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10 Essential Tracks from Gost Zvuk, Russia’s Most Exciting Electronic Label

Electronic music generally aims to abolish borders, uniting people from different countries nevermind their language and cultural differences. At the same time, those who dare to explore their own identity in specific ways often produce the most interesting results. The rising Russian label Gost Zvuk manages both, though their style may seem cryptic and unwelcoming to international listeners at first.

There’s no specific electronic genre associated with Gost Zvuk, but most releases are connected by their lo-fi ambient haze. The common sound of the words “ghost” and “gost,” a term long associated with government-sanctioned compliance to technical standards, could be either deliberate or a beautiful accident. The four-year-old label is the product of Moscow’s RAD community of musicians, who list Detroit techno legends like Theo Parrish and Moodymann as inspirations while simultaneously carrying on the traditions of local ambient and experimental synth composers like Eduard Artemyev and Mikhail Chekalin. Gost’s boss and visionary Ildar Zaynetdinov, who performs DJ sets under the alias Low808, comes from the local graffiti community, which could explain his passion for 180 gram vinyl as a piece of art, as well as the label’s simple but distinct visuals (typically incorporating the record’s catalog number).

The Gost Zvuk aesthetic can be best explained through its Tumblr mood board, where you can see everything from Soyuzmultfilm cartoons to folklore motifs to a photo of Aphex Twin holding a pack of Apollo-Soyuz cigarettes. In Russia, imitating the West has always been a common way of creating something fashionable and pseudo-qualitative. Gost Zvuk tries to escape this paradigm, balancing instead between international kitsch and a raw representation of Russian culture. The Cyrillic letters everywhere, from covers to artist descriptions, can trick you into thinking that the label wants to stay local, but its mission as stated by Zaynetdinov in several interviews is quite the opposite: to find the beauty inside their scene and bring it to the world, incidentally exploring a “Russian sound,” as mysterious as the Russian soul itself. The best examples can be heard in the Moscow club NII (Science and Art), where the label has a residency. But in case you can’t get there, below is a highlight reel of Gost Zvuk’s finest to date.


Aleksei Nikitin – “Tebe Nujno Vernutsya” (2014)

One of the label’s most hard-working producers, the Saint-Petersburg-based Aleksei Nikitin (aka Nocow) went deeper into exploring new territories on his 2017 album, Ledyanoy. But it all started with Nikitin’s house bangers, nervous and melodic. The essence of “Tebe Nujno Vernutsya,” known as GOST001, is pretty straightforward, but the soulful vocal sample in English shows that the label is not exclusively about celebrating Russian heritage. Still, the icy synth at the end calls back to the producer’s origins.


AEM Rhythm-Cascade – “Vspominafoniya” (2014)

One of Gost Zvuk’s unofficial anthems was composed by another producer coming from Saint Petersburg, Flaty, known here as AEM Rhythm-Cascade. The word “Vspominafoniya” doesn’t exist in Russian—it’s a symbiosis between “vspominat” (to remember) and “symfoniya” (symphony). While the percussion resembles a cash register, the background is reminiscent of Soviet TV and radio program intros. The descending melody, croaking synth, and steady kick drum all together make it a perfect outsider house jam.


Oleg Buyanov – “Davaj Pogovorim” (2015)

Oleg Buyanov, or simply Ol, is a Moscow producer whose past focus on hip-hop and bass music has crept into his lower-key tracks in interesting ways. His first mini-album on Gost Zvuk is called True White, or Nastoyashiy Beliy (also the Russian name for white porcini mushrooms). One standout track, “Davaj Pogovorim” (“Let’s Talk”), places a sample from the Soviet movie A Romance About Lovers amid lots of clicking and slithering details, bit by bit piecing together a subdued and soulful declaration of love.


Lapti – “Pervoe Svidanie” (2015)

It’s hard to choose the most illustrative track from Lapti’s debut album V Tiraj. There’s the otherworldly “Sirenas,” with a funny fan video that addresses Russian stereotypes more directly than Gost Zvuk usually does, as well as some signature jams from the MySpace era (see “Polar Bear” or “Metallopena”). The record’s closing track, “Pervoe Svidanie” (“The First Date”), captures the album’s peaceful and romantic mood at its best, with a playful synth arpeggio dripping like raindrops on a sunny day.


