I’ve never been a hip hop or rap kind of guy and apart from a smattering of records by Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and NWA I don’t really own any rap albums. However, that all changed when I stumbled across Moscow Death Brigade, who infuse their politically charged, socially informed and intelligent music with the anger of Hardcore and a whole heap of punk rock attitude. With the release of their latest album, Boltcutter looming, I caught up with Boltcutter Vlad and Ski Mask G to talk about Moscow Death Brigade, politics, music and their new album. And this is what they had to say…
Interview by Tim Cundle
MM: Let’s start at the beginning… Who are Moscow Death Brigade? When, where and why did you guys get together? And where did your name come from and what, if anything, does it represent or mean?
MDB: Moscow Death Brigade was started about 10 years ago in Moscow, Russia by us two. Since then we have turned into a 3-person act. All of us come from the DIY punk-hardcore scene, but we’ve had a lot of love for hip-hop since our teenage years. We started this band to make music that we loved, mixing Rap with Hardcore-Punk and spitting rhymes about things that mattered to us. Today we have also brought electronic sounds into the mix, adding an underground rave vibe.
Different people get a different message from our band’s name and we like to keep it that way. To us the name means something that we keep to ourselves for now. People seem to remember the name, so we are happy.
MM: And what made, and makes, you want to play music?
MDB: We just love music and believe it’s the most powerful energy in the world. Since prehistoric times it motivates, pushes forward and unites. When we were growing up in Russia of the 90’s, kids from different subcultures were sworn enemies and if you were a fan of metal you had to fight the hip-hop kids and vice versa. But we were lucky enough to realize pretty quickly that we love nearly all styles of music – especially those filled with adrenaline, like rap, metal, hardcore-punk, digital hardcore, drum and bass etc. Starting this band we were trying to create an ultimate style – to play the music we wanted to hear ourselves. So first of all we’re doing what we love – making music, playing it, touring around the world, filming music videos, meeting new and old friends and so on.
Music can take you to the craziest of places. Also music allows you to make a world a little bit better, uniting different people together, spreading the positive message and sometimes even raising money for good causes. From time to time we are trying to take part in different benefit actions, like doing benefit gigs and releases to raise money for children’s hospitals or victims of hate-crimes. For example, a couple of years ago we took part in a 4-way split with Los Fastidios, Feine Sahne Fischfilet and our friends from Moscow – hardcore band What We Feel, released by German label Audiolith Records with the support of True Rebel Store and Lonsdale Germany – all the profits from the sales of the recording and the limited edition Lonsdale merch were sent to the families of the victims of Neo-Nazis in Russia. Right now we are working with True Rebel on another project with one of Africa’s women’s rights funds.
MM: Every individual is the sum of their influences and experiences… So who and what influenced, and influences, you and how do you think these influences manifest themselves in your music and day to day life?
MDB: First of all we are inspired by the street culture in general – punk, hardcore, hip-hop, graffiti. We wanted to make a band that would somehow combine these things in one explosive mix, be it through music, lyrics or the general vibe. Our lyrics and message are mostly influenced by our own experience – for example growing up in Russia of the 90’s with its poverty, crime, rise of extreme nationalistic movements of all kinds and police brutality made us want to play music which would stand for solidarity, equality, against violence and discrimination. We also took inspiration from numerous music bands that would take an unusual route of experimenting with the new sound and experimenting with their lyrics – delivering powerful social messages through songs – Napalm Death, Dead Kennedys, Lordz Of Brooklyn, Public Enemy, Godflesh, Looptroop, Atari Teenage Riot etc.
MM: You’re about to unleash your new album, Boltcutter. What does the title refer to and what sort of lyrical subjects, themes and topics have you explored and utilised on it?
MDB: Boltcutter is a modern epitome of freedom – a tool capable of destroying chains, locks and fences. An ultimate key to any door, gate or cage. It is symbolic for groups such as graffiti writers, animal rights defenders, people fighting against human trafficking etc.
