(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances
Pop Mekhanika in the West
Chapter headings >>
“Unpredictable tutti”, performed by rock, jazz, folk and other musicians, became a trade mark of Kuryokhin’s “Pop Mekhanika” concerts, and a number of musicians and artists present at the 1983 “Leningrad Collective Improvisations” would later participate at Pop Mekhanika concerts: Volkov, Boluchevsky, Grebenshikov, Kondrashkin, Letov, and Novikov.
Kuryokhin’s concert on 14 April 1984 is generally considered as the first "Pop Mekhanika” performance. It took place in Moscow at the Moskvorechie Palace of Culture is now called “PM2”, leaving room for speculation about an unknown “PM1”. However, this Moscow performance was given its specific title later, and retrospective naming seems to have been the case for some other PM performances, too. They were, however, never numbered chronologically.
Valentina Ponomaryova, Sergey Kuryokhin, Sergey Letov,
photo: Hans Kumpf
Hans Kumpf, who documented the concert more>>, spoke of a group of twenty musicians he joined with his clarinet, spontaneously and without asking for permission. He called the band the “Crazy Music Orchestra”. Apparently, the first PM concert or concerts were not yet presented under the Pop Mekhanika label. Alexander Kan lists a large variety of “early“ band names, among them “Creative Music Orchestra” and “Crazy Music Orchestra”, the first being a reference to the Chicago “Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians” and the latter a sign of Kuryokhin’s departing from the seriousness of New Jazz.
According to Kan, Kuryokhin was inspired by the German band “Globe Unity Orchestra” and their LP “Jahrmarkt / Local Fair”, released in 1977. It had an extraordinary number of contributors: important jazz musicians, among them Alexander von Schlippenbach, Antony Braxton, and Albert Mangelsdorff, as well as local musicians such as an accordion band and a Greek folk orchestra. In his interview for “Cadence”, given in December 1981, Kuryokhin said “It gave me great pleasure: a brass band, a band of accordionists and the whole Globe Unity Orchestra – it was really great.”
Kumpf’s pictures of the Moscow concert show a large jazz section and a smaller rock section, conducted by Sergey Kuryokhin with his characteristic expressive gestures. Jazz musicians were Igor Butman, Alexander “Fagot” Alexandrov, Sergey Letov, Vladimir Boluchevsky, singer Valentina Ponomareva and others. The “rock section” comprehended Viktor and Grigory Sologub, Alexander Kondrashkin, and Alexander Lipnitsky. The concert received frenetic applause and the public demanded an encore. Hans Kumpf recorded the concert and presented a fragment during an interview for the ARD studio Moscow, the German broadcaster, which took place immediately after the concert. In his article from 1997, Kumpf remembers that Kuryokhin “acted the big shot” and that ARD journalist Johannes Grotzky was deeply surprised by the public’s lack of discipline. A second PM concert followed the next day at a students’ residential hall of the Moscow University. In the same article, Kumpf writes that the correspondent of the German magazine Der Spiegel was interested in visiting the concert, but because of strict KGB surveillance decided not put anyone at risk and stayed away from it.
The third and forth PM concerts took place at Riga and Novosibirsk, respectively. The fifth “PM” concert on 19 November, 1984, was also thе first Leningrad concert. It was called “PM No.12”, adapting the name of its venue, the “Twelve Collegia”, the oldest building of the Saint Petersburg State University. It also appears to have been the first concert with an extended rock section. (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov’s pictures show – next to an impressive brass section – rock musicians Viktor and Grigory Sologub (“Strannye Igry” / Strange Games), Viktor Tsoy, Georgy Guryanov, and Alexander Titov (Kino), next to Boris Grebenshikov, the leader of “Aquarium”, with whom Kuryokhin collaborated until 1987. Alexander Lipnitsky, the bassist of “Zvuki Mu” played with a mask covering his face, while Grebenshikov played incognito with a false beard and glasses. Also present was Sergei Bugaev (Afrika), who was to become one of PM main performers. more>>
Photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlovphoto: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
From 1985 on, other “musical elements” were added: folkore ensembles, chamber music, opera singers, and military choirs. The performing part of artists and dancers was also increased. Costumes were becoming more sophisticated or even specially designed (Sergey Chernov, Katya Filippova). Sometimes paintings were used as backdrop, and at the concert at the Rock Club on 29 December 1985, artists and musicians painted huge graffiti works on stage. more >>
Pop Mekhanika at the Rock Club, Leningrad, 29. 12. 1985
photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Over time, the “rock section” was becoming more important, and typically, five or six guitarists would line up shoulder to shoulder to “combat” the brass (jazz) section, playing the “Pop Mekhanika riff” with synchronised movements of their guitars. Film director Nikolay Obukhovich made this confrontation the main concept of his Pop Mekhanika documentary “Диалоги / Dialogues”, filmed on the premises of the Mayak Palace of Culture in 1986 in front of a specially invited audience more>>.
