The hits that came from the cold - Discovering the boiling Russian and Ukrainian scenes of indie female artists
Since 2017, European and U.S pop mainstream charts have been redefined by new global trends such as K-Pop, Afrobeat and Pop Urbano, thus changing many of the expectations of how artists around the world should sound if they wanted to conquer pop’s markets.
However, when we take a look into what’s happening in Russia we find out a very particular situation. Contrary to the hybridity that global pop has experienced in the past couple of years, a quick run throughout the Russian charts reflects a type of music where Latin rhythms rarely make an appearance, autotune is a resource used in a less dramatic way and overall melodies carry a certain cold vibe that consistently pulls away from the warmth of american rock guitars and post Daft Punk inspired disco bass lines. While the world was diving into a new hybrid mix, Russia was experiencing a cultural switch that made look inwards for the next new sounds. As Russian music journalist Alexander Gorbachev comments in regards to this change of perspective within the local scene “Everything seemed to be turned upside down: in the current circumstances, the desire to sound like Radiohead and The XX looks provincial”.
Being this so, bands that were inspired by the NY indie dance boom of the 2000s, such as Pompeya, Tesla Boy or The Go Go’s lost their momentum and several artists from that era dropped English in order to start singing in Russian. In some way, this new search of identity favored a sound that took its eyes apart from the tropical and nu-disco vibes rounding on the global mainstream and instead focused on a combination of rave heritage and nostalgia for post-soviet post punk and dance of the 90’s.
Of course, music from Russia is different from music from the United States of America, for example. Our music is more minor, it has more drama. Maria Zaitseva (#2Маши)
Additionally, a new window of communication between the Russian music scene and the rest of the world has been getting bigger in the past couple of years due to the expansion of TikTok and western streaming platforms in the region. An example of this, can be perceived in the viral trend of Molchat Doma, who’s track “Судно” (Sudno) is the soundtrack to thousands of videos that explore a fascination for 90’s Russian aesthetics. This can also be seen in the fact that Spotify displayed a billboard of Russian pop star Клава Кока (Klava Coca) at Times Square at NY as part of Spotify’s EQUAL program and Apple Music started to support Лилу45 (Lilu45) through the same artist developing program that promoted Billie Eilish at the start of her career.
It’s a wild guess, but these elements somewhat suggests that the global mainstream charts are getting ready for the appearance of a star coming from Russia, in a way that could bring back memories of the way t.a.t.u. did so in the early 2000’s. Whether or not this happens, what is certain is that the Russian independent scene is no short of amazing artists with unique sounds and a huge level of professionalism.
This is especially clear when we look at the women artists growing fast in the circuit.Here we give you a quick introduction to 10 of the most effervescent and interesting of them, a quick glimpse to the endless source of talent brewing from Russia at the current times.
I was fortunate to have the desire to dedicate myself to music since my early childhood, and that feeling has never left me. Ever since, I’ve always envisioned myself being on top of the stage, and never wanted to consider other alternatives. I'm happy that I did it! And I still keep dreaming about it every day! - Клава Кока
Клава Кока (Klava Coca) is a pop star that has the level of execution that few pop divas can reach. An artist that can easily be included in the same type of conversations as names such as Dua Lipa or Rihanna. She broke into the industry after being part of the Main Stage TV talent show in 2015, and ever since has become one of the most followed celebrities of Russia, gathering more than 20 million followers across her social networks.
Her privileged voice can fill with emotion any sort of beat. Yet, her more distinctive anthems are those in which she rides a fast and sweet 80’s party rock beat (the sort you would expect if Flashdance’s soundtrack collided into the cheerfulness of a happy hardcore tune). This is done with utmost excellence in her recent single “Краш” (Crush), in collaboration with Niletto. A high speed dose of joyful music that celebrates the sweetness of pop and the thrill of being newly in love.
Surprisingly, when it all started in adolescence, I very quickly realized that this is what I want to do all my life. That music is my life's business and I knew that I would become successful. At that time, it seemed to others that these were such crazy childhood dreams. But I had a clear understanding that I would achieve success. [...] It's great when you see your future in the past and you know for sure that everything will be cool. And now everything is exactly as I imagined” - Maria Sheikh (#2Маши)
#2Маши is a female duo that does the unexpected task of infusing pop and tech-house beats with rapped lyrics. The band is made up by Maria Zaitseva and Maria Sheikh, two artists that met during a holiday trip to Koh Phangan’s island in Thailand during 2014 and created their first hit “Босая” (Barefoot) on the spot. This track would be the blueprint that the duo would follow on many of the most iconic tracks of their career. I.e., an uptempo beat that combines the melodic choirs of Zaitseva’s pop background, Sheikh’s raps and small doses of acoustic elements that make a reference to tropical paradises.
