Growing up in 90s Russia

Rediscovering the magazines that brought rave culture to kids living in the shadow of the Soviet collapse

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OM, April 1998Courtesy of The Calvert Journal

There were no raves in the Soviet Union. Even in the early 90s, when the rest of the world seemed to be on a constant bender, Moscow was pitch-black come 9pm. There were no fashion and culture magazines to help guide the attributes of youth we take for granted these days. The Soviet idea of youth was completely sterile, limited to portraits of wide-eyed adolescent heroes from socialist murals. Young people of the 1990s were the first generation to live a life radically different from those of their parents. Excited by the sudden avalanche of western pop culture, they were eager to trash the past, and, more importantly, to use the seemingly endless possibilities of the new free world to have fun and create. Founding editors of underground culture magazines, Igor Shulinsky of Ptyuch and Igor Grigoriev of OM were the true pioneers of early Russian youth culture. Although these two publications are largely forgotten in Russia, and remain almost completely unknown in the rest of the world, they act as a now-secret guide to the outrageous, innovative visions incorporated into the DNA of almost every cutting-edge creative to come out of Russia since. Gosha Rubchinskiy’s extraordinary vision of youth, Sonya Kydeeva’s tough yet gentle post-soviet boys, Kirill Savhenkov’s ramblings around tower block estates – all originated, one way or another, in the pages of these magazines.

PTYUCH: THE BIRTH OF RUSSIAN RAVE

In 1994, Igor Shulinsky looked to fill a niche in the Moscow nightlife scene with a new club called Ptyuch. Shortly afterwards, he launched its eponymous magazine, mainly as a platform for promoting the DJs and artists who performed at the club. The zine, with a circulation of 2,000 copies, rapidly turned into a major youth project which boasted a circulation of 110,000 at its peak. “There were people in practically every town whose lives came to be structured around the monthly publication,” says Shulinsky. “Grey panel buildings, six months of winter, no internet of course, and there was this publication offering a window into a completely different life.” Ptyuch manifested the birth of Russian rave with a swirling blend of acid colours, articles about recreational drugs, and pages filled with foreign talent. The layout combined a mixture of influences, from rebellious British magazines of the era to Russian avant-garde artists such as Aleksander Rodchenko and Kazimir Malevich, with the emphasis placed firmly on a sense of experimentation and fun.

OM: KNOW MORE, BE BETTER

Founded in 1995 by Igor Grigoriev, OM, formally a men’s fashion magazine, set the benchmark on youth culture: fashion, music, nightlife. If Ptyuch was more about the rave and party scene, OM covered a wider range of topics, introducing its Russian audience to cutting-edge music scenes and fashion trends already popular in the west. The tagline was “Know More, Be Better”, and the audience was eager to get its hands on whatever the magazine covered. Artist, poet and troublemaker Slava Mogutin was one of OM’s most notable contributors, even after he moved to New York in 1995. After my exile from Russia, I served as an NY correspondent for Ptyuch and OM,” he tells us. “My dear friend Igor Grigoriev, the charismatic and adventurous founding editor of OM, managed to gather together a remarkable group of young, ambitious talents. To a certain extent, this group of altruistic trailblazers shaped the mentality of the post-perestroika generation.”

90s DREAMING

From images of rave kids to same-sex couples kissing, the narratives that OM and Ptyuch constructed were not just reflective of emerging youth culture of Russia in the 90s. They took liberties with dreams and aspirations, and became a metaphorical space that merged the cities of London and New York. “My contributions included interviews with prominent countercultural figures such as Allen Ginsberg, Joe Dallesandro, Bruce LaBruce, Gus Van Sant and Wolfgang Tillmans,” recalls Mogutin. “Looking back at the work we were doing then, I’m amazed at how much we were able to get away with before the crackdown on freedom of press and speech in Russia.”

The magazines were an escape from the gritty reality – from crime sprees, food shortages, poverty, the collapse of infrastructure and the wild DIY capitalism that was gripping Russia at the time. Representing a much-yearned for creative freedom, the movement they both started was as political as it was cultural; an unstoppable blast of creative energy born out of decades of state oppression. For young people in remote corners of Russia, the magazines were a glimpse into a utopian world for youth.

END OF AN ERA

Both magazines barely glimpsed the beginning of the 00s. Ptyuch closed in 2003, and OM was never the same after Grigoriev left his editor’s post in 1998. Still, there was no point lamenting the fact: the publications were a manifesto for a certain generation, and they vanished with their epoch. It wasn’t the government or censorship that finished the independent titles, it was the shifting media landscape and free market – audience tastes changing, new competitors emerging (including big international titles from abroad) and, later, the digital revolution – bringing the world to Russia’s fingertips in a mere Yahoo! search.

Russia’s cultural media of the 90s, strange as it may seem now, was free and outspoken, with few pressures from authorities. Not that it enjoyed complete freedom of speech: Slava Mogutin, for instance, was exiled and forced to flee the country after being prosecuted for his views and sexual orientation. Of course, being a journalist was risky terrain, but compared with Putin’s Russia of today, it offered a taste of the freedom we take for granted in the west.

Read more about 90s Russian youth culture, including an essay from Ptyuch editor Igor Shulinsky, in "90s Reloaded", a special project at The Calvert Journal, a guide to the new east

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