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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 16:09 GMT
Russian rock band keeps the faith
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News Online

As Russian band DDT played its first UK gig this week in London, frontman Yuri Shevchuk gave a rare interview to BBC News Online about his country's rock scene.

With a lethal name like DDT, the band could never be mistaken for the sugary mass of Russia's all-pervasive pop music.

Yuri Shevchuk performing
DDT played for nearly three hours

Nor does frontman Yuri Shevchuk seek to soften the weather-beaten look which nearly a quarter of a century on the road has chiselled on his face or the stadium roar of his voice.

Playing its first UK gig on 22 March - at Shepherd's Bush Empire, west London - DDT belted out anthems with all the drive and rawness of a decade ago when its power chords were ringing in a new era of post-Communist freedom.

"It's a principle for me and the band that we should play each concert like it's our last," Shevchuk told BBC News Online.

The band certainly connected with its London audience, many of whom were young Russians born long after DDT first caught the ear of the KGB with hits like Don't Shoot when Soviet troops were fighting in Afghanistan.

But war is only part of the picture of modern Russia that Shevchuk paints through his songs, which range from biting satire to gentle nostalgia and intimate love lyrics.

External pressure

Born in Kolyma, east Siberia, Shevchuk formed his band in Ufa, a city so conservative it made Moscow look like a beacon of liberalism during the Brezhnev years.

I take our art seriously and believe that people should listen to it, not eat to it
Yuri Shevchuk

After years of battling the Soviet censors, the band reached a mass audience in Leningrad in the late 1980s, settling in the city now known as St Petersburg.

The censor is gone but Russian rockers have other battles to fight: from a media where the dreaded "popsa" music reigns supreme to market forces which put their albums beyond the reach of most fans.

"Rock has been practically banned from the airwaves," said Shevchuk, blaming nervous officials.

Nine out of every 10 DDT albums sold in Russia is a pirated version, the singer estimated, despite the band's efforts to cap the retail prices of their CDs within Russia.

DDT can still get by on concert revenue but other major groups are reduced to playing "elite" clubs in Moscow and St Petersburg.

"I take our art seriously and believe that people should listen to it, not eat to it," grinned Shevchuk, a proud former docker.

Music city

Yet DDT was not able to escape Russia's great economic crash of 1998 which forced it to cut back its work as a promoter of new bands from the regions, giving them a chance to record and appear at national rock festivals.

Six years on, the city is recovering as a centre for Russian rock and there are now said to be about 1,000 bands active there.

Moscow, Shevchuk said, is a city of pop music, attracted by the money in the capital, while "Russia's young intellectuals come to St Petersburg for art".

As for DDT, he added, it plans to go on carrying the banner of freedom through its music, waiting for the day when Russians start "living like normal people instead of living in fear".

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