Let’s take it back to 1999 real fast. Eiffel 65’s Blue (Da Ba Dee) is at the top of the charts. Aphex Twin is spitting out more jams and dance hits than New Order less than a decade previously. French house re-enters the fray with the likes of Air and Daft Punk.
From London to Bristol, dance clubs and raves are everywhere (with a few too many christened “The Champagne Supernova”) as the UK switches gears from Madchester and Britpop into the likewise unfortunately-named Europop scene. It is this world that Philipp Gorbachev inhabits on his debut full-length release, Silver Album.
Gorbachev is in self-exile in Berlin, having left Russia after expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the country’s political and social values. While Russian dance has no identifiable form in the mainstream consciousness (outside of, say, Tchaikovsky), Gorbachev’s music has very little that identifies it with any trend, instead aiming for a musical pastiche of mainland European sounds. There’s a distinct Hispanic influence, with some of the outcries on Push The Gaz Pedal having similarities to reggaeton.
Electronic dance is a genre not unknown for avant-garde styles and inflections; indeed, since Neu!, Suicide, and Wendy Carlos, electronic music could be considered one of the most progressive forms of music since its inception. Gorbachev utilizes electronic music’s visceral prowess on tracks such as Distance and Europa (which features John Stanier from Helmet on live drums) to create music that is incredibly forward but with a chin-thrust toward the styles of old.
Fans of The Prodigy will break down in their hoodies to the distorted hi-hat and synthesizer progression of It Could Be Good. In-the-red production can help or hinder electronic music, so audiophiles will notice that some of those tenor sounds are extremely compressed and lose fidelity on high-end speakers. It’s not a huge flaw – again, this aesthetic can actually add to the distorted devil-may-care style – but it’s one that deserves pointing out.
Kraftwerk is low in the mix but totally present in the robotic beats and uncanny valley effect made when Gorbachev sings in English. Come On Let’s Warp is the best example, following up previously highlight It Could Be Good, and it dissolves into an Autechre-style bass ripple. Americans who jumped on the LCD Soundsystem craze in the Noughties will easily identify with the percussion-and-bass flow of New Sound, not to mention the no wave sax that shows up halfway through.
The downtempo send-off of Silver Symphony is forgettable and sounds like a poor attempt to capture tension before encore track What Do You Need begins. Here, the aforementioned Prodigy and Autechre influences are ramped up to eleven, featuring hisses and industrial breakbeats mixed with four-on-the-floor rhythms. It is the greatest song on the album; here is where Gorbachev owns his prowess as a producer and engineer of sounds.
Silver Album gets even better upon learning that every track is recorded with live instruments, something artists such as Daft Punk and Pretty Lights did on their most recent releases. That approach certainly makes for a more intimate and spontaneous listening experience for the mind and the body. Gorbachev’s lyrics, when present, feature Russian calls-to-action or references to native themes, again creating a sense of attachment between listener and performer. Silver Album is quite the inspiring listen, despite occasional moments of filler, and Gorbachev is well on his way to becoming a force within the European dance scene.