The Ukrainian and a part of Russian people have his origins from Kievan Rus’, whose population come from Scandinavian territories estabishing onto Eastern Europe. The Kievan Rus’ involves in its name a part of Russia (in sight of its etymology) and the one of Ukraine, even if for a joke of destiny, these two nation will be linked by a complicated relation, until converging to the crisis and war, which have their course in these days. The indipendence of Ukraine in 1991, the Orange Revolution and the Russian counter-politics have determined the fate of a country and culture signed by the recurrent political upheavals, like a substratum of corruption and public demonstrations, spreading the idea of improvement and liberation from that national problems.
In 2022 Febraury 24 began the Russo-Ukrainian crisis with the intensified occupation of Donbas and Crimea, which its tragic effects developed from 2014. The balance of the victims (from 02/24) consists to: +3,573 deaths and +3,816 injuries to civilians in Ukraine (source: Goverment of Ukraine, date: 2022/05/14) and at least 25,000 victims in the Ukrainian troops, up to 11,000 deaths and 18,000 woundeds (source, date: 2022/05/14).
The world of experimental music doesn’t stand indifferent, like properly the contribution of Sasha Jabovsky, from the Lvivian band Gravitsapa. Today there is the preview of Mother War, the new videoclip by Sasha, signed with the “Jabo Kritsky” moniker; the images, accompained with those fugal, suspended and hypnotic guitar lines, express a vision absurd and realistic at same time of the horrible context relentlessly characcterized by the Russian offensive in the Ukrainian territories. Indeed the video shows those violent abuses and their scars, like explosions, lifeless bodies, ruins, and people which try to exist in their everyday life. In the video some lyrics are showed, where the Mother War, which hides generosity and beauty under a horrible mask, should improves the counrty erasing every impurities. Indeed these words have a sarcastic purpose, evidencing the cynical effects of the war in a hieratic form, pointing out the nihilistic moment, its victims, which is permeated by the lies from the Russian goverment.
Gravitsapa, which take their name from the Soviet sci-fi movie Kin Dza-Dza!, and formed at beginning by Sasha Jabovsky (guitar, voice), Taras Lavriv (guitar, voice), Andrey Pechatkin (bass) and Nazar Vasko (drums), and actually only with Sasha and Hulurlaid Dral (drums) are an experimental and avantgarde band, which released in 2018 DEMO-2 (self-produced) and two EP, which are Free Radio Albemuth (2009, self-produced; then entitled Free Radio Taxipod in 2013) and Vulgata (2013, Skrot Up), where this two release are combined in the compilation 2 in 1 (2013, Damage Limitation Records and HysM?). The band during their course are linked with the worldwide context, as it is characterized by the relationship with England (Damage Limitation Records, from Coventry, West Midlands), Denmark (Skrot Up, from Copenaghen) and Italy (HysM?, From Taranto, Apulia). In particular there was an interesting correlation with HysM?Duo, formed by the HysM? owners Jacopo Fiore (drums, voice) e Stefano Spataro (bass, baritone guitar, voice) and the experimental and heterodox artist Paolo “Makhno” Cantù (guitar, voice and electronics, in Tasaday, A Short Apnea, Uncode Duello, etc… and owner of the label Neon Paralleli) went in Ukraine for a mini-tour with Mirko Spino (the Wallace Records boss) in September 2013 (one date in Lviv, in which they played with Gravitsapa and Plastic Drops (these ones from Ternopil), and and another event in Kalush, in the province of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast).
Finally, an important part of artists fight for a right cause against cynical repression, sacrifing their own life. Taras Lavriv, which played in Free Radio Albemuth and Vulgata, and then joined in the drone/post-rock band Nonsun from Lviv, died in the battle field of Mariupol. He left his wife and two daughters. They need your necessary support; following a reference for a beneficial donation to them:
We interviewed Sasha Jabovsky, Paolo Cantù and Stefano Spataro about the cited topics, not only the musical ones. Indeed we gave space to the tragic moment, and we take forward a sensibilizing action through that national underground culture and with the needed touch.
Lviv is near to the border with Poland (about 40 km), and several national refugees establish there (which was 200.000 (data of 16/03, this is the source)) from the more dangerous zones, or they pass through to come in Poland (which are about 2.700.000 actually (the source)). In Lviv, an important urban centre in Ukraine, in which it’s possible to breath a more Mittel-European atmosphere, now it is more suspended and stretched, with an increment of attacks. Sasha, can you report to us a personal testimony of these days in Lviv, where there were for example several rocket attack? How do you see your town changing?
