Part 2 of the chapter 2 of our translation of Alexandr Kushnir’s book 100 Tapes of Soviet Rock (100 Магнитоальбомов Советского Рока). Archives can be found here.
Thanks to everyone supportive of this venture.
…Nearly all rock bands of that era lacked not only the equipment, but the basic technical knowledge. “In the 70s the sound was rather bad and there was no specific sound criteria – recalls Mashina Vremeni bassist Evgeny Margulis. At most what we knew about sound was where the sound effect should go and where it shouldn’t.”
Indeed, the culture of rock sound didn’t exist in the country. Situation was made worse by a silent ban system for harsh and loud sound, one that was applied all over the place for “official rock bands”. Clear example – Shadows copyists Poyushchiye Gitary (Поющие Гитары / The Singing Guitars) who didn’t use any sound editing on principle. During the concerts timbres on the console were pushed down to the very limits and the highs and the lows seemed cut off as a result, while the middle of the environment was filling with characteristically sterile vocals. There was no energy and dynamics in music so refined.
Similarly emasculated sound characterized albums by pop and semi-rock performers that were recorded by Melodiya company. Step to the left or step to the right and it would be considered an escape. Harsh sounding guitar chord or fuzzed out bridge back then were taken almost as “the voice of majestic freedom” back then (the almost single-handed exception being a barking guitar drone in the intro for “Beauty Queen”). Its no surprise, then, that the first underground albums of rock bands started to circulate around the music-starved country with the speed of light. At first there were concert recordings marked by horrible quality that, nonetheless, provided a сertain aesthetic/ideological alternative to youthful pop music.
Once they finally had the essentials kit of “stereo magnetophon – reels – microphones” at their disposal, first folk soundtamers tried to immortalize the national rock on tape. Typically they were recording “from air”, pointing microphones to the side of the stage. Those of older generation were recording acoustic concerts of Vysotsky, Okudzhava and Galitch in the very same way.
Quite soon the most sneaky of craftsmen felt at ease and started to plug into the control console. “To suck” on a microphone with the console wasn’t an easy task. For one, not all consoles had the linear output from which you could get a full-scale signal. Two, the sound engineers had a practice of charging an arm and a leg for such services. And still the benefits outweighed the cost – console recordings were far superior to recordings “from air”.
Thus Russia had its first bootlegs. The most popular of those were “Malenkii Prints”, Mashina Vremeni’s double album, live recordings of Mythy and Visokosnoe Leto, Blues de Moscou by Zoopark, Dinamik‘s performance in Kirov, Voskresenie at DK Mehteh, fragments of Leningrad rock festivals as well as the countless concert albums by Akvarium (“Aroks и Shter”, “Rybnyy Den”, “Electroshok”). Looking ahead we should point out that despite the clear potential of bootlegs (some of which became numbered albums), the practice of concert recordings failed to develop properly in USSR.