“My Sorrow Is Luminous”: Yanka Dyagileva and Gender in the Soviet Underground Music Scene, 1988-1991


My project focuses on the songs of Siberian punk musician Yanka Dyagileva. Dyagileva navigated the gendered traditions of male bard culture and female poetic solemnity to produce music that spoke to the condition of womanhood in the Soviet Union. Dyagileva worked alongside a number of prominent male punk musicians during her career, thus creating a fanbase of her own. These collaborative projects harbored non-gendered political messages, aimed against the state as a whole, rather than internal politics of identity. Dyagileva’s solo work, by contrast, often spoke out against the systematic and violent abuse of women in Soviet culture and her personal struggles with mental illness. I hope to compare Dyagileva’s solo acoustic work to her Grazhdanskaya Oborona collaborations, examining how her stage presence and lyrical themes differed depending on her circumstance and audience. I also hope to explore how Dyagileva asserted herself within a masculine-dominated music scene, and how audiences responded to her work.


Yanka Dyagileva – Burn, Burn, Brightly (live performance)

Yanka Dyagileva – Home (live performance)

Yanka Dyagileva – Riga Song

Yanka Dyagileva – My Sorrow Is Luminous

Alexander Bashlachev – Time of the Bells (live performance)

Live Performance with Grazhdanskaya Oborona


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Media from my final paper

Hi all, here is some of the music I’m working with for my final paper on the semiotics of the intersection of whiteness and women in CE’s live performance at Berserktown III this past summer. As this project is largely a study of semantic, symbolic, and sonic violence, the content of the case studies I’m working with, some of which is listed below, is highly graphic. In this respect, I feel it is important to note that I remain highly critical in my examination and interpretation of it.

Some questions I’m considering in this paper:

I’m interested in considering how the ambiguity Consumer Electronics and their affiliates have left in regards to their artistic intentions can be considered in light of their music. Is the highest indicator of white male privilege the ability to enjoy a multi-decade career using racist, sexist, and ableist material to the point of parody / self-parody? How is Froelich’s partnership in the group a complicating factor in their appropriation of violence?What political statement is being made in their work, and who is it aimed at?Whose voice changes the reading of the musical text, how, and to what effect? Whose ears change the reading of the musical text, how, and to what effect? Is their ambiguity the point? i.e. can this ambiguity be read as a critique of neoliberal ideology, the expediency of culture, and the commodification of art, in that anyone can consume art to the effect of validating their particular subject position at any point in time? Finally, the content of CE’s work permanently implicates them in literal racist, antisemitic, gendered violence, some perhaps legitimated by their work, regardless of their artistic and political intentions. In this sense, how does one consider similar works and their political message in the milieu of the society they operate within?


TW: white supremacy, anti-semitism, rape, self harm







Consumer Electronics – Co-Opted 

Consumer Electronics – Teenage Nuremburg

Consumer Electronics – Live Leeds April 4, 2016

Whitehouse – Cut Hands Has the Solution

White Power Compilation Discogs

Susan Lawly Collective Site

Consumer Electronics – Condition Of A Hole

Consumer Electronics Discogs


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why techno?

Reading Garcia’s article, I couldn’t help but think about why it is techno that is at the heart of Berlin’s ‘alternative’ tourist circuit. What is it about Berlin that accommodates techno, and why is it techno that has developed such a strong scene in Berlin, rather than other musical genres? Apologies if the following is quite informal, it is more than anything an attempt at understanding my own thoughts!

– Post-Socialist, post-industrial restructuring. After the collapse of the Berlin wall, many formerly state-owned buildings were left without ownership. Large warehouses and factories were abandoned, to later be occupied by artists and Bohemians (as Garcia might put it) and developed into clubs: unlike more formal concert environments, a nightclub doesn’t necessarily need a stage, nor does bass-heavy music require a space as acoustically sympathetic to higher frequencies. Major Berlin clubs like Berghain and Tresor are both situated within repurposed industrial buildings. Garcia notes that Bohemia describes the fetishization of “the gritty and the illicit as authentic”, while neo-Bohemia is the conversion of these characteristics into “profit-making factors” (Garcia 14).

