Self-Titled Demo Records: The Story of a Russian DIY Punk Label

Alexander Lyubomudrov was the man behind Self-Titled Demo Records, a small DIY label from Moscow that, together with Old Skool Kids (OSK Records) and Insomnia Zine, really helped me to find out about some truly great bands and projects in Eastern Europe and abroad.

The label’s first releases were two Latvian screamo/hardcore bands, the 7″ of When My Authorities Fall and the nicely packaged CD of Vismaz Trīs Vārdi, later followed by John Ball from Czech Republic and the special Eastern European CD edition of Amanda Woodward’s “La Décadence De La Décadence” masterpiece. But probably the most important release in the label’s history was the posthumous co-release (with OSK Records) of Russian neo-crust/screamo band Sandinista!’s self-titled record, released in memory of their guitar player Timur, who was brutally murdered in Saint Petersburg by a gang of Neo-Nazis on November 13th, 2005. The following interview was conducted by Honza (Remek, Gattaca) for his zine Move Your Ass.

Hey Sasha, I got to know your label some time ago when my friends Jonh Ball told me you are going to help them with releasing their CD, but I think lot of people haven’t heard about your label, so it would be great if you introduced it. Why are you doing this? It means lot of “black work”, which is not seen as much as the work of a band when you hold a record in your hands, I guess. What pushes you to keep doing this?

Hi! Before I say the phrase “MY label” I’d like to define that even though it is mine and I do most of work on my own, I think every band we release is a part of the label and some people who help me with the things are part of it. So let’s get started.

My label is a bit young that is why it is still unknown around the world. We started around half a year ago. I had several motivations to start it. I have collected some money from my official work and I really wanted to help out my family—Marschak, a screamo band from Moscow. I thought out of helping them with money, but inspired by the labels like Ebullition and CrimethInc. (great music, great packages, cheap, political stuff) I decided to start my own label, Marschak were still finishing their material when another chances for me appeared.

The band I was always delighted with—Latvian When My Authorities Fall—were self-releasing their 7″ and they were looking for labels to join the pool, so I got in. The label didn’t have a name at that time, so me and Jekabs (When My Authorities Fall, Presiite Records) was having fun about it. It was like he told me okay, what information should we put about your label on the cover—name, address? And I just told him “Hm, I have an address, but I don’t know the name,” and he was like “What? You don’t know what? The name of your label?” So it took me three days of thinking and Self-Titled Demo Records prevailed.

Another motivation was that the labels that we have here in Moscow were dying in that period of time from the general lack of activity and laziness. And it was only Old Skool Kids Records that was still running and I talked to Sergey several times like “Man, why jewel boxes? Make something more interesting—thick cardboard package, silk-screened cover, digipak.” He told me that it was too expensive and I was like “but together we can do anything.” And finally I moved him on. I mean, he might be refusing to acknowledge my influence but I think my brain fucking pressure made him more flexible in choosing the record cover materials. It was a stagnation when I appeared on the scene and it is great for me to notice that I motivated others to do something.

So I got started to work with Jekabs on the first record when the second one appeared in the line, it was Latvian Vismaz Trīs Vārdi, sarcastic band on stage with serious message in their lyrics. I loved them from the first chords and decided to do it.

What pushes me? I don’t know—that great feeling inside that we’re riding on the storm. This is part of my own revolution. We’re differently making something great and revolutionary! We’re making better music than on MTV, with great packages better than Warner Bros, and we distribute them wider than Virgin megastores!

Great music that people make—this is what pushes me as well! I mean it is a shame to me, when the great bands do not have a chance to make a record and to make it be packed like they want and designed like they want. I am here for it.

I see that besides Russian bands, you release some other bands and they are all from the former “Socialist” bloc. Do you know these bands personally or how did you get to know them? When I look on your website, it seems that you have very personal feelings about each records you put out. I also wonder if you think that there is stronger DIY network connection between people from former Socialist countries? It seems to me that we all share the same feeling that we have something in common but I don’t know how to express this. How do you feel about that?

Yes, you’re right! Most of them are ex-Soviet countries, but I’d rather choose the term Eastern Europe. When we say Soviet—I think of USSR and the pressure that it had on the Eastern Europe, I do not want people to think that I have any relations with that, but here in the Eastern Europe we have a lot in common.

