Finding a Vibe That's Nashe

In the three years since Nashe Radio arrived on the airwaves, it has carved a niche for itself as the promoter of Russian contemporary rock. The station has not only provided an outlet for groups previously unable to win airtime, but it has also been a target of criticism. Some find the station -- literally Our Radio -- promotes nationalism in addition to rock. Mikhail Kozyrev, the man behind Nashe Radio, recently spoke with The Moscow Times about his station and its mission.

Q: You're 35 years old and you can make or break careers in Russian guitar-rock. How does this weigh upon your shoulders?
A: You're seriously overestimating me. We're just mediators who help talented people reach their audience quickly. If you are gifted, you will find your listeners with or without us. True, you can't completely disregard the impact of Nashe Radio. We're not just another station playing a compilation of songs -- we have a unique product. But this product is secondary to the songs. What will be remembered in the end are the artists.

Whether this is too little or too much of a burden depends on how high you aim. You can be happy to be a big fish in a small pond or you can have other goals. The greatest talent is to be able to speak of big things using simple language. This is the talent of [Ernest] Hemingway and [Steven] Spielberg, before whom I bow with respect.

Q: Hemingway and Spielberg -- that is aiming high, and it's not your genre.
A: The genre doesn't matter. It's the height of your flight that counts. I remember one phrase from [the movie] "Lord of The Rings": Frodo asks Gandalf: Why me? Why did this ring end up in my hands? The answer to that question is beyond our powers, Gandalf tells him. All we can do is use the time we have.

Q: So you see yourself as a latter-day Frodo and Nashe Radio is a powerful ring on your finger?
A: No. Surely I am not in possession of the power of darkness. But the thought that you should use the time you are given, and use it cleverly, yes, that's close to me.

Q: So far, you seem to have used your time well. Three years ago, there was no Nashe Radio. Now you don't exist if you are not on Nashe Radio.
A: It would be presumptuous for us to think like that. Nashe Radio simply appeared at the right time in the right place. The ground was ready -- there were many talented musicians who needed a public forum. All you could hear at the time was either hideous pop music -- popsa -- or classic Russian rock. There was nothing in between.

It would have been a sin not to fill that vacuum. The popsa flood us with crude lies -- false passion, false suffering. Against this background there is room for an oasis built on honesty, and I believe there is a lot of honesty in rock. These people are confessing in their music, and their confessions look more profitable -- I mean more attractive ... in the best sense of the word.

Q: So how do you spot this honesty?
A: There are no recipes. You can't learn to be honest. It's a very simple thing -- either the vibe is there or it's not. Two bands can come up with the exact same songs, but -- to paraphrase Stanislavsky -- one of them you believe and the other you don't.

Q: Who has to feel the vibe for a song to be played on Nashe Radio? You? Your DJs?
A: This is a long and complicated process. The recording industry in Russia is very weak, so we're basically doing their work. If in the rest of the world the most important thing for a musician is to sign a contract with a big label, here it's important to appear on Nashe Radio. Only after that, maybe somebody will notice you.

We receive literally thousands of recordings. One person cannot possibly listen to them all, so we have formed a sort of artistic council made up of our employees -- people who are representative of our listeners. They meet once a week and listen to heaps of music, sorting it into three main groups -- "complete losers," "maybes" or "real candidates." Recordings from the latter two groups are then sent to me and [program director] Filipp Galkin. We listen to them and decide whether or not to air it. There are many factors that come into play -- who they are, where they come from, whether or not they have a recording contract. But one thing doesn't count -- money. We never take money to play music.

Q: Do you think you have changed Russia's musical landscape?
A: The rock scene, surely. And I think we have also managed to change the overall musical climate in the country. The Russian mainstream has changed. With our help, a whole range of bands has appeared to form a layer of music that simply wasn't there before. This gives me hope.

Q: You've been juggling dangerous ideas along the way. I don't mind anybody promoting Nasha Muzyka, but recently I heard on your news program a reference to Putin as "Nash prezident." This is flirting with government; no self-respecting rocker would do such a thing.
A: Being partly owned by Boris Berezovsky, we live in a permanent state of conflict with the government. And if there is anybody I definitively don't want to flirt with, it's President Putin. We simply have news blocks within our programming such as Nashe Kino (Our Film). Nash prezident follows in that same tone. I really wasn't expecting it could be perceived as nationalist.

Q: OK, so you're not flirting with the president, but you are flirting with Russian nationalism, or at least riding the wave
A: I am hypersensitive to all forms of nationalism -- being a minority in this country, a Jew, I always felt it breathing down my neck. Sometimes I'm afraid that some of the messages we're sending out might be misunderstood. That's why it was our conscious decision to play Ukrainian, Molodovan and Belarussian rock on our radio, although I have been asked many times why I do it by people who don't consider bands singing in Ukrainian to be "nashy."

The idea behind the radio station is not to say that "nashe" is the best and everything else stinks -- that's nationalism. The idea is to show that after a decade of self-deprecation, "nashe" can also be very good. And there are things to be proud of here.