From Ashgabat to Minsk: Educational migrants in Belarus
Hayden Berry talks to Minsk-based, instrumental post-rock band PBB.
This interview is a special addition to New Eastern Europe Issue 2 (VII) / 2013: Painful Past, Fragile Future. To read an article by Evgeny Kaprov about music in Belarus entitled The Hidden Fruit of the Underground, please download the whole issue from our mobile application.
Hayden Berry: When did PBB starting playing together?
Vlad (guitar): I used to play with Alexei in a hard-core band about four years ago, but wanted to play music where I could experiment with new sounds and styles. So we formed BPP. We invited Dmitry, who was a DJ, to join us and started writing new material. Yuri joined on bass a couple of years ago.
What's the music scene like in Minsk?
Vlad: We don't play live very often. It's really hard to put on concerts in Minsk because of the really high costs of clubs and the equipment. The last time we played in Minsk was October 2011, and we had to pay 600 dollars for all the equipment. The experimental scene is really terrible in Minsk. In fact, we are the only band in Minsk who plays this kind of experimental, post-rock music.
Yuri (bass): Rock and metal is much more popular in Belarus than our music.
Dmitry (keyboard/laptop): And the DJ scene is pretty big in Minsk. But it's very mainstream, and only commercial stuff gets played.
Yuri: DJs who play underground music don't come to Minsk. People are just not ready for underground DJs or experimental music. We are far behind the rest of the world both musically and culturally.
Do you ever play in Russia?
Dmitry: We've played in Moscow once, which wasn't very good. There were more people for our gigs in Ukraine than there were in Moscow.
Alexei (drums): The scene is Moscow is much bigger more developed than it is in Belarus.
Yuri: Moscow is a different city. I mean it's not even Russia. It's modern and is like a different country. Different bands come to Moscow every day and they have amazing gigs, which is why they are sick of music there. And when people in Moscow hear about a band from Belarus, they are not interested because they think we're just like Russian bands.
Vlad: Last year there were only three experimental gigs in Minsk. But the last time we were in Moscow, we went to an excellent experimental festival. On the first day there were some really well-known bands. But on the second day, there were others bands who are not particularly famous, but much more underground. This would never happen in Belarus.
Is your music political in any way?
Alexei: It's not really political, but rather concerns social problems more.
Vlad: We don't have any lyrics, so nobody knows the political views we have. The government isn't interested in our kind of music and doesn't give us any trouble.
Yuri: But if we had a vocalist who sang about the government, then we would get into trouble.
Do you have musician friends who do sing about the government and get into trouble?
Yuri: Not long ago there was a hard-core gig in Minsk and somebody told the government that drugs were being sold there…
Alexei: … and that they were punks, anarchists and people from the anti-governmental movement.
Yuri: The police came and closed the whole gig down just after the first band had finished playing.
Alexei: Not the normal police; but special forces.
Vlad: They arrested about ten people and put them on trial, although none of them had any drugs. They are now in jail.
Yuri: But this doesn't normally happen. I think this was a one-off thing. There are, however, a lot of young Belarusians who are interested in politics, who are for Belarus, for Belarusian culture, the Belarusian language and who are opposed to the government.
Where are you all from in Belarus?
Vlad: In fact, Alexei, Dmitry and I aren't from Belarus. We're from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Dmitry is half Russian, half Uzbek; and I'm Russian, German and Turkmen.
Alexei: So we are educational refugees. We came to Belarus to study and get an education.
Why did you choose Belarus to study?
Vlad: For me, studying was the second reason. The first reason was to leave Turkmenistan because it is impossible to live there. If you have a Russian surname in Turkmenistan it's really difficult to find a job.
Alexei: This is the policy of the government. I don't have a Russian surname, but I'm ethnic Russian, and the government know that. It is impossible to do anything there. If you want to do music, you can't.
Vlad: We chose Belarus to study because it was cheaper than Russia and it was safe for us. Society in Minsk is much more civilised and kind, despite the fact that the governmental systems of Belarus and Turkmenistan are quite similar, with all the governmental power being held by just one person. However, it's not very easy to find a job in Belarus.
Yuri: I studied law and am a certified lawyer. It's a good degree but not as good as if you're a computer programmer. The salary of a computer programmer is usually between 1,500 to 2,000 dollars, whereas a lawyer gets around 500 to 600 dollars.
Yuri: There are jobs, if you want to clean the streets.
And are there any problems with Russians finding work in Belarus?
Yuri: Not a lot of Russians work in Belarus. I guess the salary is better in Moscow, so Russians go there instead.
Vlad: Many of the youth who graduate from universities in Belarus try to find jobs in Russia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Yuri: And if you're a computer engineer, you can work anywhere.
Vlad: I think this brain drain is really sad. There are many really intelligent men and women from Turkmenistan who moved to other countries such as Russia to work. But I think that Belarus is a really good place to live if you have a good salary and your own flat or house.
What do you see as the future of PBB?
Vlad: I would like the band to move to Germany. I was there this summer, and they had a lot of opportunities for music. I will only stay in Belarus until I graduate next summer. I have an opportunity to move to Norway or Germany, to study producing or sound engineering. I know I wouldn't be able to find a job if I wanted to move back to Turkmenistan. My family is waiting for me to move to another country. And once I do, they will move there too. So Belarus is a kind of a transit zone for me.
The names have been changed at the request of the members of the band.
PBB is a post-rock/electronic band from Minsk, Belarus.
Hayden Berry is an editor and web manager for New Eastern Europe as well as a Krakow-based musician.