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Showing Solidarity With The Ukrainian Underground
The Quietus , March 2nd, 2022 09:29

Ukrainian writer Alex Bondarenko writes about 14 "new weird" bands you can discover in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, and Kyiv's underground, plus a resource of humanitarian organisations and charities directly helping those most affected by the conflict

Casa Ukrania of Odesa

This article was commissioned mid-way through 2021 as a companion piece to the last feature we ran on New Weird Ukraine – a guide to the country's DIY, experimental, underground music scene – something we thought we should point out here in case it seems odd there is no mention of the current conflict with invading Russian forces. This is the first of a series of articles we have coming to you this year from Ukraine – some were commissioned before the war, some are being commissioned as we write this. In all features – in terms of culture specifically – our outlook remains broadly the same as it always has: to cover the global underground as best we can with limited resources, to acknowledge the similarities, to celebrate the differences, to help strengthen the rhizomatic connectivity between scenes in any way we can, to make connections with writers and artists from these countries in order to amplify their voices. As always we want to offer readers the chance to support the artists they enjoy directly via various platforms such as Bandcamp, but acknowledge that in this particular instance the situation in Ukraine is unique and, for many, wretched. This is why, at the foot of this feature (and all following features) we will have a list of organisations providing different types of humanitarian aid to Ukrainians. In the short time available we have tried to ensure that all of these charities are legitimate and offer constructive, much needed practical help on the ground. If any readers wish to suggest other charities for us to add to this list, then please email us on We would like to take this opportunity to wish Alex, Yaryna and all Ukrainians the best of luck and likewise we would like to send our best wishes to all friends of this site in Russia who are currently opposing the war.
John Doran (with thanks to Richard Foster and Patrick Clarke)

The east and south of Ukraine have historically been the country's industrial powerhouse. The Donbass region is the centre of coal production while Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro are full of core infrastructure and factories providing metal, pipes and industrial machinery for Europe. This landscape gave birth to a number of strong underground scenes, from hardcore DIY (for example, Mendeleev Oshybalsia) to professional studio sounds, such as those from Laughing Tiger. It grew out of various influences — from American alternative rock to Ukrainian folk and Australian psychedelic music.

Often the lyrics are written and sung in different languages; mostly Ukrainian, but with a lot of Russian and English. Mostly, local alternative and creative communities, based around one or two core bands or places, provide for a scene and its "authority" and network. In Kharkiv, for example, it is the band Orchestra Che; in Dnipro, many would say club Module is the hub. We start with Dnipro, which is Ukraine's fourth-largest city, located in the eastern part of the country on the Dnipro River.

Kurs Valut are a prominent Dnipro-based electronic band led by Eugene Hordeiev. Eugene is one of the most innovative and groundbreaking artists of the region. He's also got an alter-ego, MC Brekhunets, an ironic and post-modern hip hop project which aims to criticise the current state of pop music in Ukraine. Kurs Valut embeds powerful beats with abstract hip hop and spoken word. The project experiments with techno, house and contemporary pop music and has something of a cult following among ravers here. Hordiev is also co-founder and co-leader of Dnipro music club, Module, which quickly became a magnet for all fans of contemporary electronic music, not only in the city but across Ukraine. Unfortunately, it had to close due to the pandemic and subsequent economic problems.

Electroacoustic band DZ'OB were founded in 2014 by six musicians from Dnipro. All of them have a classical music background. Their leader, Maksym Andrukh, had an idea to implement their knowledge of contemporary classical music into a framework of modern IDM. Their first self-titled EP became a hit, but сaused controversy inside the classical music community. Over time, they became one of the biggest and most influential music acts in Dnipro. Last year, they launched the 'Deconstruction' project, asking other Ukrainian musicians to deconstruct their own music.

Dnipro's electronic scene, vibrant in the 00s is once again experiencing a revival due to the efforts of club Module and its devoted founders. Monotonne, a deep/tech-house project, is tightly affiliated with the Module circles and is largely regarded as one of the brightest gems in Dnipro's current electronic scene. Monotonne is a “long-distance” duo of Lisa Kolot (vocals) and Yuriy Bulychev (production, electronics): Lisa lives and works in Kyiv and Yuriy is based in Dnipro. However, it works, and seems to hit the spot with house lovers. Monotonne creates tracks exclusively with monophonic analogue synthesizers, vocals, drums and drum machines. This peculiar working method adds a nice “old-school” charm to their music. The duo's FOMO LP (2021), is their most versatile and interesting release to date. It balances cross-genre efforts with tech-house roots making it a rewarding listen.

