Label Feature: Gost Zvuk
Click here to listen to the Gost Zvuk radio show.
Since launching in 2014, the Moscow label Gost Zvuk – helmed by Ildar Zaynetdinov, who DJs under the moniker Low808 – has set about reconfiguring preconceived notions about Russia’s electronic music scene, while fostering a close-knit but eclectic group of creatives and crafting a pointedly eclectic offering in the process. The label’s releases thus far have encapsulated a host of genres, including experimental techno, mesmerizing ambient, leftfield electronics, and tool-oriented club music, as well as hip hop oddities and early Russian electronic music.
The label often playfully nods to Russian history too. Its name, for example, is derived from the Russian word gosudarstvennyy standart, which describes the "state standard" of the Soviet Union, which functioned as a benchmark for the production of all goods, from ice cream to cars. For Gost Zvuk, the name represents a guarantee of a certain quality, capable of elevating their listeners' minds into unknown territory.
With no specific genre associated with Gost Zvuk, their artist roster boasts of a wide spectrum of producers and musicians, such as ambient and techno producer Aleksei Nikitin from St. Petersburg; Moscow's relentless jack-of-all-trades Pavel Milyakov, aka Buttechno; the free-spirited electronica project Gamayun from Smolensk; and IDM specialist Flaty, to name but a few. Equally important is the visual component of each release, reflecting Zaynetdinov’s outlook that a label should inspire the listener, as well as entertain them.
To find out more about Russia’s most intriguing contemporary label, we spoke to its originator about his musical roots, the inspiration behind his label, its future, and its DNA rooted in Russian futurism. We also spoke of the past, exploring Zaynetdinov’s zeal for uncovering and re-releasing forgotten Russian gems. Read on for our conversation with Ildar Zaynetdinov’s and tune into Carhartt WIP Radio to hear this month’s Gost Zvuk show.
Can you tell us a bit about how and when your love affair with music started?
Ildar: It started in my early childhood, I believe my father influenced me a lot music-wise. My first conscious experience of being a music fan was having a collection of Queen tapes at the age of six. I also was listening to a lot of rock and jazz from the father’s collection. Later on, I spent my youth doing graffiti and skating, so hip hop was my second teacher. Around 2010, we started our first imprint RAD with a beat CD by Flaty and Fama87 and I believe that was a starting point of my professional music career.
What was the initial idea behind starting Gost Zvuk and has it changed over the years?
Ildar: The initial idea was about building a platform for a powerful music statement. I wanted the local progressive electronic scene to thrive; to be heard and acknowledged around the world. Another goal was to develop musical thought, broaden musical vision, add unique tones to the global musical palette. With the launch of the Gost Archive series, we’ve started re-thinking and re-discovering our musical heritage.
Did you have any role models or main inspirations when it was launched?
Your label is a collective venture, who are the other originators, and what is their background?
Ildar: My closest friends that have helped me with Gost Zvuk since day one are Adel Saleh and Pavel Kiselev. They are both artists and each has their own vision. Adel is an animator and Pavel works in the field of fine arts. Music- and sound-wise we are curating the label with Flaty – he has been completely dedicated to this form of art for around 15 years.
In what ways did the label evolve the way you expected it to, and in what ways did the experience differ?
Ildar: I believe the label has broadened the audience and perception of the modern Russian electronic scene, and I could not ask for more. Other than that, I love to go with the flow.
What’s the story behind the name Gost Zvuk?
Ildar: ГОСТ ЗВУК is Russian for “state standards for sound”, an ironic reference to Soviet past but also an earnest indication of the pursuit of quality. I came up with an industrial “ГОСТ concept” and Vtgnike added the word “zvuk” (sound) and narrowed our focus.
How important is the “dancefloor” in the music you release and what does music for the dancefloor mean to Gost Zvuk?
Ildar: Our focus is the brain, not the dancefloor. I love when people dance, but you can dance without even moving.
Gost Zvuk started 2014 and has 14 official releases today. This is quite a small number for six years. Do you select the music you release very carefully?
