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|Also known as||Posev|
|Origin||Omsk, USSR (then Russia)|
|Genres||Punk, psychedelic rock, post-punk, noise rock, garage rock, experimental rock, hardcore, avant-punk, shoegazing|
|Labels||GrOb, XOP/Moroz, Misteriya Zvuka, Wyrgorod|
|Associated acts||Posev, Instruktsiya po Vyzhivaniyu, Makhno, Kommunizm, Egor i Opizdenevshie|
|Past members||Yanka Dyagileva, Konstantin "Kuzya UO" Ryabinov, Alexander Andryushkin, etc|
Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Russian: Гражданская Оборона, [ɡrɐʐˈdanskə(jə) ɐbɐˈronɐ]), or GO, often referred to as GrOb by fans) was one of the earliest Soviet and Russian psychedelic/punk rock bands. It influenced many Soviet and, subsequently, Russian bands. The name of the band means "Civil Defense", and the abbreviation of it means "coffin" in Russian. From the early 1990s, the band's music began to evolve in the direction of psychedelic and garage rock, and their lyrics became more poetic.
Grazhdanskaya Oborona was formed in Omsk, by Yegor Letov, who was the only consistent group member throughout the life of the band. To distinguish his group from others of the period, which tended to be circumspect with regard to criticizing the Soviet government and the tenets of Communism, Letov branded the band with the slogan "I will always be against". Grazhdanskaya Oborona are synonymous in Russia with self-destructive punk energy in the name of social dissidence.
Grazhdanskaya Oborona started in 1982 as Posev ("Sowing"), in which founder Letov played drums and sang while Konstantin Ryabinov played bass. The band took an unapologetically defiant stance against the authorities and composed aggressive music that condemned militarism and totalitarianism. Among its song titles were "Ненавижу красный цвет" (Nenavizhu krasny cvet, "I Hate the Color Red") and "Хороший царь и знакомая вонь" (Horoshi tsar i znakomaya von, "Good Tsar and Familiar Stink"). As a result, the band immediately became a political target for the KGB. Ryabinov's mother rang the Omsk department of the KGB and said "Help! My son is involved with a fascist group!" Letov was subsequently committed to a mental ward, and Ryabinov was forcibly drafted into the army despite having a heart condition.
On the day of Letov's release from the mental ward, 8 December 1984, he formed Grazhdanskaya Oborona and immediately began to write and record albums. He often recorded on his own, and while he credited other musicians, his collaborators went under pseudonyms as Letov remained on the outs with the Soviet system and, according to an interview with Maximum Rocknroll in 1991, the original members of GrOb were forced to sign sworn statements saying that they would stay away from Letov. His style leaned toward lo-fi, noisy punk rock/post-punk, occasionally drawing inspiration from Russian folk tunes. His albums were recorded using minimal technology in Letov's apartment or the apartments of his friends, with a changing cast of collaborators. He recorded other groups too, and was so prolific that his apartment came to be known as GrOb Studio, or GrOb Records. The logo for GrOb Records is a black and white photo of a girl walking to Auschwitz.
During this period of heavy censorship and monitoring by the Soviet government, GrOb's albums were copied many times and passed on the black market and from one person to the next, a process known as magnitizdat. The band's first gig was at a rock festival in Novosibirsk in 1987, under the name "Adolf Gitler". It ended with the power being cut off by the KGB. Songs called "Third Reich" and "Mein Kampf" was performed. As a result, the band were branded as "anti-communist" and "neo-Nazi" by the KGB. At the cutoff, Letov calls out to the crowd: «Я думаю название „Гражданская Оборона“ хорошо название!», meaning "I think the name 'Grazhdanskaya Oborona' is a good name!".
In 1987 Letov formed the band Velikiye Oktyabri ("Great Octobers") with Yanka Dyagileva, who would become his common-law wife. They traveled the country, playing songs and evading the KGB, due to the power for a GrOb gig being shut off earlier that year. They recorded three albums rooted in folk music: No Permission in 1987, and Go Home and Angedonia in 1989. Letov also started working on the conceptual project Kommunizm ("Communism"), in which kitschy Soviet art and Stalinist poetry were accompanied by Letov's anti-government compositions.
GrOb's sound consisted mainly of distorted electric or acoustic guitars, simple bass lines, rudimentary percussion and Letov's impassioned voice. Letov's music experimented with lo-fi and noise. During the late 1980s, GrOb began also to use harsh industrial sounds occasionally in the background of the music, and the sound moved to a carefully balanced combination of atmospheric hardcore and noise rock, although still having some post-punk elements - mostly in bass and drums. Letov's depressive-suicidal tough lyrics became more irrational and surrealistic, and he began releasing recordings of his solo performances. He was extremely prolific; at the time of his death there were 23 GrOb albums, not counting a lot of albums released by Letov as part of his other acts.
In 1990, they broke up after playing their final concert in Tallinn, and Letov started Egor i Opizdenevshie with Kuzya Waugh and Igor Zhevtun. They released two albums. In 1993, Grazhdanskaya Oborona reformed and began playing live again, but no new material was released until 1997. In 1996, their entire discography was remastered and given an official cassette issue for the first time on the fledgling XOP label, which was a sublabel of Moroz Records used to release Letov-related material.