Sasha Jabovsky: “When I first heard about the war, the first thing I wanted to save was a studio computer, where I keep dozens of recorded musical projects, that can be destroyed and never see the light. Yes, we are in Lviv. We try to play more often to record this mood of war that we’re experiencing now.
“Recently, when President Biden was visiting Poland, we had a rehearsal. Russia was bombing our city that day, and I saw a cruise missile flying over our recording studio and explode a mile away. I filmed the smoke from the explosion, it is in the video of my solo project, which I invite you to watch below.
“The war changes us. It cleanses you from all unnecessarily things, returns you to the basics, and makes you more Human.
“For the last 6 years, we have not known what to do with our music, how to perform it, what format of concerts it is suitable for, or where it should sound. And now we realized that it is perfect for the war…
“The point is that recently, my friend applied for a film about the victims of the city of Mariupol. When she told me that, I was listening to one of our last recordings and realized that I was listening to the soundtrack to this movie. My partner Eugene said the same thing, watching a video of the Ukrainian warfare when our music was playing in the background, and it all sounded very organic.
“Therefore, in the near future, we will move in this direction.”
There is a link between Ukrainian and Russian people, indeed both originated from the medieval Kievan Rus’; anyway this relation has been controversial in the course of its History too, for example from the charesty of Holodomor (which was orchestrated by Joseph Stalin during the Sovietic domination in ‘30), to these most recent times with the Orange Revolution or the invasion of Crimea and Donbas begun in 2014. At the same time Michail Gorbachev, a Russian, gave the indipendence to the Ukraine in 1991, taking a hope to a peaceful relation between the two country. Anyway, can you talk about the related feelings of Gravitsapa with the Russian audience?
Sasha Jabovsky: “So far, they have called us a fraternal nation. The least we want after a victory is a complete boycott of them.
“We are all witnessing a social phenomenon when, after ’70 years of Soviet totalitarianism and 22 years of Putinism, the Russian nation, through the destruction of the elite and active freedom-loving citizens, has become a helpless mass that bears no responsibility for what happens in their country. They sincerely believed in communism, it was a great moral uplift and hope for a better life and… then the same disappointment. For all countries, the collapse of the Soviet Union was accompanied by moral and national uplift, but not for Russia. For them, it was hopelessness. They started moving west but without success, and then again to their “roots”, but no longer believing in it. They have no national vision. This is a depressed nation and their disease has long threatened the world.
“There were two evils during World War II: German National Socialism and Soviet Stalinism. The first was punished and admitted their mistake. The second evil was not punished, and now we see what it has evolved into.”
What is your opinion about the position of Volodymyr Zelensky againt the Russian invasion? Do you think a possible NATO intervetion could be necessary for this tragic moment, for every country? Should you consider the possibility of a more peaceful mediation between Ukraine and Russia with a diplomatic policy?
Sasha Jabovsky: “When Zelensky ran for president, most people considered him a pro-Russian candidate and everyone thought that if Russia invaded, he would voluntarily hand over the country to Russia. Something has changed, and now he is really doing what the people of Ukraine want from him. Any possibility of end up this global threat should be considered.”
Let’s talk about your solo track. What does it talk about? Explain your decision to publish the song these days, and the emotions you feel and want to express to your audience.
Sasha Jabovsky: “I started writing my solo tracks under the pseudonym Jabo Kritsky. A double album is ready, but I can’t afford to release it, because it’s completely out of time, given the situation in our country.
“My first track calls Mother War, it is about the idea that in addition to destruction and grief, war gives birth to new things and burns everything unnecessary, it makes you holy, dispels the fog, and gives you a meaning of life. The crisis steels you, it is getting you back in shape. This is a real zone of discomfort that all coaches talk about.
“The track sounds dirty and seems to be written awkwardly. This is how everything looks like, done in a hurry during the war. You will not have a perfect hairstyle and prepare perfect sushi for a dinner at this time.”
Let’s talk about your music; how was Gravitsapa and its interesting math and noise sonorities born?
Sasha Jabovsky: “At the beginning of my melomaniac life, I noticed that I respect bands that have changed dramatically their music during their lifetime. And now I am glad, that Gravitsapa is one of them.
“We are constantly changing, and do not belong to a certain style. We played math rock from about 2009 to 2014. Math-rock was an interesting territory that gave us wide spaces for creativity, but we went to other territories.