It is a dialogue between the PM musicians (including jazz musicians) and Vladimir Chekasin’s jazz quartet. Obukhovich combined these scenes with traditional – “classic” – jazz tunes from the Tbilissi Jazz Festival (13-22 May 1986), but leaves the viewer unaware about this fact. Neither the film itself – at least not the version available on YouTube – not the film poster provide information about the venues, and so we take all performances for parts of a single concert, that is, of an extended dialogue. As a matter of fact, Kuryokhin had performed earlier with several of the “Tbilisi” musicians. The introductory remarks by Andrey Voznesensky, an officially recognized Soviet poet and intellectual twenty years older than Kuryokhin, were to give the chaotic Pop-Mekhanika performance a more respectable appearance. Voznesensky, dressed in a winter coat and wearing a fur hat, actually looks more exotic than everyone else.
The “Dialogue” film poster announces the premiere of the documentary at the Leningrad Documentary Film Studio for a period of eleven days, from March 7 to 17, 1987. However, the film created a scandal and was released only a year later. This poster is interesting in that it provides not only a complete list of participants, starting with the Tbilisi musicians, but also indicates the name “Pop Mekhanika”: “Оркестр п/у Сергея Курёхина Популярная механика“ [Popular Mechanics Orchestra conducted by Sergey Kuryokhin“]. It is the first time the name appears officially in the Soviet Union.
"Dialogues" film poster 1987
Courtesy of Sergey Chubraev
In January 1988, Kuryokhin was able to officially register Pop Mekhanika with the Lenconcert (State) agency, and from there on his concerts would be announced as Оркестр Популярная механика – “Popular Mechanics Orchestra”.
Poster for the Pop Mekhanika concert on January 19 and 20, 1988, at the "Oktyabrsky Concert Hall, Leningrad
Photo from Sergey Chubraev's archive
In 1987, another production carried Popular Mechanics’ name – apparently the first material proof of PM’s existence. It was the LP release of a co-production of New Composers Valery Alakhov and Igor Verichev with Sergey Kuryokhin and Igor Butman. The LP “Popular Mechanics. Insect Culture” (Популярная механика. Насекомая Культира) was recorded at Leningrad and produced at Liverpool. (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov was asked to take pictures for the cover, and Kuryokhin selected the one showing Alakhov, himself and Verichev in the Leningrad Passage department store more>>. “Insect Culture” is an “untypical” Pop Mekhanika production, not only because it was not a life performance, but also because the New Composers contributed with their avant-garde electronic sampling of music, voices and noises. They later re-edited their tracks on different labels.
Popular Mechanics 'Insect Culture'
photo: (E-E) Evgenj Kozlov 1985.
The number of Pop-Mekhanika performances between 1984 and 1987 is impressive. I use the information from Sergey Chubraev’s unpublished Chronicle which I slightly corrected, but it may still contain minor errors: five (1984), three (1985), ten (1986), and seven (1987). Besides the cities mentioned earlier, they also took place at other Soviet cities: at Sverdlovsk, Krasnoyarsk and Sestroretsk. In 1988, when PM had their first five (or six) international gigs, there were also six performances at Leningrad and one at Gagra (Abkhazia). In 1989 and 1990, the number of foreign performances prevailed – 1989: seven abroad, one at Leningrad; 1990: seven abroad, three at Leningrad. After 1990, the number of performances went down rapidly. The first figure indicates the number of concerts abroad, the second the concerts at home: 1991: 1/0, 1992: 0/1, 1993: 1/2 1994: 3/1, 1995 2/2.
