The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


LISTEN: Finders Keepers Mix of Soviet Music
Jamie Ryder , June 28th, 2018 15:00

Andy Votel and Doug Shipton of Finders Keepers share a mix of tracks from former USSR state label Melodiya

London-based crate-diggers Finders Keepers have shared a mix previously only available on cassette. Entitled Polivox Orthodox, and described by the label as a "desperate bid to muster some Russia 2018 world cup enthusiasm", the mix is comprised of synthpop and psychedelic pop from Melodiya, the state-run label of the former USSR.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was the only legally sanctioned record label in the country. Melodiya released an extensive range of music unconfined to recordings by domestic artists - it also issued releases by The Beatles, ABBA and others.

A headlong pelt through numerous genres and styles, the selection from Finders Keepers' Andy Votel and Doug Shipton takes detours through disco, funk and more. You can read a short interview with Andy Votel below, and listen to the full mix above.

Your mix features some really eclectic selections, and there's a notable diversity of genre and sound. What kind of gear did these artists have access to? What was producing art in the USSR like for the artists you've selected?

Andy Votel: I think the diversity of this mix also comes from the fact that Doug and myself brought our own flavours to it, which allowed for a lot of tempo changes and switches in genre that you wouldn't expect on a DJ mixtape.

Despite its limited diaspora, Melodiya is a huge label which, like many Eastern European labels, was governed by the state and literally fed into the other Soviet countries in the 60s, 70s and 80s to fill the gap of mostly forbidden Western pop music. For this reason it was manufactured in huge quantities covering many diverse styles. It would be easy to do an entirely electronic mixtape or, alternatively, an acid folk mixtape from this catalogue but we decided to attempt to represent the versatility of the label instead.

I started collecting Melodiya records when I went on a college trip to Poland around 1993 (alongside Polish and Hungarian music) but it took at least 20 years to even get a clear focus on their output. Doug certainly became the driving force that got this mix off the ground, to the extent that he was virtually only buying Melodiya records for about nine months - at which point this mixtape presented an archive. The growing interest in Russian synthesisers also alerted many 'outernational' record hounds to later period Soviet synthpop which we hadn't considered.

The name of the mix, Polivoks Orthodox, is just the name of two leading Russian synthesisers. It's a phenomena in Soviet pop that many TV and radio studios were kitted out with state of the art Western technology, such as ARPS and Moogs, which the government would imitate and redesign for the domestic home-studio market, which naturally gave all of this music a unique sound. There are even rumours that they were paranoid that the imported American synths concealed spying devices which lead to immediate reverse engineering of synth technology, which in turn lead to the manufacture of some of the most obscure synth technology on the now-bloated collectors market. Backed with a stellar history in classical music and conservatory training, the new-wave bands of the Soviet Union had a unique blend of studied academia and a distorted view of pop music... which makes for vinyl nirvana.

Melodiya also operated in Mongolia. Did any releases from there, or anywhere in the Eastern Bloc, make it in?

AV: Yes. Because Melodiya covered such a wide geographical area it provided an unlikely home for some amazing small-run records that would have once come under the tardy 'World Music' pigeonhole which have, over the years, been re-evaluated by record diggers with many records being elevated to psychedelic holy-grail status. The label is a great hiding place for Eastern music if you dig deep enough into the catalogue which essentially requires a trip to Russia or Eastern Europe.

One of my very favourite Melodiya records is actually from Mongolia, by a group called Bayan Mongol. It's a very slow-burning psychedelic pop record with a plodding beat, but I already used it on a different mixtape. In a World Cup context I don't think a team listening to this record would even wake up after half time.

You've been charged with assembling a football squad composed solely of Russian musicians. Who's in goal?

AV: There are so many artists on Melodiya who have truly schizophrenic discographies, you could argue that the musicians of the Soviet Union, despite their restrictive environment, were actually some of the most experimental in the world due to the fact that they would try to approximate entirely new genres of music from one record to the next. For this reason a Melodiya football team would require a hell of a lot of substitute players in case someone went 'free jazz' halfway through a game.

For consistency in the goal mouth I'd have to hand the job to soundtrack composer and poetic vocalist Alexander Gradsky. It may be an obvious choice given that he is one of the most famous composers (like an equivalent to France's Serge Gainsbourg or Turkey's Bariş Manço) with over 150 writing credits to his name (a lot for Russia), but despite musical whims and attempted trends he always remained consistent in his quality. No one really got close to him, so it would be hard to get anything past him.