TALK: TOTAL STIOB: Comedy, Irony, and Parody in Late Soviet Ukrainian Punk Rock, Maria Sonevytsky (Bard College)

Event Date: 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022 - 3:30pm

Event Location: 

  • Music Library 2406
TOTAL STIOB: Comedy, Irony, and Parody in Late Soviet Ukrainian Punk Rock 
Maria Sonevytsky (Bard College)
February 23, 2022
3:30-5 PM
Music Library 2406

In 1989, a curious artifact began to circulate among Kyivan punks: a cassette tape of the first Ukrainian punk band, Vopli Vidopliassova (“Ve-Ve” for short). The songs featured lyrics (mostly) in the Ukrainian language, a novel departure from the Russocentrism of Soviet youth musical subcultures at the time. Circulated through a precarious informal economy that improbably linked the local Komsomol (Communist Youth League) newspaper’s music pages to a newly formed tape-dubbing collective, the album Tantsi (“Dances”) was described as epitomizing “total stiob” by the influential Kyivan music journalist Oleksandr Yevtushenko. “Stiob” refers to a genre of late Soviet parody; and in Tantsi, the band elevated the artform through innovative uses of comedy and irony. Lyrically, they utilized the ironic potentials of the Ukrainian language, the hybrid Ukrainian-Russian form known as surzhyk, and the tropes of Soviet official-ese to concoct densely polysemic, often surrealistic, texts that eluded Soviet censorship regimes. Sonically, they drew inspiration from European and U.S. new wave and post-punk groups, Ukrainian folklore, and Soviet state-sanctioned pop music (estrada), alchemizing a unique form of Ukrainian punk rock. Visually and gesturally, they invoked popular late Soviet archetypes–of the “zhlob” (redneck), the “sovok” (the Homo Sovieticus), and the madman–and filtered them through the absurdist theater of punk performance. In Ve-Ve’s Tantsi, absurdity becomes provocative—according to the original bass player, the album is a musical comment on “the hypocrisy of life in the late Soviet Union.” In this lecture, I offer an analysis of selected songs from Tantsi to observe how musical techniques of stiob circulated in the subcultural spaces of late Soviet Kyiv.  

Sponsored by the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music and Ethnomusicology Forum
Maria Sonevytsky is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Music at Bard College. Her first book, Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine (Music/Culture Series, Wesleyan University Press, 2019) won the 2020 Lewis Lockwood First Book Prize from the American Musicological Society. Her second book, Vopli Vidopliassova’s Tantsi, is forthcoming in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3: Europe series. She is also developing a digital archive of Soviet children’s music with collaborators in Kyiv and Toronto. She has articles in Public Culture, Ethnomusicology, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, Music & Politics, and other venues. She has developed a number of public-facing ethnomusicology projects, and performs in a variety of styles as a singer and accordionist.