In the good old pre-pandemic days of what feels like another lifetime, a housemate introduced me to Belarussian post-punk, new-wave trio Molchat Doma. Sitting in our grotty kitchen on Granville Road, and playing them off his severely cracked phone, I was genuinely amazed. I quickly found them on Spotify, and spent the next few hours obsessively listening to them.
In what can only be described as an incredible stroke of luck, we discovered that the band were playing at Night & Day Café in the Northern Quarter the following night. A sold-out show didn’t faze us, and we fortunately managed to get tickets via The Mancunion. This was February 2020; fast-forward to February 2021, and here I am, still very much entranced by the band.
Molchat Doma (translated as ‘Houses Are Silent’) were founded in 2017 in Minsk, Belarus, and offer a sound that is at once arresting, dark, danceable, and addictive. Think mid-point between Joy Division and New Order. Fade away to the mystery of Russian lyrics and diminished chords, including personal favourites: ‘На Дне’, ‘Дома Молчат’, ‘Танцевать’ and ‘Судно (Борис Рыжий)’.
An unlikely TikTok phenomenon, the obscure band gained popularity on the app during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Although this undoubtedly broadcast the niche cold-wave sound to a much wider audience, it came at a cost. TikTok users uploaded videos using the band’s music as part of an 80s and 90s Soviet glorification aesthetic. This included synchronous images and videos of anything considered ‘Soviet’, including brutalist buildings, a decrepit TV and old photographs of Soviet men and women synched to Molchat Doma’s music. Ironically, the song most commonly used as backing music is ‘Sudno (Судно)’ which is about poet Boris Ryzhy contemplating suicide. It includes lyrics ‘Living is hard and uncomfortable, but it’s comfortable to die’.
The band expressed their reservations about this new craze. Whilst frontman Egor Shkutko naturally welcomed the new-found viral success, he worries that “the idea of the song has been lost”. Shkutko believes that, “people just like a sound that gives you something to do on TikTok.”
It is no surprise that the band, heralding from Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, feel uncomfortable with Western teens romanticising the bleak realities of Soviet life. The band live that life every day. It was only in September 2020, that Belarussian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova was kidnapped and threatened with mutilation by masked men.
Unable to truly say exactly how they feel about the country’s politics for fear of their own safety, they leave it at, “it’s fucked up”. ‘Soviet’ is a lot more than kitsch Russian headscarves and Matryoshka dolls.
The ‘Soviet aesthetic’ TikTok trend: a bit of light-hearted fun amidst a grisly pandemic, or downright ignorance? You can decide.
One thing is for sure: Molchat Doma’s music is a way of expressing a feeling they cannot put into words – for fear of imprisonment and worse – or simply because they are unable to. Their alienated sound resonates strongly with the current political situation in Belarus, and with the pandemic-torn dystopia we all find ourselves in.