Before the start of Euro 2012, I wrote this column – about how the Ukrainian national pastime of being ‘too cool’ for things was really harshing the whole mellow.
Now a central thing that Ukrainians are ‘too cool’ for is anything from Russia. Many are very quick to dismiss contemporary Russian output by way of film and music. It’s ‘uncool’, you see, Russia’s no better than Ukraine, got nothing to give them, you know the drill. Now I’m no shill for Russia, there’s a lot which can’t be defended about it, but you can’t really deny the culture that’s come, and comes out of the country.
One of my favourite What’s On interviews was with Chris Rea. In it, he referenced a Soviet film of the 1930s which had etched an impression on him, and though he couldn’t recall the name (its having been some time), he rendered vividly. Quite a kudos reference I thought. A little later, I did an interview with one of Ukraine’s top DJs, producer-type-thing, Kishe. It didn’t make it to the final cut because I just couldn’t figure how to put it in, but I’d asked Kishe what his favourite film was. Of all time. Any film. His reply? ‘Friends’. Not only was that complete dross after season 3/4, it’s not even a film.
Some will point out, and they may be right to do so, that Kishe is hardly the hippest chip on the block, true, but Ivan Dorn certainly is. Dorn has become the handsome face of modern Ukrainian club/pop crossover, and is the current last word in where it’s at, CIS style. I was pretty excited to see him perform at Ukraine’s first YUNA awards last year. And what did he do? Broke out into Bryan Adams.
But, that’s the achilles heel in the Ukrainian coolness clause. Inexplicable adulation for the very crappest elements of Western culture. The same Ukrainian friend, a guy in his mid-20s, too cool for anything from Russia, had Bon Jovi posters up in his room. The amount of air guitar being played at Queen’s Euro farewell concert was frankly a health hazard. Another Ukrainian male friend in his 20s had to reschedule a beer meet as he’d ‘managed to get Scorpions tickets(!!)’, his delight tempered only by unsuccess in scoring one for me.
The arrival in Kiev of the clapped out Red Hot Chili Peppers was greeted with a fervor akin to Justin Bieber bowling up and twerping at a Girl Guide camp. Even the half of the Doors no one really knew and looked like they had already petrified, packed ‘em in, while elbows were used to bypass a baying crowd at …. the Stereo MCs. Cheapness isn’t an explanation either, if eoliths like this were able to gig in Europe, well you’d still be paying more for the dubious privilege of taking them in in Ukraine.
The best two concerts I saw in Kiev were by Russian groups Obe Dve and Theodor Bastard. Now media types from Shoreditch would chew through their fauxhawk’s just to get a slice of these aching, arcing twin temples of edgy cool. But for both events, although there was some attendance, tickets were abundantly available and affordable. The in-crowd of Kiev no doubt conserving all their hrynvia for the next time Starship stadium.
There are a lot of things keeping Ukraine as a 2nd rate country. Government, police … where to stop. I can’t help but think the sedulous love for the worst of the west coupled with a case of the ‘too cools’ for the rest plays its part.