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Alexis Ipatovtsev about Aquarium's Leningrad Period

An interview with Hannelore Fobo

Introduction: Soviet Rock – From Reel-to-Reel to Vinyl

Part 1: Aquarium's Magnitizdat Records >>
Аквариум и магнитиздат


To Part 2: Aquarium's Archive >>
Архив Аквариума


Saint Petersburg 31 March, 2019


Hannelore Fobo: Introduction. Soviet Rock – From Reel-to-Reel to Vinyl.

In the Soviet Union there was only one record label: the state-owned company Мелодия / Melodiya or Melodia, which would contract musicians on the condition that they were officially recognised as professionals and not in conflict with the communist state doctrine. Independent Soviet rock bands lacked both criteria. In order to make their music known, they (and other “non-officials“) used the system of “magnitizdat” releases.

“Magnitizdat” assembles two words: magnit, derived from “магнитофон / magnitofon”, tape recorder, and “издат / izdat” from izdatel’, publisher. The term was created by analogy with “samizdat” – self-publishing of literature. “Magnitizdat” used the technique of re-copying reel-to-reel tapes to tapes and later, in the mid-1980s, to cassettes. The copies were then distributed, and those who acquired them often recopied them for their friends. In this way, the number of copies multiplied exponentially.

Two Aquarium magnitizdat albums from the early 1980s, each provided with its respective cover design created witha photographic print. The one on the left is Aquarium’s first studio album: “The Blue Album” [Синий альбом / Siny albom], released in 1981. On the right – Aquarium’s “Radio Africa” album, 1983. Instagram picture by aairapetov

Two Aquarium magnitizdat albums from the early 1980s, each provided with its respective cover design created with a photographic print. The one on the left is Aquarium’s first studio album: “The Blue Album” [Синий альбом / Siny albom], released in 1981. On the right – Aquarium’s “Radio Africa” album, 1983. Instagram picture by aairapetov

Magnitizdat albums were recorded either live, during concerts, or – in some cases – in studios. Although bands did not have direct access to state owned-studios, they were sometimes able to do recordings in official places run by friends or acquaintances who would let them use the facilities at night or during holidays. In the 1980s, the best-known semi-legal Leningrad studio for rock groups was that of Andrey Tropillo. Tropillo worked with Melodiya equipment at one of the Leningrad Houses of Young Pioneers where he conducted workshops for young people and taught them sound recording techniques. During the breaks between workshops he produced the so-called “studio albums”. Keeping the master tapes for himself, he delivered the bands a 38 RPM (38 revolutions per minute) copy which they would use for “magnitizdat” releases. In the interview from 31 March 2019, Alexis Ipatovtsev asserts that in the1980s, Aquarium, the Leningrad band founded in 1972, was the first band to successfully market its music with the help of “magnitizdat” – on the black market, obviously. (The Moscow band Машина времени / Mashina Vremeni / Time Machine needs to be considered separately.) Ipatovtsev characterises the situation of Soviet rock bands in the following way:

    They wanted to have records, but it was impossible to produce them. I think the phenomenon of Russian rock is simple. They wanted to be like normal musicians all over the world, which means booking recording studios, making records, putting them out, distributing them, working them up the charts, becoming famous or just being respected. Just being normal people. And it was impossible. But then, if it is impossible, we will be like kids! We will create our own world where we will be playing. The official position in life won’t mean much. You can be a night watchman instead of a member of the Academy of Sciences, and still be a star and be respected. So they created a parallel culture. more >>

Andrey Tropillo (right) and Boris Grebenshikov in Tropillo‘s studio during a recording with Aquarium. Photo: Andrey “Willy” Usov, 1981.

Andrey Tropillo (right) and Boris Grebenshikov in Tropillo‘s studio during a recording with Aquarium. Photo: Andrey “Willy” Usov, 1981.

Boris Grebenshikov also helped the band Kino to record their songs at Andrey Tropillo's studio, for instance the album Начальник Камчатки (Nachalnik Kamchatki / The Head of Kamchatki) from 1984. The history of the album cover is quite interesting. Although “Nachalnik Kamchatki” was, of course, released as a magnitizdat album, artist (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov created a vinyl record cover for it, using his own picture from a photo shoot he arranged with Kino members for this specific purpose. Later, to celebrate the release of the magnitizdat album, Kozlov organised a performance with a “fake” vinyl record inside the real cover.

Fashion performance with Katya Selitskaya celebrating the release of Kino's album “Nachalnik Kamchatki”. On top of the glass table are Kozlov's record cover and a “fake” vinyl record. Painted photo by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, 1984.

