period.

    1. I agree, the common theme among a lot of the rock and roll movements in the 1960s-1980s stemmed from the hippie movement, thus, creating an antiwar counterculture. As you said, the idea behind the lyrics was what united the people, especially when it came to antiwar themes and messages. During research for this project, I also found it interesting that the Soviet youth was listening to bands such as the Beatles even without being able to understand them. With this, I believe the Soviet youths were able to recognize that the Beatles’ music was in opposition of war, and promoted peace.

  3. I first want to say that I really enjoyed the theme of Soviet Idol that you used to portray various soviet rock bands! I really liked that idea. Secondly, I thought it was really interesting to be able to listen to and compare the various artists you chose. I did not really even think about soviet rock and roll before, but this really opened my eyes (and ears). I also like how you included all of the Russian words the youth were using to describe their attitudes and feelings towards the new music. I also found it interesting that the bands became so popular with the youth at the time even though they were disliked by the government and were essentially spreading anti-soviet messages. The three bands you chose all shared the similar theme of rebellion from or criticisms of the USSR. I found that really cool! I also enjoyed how I could hear the differences between soviet rock and roll from English rock and roll. Your comments also helped me see that soviet rock and roll were very individualistic and distinct and sparked cultural revolutions within the soviet union’s youth! I really like how you all were able to show that these bands were important for their time because they were different as well as showing how hard it was for them to get their messages out there because of governmental censorship.

    1. I like how you pointed out that you can physically hear the difference between English rock and roll (even Western rock and roll in general) and Soviet rock and roll. Russia already had a long history of its own music, most of it being folk music, and these Soviet artists were able to incorporate what they were hearing from these smuggled-in albums with what they had been hearing throughout their own lives. This incorporation also emphasizes how fluid music is and how it can shape around an individual to represent that person’s own history and style.

  4. I am on the same board on Casey on how rock and roll was utilize during the Vietnam war is similar to the Soviet rock and roll. You can definitely see how many artist in the Soviet Union was utilizing this platform to bring social justice and change, but was very limited due to the hard censorship. Also, it is understandable why Soviet officials banned rock and roll in their home soil. Its like allowing your rival school come to your school and have their dance team perform on your homecoming home game. The Soviet wanted their culture to be the dominant one, and anything from the West was not acceptable for them. The youth who were able to get records and hear foreign music that was becoming globally recognize is not only a risky thing to do, but probably a eye opening experience of the outside world.

  5. Much like Chase and Liam, the Russian Rock and Roll group (Eric, Lauren, and Kate) chose a superb format to exhibit the musical culture rippling throughout the post-Stalin USSR. I could barely attempt to imagine what it must have been like for the angsty teenagers yearning to rebel and find something their parents never had growing up in the Krushchev era musical revolution. Now, thanks to Soviet Idol, I had the opportunity to hear with the ears of one of the aforementioned adolescents. Kino’s Changes remind me of those childhood road trips audibly painted by my mother’s Talking Heads and B-52’s, forcing me to recognize that experience was alien to the USSR youth until the 1960s. Music is the vocalization of a nation’s populous’s cultural progression throughout its history. The USA’s contemporary hip hop speaks of the struggle between the police and the Black community while contemporary indie-pop’s up-beat melodies allow listeners to escape the increasing financial stresses of the modern Western lifestyle. By freezing a nation’s music, a government coats it’s populous’s culture in amber. The USSR suspended the natural cultural development of its people in the realm of censorship. The Rock Roll’s Soviet Idol demonstrated the massive rapid progression of the musical atmosphere in USSR once government censorship was overwhelmed by the transmitted frequencies of Western European culture.

  6. First, you guys did a great job at making this not just be another history lesson. The platform, the different characters, and especially Lauren’s hair made it the video easy to watch. You also did a great job of explaining why you chose each band and their significance. The idea of a “soviet rockstar” seemed like an oxymoron because those words have two very different connotations. Lastly, I was surprised by Simon Cowell appearing in Soviet Idol.

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