From the very beginning, Pop Mekhanika concerts had an immense, not to say revolutionary impact on Leningrad's cultural scene, even more so when the concerts turned into giant performances, where “tutti” literally meant everyone on stage, including various kinds of animals – hens (1985), a baboon (in Obukhovich’es documentary), goats (1986), snakes and a pony (1988).
Vladimir Tarasov, Timur Novikov, and goat
Photo: Hans Kumpf
The success of Pop Mekhanika concerts led to invitations from the West, starting in 1988: Imatra (Finland), Stockholm, West-Berlin, and Santa Cruz. A small (and varying) number of musicians and performers would accompany Kuryokhin to these concerts, and local musicians were invited to join their Russian colleagues.
with "Star" by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, 1987 more>>
Archive of (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
1989 was an especially busy year: Liverpool, Vienna, Cologne, Moers more>>, Zagreb, Lyublyana, Noci and Bari. 1990 had Kassel, Noci, Amsterdam, Austria, West-Berlin and Kopenhagen. As we have seen, the “Western” PM performances came at the expense of performances at home, which saw only one in 1989 and three in 1990.
The one and only 1991 PM performance took place at Nantes, France, as part of the large Leningrad / Saint Petersburg Festival “Les Allumées”. I was able to see and document it. more >> It had musicians from both Russia and France: drum and guitar players and a large wind section. The Russian participants were Sergey Kuryokhin, Mikhail Kostyushkin, Sergey Letov, Alexander Liapin, and performers Oleg Garkusha as well as young Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe in his favourite role as Marilyn Monroe.
Pop Mekhanika • Поп-механика ‘Popular Mechanics’
Nantes, Festival “Les Allumées”, 19 October 1991
Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe • Владислав Мамышев-Монро
photo: Hannelore Fobo
But the year 1991 actually marked a turn. Pop Mekhanika concerts became rather sporadic, both in Russia and in the West, especially in 1992 and 1993. The last performances took place in 1995, three of them within the month of September: Helsinki, Saint Petersburg and Berlin. The latter, “StereoShostakovich or Sumbur statt Muzyki” at the Berlin Akademie der Künste (29 September 1995) was a coproduction with German sound artist Frieder Butzmann more>>. Judging by my own memory and the video fragment of Ingrid Molnar’s film available on YouTube, it was, at best, a 50% PM performance, as Sergey Kuryokhin was not “conducting” it. Butzmann’s text, sound and film collages provided the main concept.
Sumbur statt Muzyki, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1995
Sergey Kuryokhin (Shostakovich)
photo: Hannelore Fobo
We may say that these concerts are now better remembered for their visual, theatrical effects than for their music, the virtuosity of many musicians notwithstanding. Yet by far not all Pop Mekhanika performances were staged as grand shows like those at Stockholm (1988) or Liverpool (1989). Kumpf’s pictures of Moers 1989 show as a main (early) PM “element” animals on stage, but otherwise there were no costumes, little stage decoration, and no “exotic” guest musicians. Kuryokhin’s claim “When we play in big concert halls, we place maybe 200 people onstage“ might relate to a few performances only. Kan defines a “small” Pop Mekhanika as five or six PM core members – in the case of a low-budget invitation sometimes playing without additional guest musicians. By this criteria, the Moers concert and even the Nantes concert would fit the category of such a small PM. However, the definition of a Pop Mekhanika concert remains somewhat vague, since Kuryokhin always had a large number of performances with other groups or musicians. It might be given, for the period after 1987, by a criterion of exclusion: if such performances weren’t part of either a Jazz Festival, a rock concert (Aquarium, Kino), or duos or trios (for instance with Letov or Alexandrov), they may be considered PM performances. However, with regard to Jazz Festivals, this cannot be generalised, since although the Moers performance was part of the “18. Internationales New Jazz Festival Moers”, and it was clearly a Pop Mekhanika concert.