But let’s start with the personal thing first. Yes, I do know most of the bands more or less personally. And it means everything to me. I mean I love the music and message but if it comes from bad people or I don’t like what people sing about and what they live like—it is not my cup of tea. I’d rather not release them. I am not like that much of a judgmental person or want to keep my hands clear. It is really a personal thing to me. I try to keep off people who are wearing masks, even though we all wear them from time to time. But I prefer more those people who are open to me, at least sometimes.

The Eastern thing. I have seen a lot of great people and bands from the West: European and American. And I do believe that they have much more than I’ve seen. The fact that they have too many bands of all varieties of the spectrum makes people there too fed-up, too selfish in a positive way—I mean they have a lot, so they are not that much interested of the new stuff that comes from the Eastern Europe, or Asia, or Africa. If you’re not singing in English—you’re barbarian and fact is the fact. Those people whenever were on tour know that the best crowd and the warmest reception are in the Eastern part. It is not good or bad thing about the West, it is just a cultural aspect. They are developed and we’re the developing.

I consider it is such thing as capital city snobbism here in Russia, but I try to fight it in myself and in others, I mean I really love to listen to the local bands from outside of Moscow and I love them even better, because their sources are much more limited in aspect of money and equipment. In the West it seems like too many things went mainstream and everything too commercialized. I mean, there is no such term like poppy hardcore in Russia and on Russian TV and radio. I mean, there are a few bands like these and all of them from the West. I mean, the quantity of the bands who want to keep pretending like they are hardcore kids and meanwhile try to get country wide commercially popular are close to zero.

No one would believe you’re a DIY band if you, like Heaven Shall Burn, put 6 sponsorship logos on your CD. Or will be playing with Eastpack banner like Walls of Jericho. Some people will keep listening to you, like they listen to normal poppy stuff, but no one would take your message seriously and no one will think twice of it here on the East of Europe.

I like the Eastern way, because the bands here are poor, hungry, raw, and angry, have limited possibilities and still play great music. And I like people who sing in their native language. But on the other side. The bad thing here is that being from the East, no one buys records, let’s say in Latvia or Lithuania. And there are places that are completely out of the vinyl culture.

I see. Sometimes it seems to me as well that bands from Eastern Europe are taken more like a “Zoo atraction” or something in the West. Except few of them like FxPxOx and few others. This year you visited Fluff Fest and you brought some records that you put up. How were the people into East-European stuff? You said that the only CD left was that 3v3 one…

Well I didn’t took that much with me. I didn’t took too much stuff of mine and geographically I’ve traded with Italy (Sons of Vesta), Poland (In Our Hands Records & Refuse Records), Portugal (Day of The Dead), Netherlands (Seein Red), Croatia (Moonlee Recs), Czech (Insane society). Sons of Vesta had already almost all my stuff from Old Skool Kids distro. So I was mostly trading Sandinista!—the last release and the main thing was to distribute it and to make them heard, because I love this band, and Sandinista! Is easily acceptable band as they cover music styles that fits term dark hardcore (from screamo to crust), so it was the main stuff that usually people agreed to take. Croatians took almost every release and so did Seein Red and Jumper (John Ball) and Agatus (In Our Hands Records). The most interest I found in Eastern Europe again + Italy Sons of Vesta/Khere—they were really polite and positive with me.

Except at Fluff Fest I traded with Felix Havoc and he was the guy who told me that he can not take much, because people wouldn’t buy and he took a couple on like you said zoo attraction. Japanese Acclaim Collective has taken a lot.

Bruno from New Winds refused to trade. He was like “It depends on what?”, and I started “It’s Sandinista!, Russian band.” And he interrupted me “No, sorry, we’re losing a lot on tour already”. It surprised me a bit like he thought that somebody is not losing on tour or that DIY labels earn millions on trading, bullshit! But I am not angry at him. Just a bit disappointed, because like for me they are just a band and everybody down here makes them icons. No, they will never be my icons after that.

And what about the snobbism in Moscow? What should I imagine under that? Do people in Moscow and outside of it differ a lot?

