Kino and the Underground Music Scene

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.


A warm place
But the streets are waiting for the footprints of our feet
Stardust on our boots.
A soft armchair, checkered plaid,
A trigger not pulled in time.
A sunny day – in blinding dreams.
 
Blood type – on the sleeve
My serial number – on the sleeve,
Wish me luck in battle, wish for me
To not stay in this grass,
To not stay in this grass.
Wish me luck, wish me luck!
 
And there is enough to pay, but I don’t want
Victory at any cost.
I don’t want to put my leg on anyone’s chest.
I would have liked to stay with you,
To just stay with you,
But the star high in the sky is calling me.
 
Blood type – on the sleeve
My serial number – on the sleeve,
Wish me luck in battle, wish for me
To not stay in this grass,
To not stay in this grass.
Wish me luck, wish me luck

(Lyrics from LyricsTranslate)

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.

Picture of the Tsoi Wall, a graffiti wall dedicated to Kino’s lead singer.

16 thoughts on “Kino and the Underground Music Scene

  1. Bryce, great post on Soviet rock! I’m glad you included the song – so fun to listen to. It’s cool how your post kind of complements Tim’s – he mentioned how the invasion of Afghanistan spawned antiwar and political music! Great job!

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    1. Yeah, after reading his post I definitely see how this would tie into that.

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  2. Agree with Emma! And that story about “Tsoi Lives” also echoes a famous poem by Mayakovsky about Lenin: “Lenin, Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin will (always) Live” (check your Duo Lingo app to see why this sounds way better in Russian…
    Link to Tim’s post: https://ukrophistory.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/all-along-the-watchtower-the-soviet-vietnam/

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    1. That’s a really good parallel that I didn’t notice before! I wonder if it was almost an intentional reference or not?

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  3. Bryce, great post! Группа крови is a really great song, and it is still played frequently on the radio in Moscow, I’m glad you included it in your post!

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    1. It’s good to hear that it’s still played on the radio, it is such a good song!

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  4. Great post! Russian musical acts always seem to be intriguing across every genre. Another cool Russian music thing is that of their “rave culture”, underground warehouse electronic music parties that exploded after the Iron Curtain fell. Interestingly their scene evolved around the same time it did in the west, but with the prior history of oppression it seemingly really took off in the 1990s. Here’s a cool short video that talks about it:

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    1. Wow, that’s a really interesting and informative video, thank you for sharing!

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  5. Bryce, great post!!! I am well versed in the hip hop scene of Moscow, but I’m not familiar with the rock scene. It’s so interesting seeing the Western influence present in the music. Art is the greatest form of warfare to combat social stagnation.

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    1. In my opinion, music is the “window to the soul” of a culture, it’s really the most intimate part of any culture because of how emotional and expressive it is, and that’s really on showcase here.

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  6. This was a really great post! It was really interesting to read more about the rock scene and how that music affected people. I do not know that much about more modern Soviet music so it was really cool getting to read about it and listen to some of the songs!

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    1. In my opinion, music is a “window to the soul” of a culture in that it reflects the emotions, sentiments, and issues the people deal with every day in ways that other media can’t, which is why I thought it would be really interesting to write a post about Kino.

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  7. Russian music is new to me, and I really enjoyed the song! Im glad you included it. The mention of the memorial wall to remember an icon is amazing. It shows that during a period of issue, a social icon can bring people together even if rock music is censored by the Government.

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    1. The Tsoi Wall was really interesting to me, especially because of its impromptu beginnings. I agree with you that it does show the people’s opinions even if the music is censored like it was.

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  8. I just killed a billion zombies! Why is no one helping
    Kino der toten
    But seriously, I’ll have to check them out, nice post.

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  9. I thought this was an interesting post! I love learning about music. I never hear about Russian music (unless it’s classical music). Thanks for sharing I really enjoyed the song!

    Like

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