There's no place like Leningrad
In honour of my second motherland, and the fact that I recently spent 2 weeks there after a 10 year hiatus, this post will be about one of Russia’s (yeah, that’s the place) most famous and celebrated rock bands of the last 25 years: Leningrad. Like the name implies, these guys hail from St Petersburg (same city, different name) and have been going at it since the late 90’s, slowly but surely making a name for themselves as the premier pop-rock-fusion band of the era. Their leader, Sergey Shnurov, aka Shnur, has become a bonafide star over there, both for the band’s overall output and his personal, rather electrifying stage presence. To be fair, the songs alone already convey the energy…
In other words, I’ve known about and listened to Leningrad on and off for decades. They were not necessarily my favorite band (that would arguably be Kino, their celebrated predecessors, and singer-songwriter Zemfira among their contemporaries), but they were always up there, churning out infectious tunes the whole country was singing along with. Even more incredibly, they just got better with time.
A couple of years ago, one of their songs made massive waves: “V Pitere pit’” (In St Pete, we drink). As the title implies, the song is an ode to daytime drinking, just what the kids were looking for. More seriously (even though that first statement is probably true), it is a joyous sort of little story, conveying all sort of rather positive messages about the fact that we are after all all men (and women) cut from the same cloth and that we all crave a little bit of happiness in this world. The video that came with it helped set the tone: a cop ending up thrown into the river, a museum guide insulting children, illegal fireworks… all good stuff.
They came back a year later with another anthem, this time about robbery, death and fate. It came with a rather sober name given the topic: “Voyage”. As always, the tune was incredibly catchy, production was more on the dance side of rock, which made for a very radio-friendly track, and the clip was an authentic short film with beautiful scenery and a striking ending. Anything you would want (and more) from a musical experience.
Then, a couple of months ago, Leningrad came back. Again. This time with a song called “Cabriolet”. This time, the topic was a little lighter: it told the story of a woman who wakes up late for her wedding because she had her bachelorette party the day(s) before and it looks like it was glorious.
Once again, the music video tells a nice and tight story, with interesting hints at topics including homophobia in the Russian suburbs or the fact that Russians seem completely unfazed when faced with a problem, no matter how big (in this case, being absolutely unprepared for your own wedding). Once again, the song is catchy as hell. Once again, you end up bobbing your head to it while eagerly watching the young lady in the video narrowly escaping death more times than a cat in a war zone.
And the effect is complete. The Leningrad effect.