Not really, but both have different type of snobbism. Moscow is a capital with all its advantages, like fast internet, music shop, labels and distros, gigs of foreign bands. So the Moscow may seem like more up-to-date. And Moscovites can look at some kids from outside like “oh, I heard it all before.” From the other side kids from other cities really believe that all Moscow punks are too deep into fashion—which is not always true. And there is some micro intolerance between Moscow and the rest of Russia. It is small, but it exists. That makes me funny, because sometimes kids from the outside of Moscow dressed better and more fashion. As for me I am not that much Moscow patriot or something, but I love the people that I have met and grow up with here. They are not so bad at all. And I’ve met lots of great people from other cities of Russia. I do not like snobs, neither Moscow nor any other type. And I hate myself when I act like snob.

When I spoke to my friends whose bands played in Russia, they told me that people there are afraid of nazis a lot. They told me that there are no posters or fliers for shows because it is possible that nazis would appear there and were violent. So how is it with organizing shows? Are people afraid to come there? I wouldn’t be surprised since I heard about Sasha and Timur being killed on the streets.

Yes, That is true. It was a normal confrontations before, like more in violent and lets say theoretical, there were some street fight before and we were doing gigs okey with a tons of posters and flyers covering the whole Moscow. But you know, when your friend got stupped to death as Timur was you start to think about your safety. Secret gigs are runned not only because it is a danger of Nazis violence, but just to keep them off the scene. I mean even if they come just to listen to the music (there is such nonsense in Russia like Nazis loving antifascist hardcore music). So in case if we invite everybody through secret informational routes of our community, e-mail, phone, icq we can be sure that no Nazi will be on the dance flour. There is the other danger like they can come not to fight it—because they are too afraid to be beaten, but they can dress casually and come to take a picture of the antifascist and bands members to post them on a message board in the internet like “kill antifa” or something like that. People are brave enough and keep on going to the shows. I mean in general we can beat them. So we walk all together to metro station so to make them not able to attack one person. Secret gig can be more than 250 people, like it was for Children Of Fall. So the public promotion is not very important.

Sasha was killed on its way to public concert in nearly Moscow suburb. Now we run gigs in safe places (center, close to metro, not known to Nazis). So we do everything to make people safer.

And we have militant antifa people who keep bushing Nazis on the street. And I hope this movement will grow. They are not killing anybody, but they can beat a shit out of Nazis. I am totally against violence and intolerance, but the only violence and intolerance I can stand is violence and intolerance against fascism.

Russian antifas were on FLUFF and attacked a Nazi in ROKYCANI (correct my spelling)—the big guy who was wearing White Power t-shirt. And I feel proud about that.

Good but helpless news. Three out of six people who killed Sasha are arrested. They are confessing to a crime. Their crew is called City Hunters 28. Go and hunt them!

All the people who attacked Timur are arrested as well.

It will not return back our loved ones, but it is good news that they are not on the streets anymore. Hope we’ll fight the rest of them.

When we are talking about extreme right wing. There is that fucking big right-wing political party in St.Petrsburg. How do you understand that so many people vote for it and support it? I heard that on their official website they tell people to attack immigrants or foreign students. What the fuck is that? Isn’t this out of law?

This is a legal party against “illegal” immigrants. Many people vote for it, because it is easy to play on a national feelings of poor and desperate people and the easiest way is to find a common enemy and blame somebody except us for our own problems. Millions of dead soldiers in Chechnya war is what they try to built their hate on. And TV has its own way of warming up the situation with constant xenophobic criminal reports and so on. The violence propaganda on their web site is illegal as I see it. But government keep their eyes shut on them, they may be looking for a better chance to arrest them (like before elections), or think of using them as a potential fighters of liberated youth like anarchists and all the left-wing. It is simple.

There was a G8 summit in Petrograd this Summer. Our media informed that Russian state refuses to let anyone who could be potential demonstrant enter the country. They told us that russian police is very strict but on Fluff Fest it was said that lot of people were beaten for no reason, girls were raped in police offices, people were forced to stay in jail although there wasn’t any reason for that. But only people from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are said to be treated this way. How the hell are the things going on? What about official Russian media, how do they inform about that? Have you participated in demonstrations?

I don’t know about entering the state, but some potential protestors had arrived and I talked to them personally. I mean, if you’re not in the special stop list—you could come. Or you could come beforehand.

I was in Saint Petersburg just before the G8 and it frightened me much, too many police forces, some special forces and the army, half of the roads were closed. I felt like the war is going to start soon.

I have not participated in demonstrations this time, but I’d like to say out my respect to those who had participated. And those who were there said it was next to nothing, just a couple of small actions that were quickly stopped by the police. I knew that it would be so. Protest culture is very poor in our county, so I didn’t go there this time due to my personal decisions. I mean, I absolutely agree with demos and I like to take part in the anarchist activity.