On this album we addressed a variety of topics, while not all of them carry a social message, a lot of them do: All for One and Brother & Sisterhood are unity anthems thematically trying to follow in the footsteps of Warzone or Sick of it All. Rude Girl Warrior is a solidarity song for women’s equality.Anne Frank Army Part II is one of the more lyrically heavy tracks directed against racism and religious discrimination, a sequel to one of our oldest rap songs. Collateral Murder has a very direct message against war profiteering and war mongering, though we tried to make the flow entertaining and easy to listen to despite the gloomy message
To cover the other side of the spectrum we’ve also packed our tracks with lyrics about touring, playing music, doing graffiti, running away from cops, going to shows – tracks like Straight Outta Moscow Part II (also a sequel to one of our very first tracks), Crocodile Style and What We Do.
MM: Is there a reason you guys wear the ski-masks, and if so what is it? I’m assuming that it’s more than just an image thing…?
MDB: Our masks represent our roots and background, where we are coming from and what inspired our band’s views and philosophy. These things include graffiti underground scene and DIY progressive social movements. Usually in those circles people would avoid having their faces posted all over the internet for many reasons. We also have always loved the idea of masked artists – from Kiss to MF Doom. Wearing a mask allows us to become one with our music and adds an element of mystery to the legend of the band. When we started performing in Ski Masks many didn’t understand that, but now we see that it is really becoming a trend, especially in Hardcore-Punk and Hip Hop industries with a lot of bands and musicians choosing Ski-masks as an on-stage attribute. So we dare to say we have been one of the first to make them a part of our band’s image.
MM: As a committed Anti-Fa band who take a positive stand against fascism in all of its disgusting forms, I wanted to ask you if there was a fascist or far right problem in Russia? Have the extreme right grown in popularity in Russia? Why do you think the far right seems to have been able to spread its poison, and grown in popularity, in both Russia and on a global stage?
MDB: We’ll start by saying that we are not trying to be considered a part of any movement – we can’t take the responsibility of representing any political or social groups, as we are not justice fighters or some sort of role-models – we are just dudes in Ski Masks and Tracksuits, who enjoy playing music and spraying graffiti. Our position against racism, sexism, homophobia and other types of discrimination is strong, but it is a purely humanistic position. Like any sane individuals we just have no patience for hateful and ignorant bullshit.
Back in the 90’s until 2010 or 2011 – Far Right issue was huge in Russia. During those years Neo Nazi gangs and Ultra-RIght groups were strong and numerous attacking and killing immigrants, minorities, human rights activists and even hip-hop and hardcore-punk kids, seeing the latter as the carriers of foreign culture and advocates of multiculturalism. People from the Hardcore-Punk DIY scene would organize and fight back the Neo-Nazis but were generally outnumbered with the police usually siding with the Ultra-Right.
In the last several years the threat has gone down however and violence decreased dramatically. Some consider it the victory of Antifacist groups, others think it’s due to the law enforcement and the government finally turning their gaze towards Neo Nazi extremists. The trigger might have been when the latter started killing judges, attorneys and planning terrorist attacks of a larger scale.
While the extreme Right in Russia seem to not be dangerous anymore (while some attacks still happen) , we think that the threat of Ultra-Right is too big to evaporate completely. The situation in Europe and the US is proof as Neo-Nazism is raising its head again there. Recently there have been a lot of attacks by hate groups on our friends, on squats and music bands in Europe something that you would not imagine back in 2010 for example.
We are not political experts to provide insight on why Far Right is becoming so popular. To us it seems to be propaganda coming from the top – from those that benefit when the society is split up, when wars are raging, when immigrants start seeking shelter and it’s easy to brainwash the simple-minded folk to hate these immigrants and vote for the next populist president, minister, governor.
MM: Musically we hear next to nothing about the music scene in Moscow, or Russia and to be honest the only bands that I’m familiar with are you guys, What We Feel and Siberian Meat Grinder. So what’s the scene like? Is it mainly underground or has it become a part of mainstream culture? And what other bands would you recommend or think people should check out?
