The Sound of Soviet Rock

AmphoraZvuki Mu is one of the only Soviet-era bands that were received well in the U.S.A.
Just a few years ago, the publication of a book on the band Zvuki Mu would have been unlikely. The group had long been disbanded, and its former leader, Pyotr Mamonov, chose to focus on theater work and was remembered only by a small number of ardent fans.

However, the recent success of the movie "Ostrov" (Island), in which Mamonov played the protagonist, brought the former founder of Zvuki Mu back into the limelight. The film received both major Russian film awards, the Golden Eagle and Nika. And a curiosity developed about Mamonov and the beginning of his creative career.

Back in the 1980s, Zvuki Mu was one of the most interesting bands on the Russian rock scene and one of the few that was well received in the West. "Zvuki Mu came into existence when Soviet power was in full swing," wrote Boris Grebenshchikov, the frontman of the renowned rock band Aquarium, in the foreword of the book "History of the band Zvuki Mu." Grebenshchikov, a believer that Soviet rock music helped destroy Communist rule, said, "But six years of their music were enough for the empire, which seemed to be unshakable, to collapse, and they danced on its ruins."

The book's author, Sergei Guryev, is well known as one of the editors of the underground music magazine Kontrkultura in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and later he became a music writer for more mainstream publications. However, he admitted that from the very beginning of the writing process, he was unable to get Mamonov to cooperate with him on the book, as Mamonov, who became very religious a few years ago, denounces his rock 'n' roll past.

Still, the book turned out informative and certainly more neutral than it would have been if focused solely on Mamonov's version of the band's story. Quotes from other Zvuki Mu former members and people close to the band give the story its credibility.

From the book, readers learn about the band's performances from playing underground shows for just a handful of people in private apartments to touring Europe and the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The picture of the band, painted by the writer, is not always flattering. Guryev mentions drinking sessions and debauchery and jokingly notes that most members of the original lineup were quite unattractive, prompting domestic pop diva Alla Pugachyova to say in a later interview, "Ugly people have their own artists, like Zvuki Mu."

Quite a lot of space is devoted to the band's career in the West: In the late 1980s, well-known musician and producer Brian Eno became interested in Zvuki Mu, which led to an independent U.S. release that incidentally had much better reviews than other Western releases by Soviet rock artists. At the time, the band was almost at the peak of its career, but Mamonov chose to part with most of his musicians and focused more on experimental material. Later, he switched to theater.

While the book talks about the biographies of the group, its main message is that although Zvuki Mu never broke through to mass audience — unfortunately or not — it remains one of the most unusual and interesting acts in domestic rock music.

"History of the band Zvuki Mu" is published by Amfora and Aquarius