Here is the truth from Saint Petersburg. My friend and activist Olga told me the following. Everything was peaceful but with a lot of illegal steps taken by police forces.

First arrests started 10 days before the summit, police got into the flat where protestors were staying and arrested about 10 people (3 foreigners) for 10 to 15 days under arrest. They were incriminated some general public misbehavior: pissing on street, using offensive words, etc. All is well with them now.

Three general actions were taken:

1. Blocking the main street in St. Petersburg—Nevskii prospect near the hotel where the summit guest were staying. International crowd of approximately 10 people were there. Up to 35 were arrested, partly passers-by and those who were just taking pictures, just normal citizens, they got from one to three days in the arrests.

2. Anti-war picket. All people were profiled but not arrested

3. Pink cheerleaders peaceful march was violently stopped and 35 people were arrested. Half of them were normal citizens. Two underage kids. It was hard to find those kids they were incriminated antiglobalist march but police wanted to arrest them for 30 days, so their parents came and help them out. The girl that Jumper was asking about was arrested there, the girl from Ukraine. She started a hunger strike. She was arrested for 2 days which is not allowed for the lady who has kids under 2 years old, like she had.

I was trying to find anything about rape or sexual harassment, but I haven’t found such facts. That’s it.

I’ve read an interview with Russian band George Harrison and they seem to be strictly against emo style. They said that only specific kind of people go to emo concerts and that it’s maily those golden-kids. I couldn’t believe that, you know, I have always thought this is one scene. Now when I see you, guys from Marschak and so on, I think this couldn’t be true. Is there some kind of rivality between different styles? I find this really strange.

I love these people from GxHx. They really made a lot of fun for us here. I even thought of writing to MRR my own stage review after their interview there. In theory, they are very good and proper hardcore band. I like their ideas of bashing fascism, but I have never seen them fighting it on the street, I’ve never seen them at all, they do no activity, except virtual, first time I really doubted that this band exists. They are just bunch of young kids of some rich parents and I do not see any other motivation except getting popular in Western world.

There is no fight between the different hardcore styles. I mean, thrash and emo live together okay. But GxHx is a fashion thrash—it is fashionable for them to hate emo and nothing more. And I think they more likely go against poppy emo, like MTV type—assimetrical haircuts, white belts, panda eyes, so I do not want to go much into this type of emo as well. I love old political stuff, or not political stuff, I mean I am not that much into rock about being broken hearted, I am more like into social and political stuff or just existentional screamo stuff.

By the way, imagine golden kids dressed like thrashers and you have a GxHx crew.

It seems to me like I do not like them. I like what they do musically and I like their scandalous reputation, but I am disappointed of how they never go longer than just blah blah blah.

I wanted to ask you what do you think about limited editions of records? Are you making some? I’m asking since there is an interesting opinion about them that they are just a way how to make people want to buy a record from the particular distro, a marketing trick to raise the price of a record (we all know the ebay thing) and so on. What’s your opinion?

I haven’t done any limited edition record yet, unless we count this John Ball on a craft (raw) paper that cost to me just the same like the normal one (it looks cheaper, but cooler) and I sell them at the same price as normal, but for those who prefer it fancier. We were also also not quite sure about the color scheme of this record sleeve, so we were planning to issue two different color schemes, but it was a way more expansive and the low-price version prevailed. But…in a DIY way I love limited editions, I mean If you make some limited stuff because you do it with your own hands (like make last 20 CD sleeves silkscreened at home, not printed in a shop) it is awesome, and I am happy to get something hand-crafted and visually attractive. Using eco-friendly materials, or dried flower inside, a patch or something like that.

I think it’s ok to make them more expensive—it is more like a collector item, but I have never seen any specail edition record cost higher than normal, unless it’s some major label stuff. I am all into all that color vinyl stuff and etc.

I am not going to buy on ebay any first-press stuff for €30, hell no!

I miss some vinyl stuff I wish I could have like Tragedy “Can we call this life?” 7″ and Against Me! s/t first 12″ with my favorite ever song of this band that is not available from anywhere else except mp3. But I am not going to buy them for Euro 30 or 100. I mean, I can pay some more for it, but not like some astronomical price.