– Lack of language. Visiting Berlin, it becomes clear that proficiency in German is not necessary for one to get by in the city. Similarly, techno, being largely instrumental, often lacks the lyrical and linguistic signifiers that might otherwise make music inaccessible to an audience. Although not necessarily diverse in terms of race or gender, techno is arguably more multi-national than other genres in which linguistic identification becomes a key characteristic of sub-genre. (Contrarily, as an attempt to maintain a club’s ‘authenticity’ [read: lack of tourist appeal] bouncers will often ask “Are you German?” to try and drive away non-German guests trying to enter a club.)

– Timelessness and escapism. Garcia notes that two of his interviewees, Bob and Donna, deal with “rigid work schedules” (9). Thanks to a lack of “regulated closing hours” (7) – due in part to Germany’s decentralized nature and the hangover from 1989? – clubs will stay open more or less all day and all night, thus allowing ‘techno-tourists’ to feel a timelessness in their clubbing experience. Unlike a rock or pop show or an orchestral concert, where individual songs or movements can provide markers of time (for example, a pop performance might consist of twelve 4 minute songs), a club night will likely include music that can be seamlessly mixed together and thus played continuously, without pause.

– Tradition. Although techno may have developed in Detroit, it was significantly influenced by German electronic music, such as Kraftwerk. One may interpret Berlin’s emergence as the Europe’s (the world’s?) techno capital as a musical style’s development coming full circle. And might we compare Berlin’s techno scene to that of the early-70s rock we studied earlier this semester? What similarities might we find in the repurposing of spaces like the Mariannenstrasse building, or in the appeal of Ton Steine Sterben’s “volume” and “rhythmic allure”? (Brown 88).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Authenticity in Protest Videos

I would like to explore the tactics of communication employed by the SOAS Arabic Band, particularly in comparison to the early Pussy Riot videos we watched for last week’s class. Both Pussy Riot and the SOAS Arabic Band disseminate political messages to an international audience using new media. Thus, making their projects accessible and digestible for mass audiences is key. This accessibility often depends on the careful production of their music videos.

I found myself thinking about how we can relate the communicative tactics used in these music videos to conceptions of authenticity and accuracy we’ve been exploring in class for the past few weeks. Last week, we discussed how Pussy Riot’s project would have been less effective on a global scale had they provided an “authentic” representation of the events in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. However, through collaging a variety of video clips and audio recordings from other demonstrations, Pussy Riot was able to convey a much more coherent and accessible political message. In “A Song of the Homeland (Calais, November 2014)”, the visual component of the performance is equally important in creating an internationally-legible project. Like Pussy Riot, SOAS uses close-up shots of the musicians, which makes it difficult to discern the scale of their protest. Additionally, the videographer uses English inter-titles to provide basic background about the refugee situation in Calais, which provides the uninformed viewer with a frame of reference . Unlike Pussy Riot, however, the SOAS video uses audio recorded on-site, and focuses on personal interactions between the musicians, emphasizing their human-ness rather than their anonymity. I found that this gave an air of authenticity to their performance, making the project as a whole feel less “produced” than Pussy Riot’s. As for my questions: Did you find SOAS’s audio-visual tactics effective (in that they created a sense of sympathy or solidarity)? If so, did you find them more effective than Pussy Riot’s tactics, and why? Do you think the video aided in the project’s legibility to their international English-speaking audience?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Visuals in the Pussy Riot Music Videos

After watching the Pussy Riot music videos, I found myself intrigued by the differing visual tactics they utilized for their political message(s). In the Gessen reading, we saw how visibility was of key concern to the members of Pussy Riot. Although I wasn’t entirely sure how Gessen got their information on the members (whether it be interviews, recordings, correspondence etc.), it was clear that the members thought diligently on how they would portray their message, specifically in visual forms. Because this, I think it’s important to look at the relationship between the music/lyrics and the visual format.