Fashion performance with Katya Selitskaya celebrating the release of Kino's album “Nachalnik Kamchatki”. On top of the glass table are Kozlov's record cover and a “fake” vinyl record. Painted photo by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, 1984.

When Moroz Records released Nachalnik Kamchatki on CD in 1998, the company used Joanna Stingray's picture of Viktor Tsoy holding Kozlov's LP cover. more>>

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Kino. Nachalnik Kamchatki, LP cover, mixed media on cardboard, front, ca. 31 x 31 cm, 1984. CD cover of Kino. Nachalnik Kamchatki, with Joanna Stingray's picture of Viktor Tsoy (Kino) presenting Kozlov LP cover. Moroz records, 1998,
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Kino. Nachalnik Kamchatki, LP cover, mixed media on cardboard, front, ca. 31 x 31 cm, 1984. CD cover of Kino. Nachalnik Kamchatki, with Joanna Stingray's picture of Viktor Tsoy (Kino) presenting Kozlov LP cover. Moroz records, 1998,

In the summer of 1986, the first vinyl record of Leningrad rock appeared – however, not in the Soviet Union, but in the USA: the double album “Red Wave”. Each of the four sides of “Red Wave” presented a well-known band: Aquarium, Kino, Alisa, and Strannye Igry (Strange Games). American rock singer Joanna Stingray smuggled the tapes to the USA and released the album on Big Time Records, a small Australian label with an office in Los Angeles, willing to take the risk of publishing the songs without an official copyright agreement see introduction to ‘Stingray in Wonderland’. As a matter of fact, the Soviet authorities considered this as an illegal act, as Soviet citizens were not allowed to sign any copyright licence agreement with a foreign individual or agency. The Soviet agency VAAP (Всесоюзное агентство по авторским правам / Inter-Union Copyright Agency) had the monopoly on such contracts, but for obvious reasons the VAAP would not licence any band that had no contract with Melodiya. In order to protect the bands, Stingray claimed that she had acted without their knowledge and in October 1986 paid the VAAP a fee to ‘reimburse for moral and material damage’ see ‘Stingray in Wonderland’, chapter 23, but in 1987 her visa application to the Soviet Union was denied and she was banned from entering the Soviet Union until later that year.

JOANNA STINGRAY PRESENTS: RED WAVE. 4 UNDERGROUND BANDS FROM THE USSR. Side A: AQUARIUM; Side B: KINO; Side C: ALISA; Side D: STRANGE GAMES. USA, Big Time, 1986
JOANNA STINGRAY PRESENTS: RED WAVE. 4 UNDERGROUND BANDS FROM THE USSR.
Side A: AQUARIUM; Side B: KINO; Side C: ALISA; Side D: STRANGE GAMES. USA, Big Time Records, 1986
Read the names of musicians >>

Yet the release of “Red Wave” in the USA forced the Soviet regime to reconsider its policy of marginalising Soviet rock groups. With perestroika gaining momentum, Melodiya started to release their music on vinyl records. “Åquarium”, the first Aquarium LP on the Melodiya label, appeared in January 1987. It was compilation with music from День Серебра /Den' Serebra/Day of Silver/ from 1984 on side 1 and, on side 2, Дети Декабря /Deti Dekabrya/December's Children/ from 1985-1986; according to Alexis Ipatovtsev, the production of December's Children was terminated on 13 January 1986. Both albums were recorded at Andrey Tropillo's studio and had already been released as magnitzdat albums.

Cover of “Åquarium”, the first Aquarium release on "Melodiya", January 1987. It is sometimes called "The White Album“.
Cover of “Åquarium”, the first Aquarium release on "Melodiya", January 1987. It is sometimes called "The White Album“.
“Åquarium”, Melodiya, 1987. Back cover.

The fact that “Åquarium” was released, but not recorded by Melodiya created an addtional problem with regard to the credits printed on the reverse of the album. Melodya could hardly state "recorded at Andrey Tropillo's studio", as no such studio existed officially. On the other hand, it was impossible to pretend that Melodiya itself had recorded the songs in 1984 and 1985 – this would have created a sensation. Melodiya therefore came up with a “Leningrad Rock Club studio” and listed Andrey Tropillo as the recording's sound engineer. Today, Tropillo is often called “producer” even with regard to the 1980s, although he first produced music under his own label АнТроп / AnTrop in 1991. As a matter of fact, the question of who held or holds the rights on a particular production from that period finds no easy answer. Tropillo sometimes released or re-released an album without the consent of the musicians.

