Moscow’s weekend-long exhibition Faces&Laces spotlights the underground Russian artists, fashion designers, and musicians doing big things
It’s a hot late-spring day in Moscow, and the sun is blasting over its eclectic cityscape: where newly built apartment blocks tower over a tiny orthodox church, and a huge shopping centre dominates the skyline. Overlooking it all is the vast concrete parking lot which has been taken over by Faces&Laces: a two-day exhibition dedicated to streetwear, subcultures, and music. Featuring shows by independent fashion labels, performances by new voices in rap and rising noise and garage bands, as well as spaces for graffiti artists and skaters, the event is a celebration of the creativity that grows from this slightly surreal urban soil.
The move to establish and event like this is a timely one, given it’s a challenging time for Russian culture right now. On one hand, the upcoming generation has grown up in a country now truly connected to the outside world: through the internet and the ability to travel much more easily than their parents ever could, they’ve been exposed to the global creative community, and have learnt to use its language to tell their own stories through image-making, music, and fashion design. On the other, the ghost of historic isolation and repression still looms large.
The legislation that will effectively shut down access to the internet – Russian websites aside – is due to come into effect in October 2019, while the effects of anti-corruption reporter Ivan Golunov’s arrest are still being felt, after he was picked up for drug offences recently. Though the obviously fabricated case collapsed shortly after, it wasn’t before Golunov was subjected to unlawful violent treatment at the hands of the police. For a lot of Russian kids, the incident felt almost personal – like any of them could be taken away and imprisoned under inhumane drug laws, an imminent threat to their freedom and safety.
Clearly tired of the corruption and misplaced power that continues to permeate Russian society, the anger provoked by the establishment could be felt across the weekend. “While we hang out here, looking at trendy clothes, Russia persecutes innocent people. Tomorrow they could find something on you too,” one of the rappers from collective 555TRAKC555 roars on stage, while at another gig, music producer and singer Kedr Livanskiy joyfully chants “Fuck the police!” over raw beats from rap crew Praztal Fractal.
Whatever constraints they may face, Faces&Laces proves that, despite it all, creativity still blossoms in today’s Russia. Increasingly, however, it’s happening in a world that lies parallel to the establishment: in garages used as recording studios, obscure groups on social network VK, and in communities where people support each other given the constant lack of resources. “Every year there are new projects, new initiatives, and new labels, there are more different points of view,” explains Faces&Laces founder Dmitry Oskes of the DIY, collaborative ethos which underpins Russia’s creative scene. “Local street culture develops very quickly and progressively, and I see more authentic creativity, courage, and freedom, which makes me really happy.”
Here, we spotlight some of the names to watch, as a new wave of creatives rise up in Russia.
Founded in Moscow in 2017, photography magazine Kruzhok was the brainchild of Stas Falkov and documents not only the visual aspect of the Russian urban environment, but also the history of Soviet design. “I remember when I moved to Moscow from Siberia ten years ago, it was a real culture shock,” says Falkov. “I’m very inspired by its brutal architecture and Soviet modernism, and I owe a lot to this city.” Kruzhok’s recent issues were inspired by the architecture and iconography of Russia’s Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics and the renowned sanitorium Druzhba in Crimea. At the same time, as part of an upcycling project, the design team spent time in a series of vintage stores and at a suburban dump: whether taking inspiration from the past or the grit of the present, the magazine is all about imagining a more creative and mindful future.
Creative collective DOPECLVBWORLD are involved in a range of creative activities, from visual art to clothing design, although their inventive approach to colours, fabrics, and prints make it strenuously difficult to produce in Russia. Music, however, is one of their main strengths: the collective’s founder i61 is a renowned rapper, and his collaborators Basic Boy, Devika. Shawty and Padillion are enjoying current musical limelight of their own.
Novaya – or ‘new’ in Russian – is a label aiming to create womenswear which prioritises functionality and comfort, but infuses it with an irreverent twist: take its Liniya Pobeda collection for example, which was inspired by the constraints of budget airline travel and features garments with removable pockets to smuggle in one’s belongings onto a plane in spite of their typical one-bag policies. “I think, following the Post-Soviet trend in the west, Russian labels found a new confidence to develop their own authentic perspective,” says founder and designer Olga Golubeva. “But at the same time, the situation in fashion is not one-dimensional here: in the last two years, we’ve all felt the crisis in the country, as fashion media outlets are shut down, payments are delayed, and stores become increasingly hard to work with.” Though facing difficulties such as these, she explains that, despite it all, creativity continues to flourish. “I sometimes think, during a crisis, people let go of everything optional and invest only in things they truly need. All emerging brands need to do is identify what that need is.”
Made up of eight key members, rap collective 555TPAKC555 found its feet when a group of friends moved on from hanging out, drinking, and listening to music, and started to record their own tracks. “First it sounded strange, hilarious, and amateurish, but we started taking it more seriously about a year ago when we rented a garage in an industrial zone especially to record together. It was a big achievement,” they explain. Moscow-Radonezh, the group’s latest album, was inspired by suburban train route which holds sentimental value amongst them, and demonstrates their propensity for reflecting what’s happening in Russia within their work. In this case, the mundane, slightly rough romanticism of a Russian train journey is a good metaphor for 555TPAKC555’s output. Ranging from chill to brutally honest, their tracks talk of the pleasure of alcohol, the effects of antidepressants, and various highs and substances, whilst simultaneously musing on the mundanity of institutional power – with a few obscure Star Wars references thrown in.
Creative collective Russkiy Attrakcion is committed to exploring the complexity, beauty, and weirdness of the contemporary Russian mentality. Their main preoccupation is authenticity: reclaiming the bits of Russia’s urban environment which could seem trivial or ugly. Their creativity takes all kinds of forms: from throwing parties at tacky pool halls and camp lush clubs, to curating exhibitions, making clothes and music, and supporting others like them (just take Ukrainian label Podmost for example).
Originally from Penza, rap crew Praztal Fractal cite the “evil and frightening vibe of the old dirty southern sound of the 90s” as one of their main influences. Mixed in their home studio in Moscow, their tracks resemble a late evening walk through a rough Russian neighbourhood: slow, viscous harmonies mix with sharp beats, as the crew tell surreal, mystical stories of getting high and paranoid, and the lurking dangers of the police and small-time criminals. Praztal Fractal were also endorsed by Tommy Wright III, one of the legends of the Memphis rap scene, during his recent visit to Moscow.
A.D.E.D. (which stands for All Day Every Day) is probably the most renowned graffiti collective in Moscow, with stickers featuring the names of the crew – SPACER, NAMER, JUICE, COZEK, and CAPTEK – not only seen all over the city, but in Berlin, Tokyo, London, and NYC too. On their home turf, A.D.E.D. are preoccupied with graffiti as a constant dialogue with the city, despite the authorities determinedly trying to keep its centre clean and graf-free. It’s likely you might have heard of them already: last year, A.D.E.D. landed a high-profile fashion collaboration working with Virgil Abloh on his “Temple” installation at KM20.