Yegor Letov

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Yegor Letov
Egor Letov 2000-11-04 Nuernberg.jpg
Background information
Birth name Igor Fyodorovich Letov
Also known as Yegor Letov
Born September 10, 1964
Omsk, USSR
Died February 19, 2008(2008-02-19) (aged 43)
Genres punk, post-punk, noise rock, garage rock, psychedelic rock, shoegaze, hardcore punk, noise, industrial, experimental music, avant-garde, musique concrète, plunderphonics, conceptual art, singer-songwriter
Occupation(s) poet, musician, vocalist, songwriter, producer, painter
Instruments singing, guitar, bass guitar, drums, noises, tape loops
Years active 1982–2008
Labels GrOb-records,Zolotaya Dolina(on LP 1992–1994), BSA, HOR, Misteriya Zvuka, Vyrgorod
Associated acts Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Kommunizm, Kuzya UO, Egor and Opizdenevshiye, Yanka Dyagileva
Website http://www.gr-oborona.ru

Igor Fyodorovich "Yegor" Letov (Russian: И́горь Фёдорович (Его́р) Ле́тов [ˈiɡərʲ ˈfʲɵdərəvʲɪtɕ jɪˈɡor ˈlʲɛtəf]; 10 September 1964 – 19 February 2008) was a Russian poet, musician, singer-songwriter, audio engineer and conceptual art painter, best known as the founder and leader of the post-punk/psychedelic rock band Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense). He was also the founder of a conceptual art avant-garde project Kommunizm and psychedelic rock outfit Egor i Opizdenevshie. Letov is a younger brother of famous free jazz saxophonist Sergey Letov. He also collaborated with singer-songwriter Yanka Dyagileva and some other Siberian underground artists as a record engineer and producer.

Biography[edit]

Letov was born in Omsk, Siberia to Fyodor Letov, a military man and World War II veteran from Northern Ural (Perm Krai), and Tamara Letova, a doctor of Russian Cossack origin from Kazakhstan. Letov family has Russian, Mordvin, Komi and Turkic ancestors.[1] They moved to Omsk from Semipalatinsk a few years before Yegor's birth. From a young age Yegor and his older brother Sergei were of weak health, and Yegor even had few clinical deaths in his childhood. After graduating school, Yegor went to live with his brother, who was in Moscow at the time and was a relatively successful jazz saxophonist. There he learned to play some instruments (drums, bass guitar), had contacts with Moscow underground avant-garde artists, and enrolled in a professional technical school as a builder, where he worked as a plasterer.[2] Two years later, in 1984, Letov left the technical school and returned to Omsk. At this time he had already started writing poetry and short stories, and decided to try music. He mostly listened to Rock in Opposition and free jazz back in the early 80s, and his first recordings were very amateurish garage rock, using suitcases instead of drums. Later, Letov characterized these recordings as "talentless curiosity", "baby talk" and "shame and reproach". Soon he found fellow musicians and companions in Omsk, who also listened to this type of music (which was very unpopular and little known in the USSR, especially in deep province such as Siberia), and they started the garage rock band Posev (Russian for sowing, crop, seeds). The most important of these companions was Konstantin Ryabinov (better known as Kuzya UO or Kuzma), a musician and poet, who was Letov's comrade-in-arms in Grazhdanskaya Oborona up to the late 90s, and a close friend. Posev became Grazhdanskaya Oborona in November 1984.

Main article: Grazhdanskaya Oborona

His dissident philosophy, as expressed in his lyrics, and popularity throughout the USSR, resulted in a KGB-initiated internment in a mental hospital for three months in 1985. There he was forced to take anti-psychotic drugs. On his release he defiantly wrote a song about Lenin "rotting in his mausoleum".[2]

A prolific musician, Letov was also a polarizing figure in the Soviet Union. He was controversial in the mid-to-late 1980s when he satirized the Soviet system and developed a gritty Siberian punk sound. After the fall of the Soviet Union, during the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, being strongly opposed to Yeltsin's government, he developed a fan base among nationalists and communists. Yegor Letov was one of founders and the first members of National Bolshevik Party.[3] He later distanced himself from National Bolshevism[4] and politics. In 1997 Letov married the bass guitarist of Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Natalia Chumakova. They had no children. Yegor Letov died of heart failure in his sleep on 19 February 2008 at his home in Omsk.[5][6] He was 43 years old.

Influences[edit]

In an interview, Letov expressed that his favorite poets were Alexander Vvedensky (1904–1941), one of the OBERIU writers, and the Russian Futurist poets, such as Vladimir Mayakovsky and Aleksei Kruchenykh. At the beginning of his interest in poetry he was hugely influenced by the Austrian poet Erich Fried. He also expressed his interest in Conceptualism, and spoke of his own work in punk music and in creating a public image as a work of conceptual performance art. Letov's favorite writers, who considerably affected his world view and writing style, were Andrei Platonov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, Bruno Schulz, Flann O'Brian, Leonid Andreev, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kobo Abe, and Kenzaburo Oe.[7] Letov's worldview was also inspired by Existentialist philosophy and traditions of Russian Cosmism.

In music, Letov was a big 60's psychedelic/garage rock fan, especially citing Arthur Lee's Love as his favourite band, as well as Texas noise rock band Butthole Surfers, Genesis P-Orridge's Psychic TV, and The Residents. Other notable influences include Sonic Youth, Ramones, The Fall, Dead Kennedys, Swans, Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, and Einstürzende Neubauten. He also cited industrial, ska and reggae, avant-garde composers such as John Cage, medieval and baroque classical music, Soviet VIA bands and various folk music as influences on Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Egor i Opizdenevshie and Kommunizm, stating, that everything he listens to is to some extent reflected in his music:

Well, I can surely say that about 80% of what I compose was inspired by what I listened to. But it not necessarily had a direct relation. For example, I listen to Bob Dylan, and then (under his impression) I write a hardcore song. I can definitely say: if I listened to nothing, I would write nothing
– Letov, 1989.[8]

Legacy[edit]

Letov was always a controversial figure. While some considered him as a genius, others completely rejected him. Famous musical critic Artemy Troitsky spoke of Letov as a poseur, misanthrope and very pretentious person, whose musical abilities were "very mediocre" (this, though, might be a reaction to Letov's attack on Troitsky in 1990 at the Alexander Bashlachev memorial concert, where he publicly accused Troitsky in "conversion of whole Soviet rock into shit").[9][10] Poet Elena Fanailova stated that Letov was "really fucked up and really free artist, whose main and only mission was to experience limits of his own freedom" and "certainly large, significant author, who created his own world – which, though, works only in the context of the post-Soviet civilization".[11] Most contemporary critics consider Letov an important person in the post-Soviet culture and one of the best Russian poets of the late 20th century, although disputes about this status are still common; while the importance of his legacy is not denied, controversy remains regarding his radical political statements.

Discography[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sergey Letov about genealogy of Letovs (in comments)
  2. ^ a b "Yegor Letov: 'Father of Russian punk'". The Guardian. 2008. Archived [1]
  3. ^ Punk and national-bolshevism
  4. ^ http://www.gr-oborona.ru/pub/pub/1090486302.html
  5. ^ Cult Rock Musician Egor Letov Died, 19.02.2008
  6. ^ Punk Legend Yegor Letov dies of heart failure at the Wayback Machine (archived December 15, 2010) 21.02.2008 The eXile
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ RIO №38, 10.1989
  9. ^ [3]
  10. ^ Letov's speech on Bashlachev memorial concert
  11. ^ [4]

External links[edit]