Another city on the river Dnipro is Zaporizhzhia, an industrial centre famous for the island of Khortytsia and the Dnipro Hydroelectric Station. It is also an important industrial centre producing steel, aluminium, aircraft engines, automobiles, transformers and other heavy industry goods.

Powder Echo is a project led by Anna Denysova, who comes from the city. She makes intimate English-language indie pop inspired by FKA Twigs and Son Lux. Anna confesses that her music career started when she downloaded FL Studio and her friend showed her how to make some beats. Her debut album was ready in 2018, but she was not sure whether she wanted to release it. Finally, it happened in 2021. You can see Powder Echo as a pet music project; Anna doesn't look for perfection, her music stays remarkably sincere. The name of the project refers to her own hearing of and reaction to her voice: “Little stories of my big sensual heart.” Currently she is working on two new projects, a lo-fi album and an alter-ego, who makes Russian-speaking music.

Mandarinaduck started their journey long ago (well, for a Ukrainian underground band), in 2011. Their bright and sunny music is an amazing contrast with the industrial landscape of Zaporizhzhia. The band became a “thing” among the fans of Ukrainian indie in the mid 2010s with acclaimed albums, Gardensouls and Landslide. This music even got into Europe. Gardensouls was released in the Netherlands on cassettes and British label Box Bedroom Rebels released a compilation of their best songs. They mix indie-rock with shoegaze and Britpop which makes their music new wave adjacent, while deep and full of different sounds. Their latest long player, Long Life, was released in 2020 and caused some confusion in the Ukrainian music community, with a return to a DIY sound.

Of course, Kyiv is the country’s capital and like most capitals, it is where a lot of cultural activity is situated, as a lot of regional musicians come here to work, or relocate, to find a larger audience.

Signals Feed The Void was established in 2014 in the southern city of Kherson. The band changed its lineup many times, but it consistently has two core musicians; Andriy Pechatkin and Vitaliy Gavrilenko. They are super productive, with seven big releases in as many years. Their sound varies in terms of genre, from post punk to death metal. The only stable element is the sadness that runs through all of their music. Their latest EP is called Sviatotatstvo (Sacrilege) and consists of three experimental rock tracks mixing art rock with prog, industrial and goth. The three tracks are called ‘Faith’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Love’, an ancient trinity! Their previous self-titled album on the other hand, is full of straight-forward post-punk with strong Joy Division and The Cure vibes and their 2019 long player, Ritual is an 8-track instrumental epic full of ancient and DIY instruments mixed with an old drum machine made in the USSR. It is all about the cycle of life, painted in dark colours. While being praised by music journalists, SFTD stays an underground band, recording all their music at home. They don't want to become widely known because, as they say, they “make sad music for their own joy”.

Despite the Ukrainian music industry slowly trying to change, it's hard to name many all-women rock bands. Milktuth is a new four-piece DIY-pop formation from Kyiv; they released their first EP in 2021. At the end of the year, it was listed as a top album by prominent Ukrainian underground media, Neformat. The band says they play “panelka” bedroom pop, referring to the common type of houses built in the 1970s and 1980s in Ukraine. Members of the band name Warpaint as the main musical influence but you can also point to Chastity Belt and Sleater Kinney. Despite the DIY production, they really sound fresh, certainly for the Ukrainian indie rock scene.

Poltava is a central Ukrainian city which is often called the birthplace and “motherland” of the modern Ukrainian language. It has never been a prominent city in the Ukrainian music map. Until the band Mel'eron suddenly put it there.

This Quintet plays psychedelic music inspired by Tame Impala and Pond, but the music is very much the product of their own vision; they have named Fleetwood Mac and Post Animal as their “core fundamentals”. A collaboration with the famous Dima Sinoptik — frontman of the band Sinoptik — led to a powerful mix of alternative rock production and DIY-vision. Their 2017 English-speaking album R was enormously popular with the Ukrainian music media.

Kharkiv's music scene was one of the main incubators of Ukrainian hip hop and rock music in the 2000s. Big Ukrainian acts, including 5nizza and Orchestra Che, were born from these same communities. Now the city has lost some of its creative power and image, but musicians from those groups still produce a lot of music, mostly for underground listeners.

Smeyushiysya Tigr (Laughing Tiger) is a pet project of Petro Tseluiko and Dmytro Zinchenko. Petro Tseluiko has always been famous for playing with Orchestra Che and Serhiy Babkin, and Dmytro Zinchenko has been a drummer in more than 20 various bands. Now he plays in Stoned Jesus, one of the most well-known Ukrainian stoner rock bands.

