New East Digital Archive

‘We don’t have no bosses, we’re against everyone’: the Yakutian punks making music through deep polar nights — in photos

3 December 2020

Thousands of miles away from Moscow, the feral sound of Yakutian punk is born amid freezing darkness. Here, in Russia’s largest, coldest, and most remote region, where polar nights can last for more than two months in the winter, rockers write music in Yakut, the area’s indigenous language. No more than 30 people make up the scene, and they shift positions in more than a dozen bands. “We don’t have no bosses. We’re against everyone. We are the underground,” says Tolya Chiryaev, one of the scene’s leading members.

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The Russian edition of Vice first published an extended insider profile of the Yakutian punk scene back in 2012. It was three years after the first bands started to self-organise, and one year before the community’s first major gig took place — marking the beginning of Youth of the North, a versatile DIY community of more than a dozen bands: “pop-feminists, hellions, bohemian kids, straight edgers, eccentrics, outcasts, hustlers, wannabes, fashionistas” according to Aikhal, frontman for local punk band Crispy Newspaper. No one here is signed to a music label, but they all work together. One drummer can easily be playing in five different bands at the same time. “The best thing about Youth of the North is that anyone working with us is really one of us,” says Sasha Ivanov, one of the oldest members of the Yakutian punk community.

It is this feeling of kinship and energy that first drew Yakutian photographer Alexey Pavlov to the scene. He discovered Youth of the North in 2018, when he first attended their concert in Yakutsk. It also happened to be his first ever punk gig. “I didn’t expect anything, but it was mad,” he says. “I just took out my basic camera and started to photograph everything. The images didn’t turn out well, but I was so excited that I decided to meet Youth of the North again, this time to shoot portraits and interview them one by one,” Pavlov remembers.

Making music when it’s -60C outside has its difficulties. But the Yakutian scene is in fact thriving, drawing inspiration from the region’s isolation and rich indigenous culture, leading some bands to perform in the native Yakut language.

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These lyrics are rarely filled with furious tirades or calls to protest: Youth of the North tend not to make political statements. Instead, their carefree, funny, or seemingly senseless words provide a form of release. “Wintertime in Yakutia is a triumph over lethargy: people are short in energy and words, and punk music is the best way to compensate for it,” says Sasha Innokentiev, the artist behind most of the album covers and posters produced by Youth of the North. Music-wise, meanwhile, it’s mainly “dirty garage sound with elaborate guitar solos, bursting with adolescent fervor, primordial loathing, awakening wild cold, rage, clarity, and cruelty,” describes Aikhal. In being interviewed for this story, he declined the offer to do a Q&A in favour of submitting a written punk manifesto, with calls to action including “up with nerds, down with exploitation”.

“I find it quite exciting that such a prolific and vibrant scene can actually exist so far away from the capital,” says Pavlov. He stresses that it was his desire to document something local that helped him create the project at a time when he had no experience in professional photography.

Yet despite worldwide recognition and numerous mentions in international music outlets, Yakutian bands rarely go on tour — and neither do their fellow punks ever make it to Yakutia. Ultimately, it is these deficits that drive the punk scene, says Sasha Ivanov. “We can never get enough of anything.”

Follow Youth of the North on Bandcamp to discover more Yakutian punk, or follow their YouTube page as the team digs into the archive of Yakutian music from the Soviet era and beyond.