Ildar: Yes, we are never in a hurry, we only release stuff when everyone is happy in terms of music, sound, and visuals. Sometimes it takes time, but we prefer doing things slow and steady. We enjoy the process and avoid routine.
What process do you follow for finding new artists?
Ildar: There’s already a lot of artists around, and through our network, we are quite connected in our vast region.
Is it difficult to release vinyl music from Russia today? Does the country still have pressing plants?
Ildar: We do only music here, vinyl production is in Holland, it’s the factory of the “record industry.” We work with Triple Vision, a distributor based in Rotterdam. We have one plant here in Moscow, but it’s too expensive and it’s difficult and costly to distribute worldwide from here.
The first Gost Zvuk we bought was Vtknike – Коллекция. We liked the music a lot but were also drawn to it since it had something really cryptic and mysterious to it – especially since we can’t read Cyrillic. With most of your artworks being very minimalistic, often with white labels and stamps, do you like to let the music speak for itself? And is this partly a way of presenting it to the Russian speaking scene/community first?
Ildar: We are trying to amplify the message with the visual form and using Cyrillic is part of our identity. Funnily enough, it has appeared to be more appealing to the rest of the world, at least sales-wise – our vinyl sales are much bigger in foreign regions. The cover for Vtknike – Коллекция was done entirely by my brother Filipp Khodakov who lives in Prague and I really like how gothic grotesque plays with the context of local architecture. Combined with the music, we think it’s a unique piece of art in the form of the vinyl record.
Can you name us one of your favorite Gost Zvuk releases ever?
"I believe there’s a certain aspect of melancholia in Russian music in general, it’s kinda part of our DNA."
Would you agree that a certain melancholia can be found in the bigger part of the Gost Zvuk catalog? Where do you think this melancholia comes from?
Ildar: I believe there’s a certain aspect of melancholia in Russian music in general, it’s kinda part of our DNA.
You run a little reissue sub-label called Gost Archive, on which you have rereleased the great Russian composer Mikhail Chekalin and the Moscow band Notchnoi Prospekt. How do you search for the music you re-release? And does it have to be music from Russia?
Ildar: Basically, you dig yourself or someone from the close circle gives you a tip. It could be Russian or ex-USSR, for example, our third release is going to be dedicated to Rafiq Babayev – one of the greatest jazz musicians from Azerbaijan.
What is your opinion on the increase in unearthing and releasing lost music in recent years? Will there be an end-point, with no more holy grails to look for?
Ildar: I think it’s great to re-discover your heritage and I believe there always will be something that should be heard today.
Ildar: GOST Instrument takes its name from the Russian translation of the word “tool” — as in DJ tool. The records on the imprint are always 10-inch, as opposed to the larger plates on the main label. It is a short yet clear statement; the music is considered to be rather “functional”, created with a purpose to serve as a go-to source for the art of mixing. Science & Art, or NII, used to be the venue – our headquarters where we did a lot of events, release parties, and invited our friends from around the world. This particular release reflects one of the elements of the NII universe.
What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?
Ildar: We’re excited to finally release a 12inch by Kassir.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
Ildar: To stay unpredictable.
And what do you want to accomplish with the music you release? What qualities do you look for as a curator of music?
Ildar: I want music to express feelings we can’t express with words and other forms of communication.
You have a monthly show on NTS Radio, what has your relationship with NTS been over the years?
Ildar: We did more than 30 shows already and it’s an honor for me to have this possibility to work with the NTS crew. Without a doubt, it’s the best radio in the world and I love to see they are moving forward.
"I want music to express feelings we can’t express with words and other forms of communication."
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Ildar: Some unreleased, some upcoming, or just released material that describes our sound vision today.
Please recommend two or three new Russian artists to our readers, which you feel deserve their attention.
What are three albums from Russia that you'll never get tired of listening to?
Ildar: If we talk about our era, in particular 2015 – 2020, I would instantly say:
Vtgnike: Steals (Other People 2019)
What do you listen to when you want to disengage from the world around you?
What are your favorite record stores in Russia and why?
How does your environment influence your work? Can you tell us some places in Moscow that lift your spirits?