“We started as an alternative rock band, then was math, then let’s call it post-metal or heavy music in general, and for the last 6 years, we have been researching intuitive free improvisational music, which, for me personally, changed states of consciousness are important, in which the improvisational flow works most effectively.
“Now I’m trying to understand what mental mechanisms provide the most stable state of this flow, and how to enter and stay there longer. At this stage, style is not so important. It could be noise, ambient, free-jazz, sludge, contemporary music, industrial, etc.”
Can you talk about the context in which you develop your intentions and music ideas?
Sasha Jabovsky: “We love to dig far from the average coordinate center, exploring new musical territories, which are well-defined by the term avant-garde in its broadest meaning.
“I see that in the 17 years of the band’s history, we have not taken root in any genre, standing with one foot in the underground, the other in academic conceptual music, and the third in, let’s say, the meditative and self-knowledge music. You build yourself, you change your worldview and beliefs, and then you send a new signal to the world: “look what I am now”.”
Your sound is cosmopolitanly interesting, and we are in contact with other worldwide artists and labels, for example from Italy and Denmark. What was your relationship with the other underground realities? What foreign groups did you promote in Lviv, your town, or in the neighborhood?
Sasha Jabovsky: “Sometimes we organized our Ukrainian tours with some foreign groups. The first foreign band with which we toured Ukraine in 2013 was the Italian band Tars Bul’ba. Experimental rock that is close to ours, and also a Ukrainian name (named after the Cossack hero from Nikolai Gogol‘s novel).”
Then we met the guys from HYSM?. They released our two albums and came touring with us. They said they would take another cool guy named Makhno with them (What? Another Ukrainian name from Italy?)). Also, Mirko Spino from the Wallace Records came with them. It was 2013.
Then, playing in Drunk Diver (sludge/grindcore), we organized a tour for Herscher (a French doom noise band) during this period, we began to play post-metal, but under certain circumstances, the only thing left from that period is one low-quality video. But you can see, how different it is compared to the previous songs.
In 2018, we made a Ukrainian tour with Rituel. This is a drone-ambient project of Herscher’s bass-man.
Stefano, how did you discover Gravitsapa, and what do you appreciate about them? How did the production of the first two work by Gravitsapa happen? Finally, why did you change the original name of Free Radio Albemuth in “Free Radio Taxipod” in occasion of its reissue by your label?
Stefano Spataro: “I don’t remember exactly when, it has to be sometime in 2012, and probably on Facebook. I just remember the first time I and Jacopo listened to the old-fashioned and at the same time acid math/prog-rock made by the trio, and the immediate decision to release their two works as soon as possible. We really appreciated their sound and the ideas, innovative and in a way classical. The production was really simple: at that time we released mainly cdrs, so it was quite simple to print covers, pack the cdrs and spread the word. I remember we delivered their copies directly in Lviv when we finally met each other. About the title: I don’t know, you have to ask Sasha. By the way I think because of the rights (Free Radio Albemuth is a book by Philip K. Dick).
A question for Paolo Cantù and Stefano Spataro about HysM?Duo and Makhno mini-tour in Ukraine; how was born this idea to hit those paths? What towns were touched in your tournée? How did you find the audience and the local scene? Can you tell us some good memories about the tour?
Stefano Spataro: “The idea of the tour originated from the friendly Sasha and me talking about the opportunity of touching Ukraine in our next tour. We left in september 2013 and we did all the possible gigs we could. In Ukraine we played in Lviv (@ UFT Underground, there is a video below) and in Kalush, in a pub I cannot remember the name. In Lviv we were welcomed like stars, there were a lot of people, videos, photos, entusiasm. In Kalush there were less people, but the place was cool, incredible and cozy people. There are a lot of memories about those gigs, but an incredible one was the girl who wanted a tit-autograph by Jacopo. We asked her to come the gig on the next day, but she declined: it wasn’t love! Antoher good memory is Mirko Spino (Wallace Records’ boss) and Paolo sleeping drunk on the floor, on their forehead, in a non-euclidean plank-stile position. Sorry, all very good memories of our tours are idiocies.”
