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Working off the basic assumption that Soviet rock is demarcated by lyrics more than music, Piknik's contribution was its attention to the inner lives of human beings, as manifested by personal fantasy. From the psyche of Piknik's introverted leader Edmund Shklarsky emerged Gothic motifs, whose mysticism undercut the secular stance of the Soviet regime. Foreign to the Soviet ear were the rhythms that accompanied the group's outlandish text. At the apex of its popularity in the mid-'80s, the group was banned by the regime in the same vein that forbade Soviet citizens reading fantasy novels or practicing organized religion. In recent history the group has trudged along the featureless corridor of nostalgia rock, but at its peak, Piknik's ghoulish brand of album rock struck a chord with audiences, desperately seeking something to believe in apart from secular Soviet reality.
Though a prior 1978 manifestation of the group existed, Piknik's story justly begins in 1981 with the arrival of guitarist, pianist, and vocalist,Edmund Shklarsky. The Piknik frontman was raised on Leningrad rock & roll, in his school days playing guitar for seminal collective Akuarium, and continuing on to play with local groups like Orion and Labirinta (Labyrinth). Invited to play with Piknik by founding vocalist and bass player Aleksei Dobychin and guitarist Evgeniy Volushuk, his fate would be long entwined with the group; Labirinta bandmateAleksandr Savelev joined him for the first decade of that journey. The re-assembled Piknik made its debit at the opening of the Leningrad Rock Club in 1981 and built a listenership through frequent performances. They became a popular club act which often invited new musicians for to join them for short stints, especially in the drummer's seat. Soon enough, a cassette-tape debut was recorded in the studio of underground producer Andrei Tropillo. Dym cemented their position in the Leningrad scene, but was also taken note of by Soviet officials who jottedPiknik down on a blacklist of artists forbidden from replicating albums, or recording in studios in the Soviet Union. Arguably a blessing in disguise, the blacklisting turned aspirations for profit into a pipe dream, freeing the group from preoccupation with commercial appeal. The result was Tanetz Volka (The Dance of the Wolf), an eccentric art rock album breathing the Gothic subject matter of Edgar Allan Poe, by many accounts their best work. Their subsequent 200-show tour of the Soviet Union landed them on stages from Estonia to Ukraine, but never once got them airplay on TV or radio. Their popularity rose, though materially the group barely existed; by 1984 Dobychin and Voluwuk had cut loose to pursue other projects.
Not until 1986 was Shklarsky able to piece together a new Piknik, its sound transformed by the addition of two keyboard players and a saxophonist. Emboldened by loosening regulations of artistic endeavors, the government label Melodiya released two Piknik albums: 1986's Iyeroglif (Hieroglyph), their first studio album synthesizing ascetic harmony and ornate arrangements into a symphony-inspired analog of Western prog rock and 1988's Rodom Niotkuda (Born Nowhere), a nuanced and matured delivery of similar themes. Their first compact disc release was 1991's Charakiri is an art rock adventure, reminiscent of Dym. In 1994 they released Nemnogo Ognya (A Little Fire), with its track listing of spine-chilling ballads. Two more albums, 1995's Vampirskiye Pesni (Vampire Songs) and 1996's Jen-Shen are the most off-beat of Piknik's discography, tenebrous lyrics exploring the realm of fantasy ushering in musical themes of the Far East. In the decades that followed Piknik has continued to produce new works with an ever-growing tendency towards the East, always quietly opposing commercial trends. The group now includes a resident shaman and dancer, Aleksandr Yaroboy. Their most recent CD, Mrakobesiye i Jazz was released in 2007.
- St. Petersburg, Russia