Small Pop Mekhanika performances also took place at home. The very last performance on 27 November 1995 (Saint Petersburg, Marble Palace) was such a small PM with a ballet dancer. It ended Pop Mekhanika’s history after more than eleven years. Pop Mekhanika had become Kuryokhin’s trade-mark, although during the entire period he had continued pursuing other musical projects and had intensified his solo career, both at home and abroad.
To resume this short description, we can say that Pop Mekhanika developed conceptually between 1984 and 1986, had a main period of activity inside the Soviet Union up to 1988, at which point activities were shifted to performances in the West until 1991. After 1991, PM performances happened occasionally, though they might have continued, had it not been for Sergey Kuryokhin’s illness and death in 1996. But if we speculate about their further history, we must certainly consider Kuryokhin’s radicalisation of his previous views at the beginning of 1995, when he became a fierce campaigner of Alexander Dugin’s and Eduard Limonov’s National-Bolshevik Party. How this left its mark on the two last large “Pop Mekhanika” performances in September 1995 I will discuss in part three of my research, “Empire and Magic”.
As a cultural phenomenon, PM’s dynamic evolution exploited the new opportunities provided by Perestroika. It is, however, important to note that a) Pop Mekhanika had its incubation period and coming out prior to Perestroika and b) Kuryokhin went ahead of Perestroika, that is, didn't wait until he was allowed to do something, but simply did it, willing to take risks.At a moment when the West was ready embrace Russia again, Pop Mekhanika’s anarchic spirit made these performances extremely attractive for the Western cultural world. They were in striking contrast to the grey and dull image of the Soviet Union, and it follows the logic that PM concerts were staged in the West especially between 1988 till 1991: They came from the USSR, they were new, daring and a “massive attack” on the senses. The audience’s expectations were high.
Reference list >>
 Kumpf, My trip to Russia, p.81
 Kan, Skipper, digital version, p. 32.
 Kan, Skipper, digital version, p. 31
 Published in February 1983. Kan, Sergey Kuryokhin Interview, p. 12
 List of musicians from Kumpf's photos and Alexander Kan, Skipper, digital version, p. 67
 see footnote 9
 Unfortunately, Kumpf´s recording has been lost, although there seems to exist another recording.
 “Als ich tags darauf im Moskauer ARD-Studio - außer den Fernsehjournalisten Gerd Ruge - noch den Hörfunkreporter Johannes Grotzky traf, wunderte sich dieser beim Anhören meines Cassettenrecordermitschnitts, daß das Publikum so frenetisch gejubelt hatte und eine Zugabe verlangte. Eine derartige "Disziplinlosigkeit" war dem erfahrenen Medienmann in der Sowjetunion zuvor nicht widerfahren.”
 At that time “Leningrad State University“, named after Andrei Zhdanov
 The mask was Zvuki Mu’s talisman and was later lost. Private email from Sergey Chubraev, 20 September 2017
 I found this piece of information in a web forum. Jazz musicians from the Tbilissi Jazz Festival were David Goloshkin (sax) and Viktor Dvoskin (bass), as well as singers Tatevik Hovshanisyan, Azisza Mustafa Zada, Elvira Travova Larisa Dolina.and some others
 Sergey Chubraev in a private email from 26 November, 2017
 I use the information from Sergey Chubraev’s unpublished Chronicle
John Litweiler, “Soviet Pianist Exudes An Animal Magnetism”, review at the Chicago Tribune from 20 October, 1988 http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1988-10-20/features/8802090561_1_sergey-kuryokhin-animals-chicago-concert Retrieved 17 December 2017
 Presumably to the two concerts at the Leningrad “Oktyabersky Hall“ in January 1988.
 Kan, Skipper, digital version, p. 74
 Sergey Chubraev in a private email from 26 November, 2017
Russian names: Сергей Курёхин, Поп-механика,
Alternative writings: Sergey Kurekhin, Sergei Kurekhin, Sergej Kurjochin, Kuryochin, Pop mechanics, Popular Mechanics
Uploaded 26 March 2018