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Escape Velocity

Incessant Search: An Interview With HMOT
Nikita Velichko , October 12th, 2016 09:33

One of the leading voices of Siberian electronic music tells Nikita Velichko why he doesn't feel the scene needs to take "a humble position of a slave to the master" and seek approval from international audiences

Photograph courtesy of Evgeniya Manerova

It's 3am at Watergate, one of the most renowned Berlin clubs, and the CTM festival's afterparty is in full swing. While on the second floor Love Cult slay the dancefloor with Moa Pillar's 'Chants', HMOT, with the River Spree behind him, looks very pleased to be playing his stern DJ set. Industrial, grime, EBM, The Bug's 'Poison Dart', and then comes the extremity – 'Pro Mishutku' by Egor I Opizdenevshie. This, translated as 'About A Teddy Bear' by Egor And Fuck-ups, is a psychedelic garage-punk gem, recorded in Russia in 1990. Some people stop dancing, standing perplexed; others try to keep on. This is HMOT in a nutshell – he knows perfectly what Watergate is, what he should play to get the crowd satisfied and what others expect of him. Nevertheless, he's doing his own thing – not giving a shit in order to have fun.

HMOT, or Stas Sharifullin, comes from Lesosibirsk, a small, developing city that the Soviet Union wanted to make into a Siberian version of Oxford. "In 2006, dubstep in our country was played on the dancefloor in only two cities: Saint Petersburg and Lesosibirsk," says Sharifullin about his native city, where he also co-founded a blog called Gimme5, which became a unifying place for emerging Russian electronic scene, featured in Pitchfork six years ago. Throughout Sharifullin continued being very active, arranging parties in Lesosibirsk and neighbouring Krasnoyarsk where he lives now, playing the role of tastemaker and remaining a driving force for the local scene, including CTM Siberia, which he co-organised last autumn.

At the same time, Sharifullin was honing his own sound. The challenge was, in essence, that he couldn't resist having a party. What he produced were tracks that sound like conventional techno constantly falling apart: clashing with incongruous components, barbed, minimal and uncomfortable. It's like ice defrosting in real-time; ice that might break very soon.

You've talked about playing with your stuffed animals as if you were the head of a label when you were a child. That's not a very common kids desire, is it? Why a label?

Stas Sharifullin: I recorded my first album when I was ten. I was painting album covers on school notebook lists, coming up with tracklists, giving imaginary interviews. Among the toys, there was a red cat who was a brawler. In the end, he strung out and quit the band to do his own project. Then the pig left, and the band broke up. Why a label? I've always had a desire for some action, for a party. Once, when I was an adult, I tried to abstract myself and live without parties, just staying at home most of the time. That was a very difficult year for me. I felt that I was dying as an artist. But I don't want to die.

You've also said that after CTM in Berlin you wanted to finish your musical career, and right after you'd made up your mind, you recorded a track called 'Thanatos'.

SS: That was another dark period, when I thought that I was very old, that I don't want to do all that, that there's a movement in Krasnoyarsk that I don't want to be a part of, etc. But after all that I made some tracks which, hopefully, will be out next year on a London label. I've decided to kill the club music I was making. It's weird when you're playing danceable stuff in different cities, such as Moscow or Saint Petersburg, but no one is dancing to it. And when you play in Siberia, you can put on any shit. People will still love it.

Two days before I was performing on Boiler Room at Krasnoyarsk and I spilled beer on my laptop. I'd prepared my set 20 minutes before the show. The audience, who are not so sophisticated and do not follow any trends coming from capitals, was still excited. The fact that Krasnoyarsk is a remote town makes people thankful for what they get. I was playing absolute shite, really. But everyone was saying, "Woo, man, amazing!" "Support your local artist" is a very popular approach in Siberia. Siberia is very hermetic – which is both a plus and a minus. It has a great homely spirit.

How would you compare the Russian music scene now to the situation five years ago?

SS: Finally no one has illusions that they're needed across the borders. Everything's become more local, everyone's just doing whatever they want to do. People around me felt depressed last year because of the recent economic crisis, but I think that every meltdown gives a new rise – now there is a feeling of rebirth in the air. Our scene is very reflective now, and that's a good thing.

When there was a movement around the Gimme5 compilation, do you think people had illusions that they were aiming for an international audience?

SS: Lots of people in Moscow, but nobody in Siberia. Everyone I've talked to always understood that no one ever needed us. That's why the music itself is different here – no one's writing techno music which is made just for being played in Berghain. Every person is doing his own thing.

Do you hear any similar elements in the sound of Siberian artists?

SS: It's a wild thing here. In every interview I get asked if there is some Siberian sound. I think there is no such thing as a Siberian sound, and the only general thing is that people don't care how their music will be perceived by the listeners. All of this is the act of self-expression. When we were playing at Boiler Room, we had a lot of negative feedback, both in the comments to videos and locally. People here thought that our cool techno DJs should have played and presented Krasnoyarsk internationally. But the real, vivid Krasnoyarsk scene is a pile of shit experiments. Our incessant search, to me, is art itself. You respond to reality using some medium, and our medium, which seems to be resonant, is music. That's funny because no one I know here ever chased success. I don't understand why I'm playing three sets a week in Moscow and why CTM comes to us. It's either a combination of circumstances or something that makes people get interested in it; it's hard for me to say.

What's your plan with your label, Klammklang? Do you want to promote your artists more actively?

SS: I think my label is a kind of music blog for me. It's my own way to tell the world about some cool musicians you should listen to. I'm not a manager, and I don't really promote anyone – I can organise a newsletter, but I don't do anything more. If anyone helps me with the label, I'd be very happy to work, only just as A&R. I don't know how this business is operating and why Klammklang was initially a success. We didn't release any hyped artists, but I'm still getting a lot of international sale requests – in Russia we sell only about 10 per cent of tapes. This year we've switched to vinyl and are having sell-outs.

But is it important for you to push Russian music to the international level? Is it an explanation for you closing your set with Egor I Opizdenevshie in Watergate?

SS: I'm just a hooligan. I don't like it when Russian artists say that it is much greener on the other side of the fence. It's great that someone can hear us, but I'd be happier if everything was more more developed in Russia. Showing our music to the West is a passive concept and a humble position of a slave to the master. I'll better vandalise and play Egor I Opizdenevshie – someone will love it, someone will say this is shit. But it's my story, it's my life, this is what I grew up with. And yes, I'm playing at Watergate, but I don't care if it usually hosts house and techno parties – let these people hear some normal Siberian post-punk.

Is it more important for you to be a musician or a promoter?

SS: I'm not a promoter – I always wanted to escape this role. In the provinces, if you want to have something, you must do it yourself. Thank god there are more and more people who can arrange the environment I can work in. What I can do is to gather people around me. But now I just want to sit at home, turn the knobs on my synthesiser and make music.

You are a linguist and occasionally work as a music journalist. Recently, you've also released a track devoted to Krasnoyarsk's problem of pollution and its so-called 'Black Sky Mode'. Are you more interested in working with texts now?

SS: Very much. I want to work with syncretic art, and one of the combined elements undoubtedly should be text. I think we all live in the world where we're experiencing a lack of strong narratives. Most musicians can't generate these narratives. You should work from ten to 15 years to become a narrative by yourself. I'm not ready to wait for ten years. I want the message to go through right now.

Barricades, HMOT's latest album, is out now on Full Of Nothing