Russian Acts Who Are Seriously Good at Joking
Russian humour can be hard to pin down, especially if you’re not familiar with all the nuances of the language. But trust us when we say this: if you can make a Russian laugh, they’ll be eternally devoted to you. Especially if you can complement that joke with a strong melody and catchy hook. No wonder the following acts have enjoyed so much success, all thanks to their frequent outbursts of comedy genius.
If you’re looking for one group who truly understand the modern Russian SOH, it has to be Leningrad, a 20-year-old ska-tinged collective fronted by Sergey Shnurov. They’re a band who’re equally at home headlining muddy rock festivals and upscale private parties in the swankiest downtown clubs. They have a knack of getting Russians to laugh at themselves without crossing the line and making them feel dejected or furious, and over the years they’ve written numerous carefully-crafted joke tunes about everything under the glorious Russian sun: from the mentality of jobsworth bureaucrats (“Gelendzhik”) to VIP-area and Louboutins-craving gold-diggers (“Exponat”), not to mention their fake boob-craving BFFs (“Siski”). They never come off as mean and there’s always a well-shot short movie of a music video to accompany the killer hooks and hard-hitting arrangements. Their humour crosses borders: the band made a triumphant return to Budapest’s Sziget festival this summer.
While Leningrad find joy in dissecting the excesses of contemporary Russia, there are also those who’d rather take aim at the nostalgia some of their countrymen feel for the late-Soviet era. Take the duo Lavanda, for example, who released two records in the mid-00s, packed with irresistible tunes about partying with models, dancing the night away to Italo disco and rocking the coolest trousers on the block. Their minimalist tracks tell countless stories about the Soviet rich kids of the 80s, much like many of today’s Western indie bands build their images around dreams of Miami Vice and neon lights. The lyrics are neither wantonly parodical nor entirely serious, which puts Lavanda in a unique position: their songs attract people who want to laugh as well as those who’re more into dancing. The word on the street is that there’s a relaunch planned for this year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for more Lavanda.
The Russian hip-hop scene has been booming for several years so it was only a matter of time till the country got its own Fatal Bazooka or Goldie Lookin’ Chain, an act that parodies the opulence of hip-hop while at the same time revelling in it. Hleb (which translates as “bread”) are a comedy trio who’ve been reaching wide YouTube audiences since 2013. Recently, they’ve evolved into a proper touring outfit, taking their overdramatic bangers about the art of drinking tea on the road. They also recently collaborated with the seasoned pop band Diskoteka Avaria, whose work in the late 90s paved the way for a lot of the piss-taking Russian pop acts that followed.
“Payday”, the hilarious debut single from Poehali, draws influence from VHS aesthetics, Russian gangster films, the music videos of long-faded pop idols and the simple pleasures of swearing (a lot). It’s a move you might not expect from the duo, who have far more “serious” recording careers behind them: Poko Cox is one of the stalwarts of the Russian indie scene, while Valdis Bielykh is a respected video director and owner of The Great Fruit studio. “It all came together about a month ago, when I pitched the idea to Poko,” explains Bielykh. “At our first rehearsal he came up with the name and it gave us the direction we ended up taking.” An ode to the vertiginous feeling you get just before you’re paid, and the inevitability of spending it all on booze, the tune looks set to make the project a success – if Russians’ love of musical laughs is anything to go by, Poehali might not need to fritter all their money away on alcohol. They’ll have plenty of drinks bought for them.