Militaristic beats and an optimistic combination of baile funk and Balti club – this is the story of a burgeoning underground dance music subgenre that pays homage to Russian culture
Mention "Soviet Bass" to most dance music fanatics, and they'd probably think you were on some kind of Colonel Kurtz-esque acid trip. The term refers to a new dance music subgenre spouting from the bluelit techno clubs of Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Tula. It combines a range of electronica from around the world; from frenetic Brazilian baile funk and brass sample-heavy DC moombahton house to Baltimore club and Chicago drill. Think of it as an up-tempo, spirited blend of military drums, 808 bass rolls, squeaky trumpet licks and sampled quotes from Soviet-era propaganda.
Its two architects, electro DJs and producers Chuck Upbeat and Groove Daddy, met out of contempt for what they saw as a streamlining of club music in Russia's capital. For anyone who's experienced Moscow's dancefloor scene, it upholds a fairly unforgiving drum'n'bass-trance-hard-house-or-nothing regime. Soviet Bass – with its fidgety baile funktempos – is unusually light on its feet. It's optimistic, unexpected and mercurial, subtly dipping its cap to a range of bass music subgenres.
Serendipitously, in 2009 Upbeat and Daddy were playing the same kinds of sounds in clubs up and down the city. They unknowingly shared a love for all things baile funk and Balti club, and the music they pushed seemed to draw in these sounds. Eventually, the pair contacted each other on Moscow-centric DJ community forum PromoDJ.ru and formedMidget Ninjas Soundsystem (MNS) later that year – what would soon become the world's first ever Soviet Bass project. It's emblem? A furrow-browed, black bloc ninja with a hammer and sickle for weapons.
The pair started a club night in one of Moscow's most exclusive bars, Schtopor – a tiny private members attic, where clubbers, almost all of them there via word of mouth, had their fingerprints scanned on the door. "I'm sure it was the first time most Russians who came to our night had ever heard baile funk," Upbeat says, optimistically. "We were mixing a difficult range of sounds and everyone seemed really, really excited by it. The energy was insane, instantly."