Paolo Cantù: “As Stefano already said, the idea originated from him and Sasha. Afterwards Stefano and Jacopo invited me to join in the tour starting from Italy with final destination in Ukraine. We traveled by van (my very old van) and Mirko Spino from Wallace Records joined us in the journey. It has been an amazing experience for many aspects, starting from the trip trough Austria, Czech Republic and Poland (we played in Vienna and Brno) and continuing with our 8 hours of waiting in line during the night at the Ukrainian border for the custom check (I think that the officers were waiting for some payoff, but we didn’t realize it…). I remember that the day we arrived, Sasha organized to have someone (a girl wich unfortunatley I don’t remember the name) to accompany us on a visit through the city. It’s been a nice experience to have the chance to know many things about Lviv directly from someone that was living there.
“The concert in Lviv at L’Uft Underground (with Gravitsapa and Plastic Drops) was amazing, crowded and with a very nice atmosphere, I felt the audience was really interested about our music and performances, and everybody’s attention was very high, something not so usual in other countries.
“The day after, we traveled to Kalush. It’s a town just 120 km from Lviv, but you can’t imagine how long it takes to drive there. I can’t remember now, but I think it took almost 4 hours, and the reason is that the main road conditions were really catastrophic (and we are talking about a national main road). After that trip my van was never the same… You can find some interesting videos about Ukrainian roads on YouTube…
“In Kalush I had the same good feelings I had in Lviv: a smaller place, with less people, but same great experience.”
Paolo, how did you combine this choice of the tour in Ukraine with the imaginary evoked by your moniker, Makhno, this last inspired by the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Ivanovič Machno?
Paolo Cantù: “I think you can imagine the emotion for me to have the chance to play in Ukraine. Just some years before I had choosen the moniker Makhno for my solo project without imagine that one day I could have the chance to play there and also speak with someone living there and to know the perception they have about such an important personality from their history. I had confirmation of what I had already heard: during the Soviet era he was depicted as a common outlaw and this popular perception has been hard to change in the following decades. A sad outcome for one of the most important pesonality of modern anarchism.”
Sasha, now I’d like to analyse your discography, beginning with Free Radio Albemuth (2009), then reissued as Free Radio Taxipod (HysM?, Damage Limitatio Records, 2013). This record is in the sign of an oblique math rock, structured by different instances. In Ghola Tleilaxu the energies are spontaneous and powerfull in an unique instance, instead in Raped Europe-U the atmosphere is more hieratic and complex in guitar riffs and rhythmic patterns. Zubrytskyi Olezhyk’s terrible metamorphoses is fugal, structured essentially in different and contrasting parts. Fish is disharmonic in a melodic and rhythmic way, and a certain consonance appears at a certain time, in other words there’s an improvised order, in a neater, clearer and less confusional way than the one of previous track. Anyway, what was the creative course of the album, and how did his complex and caustic sound happen?
Sasha Jabovsky: “These were the first attempts to play math. After a rock period, it was so new that I doubted whether we wrote a set of notes or whether it could still be considered as music. Echoes of the rock period can still be heard in this album, as in the “Zubrytskyi Olezhyk’s terrible metamorphoses” track.”
Let’s talk about the second release, Vulgata (HysM?, Skrot Up and Damage Limitation Records, 2013). This sound is in the sign of a non-ordinary diversification, but it’s very irregular in its rhythmic and melodic patterns, and it seems structured as chinese boxes for their even several periodicities in the course of the record. Our Home Antarctida, the suspended intro of Vulgata, has an oblique harmony in its melodic lines and fugal in its structure. With Under the Potva we get into the thick of record, where a bellish and math path flows on the record, in a classically noise sense, but with a fervid energy; instead Cramola is in the sign of a non-homogeneous idea of noise music, with a high diversification in its plastic craftsmanship. It’s Unicorn, The First Initiation is more elasticly fervid in its flowing non-euclidean and smooth course, similar to the second track, but more powerful and atonal. A similar destiny is followed by We All, with an even more dazed math-rock structure, which results originally in the experimental music field. How did the cited elements happen? Moreover, can you talk about your collaboration with the Danish label Skrot Up?
Sasha Jabovsky: “It was a logical continuation of the math period, but unlike the first one, here the interest in mathematical music began to fade. The title of the album was an indication of this. The Vulgata is a simplified translation of the Bible, that is the word of God for the masses. Or in our case – the mainstreamed avant-garde. We wanted to move away from the mainstream even further.
“The Scrot Up released our album on cassettes, coming up with their own cover design, which was organic to all other their releases. It turned out that they released us, sent us a certain percentage of cassettes and we did not communicate further.”
