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From the Soviet era to Pussy Riot, Alexander Herbert gives us a gritty look at an embattled dissident subculture
From the Soviet era to Pussy Riot, Alexander Herbert gives us a gritty look at an embattled dissident subculture
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What About Tomorrow?: An Oral History of Russian Punk

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The culmination of years of research, interviews, and travels, Alexander Herbert's What About Tomorrow? is the first comprehensive history of punk music and culture in Russia. Punk scenes around the world share a common thread of community, anti-authoritarianism, and echoing—or outdoing—the turbulence and violence of the environment. In the real-life stories told here, the stakes are even higher, the violence and threats from police and the government are even greater, and the music rises to the occasion. 

The bulk of the book is an oral history spanning Russia's punk scene from 1976 to very nearly the present. It features extensive interviews with members of punk bands and never-before-published photographs, with a primary focus on the punk scenes of Moscow and Leningrad. Essays and appendices focus more in-depth on scenes in other cities, and on the global feminist phenomenon of Pussy Riot, which plays a unique and contentious part in this story. Once you've picked this book up, whatever your preconceptions or level of interest in punk or Russia, it's impossible to put down. 

Here are some photos and excerpts from the book: 

Zhenya Fedorov, Ricochet, 1986. Photo by Joanna Stingray
Zhenya Fedorov, Ricochet, 1986. Photo by Joanna Stingray

Yevgeny “Yufa” Yufit: There was no punk rock in 1976. I met Andrey “Svin” Panov on the street, and we had a lot of common interests, primarily the grotesqueness of Soviet society, black humor, and provoking innocent bystanders. One of our favorite provocations consisted of shoveling snow in the nude in front of glass windows. The police would show up, but we’d run in different directions, knowing all along that we were leaving tracks in the snow.

At that time, the only source of music information was a shortwave radio that I would use to listen to the BBC. In 1977 I heard a new group—the Sex Pistols— and I remember telling Svin, “In England there are idiots just like us!”  

Grazhdanskaya Oborona, at the Moscow House of Culture 1988-89. Photo by Lev Goncharov
Grazhdanskaya Oborona, at the Moscow House of Culture 1988-89. Photo by Lev Goncharov

Fedor “Begemot” Lavrov: The “theater of amateurs” (Leningrad Rock Club) was located in this old building with an entrance from the street with some back doors in the court. There were restroom windows looking out to the court and a comfortable fire safety metal ladder—or maybe it was a metal roof—some kind of construction underneath the windows. Anyway, the windows to the restroom were the main entrance for punks. Free of charge. When I went there the very first time, I didn't know about that. I went to the theater ticket booth, bought one, and went in. 

Entering was not easy; people were crowding the street in front of the building, everywhere. The police were trying to make them move along. .... Disguised agents were in line with the police and would go up and down the rows asking the audience not to jump, not to dance, and not to destroy the chairs. Those who were unable to control their emotions would be taken out under arrest. Usually by the end of the concert the crowd went crazy—the first rows jumped up on the chairs, and the police were unable to catch everyone so they would grab the most active. Wet and exhausted, but totally happy, attendees went out in the street where a police bus, already almost filled, waited with the arrested “hooligans.” Bigger gigs required more buses and the police reaction was equal to the activity of the music lovers. The police sometimes even arrested musicians and “legal members of the Rock Club.” Then their colleagues would go to “speak” with the officers or KGBists to help them get released. 

Daniil Liapin, Vibrator, 1993. At the legendary TaMtAm venue. Used with permission from their archive
Daniil Liapin, Vibrator, 1993. At the legendary TaMtAm venue. Used with permission from their archive

Seva Gakkel: The next concert almost became the last one. We had Pupsy playing. There was a crowd of people. For TaMtAm this was the first real punk concert. 

Previously, Russian punk rock had no origins; musicians were underground. Punk rock started to make sense only when the giants of Russian rock were born. It contained protest against whatever the [Leningrad] Rock Club turned into. With a decade-long delay, Russian musicians walked the same path their Western counterparts did. By the beginning of the '90s there was a whole generation of people who considered the language of Akvarium to be obsolete. 

