Galya Chikiss “I wanted this music to be for the masses, in a good meaning of the word.”

“There is no political and feminist subtext in this story — just music and inmost things,” says Galya Chikiss, who curated and performed on some of the tunes for Not Not Fun’s latest compilation tape, She Knows More Than She Thinks. While it’s tough not to look past recent events in the region, the cassette makes a powerful statement of the artistry and adventurousness of the musicians working within various underground scenes in Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk) and Ukraine (Kiev, Odessa), realizing their own visions of traditional techno, synth pop, and outsider electronics.

TMT reached out to Galya, who was in the midst of moving from St. Petersburg to Berlin, to learn more about the tape’s origins and the music that’s shaped her life, from the children’s entertainment of the former Soviet Union to contemporary Russian underground scenes.

In addition to contributing music to She Knows…, your big role here is as a listener and curator. Can you tell me what first drew you to music? Have you always been attracted to songs and bands that may otherwise be overlooked?

I don’t prioritize between underground and pop music. Everything depends on the music and the person who makes it. In this compilation are the songs, which are different in mood and everything. I wouldn’t call this music niche, it’s just unusual and strange tunes in its own beauty. I love these things. It is an experiment in time. Many things inspire me in this life.

And, if I may ask, what was the first record you couldn’t stop listening to?

I grew up on the Soviet vinyls with fairytales; until I became 10 years old I couldn’t listen to the music without the accompanying story. Hundreds of amazing stories with genius voices of our actors and music. Hundreds of vinyl records, thousands of cartoons influenced me and the most important component is the music, of course. It’s a great past. Genius composers in the Soviet school of electronic music: Eduard Artemiev, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vladimir Martinov, Alexander Zacepin, Alexei Rybnikov, Evgenii Krylatov, Jury Chernavsky, and others. All of them have written music for cartoons, children and teen movies, audio performances… madly and stylish. Soviet Union left a lot of visual and sound beauty, and literature, of course. A lot of deep kinds of things. Now, in Putin’s Russia, they don’t pay much attention to children’s culture. Nothing great has happened [in] the last 10 years. But it’s so important to have a rich aesthetic background in subconsciousness from childhood, for development and growth. Now, I share all my knowledge of my childhood impressions with my daughter Masha. It works fine, I see it. It’s difficult to pick out one song. Maybe this one, it’s the soundtrack to my favorite retro-futuristic teen blockbuster from 1984, “Girl from the Future.”

When I became a teenager and started listening to more pop music, my first love was the band Roxette, especially the song “It Must Have Been Love.” Many tears, great Mary. In russian music it is Natalia Vetlitskaja[’s] “Dusha,” [a] real pop icon of post-Soviet scene. I don’t know how many times I listened to this song… You hear it on [the] compilation.

When did you first start making your own music?

As a child I improvised a lot on piano, and wrote my first songs somewhere around 13. There was just one true listener, my grandmother. My parents didn’t pay attention to my sounds and sometimes stopped me, just to say, that I have to do something, like homework. I’ve got big complex from those time[s]. In the 90s for many families in ex-USSR, mine included, it was a difficult time. Those who couldn’t integrate into the new system of life survived and just thought about how to earn money for their families, and I understood them. My sounds after [a] hard-working day were maybe too much for them. So, as a teenager I never had an ambition to become a musical artist. In Belarus I was just a friend of musicians. It was a time of freedom, and a big stream of music came to our city from abroad. My brother played in the cult Belo-Russian punk groups at that time. I liked this wave, but didn’t dream to be like them. I didn’t understand what I wanted for a long time. When I was 20 I moved from Belarus to St. Petersburg and got absolute freedom from everything, and I started to build my life without advice from others, and met the right people my way. They heard my songs with piano and offered to play it as a band… We created the band Nervenklinik (me and a drummer) and recorded the first album with drums, piano, noise, and voice. It was very expressive and minimal. This was 2003.

When I stopped playing with a band and concentrated on solo synth waves, I’ve learned that in Russia not so many people are ready to accept this sound.

Before your move did you play shows often? Is there much of an audience for this kind of electronic music in Russia?

Some years ago every summer was full of festivals. I played with a band (about two to five members), which was more rock and noise, something more of a mass sound. Last years there were not so many shows. When I stopped playing with a band and concentrated on solo synth waves, I’ve learned that in Russia not so many people are ready to accept this sound. Honestly, I was outside the context of those music movements happening in the Russian scene in the last two years, closed [off] in my own world. I started to train, to improve my level, as a solo artist, to get deeper into synthesizer world. And I am not only a musician, I am a mother and it is my world and takes much time to make everybody happy. There are enough close-minded musicians that live across Russia, many in remote places, especially in Siberia… But this is not the context, it is not the community. Just separate stories. So, when I started my solo way I stopped playing concerts for the most part. But sometimes funny and specific stories have happened, like my performance on the celebration of New Year’s of one of the biggest financial corporations on the main playground of Russia for thousands [of] people, or touring with music to the Far North of Russia in one expedition.

