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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Rock's Future Is In St. Petersburg's Dives

If Boris Yeltsin's doctors let him unleash his curious, jiggling presidential bop upon the nation ever again, it could be that for the first time since the traumatic, post-Soviet evolution of popular music began in earnest five years ago, the head, hips and feet of state will have something new and groundbreaking to dance to. In a relatively short space of time, the Russian music scene has taken a conspicuous leap forward, finally breaking out of the kitschy, derivative limbo where it has been trapped for so long. And once again, as it has done in the past with such legendary names as DDT, Kino and Akvarium, St. Petersburg is playing a vital part in this process.

While lacking Moscow's slick, expensive clubs, Russia's second city is undoubtedly the capital of wonderfully grimy, divey hangouts where the music played on the tiny, grubby stages is unsurpassable in its spontaneity and energy. Take, for example, the Art Klinic, a dingy little den on Pushkinskaya Ulitsa where by far the best featured artist on the roster is a remarkable singer and show-woman named Victoria Elefant whose stage antics include unsheathing a dagger during one song and brandishing it in a threatening manner. She also pulls a gun during another number. The music, strongly flavored with Tom Waits, is not half bad as well. "I have no ambitions to be famous," says the 28-year-old former actress, "I just want to play the kind of music that, if I heard it wafting out of a caf?, I might like to go in and listen to."

As well as this informal, microscopic club life, St. Petersburg is cultivating a very respectable low-tech, garage-band scene that holds out much hope for the future, as is evident from the recently released compilation tape "The Best of Polygon '96" which brings together the cream of the young acts that have appeared at the alternative Polygon club this year. One of the highlights is a collaboration between Dzhan Koo, a grungy approximation of early Breeders and the rappers Kirpichi which produces a rather excellent track called "Nobody Will Stop the Nattering," a yelping, screeching blend of fractured melody and polemic. Impressive also is the neo-grunge outfit Military Jane.

It is now possible to attend concerts in the city without feeling like an anthropologist witnessing some sort of transitional, cultural anomaly. And at the accelerated rate that the scene is improving, it may soon find itself at the vanguard of Russia's new musical onslaught. "Maybe the Bands here are poorer than in Moscow," says Dimitri Ghouravlov of the local music show "Stairway to Heaven." "But in general, it is here that the real creativity is. St. Petersburg not only makes up most of the country's rock past, the city is also the future of Russian rock music."