V.V. in the past.

In talking about Ukrainian rock only several names come readily to mind (there are people who even now doubt whether there is such a thing as “Ukrainian rock,” but, say, by analogy with champagne — there is no “Ukrainian champagne” but there is a sparkling wine which is very close to what champagne must be — we can say there is a kind of music played in Ukraine which can be described as “rock”). I think at least one band fully merits to be called a truly rock group. They call themselves V.V. They play a unique combination of what might be called definitely Ukrainian music with its special charm combined with a real rock drive. V.V. is a phenomenon, a legend. They began their musical career as an almost “underground” punk group thirteen years ago and now they have become “a rock establishment,” if such a collocation is applicable to rock.

When I heard their music for the first time it made me mad, almost indignant — what kind of music is that? It was back in the eighties, friends in a students’ dormitory in Kyiv played me some tapes with V.V.’s music. I don’t think our readers have even a remote idea what kind of life we were living then. There was little to be found in stores but intellectual life was in full and exciting swing. V.V.’s music reflected those times: strange, almost absurd lyrics in Russian and Ukrainian, likable, original melodies, very expressive way of performing the songs. The quality of the tapes was atrocious and the quality of the players was not much better, but we listened to their music because we were sick and tired of much too smooth, bland Soviet pop that lacked any vitality.
V.V. now.
V.V.’s music gradually became known outside Ukraine. Moscow punks just loved V.V. whose song Let’s Touch Base in which the V.V. leader Oleh Skrypka screamed, wailed and howled rather than sang, put the punks into a trance. Such songs either throw you into an ecstasy or make you put your hands over your ears and run away. Talking about screaming, wailing and howling — the name of the group, V.V., is the first letters of two words, Volannya Vidoplyasova, which literally mean “Vidoplyasov’s Screams” (or “Howling” or “Wailing”).
Vidoplyasov is the name of a character (a schizophrenic lackey) in one of Dostoyevsky’s novels. The name for the group was invented by Oleksandr Pipa, who plays the bass. Pipa is a paradoxical character. One’s first impression can be that he is not quite right in the head but, as a matter of fact, he is well-read and very talented, musically at least. Well, in fact, all the band members are walking paradoxes. Let’s take Oleh Scrypka, the group’s leader: he was born in the town of Sovetabad, Leninabad Oblast, Tadjic Soviet Socialist Republic. His father was a native of Ukraine. Skrypka spoke Tadjic until he was seven.
Then, as he moved from place to place in the former Soviet Union he began speaking Russian. And now he sings in Ukrainian. Though he has been thoroughly Russianized, he understands Ukrainian mentality very well. In addition to singing on the stage, he plays accordion (Russian version of it, called bayan, is with buttons instead of keys). Why bayan? Because when he was a child, his father asked him, what music instrument he would like to be taught to play, bayan or piano, and the boy chose bayan because the word sounded better to his ear. V.V.’s music and lyrics used to sound and still sound very unusual, “far-out.” It took me quite some time to get my ear “tuned” to them. I tried at first to find some special meaning in their music, tried to make out the words, but then I realized you had to give yourself to the flow of V.V. sound and just enjoy it. You can weep, listening to them, or laugh, to one and the same song, depending upon what your own mood is. V.V. have changed a lot since they started to perform but the very essence of their energetic music that turns you on remains the same. Oleh Skrypka remains life and soul of the group, its moving spirit, he is very sincere in outpouring his, sometimes almost violent and unrestrained, emotions on the stage. V.V. have become a real hit with the audiences in Ukraine. Their emergence “from underground” began in 1989 at the Syrok Rock Festival in Moscow. They made a splash and soon became known abroad. They were invited to perform in France where they spent five years.
V.V. before their trip to France: Oleh Skrypka (vocals, accordion, guitar), Oleksandr Pipa (bass guitar), Serhiy Sakhno (drums), Yuriy Zdorenko (guitar).

V.V., “aristocrats of rock”; Yevhen Rohachevsky, guitar, to the right.
For some time they even had a couple of Frenchmen playing in their group. They toured France, playing as many as fifty gigs a year, many more than in Ukraine. They played at Montmartre, in prestigious Paris concert halls, in provinces. French bohemians liked them. During their tours of France, the V.V. band was followed by busloads and trainloads of their French fans. Oleh Skrypka and Oleksandr Pipa were even given permission to live in France as long as they wished (which is not an easy thing for a Ukrainian to get). But they did not emigrate to France for good, and in 1997 they returned to Ukraine. Skrypka told the journalists at a press conference that “to live in France, well, it’s not to everyone’s liking.” His first solo performance in Kyiv showed that he had been very nostalgic for his native land. Now V.V. describe their music as “alternative”, and not post-punk. Though their style has changed somewhat but they have not lost their admirers. One of their new songs, Vesna (“Spring”), soon after it was performed for the first time, became a top national hit. There was nothing punkish in it, it was very moving, and yet it was definitely V.V.’s song. Oleh Skrypka, again paradoxically, thinks that V.V. has not changed much. Skrypka: You see, it’s the circumstances that change rather than we. Firstly, our music is played on a greater number of radio stations by a greater number of DJ’s. Secondly, the tastes and world outlook of people who listen to us have changed and they have accepted our style of music.
And thirdly, we have improved the technical side of our performances greatly, we have improved out stage image. And there, you’ve got the results. V.V. have travelled a lot, they have seen a lot, they have learnt a lot. The have been exposed to different cultures. But they have retained their unique image, they have not become “as everybody else.” They appear on the stage in all kinds of bizarre clothes, sometimes with not too much on, sometimes their appearance may shock someone, but these transformations look natural and quite in tune with their music, which, incidentally, has acquired definitely romantic overtones. Their sincerity and earnestness have never failed to attract a steady following. Most of their time they stay now in Kyiv. Once in a while they go on tours to foreign countries.

Among their recent trips are the ones to the USA and Great Britain. They make videos and release CD’s. V.V. are happy they have come back to Ukraine to stay. They are glad that Ukrainian show business is developing in the right direction, albeit slowly. But they also have problems which are not always of the artistic kind. Recently, for example, there was a dispute that had to be settled in court concerning the copy rights for V.V.’s songs — a well known producers’ agency in Ukraine claimed the copy rights for V.V.’s songs belonged to it. Skrypka: Ukrainian musicians are sort of helpless in the sphere of copy rights. The corresponding law was passed in 1993 but I don’t know a single musician who has been able to use it to his or her advantage. In our case, at least there was a lot of noise in the press, but for less known groups the situation is even tougher. Take any sphere of show business and you’ll find a lot of unfair dealing, in recording, in organizing shows. Show biz unscrupulous dealers make musicians accept their conditions. And as a result the musicians get ripped off, they don’t get what they are entitled to as far as money is concerned, and no money — no development. But I hope things will change and show business will progress from this infantile stage to fair maturity. We also hope it will.

By Yevhen Budko
Photographs from V.V. archives