The last album, DEMO-2 (self-released, 2016), touches on more experimental and heterodox territories. Hovorytskyi Yuri, which reproduces instances with a heterodox noise-blues form, describes an allucinated fractal with its periodic patterns and its bitter-sour harmony. Millipedes Reservation has a chaotic and linear structure at the same time in a double-faced approach (in the sight of the general noise creativity), and the following Gentile lunatic reproduces the same and previous chaotic elements (the same melodic patterns or samples) in a more properly atonal way, like an interesting bonus or interlude (for its brief duration too). The course of10div3=8 is a hypnotic whirl, waving through the entangled rhythmic patterns of drums, and Cra plays with reversed samples and minimal and oblique guitar riffs. Indeed an elastic craftsmanship with other reversed parts play its role in Eu and the last track Singalong, where the first one imitates almost-math-rock sonorities, and the second one is an interlude (or postlude) in the sign of a caustic and playful entertainment. How did these mentioned things happen in this work? Why this characterisation with reversed samples?
Sasha Jabovsky: “The desire to make more experimental music resulted in the fact that in two weeks I and my future drummer, created the album Demo-2. The album name anounced our next new period. This album can be called a remix of the previous two. It’s not obvious, but it is. from the tracks of previous albums I made new tracks. It was a kind of post-modernist approach, when you create a new object from ready-made things.
“Why so many reverses? There will be a long story. I once watched the documentary Hell’s Bells. This is an old Christian film about the harmfulness of rock music. And they mentioned that you could hear all sorts of satanic phrases while listening Led Zeppelin records reversed, and the fact that Alistair Crowley himself liked to do some things backwards. So, from time to time I started to listen some tracks reversed , and I liked that you could hear something new in an already old track. Sometimes I come up with a melody, play it back and forth, and end up with something I would never be able to create directly by myself. Therefore, for me it is not a separate tool, but rather one of the basic ones (at least at this stage), such as the distortion effect for metal bands.”
The creative course of your records is very peculiar; they open the road to an even more extreme experimentation. If Free Radio Albemuth shows a sour smoothness in its lines, and Vulgata is in the sign of a powerful and visceral energy, DEMO-2 is crazed art-music as noise poetry. You look forward to European underground, in a ironic and expressionist way, less ordinary but more obscure, with a plastic (in your writing) and cold (in your general style) craftsmanship, and all these elements converge in your local context too, for example is relevant the fervid Eastern underground music (for example Goodbye Earth and Plastic Drops) or, most in general, Expressionism/Abstractism in art. Between the national context and the European one, what is the real influence of them in your music?
Sasha Jabovsky: “Yes, the experimental vector still gives us a direction.
“For the last 6 years, my partner Eugene and I have been playing intuitive improvisational music. During this period, we boiled in our own juices and began to play even weirder music, which is sometimes difficult to explain because it is difficult to find terms to describe these abstract things that we are trying to play. We often look to background music and dream of writing music for movies.
“For me, at that time the band such Na_Zlami_Dnya, Hvylyny Tysja4i Miljoniv, Starchitect, and La Belle Verte were closer in spirit.”
na zlami dnya (experimental/progressive rock)
Hvylyny Tysja4i Miljoniv (avant-metal)
Starchitect (math metal)
La Belle Verte (post-hardcore)
Recently, I love to listen to Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, Haus Arafna, and Zoviet France.
At the end, what is the role of music in Ukraine and the world for these horrible moments? Do you believe in any artistic initiative, through funding for national refugees, Ukrainian too? In your opinion, how will this situation develop, how will the music community elaborate it?
Sasha Jabovsly: “Many Ukrainians consider these days as a tragedy, but for me, it is the beginning of the rapid birth of something new.
“The crisis is a harbinger of revival. It is hard to admit, but until these days Ukraine was a provincial country, including in terms of art. Only folk had something really original in global meaning. Due to the inferiority complex, artists rarely showed themselves by cultivating their own style. More often it was an imitation of someone else. Now I expect the appearance of many unique artists, musicians, and groups from Ukraine, which will show their original essence. This has been my dream for decades and I see it as a miracle, it has a chance to happen now.
“Also, I want to mention that while writing this interview, a friend of mine, Taras, who played in Gravitsapa for 6 years and was involved in recording two albums, during the math period, died on the battlefield. I plan to change the cover of the two albums and send all the proceeds from the sale of Julia, Tarases wife, who is left with two children. Taras died in battle in Mariupol, where the fiercest fighting is taking place. For me, he became a personal Savior who died for me. Now it is my responsibility to live consciously.
Thank You, Taras!”