When you first started compiling tracks for She Knows, was it your intention for this work to be heard by an international audience?

After some failures and lack of proper feedback in Russia, I realized that this compilation makes sense to publish only abroad [as far as] attract[ing] the attention of an international audience for this music. There are two main reasons: people abroad know next to nothing about Slavic indie music. In our country this kind of music has no chance to be popular. I wanted this music to be for the masses, in a good meaning of the word.

Have you gotten any reactions from international listeners, either positive or negative?

Not so much. I hoped to get more. But many good words. I hope it will spread more and get more listeners all over the world. And every participant will get her new personal listeners. Time has to pass.

And how has the tape been received in Russia?

It was not sensational. I was not surprised. Now there are economic and political problems, people speak less about music, more about collapse of the ruble. But some of them were glad, of course, that it happened. They liked the idea. It’s strong. And the embodiment is good. I know it. Some good magazines supported it.

In the 90s for many families in ex-USSR, mine included, it was a difficult time. Those who couldn’t integrate into the new system of life survived and just thought about how to earn money for their families, and I understood them. My sounds after [a] hard-working day were maybe too much for them. So, as a teenager I never had an ambition to become a musical artist.

When did Not Not Fun come into the picture? How did you approach them with this material?

For me, the main reason is that I like their content so much. I am in this stream, like at home. Funny, that it is another side of the Earth but I feel music, close to me. And aesthetic. At first this idea with the compilation lived like an idea. It came to me at first before the horrible events with Ukraine. Then, when it started, it came back. I already knew whom I want[ed] to send it to. When the draft and manifesto were ready I started to send it to the labels. But I stopped fast, and understood, that I wanted NNF; they answered me, and it happened.

On the NNF site you said, “Everybody exists in her own world, lonely and closed.” How did you come across these women? Did you know them personally?

Yes, most of them I’ve known personally. Some of them I know very, very well. Some of them… not. With one girl, Nastya Vogan (Ladan), we have never met, but have spoken much via
the Internet. Some of them don’t even know each other, but their sounds are connected in this compilation and now they know each other through music. That’s fine.

You mentioned that you just moved to Berlin. What’s next for you in Europe? More music, touring?

The next step is the new recording, a reflection of all the changes, what’s happened in my life for the last year, though not so much in the text, rather in the atmosphere of the music. I don’t want to change phonetics. My texts are very simple and minimal, but with a deep subtext it’s possible to understand through atmosphere of music. I want to continue to sing in my language, and to find more ways to make an impact on the listener. Usually abroad I play shows with English subtitles on the screen video libretto. It works well. People can hear the phonetics, background of the person, but understand the lyrics. The next step it to release my works, to be lucky and to show this music to the world, touring, concerts, spreading via the Internet. Why not? Normal way, nothing special. I want to do my work well and to get appropriate feedback!

Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the tracks on the tape? I especially love Ladan’s “Anya Navsegda.”

I do not want to praise someone separately. Each participant deserves attention. Some of them of them play in other good local bands. Anya Kutz is a half of famous in Europe techno duo Love Cult, Karina Kazaryan, a.k.a. Peekaboo, is the member of cult local female darkwave band Fanny Kaplan. She didn’t promote her solo music, I stumbled on her album by accident. Tosya Chaikina sings in popular Ukrainian fusion/funk/reggae band Sansay, but I love her solo music much more, her music is close to nature and very kind and light. Kiev artist Oksana Zmorovitch, a.k.a. Blablarism, is for me one of the most interesting modern composers. She is very young, but her sound looks into eternity, in some mysterious abyss. I was really impressed when I heard her the first time. Nastya Vogan, a.k.a. Ladan, from Ukrainian city Odessa, published her album “Superfin,” [and] I’ve loved these songs much. There is much nostalgia in her music about our 90s, my teenage [years], but in modern surreal sound and very, very tender. Fragile world. Otherwordly pop music. Now she is concentrated more on techno music. My song “Baby Bye” was a result of [an] improvise[d] session in my studio. I was very sad at that moment after some dramatic events in my friend’s life. And it was a reflection on it. It was an internal dialogue. I don’t know how to explain more. It’s always difficult to describe your own music. Let other people do it.

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