Гражданская Оборона / Grazhdanskaya Oborona

About The Band

YEARS ACTIVE : 1984 - 2008

Grazhdanskaya Oborona (often abbreviated as GrOb or GO) (Russian: Гражданская Оборона "civil defense", ГрОб "coffin", ГО) is one of the earliest and most famous Russian punk bands and now maintains a huge army of fans, admirers, and followers. It inspired hundreds of subsequent Soviet and then Russian bands. The name of the band can be translated from Russian as "Civil Defense". Later from early 90’s, as they evolved, their music began to develop in direction of Psychedelic and Garage rock and lyrics became deeper into the existential and poetic. Grazhdanskaya Oborona is considered one of the most known and significant in Russia rock music scene.

Grazhdanskaya Oborona formed in the Siberian town of Omsk by bandleader Yegor Letov. Over the long history of the group, Letov would go on to be its only constant member. Setting his group apart from other Russian groups of the period that were only nominally objectionable to the tenets of Communism, Letov branded Grazhdanskaya Oborona 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 the group Posev (Sowing), which included founder Letov, who played drums and sang and who joined forces with bassist Konstantin Ryabinov. But because of the group's unapologetically defiant stance against the administration and aggressive music that condemned militarism and totalitarianism (some song titles included "I Hate the Red Color" and "Good Tsar, Familiar Stink"), it immediately became a target for the KGB. Letov was subsequently committed to a mental ward, and Ryabinov was sent to the Army. In 1984 Letov formed Grazhdanskaya Oborona and immediately began to write and record albums. He would often record all on his own, though he credited other musicians, who were really just pseudonyms. His style verged toward lo-fi, noisy punk rock, occasionally drawing inspiration from Russian folk tunes. His many albums were recorded with minimal technology in Letov's apartment or the apartments of friends and a changing cast of collaborators. He was so prolific, recording other groups as well, that his apartment came to be known as GrOb Studio, or GrOb Records. The albums recorded during this period were 1985's Nasty Youth (the first album ever composed by Letov) and Optimism; 1987's Necrophilia, Red Album, Totalitarianism, and It's Good; 1988's The Steel Was Tempered in Such a Way, Fighting Stimulus; and 1989's War, Fine and Forever, Armageddon-Pops, Russian Field of Experiments and the live record Songs of Joy and Happiness. During this period of heavy censorship and monitoring by the Soviet administration, GrOb's albums were copied many times and passed from one friend to the next. This system was named the magnitizdat network after the illegal samizdat self-publication and distribution of the literature of dissident authors throughout the Soviet Union. The group occasionally performed at small amateur venues and played a few rock festivals, which on one notable occasion ended with the electricity being cut off by KGB officials in the audience. In 1987 Letov formed the band Veliki Oktyabrya (Great Octobers) with Yanka Dyagileva, who would become his common-law wife. They traveled the country, playing songs and evading the KGB. They recorded three albums rooted in folk music: No Permission in 1987, and Go Home and Angedonia in 1989. He started working on the conceptual project Kommunizm (Communism), where kitschy Soviet art and Stalinist poetry were accompanied by Letov's dissimilar compositions. GrOb's sound mainly consists of either distorted electric or acoustic guitars, simple bass lines, rudimentry percussion and Letov's deeply impassioned voice. Letov's music experimented with lo-fi and noise. During the late 80's they also started occasionally implementing harsh industrial sounds in the background of the music. His lyrics became more irrational, and Letov began releasing recordings of his solo performances. He was incredibly prolific, releasing more than 30 albums under the name Grazhdanskaya Oborona.

Contrary to popular image of an anti-communist, Letov himself claimed to be a "true communist" and has not abolished this claim until the most recent switch in his beliefs. Being the most prominent figure of the Siberian rock, Letov has always been a source of many contradictions. At times he expressed opinions exactly opposite to his earlier sayings - thus, he appeared aligned with the nationalistic leftist movement called NBP (National Bolshevik Party, rus. НБП, Национал Большевистская Партия) despite his formerly strong opposition to despotism and nationalism. His contemporary alignment is that of a "World Christian."

In 2002, Letov produced a nostalgic album called “Zvezdopad” ("Meteor Shower"), which contained cover versions 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 Reanimatziya (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," Letov wrote on his web site in response to a fan who complained that his band, Grazhdanskaya Oborona, or Civil Defense, 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 still sees 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 world that is like a zoo, 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."

The last album (What Dreams Are Seen For, rus. Зачем снятся сны) was released in 2007. In offline interview in January 2008 Yegor Letov said that this album might be the last one. This panoramic album was as usual recorded in their “Grob” studio but for the band’s story is hardly ordinary as well. It’s a truly light album, Letov however prefers the word “shining”. There are much fewer songs of tragedy, rage and strain on this album than Grazhdanskaya Oborona used to have (there is no single coarse word there and Letov’s voice sounds historically natural and calm). The point here is an astounding trustworthiness rather than a maximum of sincerity as usual. This is probably most intelligible and deliberate album, featuring medical accuracy in metaphors and constructions — even the album’s title contains this interpretation principle. The album gives a detailed answer to the question, appealing therefore to a huge amount of facts, conclusions and frames of mind. The first track is a powerful ode “Slava psyhonavtam” (Glory to the psychonauts), featuring only a solemn comprehension of being right without any shade of their usual strain. In “Zachem snyatsya sny” Letov is consciously polyphonic to the maximum. What has been understood under the act “Grazhdanskaya Oborona” for over twenty years now, is here referred to only as one of the various approaches. No doubt, the song “Siyanie” (Shine) is an essence of the album and perhaps an absolutely perfect creature of “Grazhdanskaya Oborona”. The song had been frequently played on the concerts, but only its moderate studio variant turned it into a true masterpiece. The same brilliance can be witnessed only in “K tebe” (“To you”, rus. «К тебе»), which as well could be an intrinsic part of the album “Zvezdopad” but for its composition being entirely unique. “Zachem snyatsya sny” is like a bird’s eye view. Showing however not the usual euphoria of a fool who has suddenly took off and flies with balloons above a wonderful country, but some kind of a deliberate expedition with all necessary outfit.

Yegor Letov died on 19 February 2008 from heart respiratory standstill in sleep at his home in Omsk. He was 43 years old.

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