Markscheider Kunst – a Russian band with a German name that plays tropically hot music. Rather odd. Or maybe not. The unusual name in German stands for Mine Surveyor, as most band members were studying surveying when they met in the early Nineties. And being asked why a band from rather chilly and grim St.Petersburg makes such extremely sunny music, Sergey “Efr” Efremenko, Markscheider’s singer, explains: “Exactly because we don’t get enough sun, warmth and light, we have to compensate this. Drugs are not a solution in the long run – music is.”
Markscheider Kunst certainly is amongst the hardest working men in show business. Their concerts often run for up to three hours. To be on the road with at least eight, often 13 musicians means a lot of effort and not much money at the end of the day. In Russia Markscheider Kunst is one of the most prominent live bands. But as there they don’t have such a broad club scene, Markscheider is more on the road in the Western world. By touring and playing festivals all over Europe from Finland to Austria for the last ten years they have made a name for themselves and gathered a faithful following. BBC’s very own world music guru Charlie Gillet as well as Berlin’s Russendisko team around Wladimir Kaminer have been fans from the very beginning. Brothers in mind like Manu Chao or The Skatalites have asked Markscheider Kunst to open up for them. Their melodic, infectious and most of all irresistibly danceable music effortlessly crosses borders and charms smiles onto everybody’s faces. Their concerts are high-energy affairs, but they also leave room for jams and improvisation. The sincerity, the humour, the kindness and heartiness of this band can be felt in their music as well as in the unpretentious jokes and stories from singer Efr on stage. This appeals to people who like to dance as well as to music experts.
Live Markscheider Kunst has always been a safe choice. On record this is often hard to get across. On Utopia, their fifth album since 1997, they get everything right – this record captures all the sun of their live performances. Positive vibrations – that’s the key to Markscheider’s work. This is fuelled by Latin ska, cumbia jazz, reggae, rumba or afrobeat as well as Russian folk melodies and Russian vocals. The brass section pumps while the Hawaii guitar opens the Buena Vista Russian Club.
As Boris Grebinshikov, Russia’s uber-musician and poet put it: Markscheider Kunst is the only band in Russia that plays happy music – and that on the highest level.
Indeed Markscheider probably have the best musicians you can find in St.Petersburg. As an ensemble they play in a virtuoso manner. But luckily this doesn’t come across academically and stiff, but with passion, humour and an almost punk attitude. There is also the odd drop of Russian melancholy and longing in some songs, of course.
The music experts amongst you will spot all sorts of diverse experiments on Utopia: there is one song in the style meringue, there is bossa nova as well as even gypsy jazz. But overall the record sounds so lush, positive and vivid that it never gets too complicated. Here you have a band full of self-confidence that is tuned and so good, it creates timeless songs between Russian Kuban and Caribbean Cuba in one stride. But it never gets too professional and serious, because Markscheider always perform with all their soul and with a smile. You recognize at once – this is Markscheider Kunst. They have their own sound and there are not many bands like them around.
Open up the windows, let the sun in and surf with us to Utopia!