Interview: Human Tetris

Human Tetris - Photo courtesy of Human Tetris

Human Tetris - Photo courtesy of Human Tetris

Russian indie rock? Who would have thought it existed? But it does, most notably in the form of post-punk-inspired bands, such as Kino (Кино́) and Agatha Christie (Агата Кристи), bands which paved the way in the late 80s toward an evolving Russian music scene.

Now, a new generation of trailblazers is having its moment, and included in this group are bands like Motorama and Human Tetris.

The latter, Human Tetris, is a post-rock quartet hailing from Moscow, Russia. The foursome formed in 2008 and consists of Arvid Kriger (vocals and guitar), Maxim Keller (guitar), Maxim Zaytsev (bass), and Sasha Kondyr (drums).

The story of how the band came together consists of the standard formula of friends deciding to play music, basing that decision primarily on the fact that there were shared musical interests between them. This was back in 2008, and the four have come quite a distance in the time since.

Just one shred of proof is Human Tetris’ debut album, “Happy Way in the Maze of Rebirth,” which came out this week and is currently available as a free download. It stands alongside three EPs already in the Human Tetris discography.

“We wanted to finish the LP by the end of January; we wanted to present it in Europe,” Kondyr said of having the record available for the band’s current tour. “But we had some problems with record studios.”

He went on to explain that because of the high cost of recording, it’s difficult to find a balance between wanting everything to be perfect and being able to afford it.

“I think that we are trying to be perfectionists [but] recording in Russia is expensive,” he said. “So frequently we don’t have much money to think very long and to change something as many times as we want to. [Still], almost every day I re-listen our records, and every time I think how I might have done things differently.”

One of the reasons why recording is so expensive is because there is a lack of a thriving market for non-mainstream and non-Russian-speaking bands within the country. However, in spite of these setbacks, the underground scene has been evolving over the course of the past few decades.

“Russia is a special place for this kind of music. For example, the new wave/post-punk movement of the 80s has mutated in Russia into a very interesting breed of bands and musicians,” Zaytsev said. “At that time they had pretty low level of access to the trends, so everything they did to copy [Western] bands went on in a very exaggerated form. They looked [killingly] stylish, played exaggeratedly trendy, yet sometimes very good, and the communities that listened to it were very small.”

Although things have changed since then, Zaytsev shared that the scene tends to be cyclical, and now more bands are looking to copy rock acts from first-world countries.

“Strangely I feel like similar things are going on in Russia right now even though nothing is prohibited and we do have unlimited Internet access,” he said. “Indie bands are still doing their best to look super trendy and copy a lot, though for some reason some of them do a pretty good job…[and as a result], the scene is developing pretty quick.”

An additional consequence of Western influence on Russian music is the increase of bands singing in English. Kondyr estimated that 70 to 80 percent of bands in Russia sing in Russian, but there is an influx of musicians beginning to sing in English

“The number of bands singing in English is rising very quickly, and some of them are making pretty decent music,” Zaytsev said.

With all of these factors in place, it seems that alternative music forms in Russia are poised to become something bigger, although only time will tell.

“The [underground] scene…is growing, but in Russia we have a very specific listener,” Kondyr said,
explaining how the majority of people are reluctant to pay any mind to musical acts that aren’t receiving regular media attention. “[Regardless], the scene is moving forward now. Musicians want to sound and to look like European and American bands. The musical future looks very sunny now in Russia, I think.”

As for the musical future of Human Tetris, none of the members believe that being a musician is a viable way of making a living.

“Music is my favorite thing in the world. I can’t live without music, bandmates, gigs and recordings, but I don’t want to make money on it,” Kondyr shared. “It’s almost impossible in Russia to make money via music. You have to sell yourself with your soul to your producer, and maybe then you’ll find success. I don’t want to sell my soul. In Russia it is easier to become a spaceman than to become famous.”

So while the members of Human Tetris don’t have any aspirations to pursue music as a full-time career, their dedication to sticking it out and making it work is still inspiring.

“We’ve had some rough patches in our life, some conflicts, but we’ve gone through them and it is a pretty good thing, ’cause it allowed us to stick together,” Zaytsev said, referencing the chemistry between band members.

Kondyr agreed, saying that pooling their respective energies and foci can be hard, but ultimately ends up positive.

“[The challenge is] to put all our own ambitions very deep and do the job we love together, like one team,” he said. “We made it. Not at 100%, but we are moving forward.”

Human Tetris plays tonight at Magnet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 22.00.

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