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'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Mescherin and his Elektronik Orchestra - by James McLean

13 January 2016 | By

With its twinkling synths, soaring theremins and surprisingly funky basslines there is nothing quite like the Soviet lounge music of Vyacheslav Mescherin and his Elektronik Orchestra. The first time I heard these bizarre and ethereal sounds I confess I burst out laughing. There is something so intrinsically silly about their their seemingly faux-earnest swagger. And yet the music is wildly addictive.

The life and times of Vyacheslav Valerianovich Mescherin are shrouded in mystery, few concrete facts penetrate the miasma of doubt and confusion conjured in the Soviet era. We know that he fought for the Soviet Union in the Second World War and received the Order of the Red Star ‘for courage’, presumably for reasons of war rather than the composing of a kind of proto-muzak.

We know that a young Vyacheslav put his warring days behind him by enrolling at Gnessin State Musical College before working in public radio broadcasting. The details are especially hazy at this point so let’s fast-forward to 1957 when Mescherin founded the orchestra that would bear his name, the (ahem…) Vyacheslav Mescherin Orchestra. Despite its conventionally dull name this was from its outset no ordinary orchestra. Armed with a plurality of electronic instruments including accordions, violins and mandolins to be played alongside Russian synthesisers and the mighty theremin (only the drums were acoustic), the orchestra scored an immediate hit with a futuristic adaptation of an Estonian folk song ‘On the Kolkhoz Poulty Farm’. The song was soon adopted as the theme tune for the popular 1970s Soviet children’s cartoon ‘The Wolf and the Hare’. To this day if you hum its wobbly tune in the company of any Russians over the age of 40 you’re likely to be greeted with a chorus of nostalgic chirruping. 


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Vintage pin badge for the popular Soviet Children’s cartoon ‘The Wolf and the Hare’

Soon the music of the Mescherin orchestra would be heard blearing out everywhere from armaments factories in Perm to the concert halls of Moscow. The orchestra had a penchant for playing zany and downright bizzare venues including gigs at a nuclear power station and a salt mine in Divnogorsk. But the music of the Mescherin orchestra, in truth, was not for this world.

The Kremlin charged Mescherin with the task of composing futuristic music fit for the cosmos they intended to explore. With the Soviet space programme in full swing, the orchestra recorded an avant-garde version of the Communist anthem ‘The Internationale’ which Aleksei Leonov listened to frequently on the mission during which he would perform the first spacewalk. Leonov, a dear friend of Mescherin, remarked many years that his music perfectly encapsulated the sense of weightlessly floating around a space station and marvelling at the enveloping cosmos. 

Eventually Mescherin and his Orchestra were discarded as just too antiquated and just too Soviet by a new generation of Russian teenagers who got their rocks off to the sounds of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones by illegally tuning in on their long wave radios to foreign shows like Seva Novgorodsev’s ‘Crop Circle’ on the BBC Russian Service. Mescherin’s achievements were utterly forgotten until the fad for retromania swept Moscow in the 90s and some keen archivists uncovered the the story this pioneer musical genius, later compiling the iconic Mescherin compilation ‘Easy USSR’ volumes 1 and 2. Mescherin himself used to stay up all night composing his music. I say stick this one on at midnight, turn it up loud and take a look at the stars…