Description of the sound studio on the reverse of the album “Åquarium”, Melodiya, 1987.
 В пластинке использованы записи композиций, сделанные в студии Ленигнрадского городского рок-клуба: «День Серебра», 1984 год; «Дети Декабра», 1985 год The songs on this LP were recorded at the Leningrad Rock Club studio: “Days of Silver”, 1984 and “December Children”, 1985
В пластинке использованы записи композиций, сделанные в студии Ленигнрадского городского рок-клуба: «День Серебра», 1984 год; «Дети Декабра», 1985 год

The songs on this LP were recorded at the Leningrad Rock Club studio: “Days of Silver”, 1984 and “December's Children”, 1985

© «Мелодия», 1987. Всесоюзная студия грамзаписи. Записи студии Ленинградского городского рок-клуба, 1984, 1985 г. г. Ленинградский завод грампластинок 23.12.86 Тип завод 3.119 -o- 63000. Арт. 11-1. Цена 2 руб. 50 коп. © Melodiya 1987. All-Union Gramophone Recording Studio. Recorded at the Leningrad Rock Club studio, 1984, 1985. Leningrad Gramophone plant 23. 12. 86 Typ. plant. 3.119 -o- 63000. Art. 11-1. Price 2 rub. 50 kop.
© «Мелодия», 1987. Всесоюзная студия грамзаписи. Записи студии Ленинградского городского рок-клуба, 1984, 1985 г. г. Ленинградский завод грампластинок 23.12.86 Тип завод 3.119 -o- 63000. Арт. 11-1. Цена 2 руб. 50 коп.
© Melodiya 1987. All-Union Gramophone Recording Studio. Recorded at the Leningrad Rock Club studio, 1984, 1985. Leningrad Gramophone plant 23. 12. 86 Typ. plant. 3.119 -o- 63000. Art. 11-1. Price 2 rub. 50 kop.

Strangely enough, the information on the “Åquarium” record label images is not fully congruent with that on the cover. While on the cover the original recording of the two albums is dated to 1984 and 1985, respectively, both record label images indicate the year 1986 : Запись 1986 г. /Recorded in 1986/.

Side 1: a selection of five songs from День Серебра /Den' Serebra/ Day of Silver/ from 1984. The record label image has 1986 as the year of recording: Запись 1986 г. / Zapis' 1986. Side 2: a selection of four songs from Дети Декабря /Deti Dekabrya/ December's Children/ from 1985-1986 The record label image has 1986 as the year of recording: Запись 1986 г. / Zapis' 1986.

Side 1: a selection of five songs from День Серебра /Den' Serebra/ Day of Silver/ from 1984.
The record label image has 1986 as the year of recording: Запись 1986 г. / Zapis' 1986.

Side 2: a selection of four songs from Дети Декабря /Deti Dekabrya/ December's Children/ from 1985-1986
The record label image has 1986 as the year of recording: Запись 1986 г. / Zapis' 1986.


This should make it clear that the transition of Soviet bands from "underground” to “overground” during the perestroika period is a complex process. If we focus our attention on the transition from reel-to-reel tapes to vinyl records and analyse the changes, it would be naive to simply rely on officially printed information, even when the information is not contradictory. Otherwise we will draw the wrong conclusions. We would, for instance, believe that Melodiya commissioned the recording at the “Leningrad Rock Club studio” in order to release the “Åquarium” LP in 1987 while, quite on the contrary, Melodiya used magnitizdat tapes, came up with a “studio” and slightly adjusted the year of the recording date on the label: 1986 seemed plausible enough and wasn’t even completely wrong. The Soviet system had a capacity of inventing, adjusting or absorbing relevant events and movements in order to prove its wisdom, and sometimes this even worked to the benefit of a marginalised group. In his account of the Leningrad 1980s, Alexis Ipatovtsev gives several examples or paradoxical situations. Here is one:

    For example, I’m asking a lot of people, “Could you please explain this to me: January 1980, Aquarium is officially rehearsing at a some factory. And in order to do a rehearsal there, you are supposed to be an amateur band with band members working at this very factory. Yet you are not working at the factory, right? So how can you rehearse there?” […] I’m asking – officially, what is your status? How can you be rehearsing there although you are not working at that factory? It is impossible to understand this today. Although there are theories, but I would love to see a paper stating “Employed as.” Employed as who? So how was the Soviet structure integrating these people from the “parallel” culture of the1980s? more >>

The creative power of the Soviet bureaucracy is often underrated. It is true that it classified anyone and anything, but a rigid scheme of logic doesn't match human behaviour, and human ingenuity always finds a way to accomplish instructions by creating what is now called “alternative facts”. The Soviet system entailed a sophisticated game of mimicry which some played with more skill and others played with less skill, and sometimes it was a gamble. But everybody participated, and bureaucrats were no exception to the rule – least of all those working in art-related jobs, trying to implement their concept of culture.