I was shocked by the audience at the Pupsy concert because it was very peculiar. I’d never seen so many punks in one place. Nothing could hold them back. For them, every concert in a new place served as the last one. I was freaked out and excited about this fact at the same time. I felt like if I had been 20 at that time, I’d most likely have acted the same way. 

Whatever we prepared for the concert was destroyed immediately. There were so many people that chairs were redundant. The pillows that we put on the floor were shredded. The bathroom sink was torn away. Everything was clattered up with bottles and shattered glass. I saw people destroying my newborn club, but I felt that they brought this new appealing vigor with them.

I was concerned that the owner of the place, Sasha Kostrikin, would have a problem and that the club would be closed (having barely started). But Sasha kept it cool and said that we could continue as soon as we fixed the sink.  

Ankylym, Belgrad SPB 2007. Photo by Denis Ermakov
Ankylym, Belgrad SPB 2007. Photo by Denis Ermakov

Max “Scum”: Well, I think first of all we were influenced by the environment we grew up in. We were children in a fucked situation in the ’90s, and I suppose growing up in a single-parent family while a lot of other children were rich. I didn’t waste my time playing video games at home, instead I was stealing copper with my friends from plants and locomotive depots. And I think that if not for punk rock, I would be still doing the same thing—many didn’t have any other option and we had no image of the future. I got the idea of a way out through punk rock. I didn’t use the money I got from stealing for port wine or anything like that, but on cassettes of Grazhdanskaia Oborona and guitar strings. It was the first band that I heard and loved.

What We Feel Moscow 2014. Photo by Ivan Kulikov
What We Feel Moscow 2014. Photo by Ivan Kulikov

"A month after the murder of Riukhin, Igor and the band recorded the first demo of What We Feel in St. Petersburg, which later came out as a split with the German band The Force Within. In 2007, What We Feel went on their first European tour, setting the stage for their normal trips abroad as representatives of Russian anti-fascism. If memory serves me right, the group has not given an open concert in Russia since the end of the 2000s. There are a number of disappointing reasons for this.

For one, Tsentr “E” began to pursue the musicians of What We Feel along with other anti-fascists. The group rarely appeared under its own name (they usually appeared on posters as “special guests,” so as not to attract the attention of the right). Once the ultra-right and police started to persecute members of the band, they stopped giving concerts in Russia. Today What We Feel is a great name, at least in Germany, where they perform at major festivals with world-famous bands. The band gives part of whatever money they earn to the families of friends that were killed by fascists." —Maksim Dinkevich, from Appendix 3: "I Shouldn't Be Here: Moscow's Punk Scene in the Early 2000s"

Pussy Riot. Photo by Igor Mukhin
Pussy Riot. Photo by Igor Mukhin

"In fact, women played punk in the Soviet Union long before Pussy Riot donned their masks and hit the streets. In 1987 Irina Lokteva helped form the all-women punk collective Zhenskaia Bolezn, hoping to bring something new to the Soviet underground and shock the cultural police, otherwise known as the Komsomol. Their act was also one of social protest, in so far that it tested the boundaries of how women were expected to behave in both the mainstream and underground music scenes. It was not easy to get a scene dominated by male egos to take them seriously. During their first concert they received a little help from members of the biker gang Night Wolves, who came on stage and sat around the girls as if at a campfire, in order to grab the attention of everyone in the club. As people soon found out, their music was powerful enough to make an impression, and succeeding generations of female musicians continue to remember them as innovators of all-female punk bands in Russia." –Alexander Herbert, from his chapter "The Paradox of Pussy Riot" 

About the author

Alexander Herbert is a research fellow at Brandeis University focusing on the history of the late Soviet Union. He is a devoted father, veteran vegan, self-ascribed environmentalist, occasional musician, opportunistic freelance writer and translator, and fan of beet and pickle pizza. Aside from academic research, Alexander has been a punk rock and hardcore enthusiast since the point of contact and has contributed to such iconic fanzines as Maximum Rocknroll and Razorcake. He thoroughly enjoys connecting strangers and has proudly established lines of communication between musicians, writers, and artists in Russia and the United States since 2014. You can read more of Alexander’s editorial work and firsthand stories of punk in Russia in Punks Around, a fanzine he edits that prints tales of contributors’ experiences in punk scenes around the world.

