Gosha Rubchinskiy’s longtime collaborator and photographer Sasha Mademuaselle heads to Russian festival Bolь to document everything dear to teenagers’s hearts
‘From Russia With Love’ is the Dazed mini-series telling the stories of Russia’s revolutionary youth today. Emboldened by social media, their attitudes towards the state are ever-morphing, their protests growing ever stronger, and they’re breaking new frontiers. Here, young Russians tell their stories on Dazed.
Young Russians might live in a politically challenging environment, often restricted by the country’s conservatism, yet they’re never short of cutting-edge ways to express themselves. Youth culture blossoms brightest in the darkest and sweatiest of places – at parties and gigs... anywhere intrinsically linked to music.
Photographer Sasha Mademuaselle has been young Russians for a few years with an extraordinary ability to capture its most ecstatic, pure and liberated moments. She photographed the wild side of Moscow girls, the darkest corners of the witch house and the gabber scene, and is a long-term collaborator of Gosha Rubchinskiy and his crew of young drifters for the skater brand PACCBET. This summer, Mademuaselle also turned her lens to the Bolь festival, the riotous gathering which celebrates the new wave of Russian underground music, in all its loud, angry and unruly glory.
“Last year I was at Bolь festival for the first time, and I was astonished by the atmosphere and people,” recalls Mademuaselle. “To me, Bolь is a festival for 16-year-old teenagers who can’t get into the clubs yet but really want to go out and see gigs. The set of artists is just right for the audience: underground bands who sing mostly in Russian, and their songs are about things dear to a teenager’s heart: love, freedom, and beer.”
“We were making fun of a new generation of kids that are the wealthiest Russians in history. The first generation of kids who are not surviving but living through their youth, but for some reason, they still think that life is pain” – Stepan Kazaryan
The Bolь festival was founded in 2014, and its title translates from Russian as “pain”. The idea emerged over some beers in the kitchen of Stepan Kazaryan, its main mastermind. “The irony of the title was based on wordplay. All Russian cool post-punk bands that were around then had four-letter noun names – Utro, Srub, Trud – kind of like the cult Soviet 1980s band KINO,” he remembers. “We called the festival Bolь – we spell it Bolь with a Russian soft sign on the end because it was also four letters and means ‘pain’,” explains Kazaryan. “Of course, it’s not about physical pain. We were making fun of the new generation of kids that are the wealthiest Russians in history. The first generation of kids who are not surviving but living through their youth, but for some reason, they still think that life is pain.”
Bolь, and the powerful new crop of artists it represents are often perceived as an antidote of Moscow’s burgeoning rave scene. The energy here is different: in the place of techno’s serious globalist hedonism, is rude and poetic Russian lyrics that spill over powerful drums and guitar chords. Yet, Bolь can’t be described as a rock festival – it’s about post-punk, new wave, grunge, but also hip-hop, rap, and genre-bending electronic music. “Bolь is not about genres but about attitude,” Kazaryan says. “It’s all about music nonstop for eight hours. We are about self-irony and honesty at the same time, and we don't like hypocrisy in either music or in life. We don’t really care about the rest. You can be a rock vagabond, a pop intellectual or an underground rapper – we’re fine with all of that.”
Among the artists who rock the Russian scene today, there is a vast variety of sound, but Kazaryan is keen to highlight Shortparis, Lucidvox, Wooden Wales, Хаски (Hasky), Love Cult, Glintshake, Pasosh, Sonic Death, IC3PEAK and Moa Pillar. “The landscape of our independent scene is not moody or angry – it’s actually optimistic. We have never experienced such a cultural explosion during our lifetime,” he adds.
“The landscape of our independent scene is not moody or angry – it’s actually optimistic. We have never experienced such a cultural explosion during our lifetime”
This joy, excitement and adventurous confidence really comes through in Mademuaselle’s photographs. “The atmosphere is great because most of the audience belongs to the new generation. They are very free and brave. They were born in the new Russia and believe in a bright future for themselves. They want to listen to Russian music, but at the same time, there are no borders for them. They don’t alienate themselves from the world, instead, they have a similar mindset to their peers in other countries. I love this generation a lot, and in some ways, I feel like a belong to it a bit as well,” she says. “Pasosh were the main heroes this year. During their set the mosh pit was the wildest. It was the most inspiring moment of the festival: a huge crowd of young beautiful people singing, ‘I live in Russia and I’m not afraid’, because for me, that’s the true motto of today.”