And back to the label. What is your discography? I saw you made some re-releases as well. How does it differ from the original version. And by the way, what do you think about re-releasing old albums of bands which are already dead. Would you release an album of a band which wouldn’t exist anymore?

WHEN MY AUTHORITIES FALL (Latvia)—7″ VINYL (DEMO-001)

co-realese together with PRESIITE RECORDS and SZSS RECORDS from Australia

Metal influenced powerful emotional hardcore, dual vocals, really remarkable lyrics, nice people and good friends of ours. I love them, I respect them and I love their music.

VISMAZ TRIS VARDI (Latvia)—”PEREMAT” CD (DEMO-002)

Co-realese with PRESIITE RECORDS from Saulkrasti, Latvia

Latvian anarcho metal-core from Latvian most infamous bands (people from a dozen different bands of past and present were in this project). Thier name is a kind of a satire on the big number of poppy modern metalcore bands that usually have at least three words in their name, and it is translated from Latvian as “at least three words”.

JOHN BALL (Czech Republic)—”SOCIETY vs COMMUNITY” CD (DEMO-003)

Co-Release with PROXIMA RECORDS

You know them—political melodic hardcore band, plays kind of music that we usually call here Czech emo. I could put here a thousand epithets but they will not represent how I love them as people. They are one of the best live bands in Eastern Europe.

AMANDA WOODWARD (France)—”La Décadence De La Décadence + Pleine De Grâce” CD (DEMO-004)

Co-release with OSK Records

This is a special enchanced Russian tour re-release of that classical French emo band’s latest album “La Décadence De La Décadence” and their latest EP “Pleine de grâce” in one CD with a bit re-designed artwork. We kept the quality and made it a way cheaper than the European or American. That is what the band asked me to do.

JUMBO JET (Russia)/ SLEEP TALKER (France)—Split CD (DEMO-005)

Split of two amazing post-rock collectives—one from Saint Petersburg, Russia and a French one. I hope you’ll like it. Both collectives absolutely hypnotised me with thier live shows. Nice people—what was always important.

SANDINISTA! (Russia)— S/t MCD (DEMO-006)

Co-release with OSK RECORDS

This band was one of my favorite hardcore bands in Russia. They are from Saint-Petersbourg.They played dark modern hardcore with very deep social and political lyrics. I am sad to write about this band in the past tense, but we can do nothing about that tragedy that have broken this band. The band has ended its active and vivid period of life with the tragic death of Timur, but they will live forever in their music and hopefully this release will not be their last.

If you want to take a look at their further releases, go to Self-Titled Demo Records’ page on Discog.

So I have partly covered your question about re-issues above.

I do some, usually I do it for touring bands if they play in our area. I’d do it for the bands that will ask me about this and If I like them or simply If I like them.

Main difference of the re-releases is the low price keeping the same quality. Usually we add song explanations or Russian translations to the lyrics, but we didn’t do it for Amanda Woodward—they were too busy to give us any explanations in English and none of us knows that much French, and we had to be ready with the release right on time for the tour, so it stayed as it is. However, It differs from the Level Plane release by its blue-white color scheme (not green & white), it also features bonus songs—material from their latest 7″ Pleine de grâce. It has a tray cart design like “Pleine de grâce” cover but in colors of the whole record sleeve design. And it has my name in the thanks list.

It happened so that I did already released the bands which do not exist anymore—Vismaz Tris Vardi split up or just took a long break since their bass player went outside the country to earn some money. But V3V were more like a side project, not like a long time band.

Another one is Sandinista! This band can not exist without Timur, who was murdered by Nazis last November. He is playing on that record but the final mastering and the release itself were made after his assasination. But we all hope he can hear it up in where he is at the moment, and I hope we did everything the way he would like it to be done.

We’re currently working on releasing the rest of Sandinista!’s material that Timur had participated in composing of. It will be recorded with the help of guest guitarist, but we decided it would be fair to make it. Sandinista! meant everything to Timur and we would like to release that final stuff to represent the talent of Timur.

If you want to know in general. I like some kind of fan releases and fan bootlegs. Like there are some bands that I like and which do not exist anymore, some of them do not have any releases but they have some recorded material, so for me it is fine to do this. It is sometimes a thing a historical importance.

If you speak about the bands that have plenty of release, like Discharge or something like that—I think I will never do this, maybe I would re-release some kind of their rare material. But not some general record.

And some bands are never dead.

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