Auktyon (Auction)

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Auktyon (Auction) are an idiosyncratic product of the Leningrad rock scene of the 1980s, and one of the few groups of the era to gain notice by the non-Russian-speaking world. Some would argue that Auktyon…
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Auktyon (Auction) are an idiosyncratic product of the Leningrad rock scene of the 1980s, and one of the few groups of the era to gain notice by the non-Russian-speaking world. Some would argue that Auktyon are Russia's answer to art rock, though their messy and loud sound, driven by an aggressive horn section, lacks the neat edges of most groups classified in that category. Unlike so many groups that came out of the last decade of the Soviet Union, Auktyon declined indiscriminate influence from every available source, fueled rather by what some deem extreme eccentricity, and others call artistic vision. They further differentiated themselves by avoiding the revolving-door model of other early Russian rock acts, maintaining a relatively steady cast of musicians throughout the years, and producing a smaller and more consistent body of works. Their concerts, once a staple of the Leningrad Rock Club, are known for their circus-like theatricality, an expression of energy long amassed under repressive conditions.

In 1981 Leonid Fedorov, a Leningrad guitarist, singer, and songwriter, first assembled a group of musicians under the name Auktyon, along with Oleg Garkusha and bassist Viktor Bondarik. However, shortly after Auktyon's first appearance, a number of the musicians left the group, and the search for new musicians and preparation of new material set the band back several years. In 1986 Auktyon's second incarnation finally appeared at the fourth festival of the Leningrad Rock Club, performing fresh, melodic songs coupled with absurd poetic lyrics from their album Vernis v Sorrento (Come Back to Sorrento). Oleg Garkusha, the group's showman and dancer, and Dimitry Ozersky, the keyboardist, horn player, and percussionist, made an impression, performing the vocals in trio with Fedorov, and were honored as laureates of the festival. The addition of jazz percussionist Pavel Litvinov set a new musical course for the group, and the next year's festival saw considerable development in Auktyon's musical spectrum. With the 1988 and 1989 albums V Bagdade Vsjo Spokojno (In Baghdad All is Peaceful) and Kak Ya Stal Predatelem (How I Became a Traitor), the band had become an improvisational percussion-based ensemble, often collaborating with artists to come up with elaborate concepts for stage shows, complete with costumes, lights, and set designs. In the second half of the '80s the group included a dancer, Vladimir Veselken, and worked with Paris-based poet Aleksy Khvostenko.

The band soon began a campaign of rock tourism, performing on stages across the Soviet Union, from Tbilisi to Tallinn, adding its scripted madness of to the pandemonium of Gorbachev-era Glasnost. As they made a name for themselves, they were able to emerge onto European stages as well. Their most creative period is acknowledged to be the late '80s and early '90s, when they released an album nearly every year, including 1990's Zhopa (Asshole) and the 1993 accessible hit album Ptitzy (Birds), after which they went on hiatus until the 1995 release of Zhiletz Vershin (Summit Lodger), an artistic concept album that launched the group back into outer space. The following decade saw the group complete a number of successful tours, but no new albums. Its members, for the most part, were involved in side projects. Fedorov pursued minimalist-surrealist art and tried his hand at producing, recording the debut album for the now legendary group Leningrad. Ozersky wrote texts, and the group's jester, Garkusha, published poetry. They united under the name Auktyon only to perform old hits from Ptitzy.

In 2001 Fedorov set up his own label, Ulitka Records, and in 2006 Auktyon toured America, playing mostly to audiences of Russian immigrants, but nonetheless attracting the interest of the press in almost every town. In 2007, on American soil, the group recorded material for its new album, Devushki Pout (Girls Sing), along with indie musicians John Medeski, Marc Ribot, and Frank London of the Klezmatics.