"Violence Is One Way To Wake Up An Audience" Shortparis Interviewed
“The contradiction between form and its intelligible meaning,” expounds Shortparis singer Nikolai Komyagin, “between rational structure and irrational core, is imprinted on every single action committed by Shortparis.”
Shortparis are an incendiary Russian five-piece, who artfully meld stomping skinhead aggro with Dostoyevskian angry-young-man intellectualism. The lads were scheduled to bring their anarchic brand of dancey post-punk on tour around Europe this summer, before Covid-19 put the kibosh on absolutely fucking everything.
No strangers to controversy – our Nikolai wound up in hot water during last year’s Liverpool Sound City for yanking on an unlucky photographer’s hair – Shortparis are nonetheless brainy and articulate, with lots to say for themselves.
More to the point, they’re bloody amazing live – well worth a Google at the very least – so on the verge of what promised to be a breakthrough summer for them, we sat down to talk art history and bloodshed.
Over the phone, obvs.
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Coronavirus sucks balls, am I right. How are you guys passing the long days in lockdown?
Sasha Galianov (keyboard, guitar): As an unemployed rock musician, I don’t really feel so much difference. I sit at my home, making the music that I didn’t have time to do during all the touring time over these past few years.
Nikolay Komiagin (vocals): Rehearsals or creation of new material is always an act of self-isolation for any musical band. During this time period, the world beyond the studio is on pause as if it is under quarantine. A pandemic of sorts has been raging around Shortparis, therefore, for eight years already.
Danila Kholodkov (drums, percussion): Physical exercise, shifting furniture around to hone my designer skills. Practicing cooking. The scheduled life is so much easier than creatively starting each day anew.
SG: I just hope that I will not die.
It’s a genuine shame you aren’t touring this summer – which city are you most disappointed that you won’t be visiting?
DK: For me it is London. We've already been there last year, but I got inconsistent feelings. I would like to inspirit the capital of England once more and read more pages about its great history
Shortparis is renowned for the wild shit that goes down at the live show – what’s the maddest it’s ever got?
DK: Once, on stage, Nikolay struck my face, hard, with shoe. He cut my nose and forehead and blood was running down my face. But it inspired me and I kept on playing and had fun. That was great gig.
Is violence an essential ingredient in the Shortparis recipe?
NK: Violence is something beyond the normal. It is hidden and removed from our routine, but at the same time it exists there as something sacred. That is why so many artists, musicians and directors are attracted to studying violence. In our case ‘violence’ towards an audience is just one way of waking them up, and encouraging them to go beyond the passive perception and consumer attitude to art.
You’ve just finished a new album too – ‘Tak Zakalyalas’ Stal (Thus the Steel Was Tempered)’ – what was that process like?
Sacha Ionin (bass): It took three years of slowly composing, with isolated periods where it was akin to budding in the spring; like season of breeding, or spawning of salmon, when it goes against current to continue itself.
NK: Our studio is in a very unusual geographical location, situated between a psychiatric clinic, the graves of both Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky, and a religious shrine to Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra. So we are automatically included in the dialogue of ‘official’ Russian culture, with all its marginal manifestations and searches for the sacred.
SG: A lot of recordings were made simply using good equipment at my home — you don’t need studio to record synthesizers and drum machines. I personally much prefer to work in such loneliness.
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Engaging in dialogue with the greats of Russian art and literature, eh. What would you actually say to, like, Tolstoy if you met him, maybe after a few drinks?
NK: We should brag that our bass player’s beard is so much cooler. But I will say seriously that in our society there is an attitude that all the great culture has already passed away, and that it only exists in the past.
Everybody is taught in school to jerk off to the 19th and mid-20th centuries, and it’s never critical – but the present art, art of nowadays, can be seen equal and worthy. [Futurist founder Filippo Tommaso] Marinetti wrote about the same thing; poor Italians were crushed under the weight of Antiquity and Renaissance, and due to this a new generation of Italian poets and artists never found breathing room.
Maybe such a ‘dialogue’ will not lead to the creation of similar masterpieces, but this approach can allow the society to be more attentive and respectful towards the present that is also unique and has a right to speak out.
Danila was once a professional ballroom dancer, I’m told. That’s a pretty unlikely CV for a punk drummer.
DK: Yes, I studied ballroom dancing for ten years – and moreover was teaching children for a couple of those years. By the way, it was my first earnings, and when I saved enough I bought my first drum kit, and started grind away with drums so hard that it turned out no time for dancing. Speaking of Shortparis and dancing – I really believe that ‘dance’ is the sixth member of the band.
The band started out in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, but then you moved to St. Petersburg. To what extent have these locations influenced your art?
NK: This is our formulated answer – Novokuznetsk is a wild, brutal and deviant character of all our songs, which is filmed by well educated, sissy and gracious director from St.Petersburg. An abstract filmmaker we are talking about. By this I mean that Novokuznetsk is savage and intuitive, while St.Petersburg is a more European, meaningful form, which is only capable of absorbing and mastering this rough content.
Gotcha. There’s a definite non-western flavour to some of your melodies, especially on the new record – is this a conscious aspiration to transcend western harmonic tropes?
SI: You know, there is a two-headed eagle on Russian coat of arms. One head is looking east, the other one to the west. So Russian musicians need to look both ways.
NK: The biography of music lasts for millennia, and its geography is spread over thousands of kilometers. Thus, each musician should explore all layers of accumulated experience, to experiment and play with them, and not become isolated in his own era. This is also related to violence.
When we are making songs, Shortparis deliberately set out to spoil, to destroy something, anything – a vocal melody, or harmony of guitar passage; any sound at all. Deconstruction of any normal-sounding instrument, or widely-known harmonic movement or chord, allows us to rethink music clichés, update and clean them. This trick allows us to get some creative indulgence, with the right to use traditional musical elements.
This is why we use a lot of slide in the new material – it’s deconstruction, an act of violence against the rationality of the fretboard.
Ultimately, how far would you take this fetishisation of violence? Would you die for your art?
SG: If you need to actually die for your art, it’s probably quite poor art.
DK: No, for me this would actually be great honour – to go out like a warrior, in glory on the battlefield.
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Words: Andy Hill
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