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Zvuki Mu

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Led by singer, songwriter, poet, actor, and all-around artistic troublemaker Pyotr Manonov, Zvuki Mu was one of the few bands of the so-called "Russian Revolution" in late-'80s pop music that merited more than a casual glance from Western audiences. (As opposed to bands like the remarkably dull hard rockers Gorky Park.) Formed in 1981 by Manonov, who was already a published author in his early 30s, Zvuki Mu (literally "sounds of moo," an absurdist name that suits Manonov's playful lyrical style) performed increasingly above-ground gigs in Russia and Eastern Europe throughout the '80s. By 1989, as Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policies were taking effect and the Iron Curtain was starting to crumble, Zvuki Mu began to make a name for themselves in the West, to the point that Brian Eno signed the group to his own Opal label and produced their first album, 1989's Zvuki Mu. For this first album, the lineup was Pyotr Manonov on vocals, Lyosha Bortnichuk on guitar, Pavel Hotin on keyboards, Sasha Lipnitsky on bass, and Lyova Pavlov on drums; nearly every Zvuki Mu album has a different lineup than the one before, with Manonov the only constant. The group's unique blend of jazz, rock, Zappa-like weirdness, and subtle political content was quite popular among the more adventurous fringes of the Western pop scene, but a greater breakthrough never came. After the U.S.S.R.'s collapse, Russian rock & roll lost most of its exotic qualities and Western attention wandered elsewhere. Another Opal album, Zima (Winter), followed in 1991, but all Zvuki Mu albums after that were released only in Eastern Europe, where the band maintain a rather large fan base. Some of these albums include 2001's Chocolate Pushkin, 2002's Electro T, and over a dozen others, many of which double as soundtracks to Pyotr Manonov's theater pieces. ~ Stewart Mason

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