Specifically I am thinking of the portrayal of physical force present in most of the videos. In Punk Prayer, we see guards actively trying to force the members out of the church. We see this again occurring in Putin Will Teach Us How to Love. I think these depictions of opposition to Pussy Riot are incredibly important to viewers, as opposition contextualizes their music. I think it also enhances the sense of urgency they have towards change (e.g. praying to Mary to become a feminist in order to depose Putin). Also (to once again bring up visibility) in a globalized music economy, by including the cultural context like this, it ensures that non-Russian viewers are aware of the force against Pussy Riot and LGBTQ Russians.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the chapters from Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot that we have read for class on Wednesday, Masha Gessen descriptively outlines the genesis of Pussy Riot, and their practices, group dynamic, and concerns leading up to the ultimate incarceration. I’m particularly curious (and confused) about two aspects of their formation and ongoing musical-protest practices. First, Gessen notes that “Pussy Riot had declared seriality as one of its core principles” (Gessen, 101) But what does seriality mean here? It seems Gessen and Pussy Riot imply this, for the group, means a rigorous commitment to the immediate, unchanged results of their performance protests. But if so, why not indeterminacy? If seriality implies creating a structured set of parameters by which the result is structured and left to stand, then what are the performative, activist, or other parameters they are working within to achieve their immediate result?

Second, why is punk the musical vehicle for their protest and politics? What does punk do for them? And why does their modality of political circulation need to be musical here? (Does it need to be?) Throughout both Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot and Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom, no one seems to describe who Pussy riot are, or what they do, as musicians or music. Rather, they are performers; their first direct action was “a performance rather than performance art.” (Gessen, 101) Why this semantic shift away from the musical to the performative, while simultaneously asserting Pussy Riot as a punk band?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Le Mystere

Vasiliki’s post on the reading is really interesting and more or less covers what I wanted to say, albeit in a more eloquent manner. To contribute further, I’d like to consider how the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir fits into the context of late- (and post-) Communist Bulgarian cultural identity. I find the choir’s popularity in the UK and USA particularly interesting. In the marketing of their music, what do we make of the decision to use the Gallic name Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares over the decidedly less aureate “Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir”? And how do we read the decisions by western record labels Nonesuch and 4AD to use visually ambiguous illustrations (an example of which is pictured below) rather than, say, a photograph of the choir? What are the cultural signs in these depictions of the music?

bulgarian_choir_1351687793_resize_460x400Furthermore, I find intriguing the position that the choir takes on a label roster such as that of 4AD’s. The marketing of the choir acts to assimilate it formally. To me, their music is aesthetically not dissimilar to that of label-mates Cocteau Twins, whose singer Elizabeth Fraser often referred to traditional Scottish song and even glossolalia in her vocal performances. Like the choir, Fraser’s vocal lines often deemphasized lyrics, instead employing melisma and trill (examples of Fraser’s vocals are here and here). The choir is thus not far removed from the label’s aesthetic branding but, simultaneously, is a “mysterious” Other in the French wording of its name and the traditional Shopi(?) presentation of the choir on American television.

To what extent does the marketing of the choir decontexualize the music and elide its ‘Bulgarian-ness’ (thus adding further to the negation of Ottoman or ‘eastern’ cultural influence)? In their success outside of Bulgaria do we see the choir as essentially Bulgarian, and if so what Bulgaria do they represent?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Turn to the West: Levski, Handel, and the BSP

In Buchanan’s chapter “Transits” from Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition, she describes the attempts by the transitional BSP government to create an illusion of national and ethnic homogeneity by co-opting the 1878 Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turks, specifically focusing on the revolutionary figure Vasil Levski. In particular, Buchanan speaks of a 1990 rally, meant to honor the 117th anniversary of the death of Levski, that opened with selections from Handel’s Messiah. This choice evidently fits well with the BSP’s goal to whitewash the omnipresent national question facing Bulgaria at the time, along with claiming a European, Western, and Christian identity. It also somewhat confirms the platform’s idea that “turning to the past… would bring the nation a new beginning,” as the religious themes of Messiah point towards Bulgaria’s early adoption of Christianity, and its return to these values in the coming years (30). Yet, it seems that some of the irony of turning to the past may have been lost on the party leaders, as this sentiment bears great similarity to that expressed by Soviet officials in the 1936 antiformalist line. As Fitzpatrick explains in The Lady Macbeth Affair,

“One aspect of the 1936 antiformalist line clearly had resonance among musicians, not to mention the concertgoing public: Stalin’s call for new Soviet classics after the Quiet Don performance. The term “Soviet classics” could mean various things. In the first place, it suggested works that grew out of the classical tradition in music. The basic models were the great Russian composers of the nineteenth century (Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky), plus Beethoven” (205). 