Throughout the years this signature sound has continued to mature, reaching one of its high points when the track “МАМА, Я ТАНЦУЮ" (Mom I’m Dancing) blew up across Russia. This is a song that embraces the Spanish gypsy guitar culture to create a dancefloor killer track that brings the sound of the Santa Esmeralda’s 70’s hit “Don’t let me be misunderstood” to 2021’s electronic music aesthetics.
When you’re 17, you just want to be pretty, famous and cool. But when I grew up I started thinking of ways my lyrics could make a difference for someone, help someone, make them a better (or worse) person. At that time I had an urge to write new songs to create and to transform space around me, so to say. Tanya Tkachuk - Moya Mishel
Моя Мишель (Moya Mishel) is the synth pop band led by Tanya Tkachuk, a singer whose music combines influences as varied as Russian singer Maya Kristalinskayam and Tatiana Bulanova, classic soviet cartoons music, Nirvana, The Beatles or Katy Perry. After playing in Moscow’s underground circuit, the band had its big break when it was part of the Main Stage TV talent show. This led to their first record contract and to connect with producer Pavlo Shevchuk, the mentor that would help Tanya hone her writing skills into the maturity expressed in their breakout single “Дура” (Stupid).
Their debut album of 2015, “"Химия”, is an indie pop trip that takes a combination of acoustic guitars and synths to a sweet and funky place filled with a very electronic and dancey vibe. However, in recent years the band has been developing a much colder and electronic sound that feels more cinematic and in tune with post punk melodies and trap music drum machines. Thus transporting the listener from a bouncy dance floor to a drive in the car to close a thrilling adventure at night, as it can be experienced clearly on their 2021 single “Зима в сердце” (Winter at Heart).
Born just a few days short of the new millenium, дора (Dora) is a young pop rock artist with a sound that balances both a sort of Charli XCX’s type of hyper pop and that blend of pop and rock sound typical of the early 2000’s. She began her career recording indie music covers inspired by the acoustic sound of Russian band The Retuses. Yet, her music evolved into a new direction when she fell in love with the electronic beats and autotune heavy flow of emo rap.
After a couple of albums in 2019 and 2020 Dora topped her 2021 with “Сан Ларан”, a collaboration with Latvian hip-hop artist Платина (Platina). An addictive piece of “Soundcloud rap” that reconciles a double tempo rock beat, that feels taken from a video game car race, with a mellow and romantic melodic flow that feels quite the opposite and invites you to sit on the couch to chill.
DEAD BLONDE is the solo project of Arina Bulanova, an artist that has been playing for many years as a DJ and backup singer for the rave outfit GSPD, a project led by her husband David Daymur. In the beginning of 2020 the couple decided to create DEAD BLONDE, a new rave pop project - with notes of post punk - that draws a big influence from the 90’s Russian gangster aesthetics and the vibe of series B movies. A year after its premiere, DEAD BLONDE became a viral hit on TikTok with their song “Malchik na devyatke”.
The fast rise to popularity of DEAD BLONDE shouldn't come as a surprise, due to the fact that besides the long experience that the couple holds under from all of GSPD’s achievements, “Malchik na devyatke” and the band rides on top of that same 90’s post soviet aesthetics of the Mochat Dolma trend on TikTok, and adds further depth thanks to the unique way the band prints Russian rave and mobster culture into their concepts.
Born in Georgia, ANIKV spent part of her youth playing in punk-rock bands before moving to Moscow to see her career take off. Her big break came in 2019 when she was part of Season 2 of TNT “Songs” TV talent show. That appearance led her to a contract with Gazgolder production team and a connection with the artist Saluki, who in time would become her main musical collaborator and partner.
Contrary to what is felt throughout the different artists on this list, ANIKV’s sound feels much closer to English indie rock guitars and a global take on neo RnB vocals. Her collaborations with Saluki also expand this warm sound by including at times an autotune rap flow that feels quite in tune with Bad Bunny’s vocal style.
