Our humble attempt at English translation of Alexander Kushnir’s book 100 Магнитоальбомов Советского Рока (100 Tape Albums of Soviet Rock) (subtitled “1977-1991: 15 Years of Underground Sound Recording / 1977-1991 – 15 лет подпольной звукозаписи”). Thanks to everyone supportive of this venture.
This is a continuation of Chapter 1: 60s-70s: The Beginning. Archives/previous chapters can be found here.
First of all, what the hell is the магнитоальбом mentioned in the original title of the book? To put it simply – it’s a magnetic tape. In the Soviet Union rock music was a) largely forbidden for its (presumably) rebellious nature and hence had no way to be recorded officially and distributed on vinyl (Аквариум [Aquarium]’s Равноденствие being one of the most important exclusions) b) not known by the majority of population.
It was recorded mainly on four-tracks “studios” by musicians themselves or with a helping hand of sound-engineers of that time (such as Andrey Tropillo – 2002’s English interview with him is available). – Vladimir Toss / mirddin
Studio setup was simple. Signal from magnetophon output went to the ancient lathe with a hook – a stationary player, apparently. Coming out of a hook was a tack-lookalike of a needle, which, while touching a self-made “record”, was scooping out plastic shaving from it. Records were made from x-rays picked up at dumps near city hospitals. One x-ray would be enough for an entire song, and this awesomeness that cost only a ruble was christened “bone recording”.
At the end of the 60s, during an era of the growth of an underground recordings catalog, the line to “Uncle Zhenya” often spilled into the street. This was a satisfying sight.
At the entrance to the building stood thievish looking boys, dressed in striped bell bottom pants and hexagon caps a-la Ringo Star sewed out of faux leather. Its not hard to see that most of them weren’t rushing to read a poem for a mom or old grandma. Hardly any of them knew that 15 years ago young Elvis Presley sang his first sound letter for mom’s birthday.
The studio lasted for 20 years and delivered in spades. During this time the “sound letter” clients were hundreds of future rock musicians, producers, journalists. As the story goes, the first regular clients on Gorky Street were “first Soviet rocker” Alexandr Gradsky and the first magnetophon “writer” Alexandr Ageev. At Uncle Zhenya’s Gradsky was recording, for example, Tutti Frutti by Little Richard. Sasha Ageev was recording everything. “In 1965 I sold a stamp collection and bought a mono magnetophon Kometa – he recalls. With the remaining money I bought Spidola in order to listen to Voice of America.
Fifteen years later Ageev will turn into one of the first educators that were deliberately promoting Soviet rock-underground via tape reels. At this point in time, while being incomplete 16 years of age, he started a career of rock-missionary with propaganda of Beatles work.
“In 67 I received Sergeant Pepper disc, I made the first commercial transaction – recalls Ageev. My companions were street boys, among them the record owner and the owner of the first portable magnetophon Yauza 20. In the evening we sat down at the square on Lermontovskaya and cranked Beatles all the way up. This was unusual, the music loud, and very soon the folks coming back from work started congregating around us. While lazily chewing bread we collected a ton of phone numbers and addresses of people that wanted to become record owners. And then in Moscow we gave Beatles a kind of promotion they couldn’t dream of.”