New East Digital Archive

Dlina Volny: the Belarusian band bottling Brut Pop

Riding high on Minsk's recent post-punk wave, Dlina Volny offer dark, cinematic disco, with crisp lyrics and a back catalogue that almost foreshadowed Belarus' rising pro-democracy movement.

23 November 2020

Belarusian band Dlina Volny call their sound Brut Pop: a delicate mix between the brutalist architecture they lived among, and the Soviet pop with which they grew up. Crisp vocals emerge from a reverb-laden synthesizer haze; vocalist Masha Zinevitch delicately rolls every syllable with cadence and precision unusual for post-punk — courtesy of her penchant for poppy tunes and background in genres “where you actually sing”, she jokes. We agree that post-punk often prefers its vocals either coldly mechanical or drowned in a dreamy blur.

When the trio — Masha Zinevitch, Vad Mikutski and Ales Shishlo — started out as Dlina Volny in 2016, they’d already built a personal rapport, but musically speaking, “nothing would really work”. They decided to experiment with a gloomier genre, one with which none of them had experience. In a matter of days, they recorded four songs which became their first release, the EP Neizmerima (2016). Their full-length debut Mechty came out two years later, and a follow-up is currently in the making.

Singing in English and in Russian, Zinevitch’s precision makes it easy to catch the band’s lyrics, which she considers a vital component of their music. She usually briefs her bandmates on the personal motives buried in the depths of her lines, but tries not to reveal too much for the listeners: “I don’t like to talk about things in a straightforward way. I think it’s a really good thing when a person can find a meaning in a song that’s different to what I put into it.”

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There is an underlying coarseness in their sound that to them seems natural, a by-product of growing up in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The band feel it is a sonic reflection of the concrete façades that surround them. “We don’t try to make it raw,” Mikutski explains, “but if a snare hits hard, that’s OK.” Meanwhile, they find beauty in this same unique architecture, which often looks radically different depending on the context, Shishlo observes: “When it’s sunny, it looks like a Soviet fairytale come true. On a dark rainy day it looks like a 1917-powered dystopia.” This quiet spectacle influences the band’s music and lyrics, Shishlo thinks: “That’s why we use so much reverb and why our drums sound like a marching band.”

One such structure appears on the cover of their first album Mechty (2018), in which the band grapples with the Soviet legacy still very much present in Belarus, both “in the way people act and how the government works,” they say. People think they have enough when they have work and food, Mikutski ruminates, they don’t dream of anything else. With Mechty — or “Dreams”, in English — the trio wanted to push Belarus’ youth to start dreaming. What were they themselves dreaming of at the time, I ask? “We were dreaming about the same things that we are dreaming about now: being free and being able to dream, and have your dreams come true.” Zinevitch’s words are as compelling as her vocals. With pro-democracy protests now sweeping Belarus, the album now stands in a very different light to 2018, when it seemed that President Lukashenko would be in power indefinitely. “I didn’t think about this,” Zinevitch adds later, “but now is the time to listen to that album.”

When Dlina Volny first started out some four years ago, an array of post-punk bands had cropped up in Minsk. “There is a scene, but there is no music business in Belarus,” the trio clarifies. It is the people making music who also take care of the logistics. “We organise the gigs and the tours and just do it all ourselves because there’s no one else that can do it.” Several labels have appeared on the scene more recently, fuelling hopes that in a few years there will be an infrastructure to help younger bands.

But so far, the only feasible way for Belarusian bands to move forward has been to make a deal abroad. Dlina Volny teamed up with the US label Italians Do It Better earlier this year – one dream they can now tick off their list. It took an email and a chunk of luck, the three of them laugh as they recall sending some demos over, a shout into the dark, and hearing back within minutes: “We thought it’s an auto-reply that they are out of office or that the message failed to deliver. But they replied: ‘That sounds cool. Let’s release that!’”

“There are going to be people who don’t know. And the world has to know. What we see happening in Belarus at the moment is absolutely terrible. All we want is to be free of that regime.”

Dlina Volny have released three singles since, the latest of which, Whatever Happens Next, supports the people of Belarus demanding new, free, and fair presidential elections. The song was first conceived in 2017 as a response to previous protests, but at the time didn’t quite feel finished. When demonstrations began again in 2020, it was the only song they could work on, paralysed by the terror of what is happening in their home country. “We couldn’t do anything else, and this song really helped us,” they all agree. “The other thing is that as a musician you are a public figure, no matter how big you are,” Zinevitch notes.

With a trend-setting label behind them, the band is well aware that they are now addressing an international audience: “There are going to be people who don’t know. And the world has to know. What we see happening in Belarus at the moment is absolutely terrible. All we want is to be free of that regime.”

Amid all uncertainties, Dlina Volny are still working on their new album, which will be even more pronouncedly cinematic, and with lyrics in English. The band promises dark disco with plenty of synth. Guitars will make a return, and, despite the tempestuous political climate, there will be romance, too. “I like to call it a love thriller,” Zinevitch reveals, “all of our songs are quite mysterious and dark, but I don’t think they were love songs before.” It is no easy feat, she admits: “To write a good love song is a big challenge.”

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