In 1997, two albums, Solntsevorot and Nevynosimaya legkost bytia, were released on the same day. They also recorded their guitarist Evgeny Makhno's solo album Proshlogodny sneg that year. It was released on cassette and sold at GrOb gigs. In 1999, all the albums were reissued on CD. On 28 December of that year, Makhno died after falling from the window of his apartment after a long night of drinking. He was 29 years old. Proshlogodny sneg was given a wide release in 2000 with a new cover, a photo of Makhno. It was finally reissued on CD in 2013.
Contrary to the popular image of an anti-Soviet dissenter and anarchist, Letov himself claimed that he was a "true Communist", a claim he did not abandon until the most recent change in his beliefs. Being the most prominent figure in Siberian rock, Letov was often a source of contradiction. At times he expressed opinions that ran counter to his earlier pronouncements, making him seem aligned with the nationalistic, leftist National Bolshevik Party, despite his formerly strong opposition to despotism and nationalism. Most recently, he identified himself as a "World Christian".
In 2002 Letov produced Zvezdopad ("Starfall"), a nostalgic album that contains covers of Soviet-era songs. In the new millennium many Russian groups have recorded and performed tributes to GrOb, and in 2005 the group toured the United States. They also recorded the critically acclaimed 2005 album Reanimatsiya (Reanimation). "We were a cult band before we released any albums ... If it turned out that I was popular among some bastards, I would feel sad", wrote Letov on his web site in response to a fan who complained that Grazhdanskaya Oborona was getting too popular. "We play for our people. Their number is growing and this is good."
But in playing games with the Soviet past and raging against consumerism, Letov was still seeing the world as he did in one of his old songs, "Zoo", where he criticized a life of "empty sounds and empty days" and sang, "I'm looking for people who are crazy and funny ... and when I find them, we'll get away from here, we'll go away into the night, we'll leave the zoo."
"If all the normal people would just leave the zoo-like world and start to live according to the principles of self-reliance or personal freedom ... all of that world would die", he wrote on his web site recently. "I see that many people in the West think the same. I consider myself a lucky man, because I am seeing evolution happening before my eyes."
In 2004, at a GrOb concert at Ekaterinburg, a 19-year-old skinhead bashed to death a 23-year-old non-Slavic fan. Letov posted a note on the official GrOb website, "Official statement from E.Letov and GrOb regarding the events at Ekaterinburg", stating the band were "patriots, but not Nazis" and told "totalitarians on the left and right and of all colours and stripes" to get fucked, saying "Please don't associate your stink with our activities".
Letov's last album, Why Are Dreams Dreamt? (Russian: Зачем снятся сны?) was released in 2007. In an interview in January 2008, Letov said that this album might be his last. This album was recorded as usual in the "GrOb studio", but is not typical of the band's earlier output. It is much brighter – Letov prefers to describe it as "shining". There are fewer songs with themes of tragedy, rage and turmoil on this album than in previous ones; there are no coarse words in it, and Letov’s voice sounds natural and calm. The first track is the ode "Slava psyhonavtam" ("Glory to the psychonauts"). "Zachem snyatsya sny" ("Why Are Dreams Dreamt?") is exceptionally polyphonic. "Siyanie" ("Shine") had frequently been played in concerts.
Letov died on 19 February 2008 in his sleep at his home in Omsk from heart and respiratory failure. He was 43 years old.
A documentary called Grazhdanskaya Oborona: Nachalo was announced in late 2013 on the official GrOb website. It is due to be released in September 2014, on what would have been Letov's 50th birthday.
Wyrgorod have announced plans to reissue the entire Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Egor i Opizdenevshie and Egor Letov discographies, reissuing the albums issued by Misteria Zvuka and some albums that never got that treatment.
|Date of Release||Title||Translation|
|1985||Поганая молодёжь (Poganaya molodyozh')||Goddam Youth|
|1987||Красный альбом (Krasnyy al'bom)||Red Album|
|1988||Всё идёт по плану (Vsyo idyot po planu)||Everything is going according to plan|
|1988||Так закалялась сталь (Tak zakalyalas' stal)||So the Steel Was Tempered|
|1988||Боевой стимул (Boyevoy stimul)||Battle Stimulus|
|1989||Песни радости и счастья (Pesni radosti i schast'ya)||Songs about Joy and Happiness|
|1989||Здорово и вечно (Zdorovo i vechno)||Properly and Forever|
|1989||Русское поле экспериментов (Russkoe pole eksperimentov)||Russian field experiments|
|1990||Инструкция по выживанию (Instruktsiya po vyzhivaniyu)||Instructions for Survival|
|1996||Невыносимая лёгкость бытия (Nevynosimaya lyogkost' bytiya)||The Unbearable Lightness of Being|
|2004||Долгая счастливая жизнь (Dolgaya schastlivaya zhizn')||A long happy life|
|2007||Зачем снятся сны? (Zachem snyatsya sny?)||Why do dreams?|
- Official website
- Grazhdanskaya Oborona
- Grazhdanskaya Oborona discography at MusicBrainz
- Myspace page for the band, includes a detailed history written in English accompanied by a discography, photographs and samples of their music.