Laughing Tiger does not stick to one specific genre; on their last album they mixed grunge, indie and alternative rock. You can also hear Nata Smirina of other Kharkiv band Pur:Pur vocals on the last track. It's a homage to the Kharkiv tradition when musicians often featured on each other’s albums.

Secunda Kota is another band from the Kharkiv underground community that is linked with Stoned Jesus's drummer, Dmytro Zinchenko. He's also drummer of this band too, and sound producer of their debut and only album. Sekunda Kota are not active on social media and it's not an easy task to see them live. Nevertheless their album is one of the most experimental and interesting long players in Ukrainian alternative music for the last three or so years. Sekunda Kota mostly stick to the old-school grunge, but you can also find elements of stoner and math rock and even art rock.

Blyzniuki is a village in Kharkiv Oblast, in the Eastern Ukraine, not so far from the border where the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia is taking place. The village became widely famous after three local guys started a YouTube channel about their life in the province. They wrote a rap with primitive beats and spoke about local fights, simple feelings and ordinary life. They took the name Kurgan and Agregat and now are one of the most prominent Ukrainian rap acts, able to attract crowds in their thousands from all around the country.

John Deere (named after the famous tractor brand) is one of their friends. He also uses Surzhyk (a weird mix of Ukrainian and Russian language) in his songs and describes ordinary life but in a much more sophisticated and serious way. Maybe that's the reason that his popularity is far beyond that of his counterparts, but it doesn't make his art less interesting. This year John Deere released an EP with another underground rapper Kozachok. It is called Forest tales and is about modern life in Ukraine.

Sievierodonetsk is another industrial city, near the Seversky Donets River and is the acting administrative centre of the Luhansk Oblast, given the Ukrainian government’s ongoing conflict with what is known as the “Luhansk People's Republic”.

Medeleev Oshybalsa (Mendeleev was wrong) are commonly called “the symbol of underground music” in Severodonetsk. The band dates back to 1995 and still blows audiences’ minds with its mad performances and absurd music. The frontman of the band Serhiy Gorelov said that he was inspired by the no wave phenomenon in punk music. The idea that musicians in the band don't need to be unable to be highly trained on standard instruments was very attractive to him and was key to how he formed the first lineup. They still play and release albums, though you can find only three of them on Bandcamp. Gorelov says that they don’t have more than five or six fans, yet they are totally okay with that. Their art is admittedly mostly badly produced, but full of experimentation and haphazard invention.

The southern city of Odesa is an ancient international transport hub and still a major tourist centre. Odesa once had a powerful underground metal and alternative music scene, but in recent years this became less and less visible due to the shutdown of the local cult club MoRe Music and some local festivals. Currently it is home to a fascinating dark folk scene and was recently called the “capital of chill”.

Ocean Bloom is a two-piece band from Odesa mixing long chains of guitar effects with psychedelic rock and a “chill vibe”. Their debut LP was released in 2017 and gave them a popularity among the city’s underground community. Music journalists quickly identified Odesa as a “capital of chill”. They released a new EP in 2021. This contains much more “troublesome” music with a strong post punk influence and absurd lyrics. It's hard to get much information about the band leader, but it seems he is currently living in Berlin.

Casa Ukrania is a dark-folk project from the city. Odesa is not a typical city for such projects; nevertheless, Casa Ukrania continues to discover boundaries of dark music and develop traditional Ukrainian narratives. Their latest long player, Ofira, can be compared with the horror film Midsommar but with a darker tone. The album consists of 9 tracks about pagan rituals, death and rebirth.

Musically, the duo made a big step forward compared to their previous album Ouroboros. Now they sound much more professional and have great production values. They also moved away from using guitars and implemented much more brass and electronic sounds into their music.

You can donate in support of Ukraine through the following links

Save The Children Ukraine are currently trying to help 400,000 children directly affected by the conflict.

The British Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal to help Ukraine , and will provide food, water, medical aid and clothing to those in need.

Unicef is appealing for donations to provide access to clean water, food, ensure child health and protection services are sustained. It is also working with the UNHCR to assess the refugee situation across neighbouring countries.

Ukrainian charity Sunflower of Peace helps paramedics and doctors, and has been fundraising for supplies.

Voices of Children aims to help children affected by the war, providing support through art therapy, psychologists, video storytelling and a number of other methods.

The Ukrainian Institute London has compiled a dedicated guide to further ways in which you can support Ukraine, which can be found here

This is a resource document for those who wish to help supplied to us by contacts in Ukraine

This Twitter thread, sent to us by a contact, has details of LGBTQI+ and feminist organisations in Ukraine who are looking for urgent help

This article is supported by the British Council's Selector PRO programme