Foundation date: 1984
The country: the USSR
Egor Letov (vocals)
Photo: Civil Defense
Biography group “Civil Defense”
“Civil Defense” (“Grob”, “GO”) is an outstanding anarcho-punk team, a unique phenomenon for the USSR of the 80s, one of the first domestic conceptual groups. Fans of the group still compare the psychedelic and at the same time topical texts of Yegor Letov with the messages of ancient philosophers – they contain so many reflections on love, goodness, hatred, death and other problems that have worried mankind in all ages.
Group “Civil Defense”
Young Omsk resident Igor Letov (real name Yegor Letov) became interested in music at the age of 8. This was largely facilitated by the older brother Sergei (now he is known as a man-orchestra), who traded in scarce records of popular Western rock musicians. Thanks to him, Igor got acquainted with the work of The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and many other legendary bands.
Later, Sergei gave his younger brother a bass guitar, which he simply did not let go of. Igor often visited his older brother in Novosibirsk, where he studied at a boarding school at Akademgorodok. Igor enjoyed absorbing the unique atmosphere of freedom and free-thinking that reigned there, extremely unusual and dangerous for that time. What he saw and heard fell on fertile ground and found expression in the poems and stories of Letov Jr. It is worth noting that Igor was very fond of reading and had an excellent command of the style, so it was not difficult for him to skillfully express his thoughts.
After graduating from school, Sergei moved to Moscow, where he entered the institute, and later Igor moved to him in the capital. It was there that his first performance as part of one of the metropolitan groups took place, thoughts were born about creating his own team.
Egor Letov in his youth
With his brother, they had different views on creativity: Sergei preferred behind the scenes and played the saxophone more for himself and his close circle, while Igor sought to throw out the creative energy that overwhelmed him to the broad masses and convey his ideas through music to as many people as possible. Therefore, the younger Letov soon returned to Omsk and in 1982 created his first group “Posev” there.
The history of the creation of “Civil Defense”
The Posev team was named after the Western publication Possev Verlag, known for its anti-Soviet stance. The first members of the group, in addition to Letov, were guitarist Andrei Babeev (Boss) and bassist Evgeny Deev (John Double), who periodically joined Alexander Ivanovsky (Alex). In two years, the band recorded six magnetic albums, the musical style of which can be described as a mixture of punk, noise, psychedelic rock and experimental music of the 60s. The influence of the British punk band Sex Pistols was clearly traced, and in general the collections were not intended for a wide audience, but were more like a “pen test” due to the poor sound quality.
“Sowing” – the first group of Yegor Letov
In 1984, confusion and vacillation began within the group, Alex left (he also denounced the guys to the authorities), so it was decided to assemble a new team. Letov, who by that time had taken the pseudonym Yegor Dokhly, met the former leader of another disintegrated group, the Fiery Laser, Alexander Klipnov (Ivan Morg). It was decided to unite the remaining musicians into a new group “ZAPAD”, which did not last even half a year due to creative differences between Letov and Klipnov. Of the new arrivals with Yegor, only Konstantin Ryabinov (Kuzya Uo) wished to stay, who in a short time became his close friend.
In the photo: Egor Letov and Konstantin Ryabinov (Kuzya Uo)
Together with him and his faithful comrade-in-arms in “Posev” Andrey Babeev, Letov created a new team “Civil Defense” or “Gr.Ob.”, Which glorified him for many years.
The main stages of creativity
The date of birth of the newly minted group is December 8, 1984, and it owes its name to a poster that caught the eye of the guys. True, Letov’s father, an officer in the political department of the Armed Forces of the USSR, saw this as a kind of mockery in his address, which, however, did not affect good relations in the family. Despite the fact that Yegor from early youth was distinguished by critical attacks on Soviet power, he always backed up his words with weighty arguments, with which it was difficult to disagree.
At first, the musicians performed at home or in basements, as they were under the vigilant supervision of the authorities. Therefore, they relied on the recording and distribution of magnetic albums, realizing that public performances were not available to them in the near future. Already at the end of 1984, the first collection “GO” was recorded at home, which mainly included musical material from “Posev” and “West”.
A little later, the second part of the collection was released under the pretentious title “Who Is Looking for Meaning or the History of Omsk Punk”, after recording which Andrey Babeev left the group. He was replaced by Andrei Vasin, who took part in the creation of the next album. Gradually, the scandalous fame of an unusual group spread not only in Omsk, but also outside Siberia.
GO are considered the pioneers of Siberian punk rock
The albums “Bad Youth” and “Optimism” became widely known among music lovers, and the KGB became seriously interested in the team. In the autumn of 1985, the group actually ceased to exist: Kostya Ryabinov, despite heart problems, was forcibly sent to the army, and Letov was forcibly locked up in a psychiatric hospital. In order not to turn into a vegetable and not lose the ability for full-fledged mental activity, Yegor began to write even more. A huge number of poems came out from under his pen at that time, which became the basis of his subsequent work.
Album cover of “Foul Youth”
After spending three terrible months in the hospital, the young man single-handedly began recording the Red Album collection, and after a while he met the Lishchenko brothers, Evgeny (Eugene Klok) and Oleg (Peak Baby). The guys were the founders of the folk group “Pik and Klaxon” and turned out to be almost the only Omsk musicians who extended a helping hand to the outcast Letov. They offered him their equipment and together they recorded the album “Extra Sounds”, which appealed to local music lovers.