It is no coincidence that Melodiya faked a “Leningrad Rock Club studio”. The Rock Club, as it was generally called in Leningrad / Saint Petersburg, was founded in 1981 as one of the first of its kind in the Soviet Union. It became the country’s most famous stage for Soviet rock groups and inspired the creation of other Soviet rock clubs during the perestroika years. See “The Leningrad subculture of the 1980s“ >> Alas, no "Leningrad Rock Club studio" ever came into existence, not even in the late perestroika years, but had it been not purely fictitious, it would have stirred the envy of the entire Soviet Rock scene.

Pop Mekhanika performance at the Leningrad Rock Club, December 1985. Sergey Kuryokhin, Mikhail Chernov (saxophone), unidentified saxophonist, Vladimir Boluchevsky, Sergey Zolotov, Chris Cross (bass guitar; Ultravox), Alexander Titov (bass guitar; Aquarium/Kino), Boris Grebenshikov (guitar; Aquarium), Grigory Sologub (guitar, Strannye Igry), Alexander Kondrashkin (drums; Strannye Igry). Photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

Pop Mekhanika performance at the Leningrad Rock Club, December 1985. Sergey Kuryokhin, Mikhail Chernov (saxophone), unidentified saxophonist, Vladimir Boluchevsky, Sergey Zolotov, Chris Cross (bass guitar; Ultravox), Alexander Titov (bass guitar; Aquarium/Kino), Boris Grebenshikov (guitar; Aquarium), Grigory Sologub (guitar, Strannye Igry/Strange Games), Alexander Kondrashkin (drums; Strannye Igry). Photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov more>>

Although the Rock Club neither recorded nor produced any records, its name is connected with an important compilation of music featuring thirty-six Leningrad bands – among them “Aquarium” – recorded at the VIII Rock Festival. It took place in March 1991, on the occasion of the Rock Club's tenth anniversary, along with a large exhibition, “Realia of Russian Rock” more >>. The label Русский диск / Russian Disc published the live recording on four LPs called “Однажды в рок-клубе” / Once upon a time at the Rock Club. It marked the highlight of the Leningrad Rock Club's history, which lost its role as a major venue for rock music in the 1990s and was eventually closed.

The four LPs from the 1991 compilation “Однажды в рок-клубе” /Once upon a time at the Rock Club/ are entitled according to colours.
top, left: №2 - СЕРЕБРО НА РОЗОВОМ /Silver on Rose/ right: №3 - ЧЕРНОЕ НА ЗЕЛЕНОМ /Black on Green/
Bottom, left: №4 - ЗОЛОТО НА ГОЛУБОМ /Gold on Blue/ right: №1 - КРАСНОЕ НА ЧЕРНОМ /Red on Black/
Cover design: Oleg Kotelnikov, 1991


Oleg Kotelnikov creating the design for the reverse of the LP №4 - ЗОЛОТО НА ГОЛУБОМ /Gold on Blue/. The gold foil of the triangle was printed white and the blue circle inside yellow.
The triangle is an abstract form of a rocket being launched into space. Andrey Medvedev used a similar form for his poster for "Gagarin Party", the legendary techno party at the Kosmos Pavilion a the Moscow ВДНХ /VDNKh/ on 14 December 1990.
Photo: Hannelore Fobo, Leningrad, March 1990, at RUSSKOEE POLEE / The Russian Field, studio (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov


After the end of the Soviet Union and with the beginning of market economy, many bands re-released their magnitizdat productions on LPs and later on CD. Today, limited editions of vinyl records mark the latest trend. They also include music that has not been released previously, such as “START” by New Composers / Hовые композиторы with Kino band members, an LP with music recorded in 1987 and remastered and edited in 2015 more>>.

New Composers “START”, 2015, with autographs of four of five musicians. From left to right: Andrey Krisanov, Valery Alakhov, Yuri Kasparyan, Igor Verichev. Top: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, who designed the cover with his work from 1990 "Love for the Cosmos” from the cycle “New Classicals” more >>

“START” 2015, back cover
Pictures of musicians by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov. From top to bottom: Valery Alakhov, Igor Verichev, Georgy Guryanov, Yuri Kasparyan, Andrey Krisanov,




To the interview, part 1: Aquarium's Magnitizdat Records >>

Uploaded 8 May, 2019
Last updated 10 June 2019