MDB: The scene is far from big and now it seems like it’s on a hiatus. Ironically it seems like it was much bigger and stronger back in the day, when people had to stick together to survive. However there are still good bands who keep playing for years and stay true to their roots and ideas. Just from the top of the head: Distemper – ska-punk band, veterans of Moscow scene who also regularly tour Europe, Mister X – street-punk/Oi! Band – actually from Belarus, but play a lot around Russia and Europe, one of the oldest Antifascist bands in the CIS.
MM: And talking about Siberian Meat Grinder, aren’t they connected to Moscow Death Brigade? Want to tell us about it?
MDB: Siberian Meat Grinder is a band from another dimension entirely, mixing their crossover-metal with a brutal hip-hop flow. While we share a connection with them, it only manifests at certain rare times, whenever they cross into our reality to do another tour or record another album. By the way they released an album in October – Metal Bear Stomp and they will be presenting the album at the EU Tour this coming April.
MM: What do you think the most popular misconceptions that the rest of Europe and the world have about Russia are? And how much do you think that these “Western” misconceptions about Russia and Russian ideas about the “West” are driven, and encouraged by the media and populist national politics?
MBD: Touring the world today we see that both Russia and some “Western” countries have a lot of propaganda directed at each other, Cold War-style. The stereotypes and misconceptions are enforced and strengthened by some media channels through skewed journalism or outright fake news from both sides. What is really absurd though is the fact that even some people from the underground scene both in Russia and Europe take this propaganda seriously. Don’t watch so much TV, folks.
One of the misconceptions is that Russia is going through some downfall in regards to social values – while there are a lot of problems back home: corruption, breach of human rights, propaganda and poverty, it used to be much worse 10, 15, 20 years ago. Today in Russia there are more and more social-activists and organizations that help a lot of people defend their rights, feminist movement is growing, people are becoming more tolerant in general. It’s peculiar that when things were really bad – people were casually killed for their skin color and the police turned a blind eye – official sources in the “West” didn’t really care. The only people who tried to draw attention to these issues and provide financial support to victims of Neo-Nazis for example, were European Antifascists.
Having said all of that, we also see that a lot of people in Russia or the “West” don’t fall victim to the propaganda, hatred or manipulations of the politicians who want to profit from war and chauvinism.
MM: What’s the strangest or weirdest thing that’s happened to Moscow Death Brigade during or after one of your shows or while you were on tour?
MDB: There were a lot of crazy things going on at our gigs, especially considering the fact that in our early years a lot of our shows took place in the most unlikely places, such as in the woods, at demonstrations in the city center, even in commuter trains. You can see footage from the latter in our music video It’s Us – that would probably look strange to any onlooker. One of the most memorable shows was our first ever gig. By then we’d existed for a little while and we were invited to perform as headliners at a small underground hip-hop festival. We didn’t know what to expect, this being the first show, and were pleasantly surprised when the packed club went wild – crowd surfing, moshing, stage diving, hanging off the ceiling. We’ve never seen anything like that at a Hip Hop show before. This has started a good tradition – a lot of our shows have raging pits and turn into near-riots, something you can also see in all of our music videos including the latest one – Boltcutter.
MM: What’s next for Moscow Death Brigade? If there’s anything that you’d like to dd, speak now or forever hold your peace…
MDB: There is a lot in plans for Moscow Death Brigade – we already have several Festivals lined up for Spring-Summer 2018. After our tour with MDB some of us are going on a Euro Tour with Siberian Meat Grinder that we’ve mentioned above. We are preparing more music videos and as said before – working on a charity project with True Rebel in support of a women’s rights fund in Africa. Oh, we are also making an MDB video game reminiscent of retro platformers for Nintendo and Sega, you might have glanced parts of it in our latest music video Boltcutter.
Boltcutter is out now. Get it here