Seeing Russia: Soviet Rock Remembered

by Hanna Miller

in 2011 in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia (the country’s third cultural and historical capital) opened the Soviet Lifestyle Museum. for about $5, one may enjoy the three-roomed museum located in the city center and overseen by a sweet old woman who delights at every new entering spectator. “this is the only museum like this in all of Russia!” she gloated this past weekend when i visited.

the museum’s primary claim to fame is something that i find unusual: remembering Soviet rock’n’roll. in its advertisement, the museum boasts over 80 guitars collected and signed by various Russian, English, and American rock groups, from Poison to Би-2. this is unusual – a contradiction of sorts – considering that Soviet times did not include as a part of communism an alternative stream to disrupt the collective current. moreover, the West was not a co-starred electric guitar, but a sound check for an opposition which represented at once each confusion and intrigue.

remembering the Soviet Union as an outlet for independent music and hardcore self-expression was displayed not only by a donated drum set and signed blue jeans – but by the ordered rows and rows of intricate odds and ends, which are more typical to the recalled image of hard-working, happy-timed human collective. as if stepping into a Wes Anderson film, complementing colors and tactful symmetry gave the hoard of trinkets an ordered appearance and charm. the Soviet Union has emblems of its own, all marks of a past that is omnipresent in Russian memory and that creeps in and out of how traditions are shaped today.

although it wasn’t clear why rock’n’roll was paired with the rhythm of the working body, among all of the organization and precise placement, contrary memories intermingled as equal – as each contributing to one passed, fondly-reflected-on identity. while communism promised a new-fangled freedom, to remember the Soviet lifestyle with the edge of rock was, i’m sure, an unanticipated outcome of devoting one’s life to the state’s state of things.

Hanna Miller

Hanna is from Mississippi and a Masters of Journalism student at the University of California at Berkeley. Her background is in Russian language + culture, sexual assault crisis response on University campuses, and generational divides between women in the American south. She has experience in documentary + TV production for public broadcasting, radio + web production for the arts and cultural exchange, and non-profit founding, organization, and development.