Both strategies present a clear message of looking towards the past for innovation; however, while Soviet musicians, at least in 1936, dealt with a more recent past, the BSP opts to overlook the painful history of the USSR in favor of the same romanticized past–a past free of ethnic and religious tensions, along with Bulgaria’s messy involvement in assimilation measures. Additionally, the two platforms employ musical figures from the West (Germany, in this case), although to different aims. While the USSR’s claim to Beethoven represents an attempt to label him, a Western composer, as a musically superior Soviet/Russian figure, the BSP’s employment of Handel’s Messiah marks their attempt to self-identify as a Western, religious state. While these claims are inversions of one another, their end result is actually the same: establishing a singular national identity through erasure and assimilation. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the chapter we read from Donna A. Buchanan’s book Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition, Buchanan shows how “the [Bulgarian, BSP] government legitimized its new perspectives by nestling them in a slippery quilt of peasant tradition and socialist heritage.” (Buchanan, 23) This reading reminded me of Meintjes’ article on Graceland; more specifically, I’m curious about how we could use her concept of pieces of music as “polysemic sign vehicles” to consider how nationality, ethnicity, and nationalism work in Buchanan’s case studies. Buchanan notes the example of a six year old girl’s performance of a traditional, regionally-specific song following Lilov’s interview on Panorama, a news broadcast on BTV. Following “an interview conducted at the rally” (Buchanan, 22) in which “Lilov reaffirmed the Party’s connection with Martenitsa,” (Buchanan, 22) “a six-year-old girl in antiquated village dress solemnly performed a lyrical “slow song,” or bavna pesen, from the Rhodope ethnographic region with bagpipe accompaniment in the traditional manner.” (Buchanan, 23) As Buchanan notes, the Rhodopes “carries profoundly emotional historical associations, as Bulgarians widely believe it is a site where villagers were unqillingly converted to Islam at various points during the Ottoman period…those [songs] from the Rhodopes were described to me as particularly poignant.” (Buchanan, 23) In this sense, political legitimization for the BSP was partially contingent upon aligning itself, through deeply-ingrained musical traditions, with a Bulgarian national identity predicated upon a notion of Bulgarian ethnic identity as both locally-specific and “European” by virtue of being both Christian (and therefore not Muslim) and anti-Muslim (because Bulgarian-ness here precludes the practice of Islam). As someone from an Eastern European country whose national identity is similarly both entrenched in post-Ottoman State legitimization and predicated upon this formulation of ethnicity, religion and nation, I’m interested in how these formulations work in terms of a) discursively negating Ottoman, Islamic and middle eastern cultural influences, b) doing so locally to solidify and legitimate ‘the nation’ as an ethnically homogenous group despite the region’s long-standing ethnic heterogeneity, c) doing so to legitimate the nation and the ethnicity as European to an international, European audience, and d) using music as a cultural sign to do so. It seems that in Buchanan’s Bulgarian context, and in my context of Greece, cultivating the notion of a national ethnicity serves local and international political goals. My question is, if we consider this double audience, how can we consider local musical practices in the framework Meintjes introduced us to last week? In what ways is Bulgarian Europeanness and otherness affirmed in the BSP’s use of politically and historically loaded local musics? How would one’s position in relation to these practices shift one’s consideration of them, and how is the BSP directly playing into this positionality? Finally, given that the Ottoman Empire stretched far into the European continent for several centuries prior to its dissolution, how can we consider Turkey in relation to European discourses on what European culture is?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Graceland really politically ambiguous?


Listening to the track “I Know What I Know,” I was struck by the positioning of the Zulu and English vocals. This was the first track on the album that credited collaborating South African artists; in fact, the song itself was based on existing music by M.D. Shirring and the Gaza Sisters, which Simon then altered for the album. However, despite the South African musicians predominant role in writing the song, Simon’s English vocals overpower the Zulu backing chorus. This creates a hierarchy of voices, in which Simon exists as the “star,” both as the White singer and the White songwriter. I wonder if this can be read in terms of the “refinement” or “civilizing” which Meintjes notes was imposed on other traditional South African instrumentation, such as the pennywhistle (55). I wonder too if Simon’s album is as politically ambiguous as Meintjes makes it out to be; here, the hierarchy of vocals (and thus, language and race) suggest an implicit message of Western non-indigenous supremacy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment