Kino

Кино/Kino was one of the most popular Soviet rock groups of the 1980s and 1990s. Influenced by Western bands like R.E.M., The Cure, The Smiths, and Joy Division, Kino became a touchstone for Soviet and Russian rock, punk, and alternative music.

Largely the brainchild of frontman Viktor Tsoi, Kino’s music was known for its accessible, yet poetic lyrics dealing with perennial themes of love, life, and freedom. They discussed everyday life, and while avoiding overly political content, they are perhaps best known for obviously critical songs that describe being down-and-out, wanting change, and desiring power in the dying days of the USSR.

The band was formed in Leningrad in 1981, first as Гарин и гиперболоиды (Garin and the Hyperboloid) after an Aleksei Tolstoy novel. They changed the name to Kino the following year. The new name was chosen for being poetically concise and easy to pronounce in several languages, perhaps showing Tsoi’s artistic ambitions.

Kino became regular performers at the Leningrad Music Club, an official music venue run by the government that served as an incubator for many of the USSR’s major rock groups.

In 1982, the group released its first album, 45, which used a drum machine instead of a live drummer (at this time Kino consisted only of Tsoi and his friend Aleksei Rybin) and has a lo-fi style due to poor recording conditions common to self-produced music in the USSR at the time. The album was not much of a success at the time, but retains a certain cult status today. The next few years of Kino were marked by personal and creative tensions between Tsoi and Rybin, culminating in the latter’s leaving the band in 1983.

Kino’s first big success came with their second album, the much more polished and more electronic Начальник Камчатки (The Head of Kamchatka), in 1984. At the time, Viktor Tsoi’s day job was as a maintenance man in an apartment building called Kamchatka. By the time of the new album, Kino had a new lineup that included guitar, bass, cello, saxophone, and other instruments. Amidst mounting popularity, Kino performed a famous concert together with the already-famous band Аквариум (Akvarium) in the Moscow suburbs, which sealed their reputation in the Soviet Union.

As the USSR began to open up, the group gained international attention. The 1985 release of Ночь (Night) sold more than two million copies. The group was featured that same year in the American release of Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the Soviet Union, the first Soviet rock release in the United States.

1988 was also a watershed year for Kino. The 1988 Группа крови (Blood Type) is considered one of the best albums in Russian rock. Also in 1988, Tsoi starred in a movie called Игла (The Needle). Tsoi’s performance was critically acclaimed and Kino provided an original soundtrack to the movie, building on the band’s overall fame.

In 1990, at the height of their popularity, Tsoi was tragically killed in a car crash outside of Riga. Only 28 years old, Tsoi’s death came as a huge shock to Soviet fans. His bandmates completed and released what had been a partially recorded album before Tsoi’s death—untitled, but known as Черный альбом (The Black Album), for the all-black cover that was a sign of mourning for Tsoi. The band broke up after releasing the final album.

Shortly after Tsoi’s death, the words “Цой жив!” (Tsoi Lives!) were spray-painted on a wall near Moscow’s Old Arbat Street. Others soon added lyrics from Tsoi, portraits of Tsoi, and more. Graffiti to this day is added constantly to what is now known as “Tsoi’s Wall.” The place is a frequent hangout for Moscow’s punks and rockers.

The remaining members of Kino reunited briefly in 2012 in honor of what would have been Tsoi’s 50th birthday. They completed a single track: “Атаман” (Ataman). It was supposed to be included in Черный альбом, but had been left out as the vocal recording was considered too low-quality. It was remastered with modern technology for the release.

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Here is a track from Kino’s first album entitled “Время есть, а денег нет” (Got Time, but no Cash):

Lyrics to “Время есть, а денег нет”

Дождь идет с утра, будет, был и есть.
И карман мой пуст, на часах шесть.
Папирос нет, и огня нет,
И в окне знакомом не горис свет.

Время есть а денег нет,
И в гости некуда пойти.

И куда-то все подевались вдруг.
Я попал в какой-то не такой круг.
Я хочу пить, я хочу есть.
Я хочу просто где-нибудь сесть.

Время есть, а денег нет,
И в гости некуда пойти.

Here is the title track for Kino’s 1988 hit album Группа крови (Blood Type):

Lyrics for “Группа крови:”

Тёплое место
На улице ждут отпечатков наших ног
Звёздная пыль на сапогах
Мягкое кресло клетчатый плед
Не нажатый вовремя курок
Солнечный день в ослепительных снах

Группа крови на рукаве
Мой порядковый номер на рукаве
Пожелай мне удачи в бою
Пожелай мне
Не остаться в этой траве

Не остаться в этой траве
Пожелай мне удачи
Пожелай мне удачи

И есть чем платить
Но я не хочу победы любой ценой
Я никому не хочу ставить ногу на грудь
Я хотел бы остаться с тобой
Просто остаться с тобой
Но высокая в небе звезда зовёт меня в путь

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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.