Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local-Grown Ska-sters Head West




ST. PETERSBURG -- Rock fans can bid goodbye to "perestroika rockers," posters bearing hammer and sickle motifs and newspaper headlines screaming "The Russians Are Coming."


The "Soviet Rock" craze that captivated Western Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s is long gone, but there are still a few St. Pete bands which continue to head west on tours - playing not to the Russian diaspora like many major Moscow pop stars, but to the native club-going public.


One such band is Spitfire, which does most of its recording and tour work in Western Europe.


"Nobody cares any more where we come from," said Denis Kuptsov, Spitfire's drummer and songwriter. "Sometimes they still ask us [about being a Russian band], but after they've asked us a few questions they see that we don't differ from them. What matters is if the band is good or bad."


"There's almost nowhere to play in Russia; there are few real clubs where you can play that have good atmosphere and sound - except for Moloko," says Kuptsov, referring to a popular St. Petersburg club.


Of the 79 gigs the band played last year, only 16 were in Russia. The majority of the rest were divided between Germany, Sweden, Finland and Holland, with one-off shows in Denmark, Norway and France.


"St. Petersburg is a European city - Helsinki is closer than Moscow," Kuptsov says, echoing a sentiment common in Russia's second city. "We've never been further [into Russia] than Moscow."


A usual tour for Spitfire now starts with band members climbing into their diesel-fueled Merecedes tour van and heading to Helsinki and on to their Western Europe gigs, all arranged by Swedish and German booking agencies.


"You can't drive like this across Russia, because the country is enormous and there are no decent roads," he says, adding: "And there are no booking agencies."


The band recorded their second album, "The Coast Is Clear," in a German studio last January, with costs paid by their German label Pork Pie, which has worked with Spitfire since 1994. A track from the band was included on a compilation put out by the label called "United Colors of Ska."


"There are some good studios in Russia, but there's a problem with engineers," Kuptsov says. "In Germany they've all beenworking for some label for 15, 20 or even 30 years, so they have enormous experience in recording different music styles. Their work is very tight, so nothing prevents you from doing whatever you want - we lived right in the studio for two weeks working very efficiently."


In Russia the band works with the small St. Petersburg label Zvezda Records, which released and distributed their last album on cassette, making their music available to fans while letting the band remain independent.


"We don't want to fall victim to influences from Moscow - it would be like what happened Pep-See or Tequilajazzz, which is a pity, because they're good bands and good people," Kuptsov says "You end up playing at restaurants in Moscow - this is what usually happens when you are bought by FeeLee or some other Moscow label.


Spitfire started at the now-defunct pioneering club TaMtAm in 1993 as another garage punk trio, but soon added ska and other elements to their sound, as well as a tight horn section. Defining their style as "ska, punk and other stuff," they say they have been influenced by the British ska bands Madness, Bad Manners Selector, The Specials and the eclectic U.S. band Fishbone, as well as many jazz records. While their songs are written mainly in English, the band started to introduce some Russian into its act recently, with three Russian-language songs finding their way on to the last album.


"English is very rock n' roll," Kuptsov says. "It's even easier to write songs in this language. It's impossible to sing in Russian, 'Baby, you don't like me, I don't want you any more,' it'll sound terrible."


Check out the Spitfire web site at www.spitfire.spb.ru.