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Byron Shire
April 22, 2024

From Mother Russia to Mullumbimby

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It’s been seven long years since VulgarGrad, the criminal seven, played MMF, leaving audiences reeling from the stench of the gutters of Moscow, with wallets missing and ears ringing with Russky expletives.

It’s all about the attitude. If you miss this show, try saying ‘ty che, blyad?’ (what the fuck?). Andrew Tanner spoke with The Echo from Mother Russia.

What exactly are you doing in Russia?

I’m on tour with my partner Zulya – we’re playing shows in Kazan and Moscow next week.

Is there some sort of pressure being a bunch of Melbourne boys singing Russian songs? How has going there informed your onstage show?

Of course there’s always pressure when you’re putting on stage something either completely unfamiliar to your audience (in the case of the non-Russians in the audience) or all-too-familiar (in the case of the Russians). When I try to explain to Russians in words what VulgarGrad does, it might come across as the height of bad taste, but I think I can safely say that when they see the band perform live, they’re usually completely blown away by the show. Many of our most dedicated fans now are Russian immigrants.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Russia over the last 15 years and have seen a lot of live music, and while there are a couple of contemporary bands that have inspired us – particularly Leningrad and La-Minor – there is really nothing like VulgarGrad here (Russia). With an outsider’s perspective, we somehow manage to see the best side of the worst Russian music.

What do you think the appeal is of the songs you sing? Why does it connect with us so much? Is it our convict past?

Russia and Australia have a lot in common: wide open spaces, an inhospitable climate, a deep inferiority complex, geographical and/or political isolation and a feigned disregard for what’s going on in the rest of the world. On the other hand, while the roots of white Australian civilisation – crime and punishment – are not really visible on the surface of our mainstream culture, in Russia the cultivation of a truly underground criminal subculture in the Soviet decades really erupted into the mainstream in the years since the break-up of the USSR. So despite the language barrier, maybe it’s true that these Russian criminal songs appeal to a still-suppressed Australian pride in our convict heritage. I should also point out that none of this would work if it weren’t for the incredible performance and interpretation of these songs by our singer, Jacek Koman, a very well-known Polish-Australian actor.

What is the strangest gig experience you’ve had to date?

We’ve had underwear thrown onstage at us in Frankfurt by a predominantly Russian audience. We’re pretty sure it was mostly women’s underwear, but we couldn’t make out who was throwing it. We’ve been so drunk at a gig in Adelaide that halfway through each song we’d lose our way and just stop the song and start the next one. (This has only happened once in our 10-year career – we promise it won’t happen in Mullumbimby!) Another time in Adelaide (a good city for strange gigs), we happened to be playing a residency the same week the World Police and Firefighter Games were being held there. The first night, a single Russian policeman turned up completely by accident. The next night he brought half the Russian team. That was certainly odd, playing Russian criminal songs in South Australia to an audience of drunk Russian policemen. Luckily they were outside their jurisdiction and we escaped arrest. Apparently most of them even quite liked it.

What should we expect for your show at Mullum Music Festival?

A raucous and riveting Russian experience. Of course I’m biased, but I have it on good authority (that is, audience members tell us) that VulgarGrad is one of the most amazing and unusual live experiences you can have in Australia.

Join the thieves at Mullum Music Festival. If not your wallet, than at the very least your heart will be stolen. 17–20 November, mullummusicfestival.com.

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