24 SEPTEMBER 2021

SOVIETWAVE, NOSTALGIA AND NON-EXISTENT FUTURES:
IN CONVERSATION WITH SASHA SHEVKOPLYAS


I first came across the peculiar microgenre of music called “Sovietwave” about two years ago by chance on YouTube. A

40 minute mix

, with a futuristic, yet retro space-themed thumbnail popped up. I clicked on it. I was less than a minute into ППК’s – one of the genre’s most well-known artist’s – track ‘Воскрешение’, as a feeling of warm familiarity enveloped me. Curious space-age sounds, a gently rippling echo to them, with minimal, but progressively rich sonic rhythms were layered. The warmness was juxtaposed by the bleakness of space the track aesthetically allures to. Further into the mix, tracks with radio and television speech samples appear, which, alongside sonically recognisable, yet also obscure, sounds transported me back to the past. The past of my post-Soviet childhood, the neglected tower blocks of my neighbourhood, concrete-covered squares, rusty playgrounds, cracked pavements. For me, Sovietwave captured the feelings of melancholy associated with these environments, the neglect that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet empire and the political corruption that followed it in much of the post-Soviet states. This feeling was amplified by the tracks’ utopian, space-travel vision, a speculation of “what ifs”, imagining a future where this empire never collapsed, but somehow prospered. Despite its focal point, the genre, rightfully so, does not endorse the politics of the Soviet Union, only reflects on its cultural, scientific, architectural, Space Race achievements, and its possible futures had it not collapsed. In essence, Sovietwave is a sonic sci-fi exposition that lets the mind “world-build” and imagine different futures. I find one Spotify user’s description of it incredibly fitting: “Nostalgic for a future that never arrived.”

Using Sovietwave as a springboard, I went onto discuss these “lost futures” in the context of the

USSR

, as well as our post-Soviet childhoods with Sasha Shevkoplyas from Ukraine.


SASHA SHEVKOPLYAS

: When you’re a child, I think you have one perspective on reality. So it’s difficult to differentiate what is Soviet and what is not Soviet, or what is your culture and what is borrowed.

BENCE IVÁNYI

: Definitely, I just thought “The Soviet” was the normal. I fully thought that’s just how things are [everywhere]. So it was really interesting that you mentioned this as well. Do you ever feel nostalgic for the Soviet Union?

SASHA

: I guess I do “miss” some things – obviously I grew up in what’s now called “post-Soviet” though. But I miss, for example, the playgrounds, which would have rockets instead of a slide. Very particular, it would be metallic and all that. Or garages – we would always run and play on the roofs of the garages.

BENCE

: [In Hungary] we had slides, but they were made out of concrete, like fully. The thing you slide on was made of concrete. I was like “what the fuck, who is even using this? Is this not dangerous?!”.

SASHA: 

I remember I always loved the “Khrushchyovka playgrounds” because they had proper rusty bits and they were cool. They were badass playgrounds. When I go home [to Ukraine], I see that they are they’re demolishing the playground and there aren’t that many children playing on them anymore. It makes me feel kind of sad and nostalgic. But I grew up at the time when all the revolutions were happening – so obviously I had a very patriotic mindset and was very anti-

USSR

and all that. I always had the Ukrainian mindset, being pro-Ukrainian.

BENCE

: Do you have particular objects that remind you of Ukraine?

SASHA

: Yeah a lot. ... I’ll send you a picture now, wait. I spent like

£

6 on this plate. I saw this plate, and I was like “this reminds me of grandma so much”. It sent it on Instagram.

BENCE

: Yeah, yeah, and you have the buckwheat in there as well.

SASHA

: I know! It is so home-like, I love it! It brought me so much joy. So these are the kinds of things that bring me a bit home. I also keep small things like metro tokens. I have a metro token, I have a bus ticket – I’m not sure why it’s getting into transport so much.

BENCE

: What do you think of the genre of Sovietwave? Is it a useful exercise to imagine new futures or is it just aesthetic nostalgia?

SASHA

: I think it’s maybe young people differentiating themselves, I’m not sure, but [it seems like] they are trying to bring back the culture that they were born in. But I definitely don’t think it’s a way of trying to preserve the Soviet Union. When I think about my parents’ nostalgia, my grandparents’ nostalgia, I think about it being very politicised. Whereas this I think is more cynical. It’s a way people try to create a community, in a way trying to preserve the relationship between them and their hopes and the culture that they were brought up in.

BENCE

: Yeah. Even in Western pop culture. Look at Dua Lipa or The Weeknd. They are specifically nostalgic for the 80s. And then you have Sovietwave, which is also very “80s sounds” and “80s nostalgia”. I think that’s why it’s a form of science fiction. It’s basically imagining a different sort of universe. A different “timeline”, if you will.

SASHA

: I think it kind of puts you in a different state and that’s what matters. Makes you feel like you belong to something else. It puts you in a non-existing time, as you said, like science fiction.


For me the crucial takeaway from our conversation was that Sovietwave, as a form of science fiction, allows different futures to be envisioned. The chapter ‘Lost Futures’ in Mark Fisher’s

Ghosts of My Life

delves into this future-oriented nostalgia, with sections perfectly describing today’s synthwave trends. ‘Consider the fate of the concept of “futuristic” music. The “futuristic” in music has long ceased to refer to any future that we expect to be different; it has become an established style, much like a particular typographical font.’ (Fisher, 2014, p. 9) While Fisher’s analysis seems to be correct, and much of the speculative power of sci-fi has been muted, such cultural expressions convey a lingering “haunting” that he too recognised. Fisher goes on to quote Derrida’s

Spectres of Marx

in relation to this aspect.
Sovietwave is a cultural expression of this haunting: rarely visible, see-through, intangible and makes you question the paranormal, even if for only a split second.

Credits:



Interview with, and photographs by

Sasha Shevkoplyas

(

@ss    shev

)


References:


Derrida, J. (1993)

Specters of Marx

. Reprint, Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, 2006.

Fisher, M. (2014)

Ghosts of My Life

. Winchester: Zer0 Books.




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