Her biggest hit to the moment is a voice duet with Saluki that uses the rhythm of an indie guitar playing steadily on 8th notes and a sweet dose of electronic elements to create an instant classic
Why is your music so sad? Maybe the place where I live influences it: the city is gray, it is depressing. Autumn and winter in Dzerzhinsk is the grayest, saddest and most depressing time. It becomes hard to wake up every morning, you think: Lord, here again! Maybe life is like that. Well, my heart lies for sad music! It seems to me that the most touching thing that can be in her is strong feelings of pain, suffering, experience. I want to talk about it. - ooes
ooes makes a unique style of pop that combines sadness, futurism, minimalism and a sophisticated song writing hard to find elsewhere. The secret to her magic has to do with the impressive combination of voice and beats that she can do in her songs. Her voice, an instrument trained for many years at a church choir, has the sort of dramatism that you would experience on a night at the opera. The beats, slowed down ones that are in a quest to create the most dismal and grey pop vibes possible out there. This is achieved by using future bass sounds and production techniques from hyper pop that instead of indulging into the genre’s maximalism and euphoria, they dive deep into a much more complex feeling that has more to do with screamo and emo punk.
ooes launched her debut album in 2020, with tracks that at some point feel almost as if Lorde had commissioned her beats to a production team made up of a teenager Grimes. Her big explosion came shortly afterwards during 2021, with her next album and the track “зима” (Winter). A song composed and recorded on the spot that became a TikTok hit and shows how much ooes has grown as a composer in such a short amount of time.
Instasamka might be one of the most controversial artists of the current Russian music scene. She is a blogger turned into a kick-ass rapper that has been constantly featured on the news recently due to various scandals that range from confrontations with other celebrities from being accused of setting up a fake car accident to creating a buzz around an upcoming music release.
Her unapologetic aggressive and sensual personality, and her exaggerated way of combining her public persona with her private life - diluting the line between reality and fiction - reminds us of the way Die Antwoord takes their “Zef” culture performance to the deep end. However, at the hands of Instasamka the rave inspirations that are key to Die Antwoord’s rap are replaced by techno synths adapted for trap music, and a VIP club section vibe, that seems taken from the 2000 and 2010s Southern US hip-hop and crunk scene.
Her latest album Moneydealer is the best example of her skills to create amazing raps on top of some of the best hip-hop beats out there.
As a vocalist, I noticed that the main difference [between Russian and Western music] is in the technique of sound extraction. In Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking music the sound is very open. But the trends are moving towards erasing boundaries and rules. You can become popular all over the world, no matter what language you sing in. DOROFEEVA
DOROFEEVA is an Ukrainian singer whose career took off in Ukraine. After being part of several TV talent competitions she had a big success when she became part of the Время и Стекло (Vremya i Steklo), a duo that gave late 2000’s “blog house” a friendly and pop touch. Since the first success of Время и Стекло, DOROFEEVA has also become a TV personality with duties on many talent and reality shows such as Zirka + Zirka, The Voice and Dancing With the Stars, amongst several more.
In 2020, Время и Стекло announced the end of their project with a successful goodbye tour that prepared the launch of DOROFEEVA’s solo career. Her first single “Gorit'' was an instant hit. It's a song that picks up on the uptempo house hits of Время и Стекло but switches their ironic and parody vibe for a much glamorous and nocturnal sound, taking DOROFEEVA’s artistic persona from house parties and close into the VIP of the club.
The most difficult challenge is to have the courage to be yourself. When so many eyes are on you, and half a year ago you were just sitting on your cozy balcony singing songs - you need courage, perseverance, and confidence to remain the same real, vulnerable and honest girl. Not to become perfect and fake, as a certain part of society requires. Humanity doesn’t want artists, they want supermen - who will be admired, without giving them a right to make a mistake. I don't want to be inaccessible - I want to be alive. I can't say that I managed to do that. To have this courage. It seems to me that I still have a whole path of ups and downs ahead. But more than anything else, I want to believe that I can do it. -Лилу45
Ludmila Sergeevna Belousova is Лилу45 (Lilu45), a young Ukranian artist from Kiev, that combines her music with a great passion for theater, cinema and poetry. She used the beginning of Covid’s lockdown as an inspiration to grab an old guitar and start playing covers of Suzanne and Malbek, Tsoi, Zemfirapara, and several romantic soviet songs that she later uploaded to TikTok. She also started to complement her musical exercises with monologues and short home-made movies filmed by herself as well. In 2020 she moved to her own apartment and organized a live session for her fans where she received an offer to sign to MG Music.
This led to the release of her first official single “Восемь” (Eight). An indie guitar and beat exercise full of theater-like voices and melodies that have a strong post punk vibe. The track became a huge success, reaching the Top 30 of Shazam worldwide as well as making it to the top 10 in Russia.