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POP VIEW; Rock From Underground.New York Times,1989


''Everything i'll sing you's gonna be made out of rubber,'' Peter Mamonov declares on the first internationally released album by the Moscow band Zvuki Mu. But with Soviet-bloc rock just beginning to reach the outside world, the music's implications are likely to be flexed and stretched in ways its creators could never have predicted. Rockers are becoming symbols of openness and repression; in the Soviet bloc, far more than in the West, rock has lived up to its reputation as rebel music.

Rebels don't have it easy, and the best Soviet rock isn't polished. It's one thing to craft defiant manifestoes in a 32-track studio on a record-company budget; it's another, as independent rockers in the Soviet bloc have found, to scrounge equipment and virtually invent places to rehearse and play, with little hope of making a living from music. Until the late 1980's, even the best-known independent Soviet rockers had the same problems as a fledgling punk band in the United States, except that punk bands usually don't have to worry about being shut down, fired from their jobs or arrested.

Even when their lyrics aren't overtly political, Soviet rockers have to watch their connotations. Americans hear better rhythm sections, but we're lucky to see even a handful of musicians for whom rock is a calling rather than a career.

For the moment, the rebels have some official sanction. Zvuki Mu will start its North American tour with concerts Friday and Saturday at Alice Tully Hall as part of Lincoln Center's Serious Fun festival. Boris Grebenshikov, from Leningrad, will return to the Bottom Line Aug. 8. Both have recently released albums here - ''Zvuki Mu'' on Opal/-Warner Bros., Mr. Grebenshikov's ''Radio Silence'' on Columbia -as has Kino, another Leningrad band (''Groupa Kroovy/Blood Type'' on Gold Castle). Kino and Mr. Grebenshikov's former band, Aquarium, also appeared on the 1986 album ''Red Wave,'' a compilation of bands then in the Soviet rock underground.

In recent months, Americans have had a chance to hear the Czechoslovak band Pulnoc (Midnight), formerly the much-persecuted Plastic People of the Universe, on a brief United States tour. Then there was the inscrutable Yugoslav band Laibach, whose jackhammer rhythms, blank stares, macabre slide show and quasi-totalitarian lyrics are, I hope, ironic.

For American listeners (like me), it's hard to imagine the context for Soviet-bloc rock, and context always shapes popular music. American rock takes for granted an environment of abundance - of fancy electronic equipment, of spaces to rehearse and perform, of wattage and decibels - and of tolerance, where performers have to be wildly extreme just to seem mildly shocking. The general mood at concerts, whether bands that spout party-hearty or apocalyptic messages, is celebratory, as everyone shares the big noise and the unanimity of taste as a consumer choice of albums, tickets and souvenir T-shirts.

Turn all that inside out for the Russian and Czechoslovak bands (Laibach seems to enjoy more leeway). According to Artemy Troitsky's invaluable (and eccentric) book, ''Back in the U.S.S.R.: The True Story of Rock in Russia'' (Faber and Faber), Soviet rockers are either professional - sanctioned, equipped and booked by the state - or amateur, operating in a gray legal area.

Judging by Mr. Troitsky's descriptions, the professional bands are like rock as imagined by the Grammy Awards committee: formulaic songs dispensing banal messages with clear musical proficiency. Two approved bands - Autograph, a band steeped in the 1970's pomp of Supertramp and Styx, and Alla Pugacheva, a gutsy pop belter like a Russian Bette Midler - sounded corny in New York.

Meanwhile, until recently, bands outside the official organizations of performers and composers had to scrounge equipment and record, when they could, outside the state-run studios. Home-recorded, home-duplicated cassettes document most unofficial Soviet rock, if recordings exist at all. And, until recently, most unsanctioned performances were small-scale and private; Zvuki Mu's early concerts took place at a band member's apartment.

Even on the amateur level, unofficial rock bands had to work with (or around) local bureaucrats, who might take offense at a lyric or costume or stage gesture. (For the Plastic People, it was tougher. Band members have been jailed and fans beaten by police; the group's artistic director, Ivan Jirous, is currently in prison following a political protest.) With Soviet-bloc bands, the musical content itself can be less than stellar. Rock is homegrown music in the United States, evolved from blues and country and Tin Pan Alley, then bounced back and forth from Britain and elsewhere. The Soviet Union hasn't been entirely isolated; rock from the United States and Europe, especially England, has filtered into the Soviet Union.

Mr. Troitsky cites Western rockers from the Rolling Stones to Kraftwerk to the Cure as he traces the music made by the Soviet Union's rockers. Where British guitarists learned from American blues records, Russian rockers, according to Mr. Troitsky, pretty much begin with the Beatles, another generation removed from rock roots.

From the music I've heard, the influences on Soviet rock are far more European and Slavic than African; rhythms are less syncopated than in Anglo-American rock, while melodies are more carefully drawn. Minor keys and dissonances, from Slavic traditional music, aren't hard to distinguish; classical instruments like bassoon and cello show up with some regularity. British rock, far more than American rock, seems to be the major Western influence.

Derivative music, recorded on antiquated equipment - what's in it for Americans? Attitude. Even in translation, the lyrics of Zvuki Mu, Kino or Mr. Grebenshikov reveal a mixture of malaise and mysticism that's unlike anything in Western rock - nubbly specifics and surreal dreams that let us glimpse the unofficial Soviet life of the mind.

Mr. Troitsky's book suggests some of the revelatory power such lyrics have against the relentlessly cheery pronouncements of state-supported art. Where Americans tend to think of malaise as a private problem, in the Soviet bloc, ''negative thinking'' may be seen as a blow against state policy, making them risky for the writers. To an American, the lyrics reveal humor, stubbornness, resignation and ironic hope, offering updates to Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Kafka, not to mention Bob Dylan and David Byrne.

The attitude goes deeper than the words. Unofficial Soviet-bloc rockers started making music not for vast commercial rewards - there weren't any - but because, in some sense, they had to, and they braved a a powerful bureaucracy.

Whether in the gnarled, dank dissonances of the Plastic People's music or the stolid, stripped-down chug of Pulnoc's newer songs, that urgency comes through; on the evidence of videotape, it is also unmistakable in the stage presence of Zvuki Mu's Peter Mamonov, who jitters and scuttles like a short-circuiting robot. The music's stiffness is a reminder of its time and place - far more so than on Mr. Grebenshikov's ''Radio Silence,'' recorded with Western musicians, which sounds like professional, second-rate David Bowie. (Aquarium's section of ''Red Wave'' has far more spirit.) Paradoxically, intolerance has given Soviet-bloc rock its vitality, turning clandestine concerts into major events and making it possible for ''amateurs'' to upstage ''professionals''; against the backdrop of repression, modest efforts at self-expression can become heroic. And it's entirely possible that in the Western market, where almost everything is permitted and almost nothing makes a lasting impact, Soviet-bloc rock will be treated as a novelty with a short shelf life. For the musicians, the new challenge will be to hold on to their defiance and their independence. For American listeners, with luck (and good translations), Soviet-bloc rock can illuminate a once-invisible culture, and it can remind Western rockers of the difference between a rebellion and a tantrum.

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