Is the gulag a laughing matter? Is alcoholism a joke to you? Are songs written by, for, and about Russian criminals anything to chuckle about? Maybe that gravel-voiced rough diamond of stage screen, Jacek Koman, and his band VulgarGrad are guilty of making light of these serious matters? You be the judge! It’s folk-punk-polka-ska-swing – so dance! (or you will be SHOOTED)
Sometimes good men do bad things…
VulgarGrad bring you the old songs of the Russian thieves (called blatnie pesny or blatnyak), along with punk classics of the Perestroika era and a strong dose of contemporary St. Petersburg swearing ska. Their latest album is The Odessa Job (2019).
VulgarGrad arose in Melbourne in late 2004 out of a collaboration between some of Australia’s best musicians in underground ethnic styles and the incredible vocal talents of one Australia’s most formidable stage and screen actors, Jacek Koman. Since that time they have been stalwarts of Australia’s live music and festival scene, proving that what Australian audiences really seem to need is a wild night of old-fashioned Russian criminality. After all, if Russia and Australia have anything in common, it’s convicts.
Throughout the twentieth century, criminal culture always played a strong, if unofficial part in Russian cultural life, and this was never more highly developed than in the thieves’ songs, or blatnye pesni – performed by, for, and about criminals in the prisons, gulags and seedy bars of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Famous exponents of the genre include Leonid Utesov in the 1920s and 30s, Arkady Severny and the great Vladimir Vysotsky in the 60s and 70s, while more recently, groups such as Leningrad and La-Minor have incorporated the blatnyak style and lyrical content (prison, Mama, drinking, and stealing) into their contemporary acoustic punk and ska sound. VulgarGrad combine the best of these traditions with a dash of perestroika punk and their own inimitable brand of gulag swing to produce something that transcends the language barrier by aiming straight for your convict heritage and your dancing feet.
The band delivers this music with style, raucous menace, stripy shirts and a smattering of grim smiles.
Legend of stage and screen, Jacek Koman (Moulin Rouge, Children of Men, Mustangs FC, The Hater) is the genial but vengeful front man who roars with the voice of a man betrayed, and he is backed by a gang of Australia's most illustrious ex-cons drawn from bands such as The Blue Grassy Knoll, Zulya and the Children of the Underground, Croque Monsieur, Bombay Royale, and The Puta Madre Brothers. The Line-up is guitar, drums, trombone, trumpet, accordion, and watch out for the largest, most triangular instrument of them all, the mighty contrabass balalaika.
VulgarGrad are: Jacek Koman: vocals; Andrew Tanner: contrabass balalaika; Renato VaCirca: drums; Ros Jones: trombone; Adam Pierzchalski: trumpet; Nara Demasson: guitar; Phil McLeod: piano accordion
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