And in the spring of 1987, Yegor’s first public performance took place at a rock festival in Novosibirsk. The organizers of the concert banned the participation of the Auktsion and Sounds of Mu groups, and instead of them, they recklessly offered Letov and the Lishchenko brothers to go on stage, who, with their intelligent “abstruse” appearance, did not give the impression of rebels and anti-Soviet. Their 25-minute performance made a splash, the audience and colleagues were delighted, and the organizers were waiting for an unpleasant conversation with local party curators.
Until rumors about the scandalous performance of “GO” at the festival did not reach Omsk, Letov, returning home, single-handedly recorded five magnetic collections in a short time (“Red Album” (acoustics), “Mousetrap”, “Good”, “Necrophilia”, “Totalitarianism”). In the annotation to them, he indicated a list of fictitious musicians, one of whom he assigned the name of KGB Major Vladimir Meshkov, who was involved in his case.
Photos from the GrOb concert (1988)
At a rock festival, Letov met Yanka Diaghileva and Vadim Kuzmin, who soon became his faithful companions. At the end of June, when the threat of a new conclusion in a mental hospital loomed over Yegor, he, in their company, escaped from his native city and went wherever his eyes looked. During their journey, the musicians performed in various parts of the Soviet Union from St. Petersburg to Tyumen and recorded four more albums.
“Civil Defense” and Yank Diaghilev
Soon the group became quite famous and by the end of the 80s could already compete with such monsters of Russian rock as Kino, Aquarium and Nautilus Pompilius. However, Letov was not happy with the popularity that suddenly fell upon him, believing that it could harm the identity of the team.
Group “Egor and *** enevshie”
In 1990, the last concert of “GO” took place in Tallinn, after which the frontman created a new project, “Egor and the drunken ones”, which did not repeat the success of “Civil Defense”. Having recorded three new albums and having recovered from the tragic death of Yanka (in 1991, the woman went missing, her body was soon found in the river; Diaghileva’s death was positioned as suicide.), Letov in 1993 decided to revive the group. However, the return was not as triumphant as expected. The very first public performance was marked by a grandiose scandal with the organizers, who embezzled money for tickets and disrupted the concert. The angry crowd staged mass riots, and the riot police were sent to eliminate them.
Music recording took place in Letov’s apartment
Fans were also disappointed by the unexpected admission of Letov, a staunch anarchist and anti-Soviet, in his sudden sympathy for the Communists and support for Gennady Zyuganov in the presidential election. The following years, Civil Defense continued to tour successfully, record new albums and delight its fans from Siberia to the Baltic states.
After the collapse of the USSR, Letov changed his views on communism
In 2004, the group celebrated its twentieth anniversary with large-scale concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and soon the albums “Long Happy Life” and “Resuscitation” were released. With their release, a new stage began in the creative life of the group. “Civil Defense” went on a tour of America, which resulted in the next collection “Why do you dream?”. Critics called it the brightest and most positive in the history of the group, and according to the results of sales, it also became the most commercially successful.
The music of “GO” sounded of poor quality, not so much because of the lack of expensive equipment, but because of ideological motives. The songs of Oborona and Letov’s other projects were distinguished by a primitive arrangement, literally a four-chord construction – demonstrative marginality, asceticism, which deepened the expression of music.
The leader of the group from the first days of its existence opposed logic and rationalism. His texts, built on the principle of collage and fragmentation, are full of absurdity. There are no frameworks and strict rules in the work of civil defense; contradictions are already embedded in its very system.
Letov, being an intelligent and erudite person, built a whole philosophy of a very destructive kind. The musician contrasted rock with “universal art”, believed that rock music leads a person to the knowledge of the higher “I”, asserting self-destruction as the main postulate.
“For me, a person is initially nothing, it’s shit in the hole, a fiddle in your pocket,” Yegor said, talking about a dispute with his comrade-in-arms Yanka Diaghileva, who believed that every person deserves pity. It is worth noting that despite following his own philosophy of self-destruction, Letov outlived Diaghilev by 17 years.
On February 19, 2008, Yegor Letov’s heart suddenly stopped. His sudden death came as a huge shock to both the fans and the rest of the band.
After Letov’s death, “Civil Defense” broke up
With the departure of the frontman, the musicians of Civil Defense stopped their collective performances, only occasionally gathering to re-release existing albums.
Memory of the group and Letov
Creativity “Civil Defense” and Yegor Letov’s poems and today find a response in the hearts of compatriots. In 2014, Yegor Letov’s wife Natalya Chumakova released the documentary Healthy and Forever about Letov’s development as a musician and poet, about his creative union with Yanka Diaghileva. The tape covers the time period from the beginning of the 80s to the beginning of 1993. Every year, on the day of Letov’s death, music clubs in Russia hold festivals in his memory.
“Civil Defense” influenced the work of many domestic groups (including “Fox Bread” and “Straw Raccoons”) and gave rise to a new musical trend – Siberian punk (although some music experts believe that it had already died out by 1990 ).