The festival on everyone's lips Listen to nine hits from Bol', the summer event Moscow can't stop talking about
The Bol’ (Pain) music festival may have closed at the end of last weekend, but Moscow still can’t stop talking about it. Bol’ was founded in 2015 by promoter Stepan Kazaryan to support young, highly talented Russian indie artists. Since then, thanks to much hard work on the part of the concert agency Pop Farm, Bol’ has grown into a global event that features international headliners, massive venues, fully-equipped theater stages, and a food court. This year’s Bol’ has, for many music lovers, set the bar for the summer festival season. Those who made it to Moscow can’t stop thinking, writing, and talking about the event. We were no less impressed: Here’s our list of the top artists from this year’s Bol’. Now is the perfect time to listen and get nostalgic about the festival or discover powerful voices you had never heard before.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
At first, Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn’s band didn’t seem to be a frontrunner for the headliner slot at Bol’. Its competition on the festival’s main stage included the American extreme hip-hop group Death Grips and the Moscow-based electronic duo IC3PEAK (which has recently made headlines for facing official persecution). Nonetheless, Albarn’s collective of highly experienced musicians (The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, The Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and celebrated Nigerian drummer Tony Allen) brought such an intimate, lyrical set to Moscow that the crowd sang along with all its heart even when the band turned to its latest, less-than-impressive album, Merrie Land. Toward the end of the band’s performance, Albarn became so moved that he gave an extemporaneous speech about how bad things are right now in his homeland thanks to Brexit. The audience did their best to offer their support, but inside, they seemed to be thinking, “If only we had your problems.”
Hadn Dadn and Sozvezdiye Otrezok
Hadn Dadn’s concert on the Bol’ main stage was one of the first truly big-time shows of the group’s career. The Moscow-based band has gained popularity at breakneck speed after releasing hits like “My Sevodnya Doma” (“We’re Staying Home Today”) and founding a new musical genre they call “liaoakyn.” Their concert was the only mainstage performance of the entire festival that got rained on, but the crowd didn’t let the downpour dampen its spirits and kept dancing and singing right along. The techno project Sozvezdiye Otrezok (Constellation of Cuts), which includes Hadn Dadn vocalist Varvara Kraminova, put on just as powerful a performance. They closed with the marvelously titled number “Meduza” (in this case, “Jellyfish”).
Fontaines D.C. and Black Midi
This year, Bol’s organizers managed to bring in two of 2019’s biggest breakout bands: Dublin-based punks Fontaines DC and London noise rockers Black Midi. Both groups have just released their debut albums to the fervent delight of the Western press. The chance to go see and form an opinion of shows by two bands that are both standing on the very edge of mega-fame was in itself a major catch for Moscow’s music lovers. Both groups met those high expectations — in fact, Black Midi sounded even better live than on their album — and many in the crowd came away with the impression that these two are the groups really making rock great again. American rockers Algiers and Cloud Nothings also put on equally impressive sets.
Moscow punk rockers Pasosh, with Petar Martic in the lead, have become a true Bol’ staple. The band has played in the festival for four years in a row, and each time, it has endured some extreme circumstance or other: this time around, guitarist Kirill Gorodny severely injured his arm the night before the group’s final performance. He still joined his bandmates but spend the whole concert sitting on the stage and drinking wine while the group’s sound producer took his place and still managed to play every chord by heart.
Glintshake and Inturist
Popular opinion has it that one of Bol’s most daring concerts was played by Inturist, which was created by NRKTK founder Yevgeny Gorbunov. The band combines energetic, obtrusive, absurdist sound sketches with refrains like “get outta here” and “my father’s man” that link the band to its avant-garde Soviet rocker ancestors, from Avia to Auktsyon. Gorbunov’s other project is the band Glintshake, or GSh, which features vocal soloist Yekaterina Shilonosova. In 2018, GSh performed on Bol’s secondary stage; now, it’s made its way up to mainstage glory.
St. Petersburg-based Shortparis (many of whose members are actually from Novokuznetsk) were, naturally, among Bol’s biggest stars this year. Audiences have justifiably called their live concerts the best shows in Russia today, and the band’s latest single, “Strashno” (“Scary”), whose music video shows bandmembers taking over a Russian school, just might be the most impressive composition written in Russian in recent years. Judging by the crowd’s response, it was Shortparis’s performance that formed the emotional peak of the fifth annual Bol’ festival just before Death Grips brought the event to a close.
Hear our favorites from the festival
Translation by Hilah Kohen