Pavel Milyakov – “Dungeon 2” (2016)

One of Gost Zvuk’s ongoing concepts is to release albums under producers’ real names, perhaps to underline its genuineness. Under the alias buttechno, Pavel Milyakov has soundtracked several Gosha Rubchinsky runway shows and co-founded the lo-fi cassette label John’s Kingdom. His Gost release, the innovative Yalta, was prepared after a year of developing ideas and named for a city in Crimea that is personal to Milyakov. The second track of this meditating trip, “Dungeon 2,” gives you the feeling of floating into the Black Sea, up and beneath its surface. As a whole, Yalta sounds like the process of searching and the end result at the same time.


Piper Spray – “Autumn In Chertanovo” (2016)

Some Gost Zvuk releases are more of sketch collections than formalized albums, portraying different artists’ unique approaches to sound. Piper Spray’s Drugstore Phones is that kind of album, and “Autumn In Chertanovo” is a standout track. Chertanovo is a faraway district in the south of Moscow, which fits in line with Gost Zvuk’s fascination with native suburbs and aestheticizing of their panel-housing towers. The melancholic guitar tune with acid elements captures a certain sadness (or “toska,” like a Russian “saudade”) meeting the calm normalcy of day-to-day life in remote city areas.


Vtgnike – “The Healer” (2017)

The tenth Gost Zvuk release came from Vtgnike (pronounced as “vin-tazh-najk”), a producer who had a major influence in establishing the label’s overall vision. “The Healer” opens his LP Collection; its video is yet another dedication to Chertanovo that, along with the track’s monotonous hooting synths, transforms the viewer into a daylight owl flying over the district, probably looking for something. Rebuilding the atmosphere of bass music is what Vtgnike tends to explore, delicately approaching its basics and adding abstract, evanescent layers to it. Though “The Healer” is uncharacteristically beatless, it still captures Vtgnike’s perspective, which (like some of his Gost Zvuk cohorts) has also drawn the attention of international labels like Nicolas Jaar’s Other People.


Sergey Suokas – “Reka Vremeni” (Gost Instrument) (2015)

Gost Instrument is Gost Zvuk’s sub-label releasing music specifically for DJ sets. Its first release was the acid-techno gem “Optical Illusions,” by Ukraine’s Stanislav Toklachev, and from there the Karelia-born producer Sergey Suokas fired up dancefloors with his 10” “Reka Vremeni” (“The River of Time”). The A side’s functional techno with deep bass at its heart is full of whimsical details, constantly swirling like a kaleidoscope.


Kuzma Palkin – “SugrobChill” (Gost Instrument) (2017)

Previously known as Audiocad, the Saint Petersburg-based, Severodvinsk-born Kuzma Palkin remained silent for seven years; inspired by what Gost Zvuk and Udacha, another label GZ is friendly with, were doing, Palkin eventually put out two releases with Gost. While Audiosapr is a compilation of his spontaneous studio jams of techno and electro, Sierpinski Curve feels more finished and deliberate. “Sugrob” means snowbank, but the opening track “SugrobChill” is not actually chill in any way, with a rapid kick drum, clicking percussion, a weighty bassline, and an overall alarming mood.


Ivan Erofeev – “H Island” (Gost Instrument) (2017)

As Ildar explains, Gost Zvuk is expanding but not in a hurry; on the horizon are, thankfully, the label’s first releases from women artists, as well as the Gost Archive series dedicated to re-releases of crucial older music. But even in the Gost Instrument series, where the goal is to work within various DJ sets, experimentation and individuality still remain the basis of Gost Zvuk’s approach. The fifth Instrument release, this minimal and hypnotic record by Ivan Erofeev, takes you for a ride in a shaking vehicle across a secret island. The rhythm is discreetly changing, moving further and further away, while the record’s transmuting field recordings keep an intriguing distance from the listener.

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