Music, as with all other art forms, was regulated in the Soviet Union. There was one record label, Melodiya, that published all “official” music in the USSR. Of course though, because this is the Soviet Union, there was a lot of underground art produced, and this included music. In the Soviet Union, rock music was generally censored as a rule due to the fact that rock was “Western” music. While Soviet rock had its origins in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1980s when it reached its zenith with bands like Aquarium, Alisa, and Kino being some of the most popular. One band in particular became very well known in the underground music scene: Kino. Kino is widely regarded as one of the most popular musical acts in Russian history (Leonid Zakharov. Groups that have changed our world. Moscow, Komsomolskaya Pravda, July 6, 2004), acting in concert with Gorbachev’s contemporaneous reforms to influence political thought in the youth.
While Kino’s music was not overtly political, they remained popular and influential due to the simplicity and relatability of their music. Songs like “Eto ne Lyubov” (This is not Love) talked about love and lust, while the more serious (and much more career-defining) song “Gruppa Krovi” (Blood Type) were anti-war anthems.
Gruppa Krovi became one of Kino’s most popular songs, and would be the one that would launch them into the spotlight as one of the premier Soviet rock bands. Shortly after its release in 1988, journalist Alexander Zhitinsky hailed it as one of the best works of Russian music and said that it elevated Russian rock to a new level. (Alexander Zhitinsky. From the review of the album “Gruppa krovi”. – Roxy, № 14, 1988.)
Just two years after their rise to fame, Viktor Tsoi would be killed in a car accident; he had fallen asleep at the wheel, causing him to collide into oncoming traffic at ~80 mph. Tsoi’s death was a major shock to Soviet society, with the Komosolskaya Pravda, publishing this epitaph:
Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock.Komsomolskaya Pravda, Aug 17 1990
Shortly after Tsoi’s death, an impromptu memorial began on a wall in Moscow when it was inscribed with the words “Сегодня погиб Виктор Цой” (Viktor Tsoi has died today). Later, someone replied with “Цой жив!” (Tsoi lives!). This wall is now a living document, a constant reminder of the influence that Tsoi and Kino had on Soviet society.