About the publisher

Microcosm Publishing is an independent publishing house and distributor based in Portland, Oregon with roots in punk music and culture.  

About the rewards

The book itself

The ebook

The ebook version of What About Tomorrow? will have full-color photos. It will be available in January, 2020—so there's a bit of an extra wait for it. When it's ready, we'll email you a download link. 

Random books

At this level, you'll get a copy of What About Tomorrow?, plus five other books on related-ish topics that we think you'll like.

Punks Around

Punks Around is Alexander Herbert's submission based zine, so if anyone has a a story to tell about their experience in another punk scene (not your home town), write and submit it! At this level, you'll get What About Tomorrow, plus the first five issues:

Scene Histories

The first four issues in Microcosm's Scene History series. This is another open submissions project; the first four are all about music scenes. At this level, you'll get What About Tomorrow, plus:

The Soviet World

We took a look at our catalog for books that deal with the Soviet era and its aftermath, and came up with this assortment of fascinating perspectives from around the world. At this level, you'll get What About Tomorrow, plus:

  •  Soviet Daughter - a nonfiction graphic novel about a free spirit coming of age in the Soviet Ukraine
  •  New Girl Law - the second generation of Khmer Rouge survivors rebuild and reinvent after a communist project gone devastatingly wrong
  •  The Life of Lee Harvey Oswald - young Lee tried to defect to the USSR years before his arrest for Kennedy's assassination
  •  The Cold War - A history of the 70-year standoff between global superpowers
  •  The Congo - in part, a story of how the Cold War changed the course of a country's history 

Punk Life

Punk culture has common threads as well as stark divides between different countries, cultures, genders, and even individuals. At this level, you can compare, contrast, and find your own path with What About Tomorrow, plus:

Risks and challenges

This book has been written, edited, laid out, and ready to go to print. All we need for this project to be successful are your support and enthusiasm.

Thank you for backing and believing in this project, and in the power of punk, and in the future of independent publishing to create a better world.

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    Ebook only (delayed release)

    A full-color ebook of What About Tomorrow? Ebooks will be released later than the paperback, in early 2020.

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    What About Tomorrow + 5 Random Books

    Get your copy of What About Tomorrow plus 5 random Microcosm books. Sorry, no special requests or substitutions, but we are pretty sure you'll like what you get.

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    2 or more copies of What About Tomorrow?

    Want two copies of What About Tomorrow? Great! Here's a bit of a discount. Please add $20 for each additional copy you want more than these two. Please note that if you live outside the US and want 3 or more books, we may ask for additional shipping costs.

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    Paperback + Ebook

    A paperback copy of What About Tomorrow mailed to you in June, 2019, plus an ebook sent to you in January, 2020.

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    Punks Around

    A paperback copy of What About Tomorrow?, plus the first five issues of the Punks Around zine, edited by Alexander Herbert and featuring in depth looks at punk scenes around the world, from Nizhny Novgorod to Minot, North Dakota.

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    Scene Histories

    A copy of What About Tomorrow, plus the first four installments of Microcosm's music scene history series. These two zines and two books take on 80s Lower East Side punk, East Bay rock history, the DIY music movements of Rockford, Illinois, and the oral history of the Circle Jerks' lost songwriter.

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    The Soviet World

    A copy of What About Tomorrow?, plus a selection of books and zines that show how various other communities, individuals, and countries navigated the Soviet era and its aftermath. Includes the Soviet Daughter graphic novel, New Girl Law, about Cambodia's recovery from the Khmer Rouge, a biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, who attempted to defect to the USSR in his youth, and two Simple History zines: The Congo and The Cold War.

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    Punk Life

    Ten books about punk music, culture, and lore, including What About Tomorrow, Underground, Scam, Crate Digger, This Ain't No Picnic, Distance Makes the Heart Grow Sick, Snake Pit Gets Old, Henry & Glenn Forever, Indestructible, and Punk USA.

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    10 copies of What About Tomorrow?

    Ten paperback books, perfect for bookstores, record shops, course adoptions, touring band merch tables, and gift givers.

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    All the printed matter

    At this level, you'll get a copy of What About Tomorrow, plus one of each of the paperback books and zines offered as rewards in this project.

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Funding period

- (25 days)