Bobsleigh

Bobsleigh (Бабслей—though note that this is not the usual Russian word for “bobsleigh” and is perhaps also a play on the Russian word баба, “woman”) were one of Russia’s first successful folk-punk bands. The band formed in St. Petersburg in 1998 initially as a bit of a joke. The members all loved folk music, but, thinking that they could not play it properly, decided to play it punk style. They put their own music to traditional folk songs—both Russian and Ukrainian—and added an accordion and a saxophone to the typical rock instrumentation of bass, guitar, and percussion. They subverted both the folk and hard rock/punk genres. They often experimented with musical styles and costumes, and were known more for their energy and inventiveness than their skill on their instruments. Bobsleigh’s sound is simple and rough, not unlike garage-punk—they sound a bit like American riot-grrrl groups. Many members of this seven-woman band went on to play in the more mature, but still fun and punky, Iva Nova.

Bobsleigh used folk rhythms and lyrical themes, and each member of the band sang, danced, and played at least one instrument. In true DIY punk fashion, the group could barely play their instruments, but made up for it with a frenetic and fun energy that drew a lot of fans.

The band was formed in St. Petersburg by Natasha Kordyukova (Наташа Кордюкова; vocals), Katya (Yekaterina) Fyodorova (Екатерина Фёдорова; percussion), Tanya Avramova (Таня Аврамова; bass guitar), and Lena Zhornik (Лена Жорник; accordion). Bobsleigh’s first show was as Milk Club (клуб Молоко) in St. Petersburg in 1998. Over the course of their four-year career, Bobsleigh managed to reach cult status and their concerts became more and more crowded. Though they kept more or less to the “folk-punk” genre, over the years experimentation led them to produce songs bordering on reggae, hard rock, and free jazz; this penchant for fun and experimentation was another factor that endeared them to the public.

Bobsleigh became well-known especially in the club and festival circuit. Not long after their first show, the band was invited to play at a women’s rock festival in Tyumen, and shortly after that at a rock festival in Tbilisi, Georgia alongside the Irish folk trio Loyko, and Moscow’s Farlanders. In 1999, after a performance at Moscow’s Lost Youth (Потерянное Детство) festival, Bobsleigh was awarded the title of Best Female Group.

In 2000 Bobsleigh played an ethnic music festival in Finland, alongside another Petersburg folk band, Markscheider Kunst. That same year, while playing on the street in Munich, Germany during a documentary film festival Bobsleigh was noticed by a German professor of cinematography. This professor was impressed enough to secure an invitation for Bobsleigh to play at the Hot-Jazz concert at the Munich philharmonic.

Most of the then-current members of the band left in 2002, leaving singer Kordyukova alone. She found several new members and tried to revive the band, and the band continued for a little while on and off, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck. Many of the members joined band Iva Nova (Ива Нова), and fans on Babslei’s VK page are left wondering where “our Natasha” has gone. But Bobsleigh is still well-known today, and their records are still available.

 

Here is the video for “Gossip,” an upbeat, folky, punky track:

 

Lyrics for “Gossip”:

Ой,кумушки кумитеся
Кумитеся и любитеся,
Кумитеся и любитеся
Любите и меня

Вы пойдите в зялёный сад
Возмите и меня
Вы будите цвяточки рвать
Сорвите вы мне
Вы будите вяночки вить
Ой, свейте вы мне

Вы пойдите к ряке Дунай
Возмите и меня
Вы будите венки в воду пускать
Пустите вы мне
Ваши венки по ветру плыли,
А мой на дно пошёл……пошёл,пошёл,пошёл

Ваши дружки с войны пришли,
А мой не пришёл
Он сам не идет,письма не шлёт
Забыл про меня…………меня

 

Here is “Ditty” (“Частушка”), which lives up to its name as a very simple, easily memorized song:

 

Lyrics for “Частушка”:

что ж девушки стоите
что ж вы и гогочете
вы наверное как я
трали вали хочете
опца опца опца
дрица опца ца
(repeat)

Zach Hicks is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon. He is currently participating in SRAS's Home and Abroad scholarship program. His main areas of interest are twentieth-century Russian and Soviet literature, socialist modernism, and critical theory. Outside of academics his major interests are martial arts, the outdoors, and music. In Russia, he plans to continue to increase his language proficiency, to learn as much as possible about the Russian underground music scene, its tattoo culture, and to become a student of Russia’s native martial art, SAMBO.