Electronic grooviness of nature and exotics from a small town You probably forget.
#005 / Urbex
This person has been all around Vilnius and Kaunas until finally residing in a small town of Plungė (17 000 inhabitants), west of major cultural points of Lithuania. After many different roles behind the decks, organizing music events for ethnic minorities and collaborating with artists on the fringes between music and noise, Valentinas Charitonovas found himself as a peaceful worker of alternative culture in somehow quite a remote place, where you usually will not find anything similar.
Kūdra, or The Pond in English, reflects it’s name in the set too: immersing between the so-called experimental electronic music, tribal infused grooviness and slow beats. Imagine yourself growing up in a quite separated regional industrial town and hearing something like this. Valentinas Charitonovas spreads the lessons he learned in the cities for the people outside of our usual and disappointingly exclusive cultural circle. And for the listeners of “Urbex” series too.
Over the several years that you spent actively working in the Lithuanian underground, you went through multiple changes of identities, nicknames, initiatives and places of residence. How does this restlessness reflect in the music that you play?
Probably through deviation and shifting states. I‘m full of everything: romance, joy, sadness, meditation as well as aggression and so on.
Your personal history includes initiatives such as erecting a monument for Viktor Tsoi in Vilnius, organizing music events for ethnic minorities and collaborating with artists on the fringes between music and noise. How did the love for music begin and how did everything develop?
Ha, it was a long time ago and not true. The love for the music started as soon as I was born. I remember in my early childhood when a strange Japanese cassette deck was brought into the house, along with a bunch of tapes. My favourite one was “Electric Light Orchestra”. My parents would play the recording and I would calmly sit by the deck and just listen. As time went on and I became more capable, I started to switch the tapes myself or mess around with the EQ. Later on I would record tunes off of radio stations into the empty tapes. When CDs came along I would spend nearly all of my allowances on them.
When I was in the 10th grade, the former DJs of my school (one of them being the now infamous Jovani) had graduated and there was no one left for the job. My classmate and I went up to the school administration and signed up to be the new resident DJs. At the time I was hooked on the then-booming progressive house trend.
After starting to study in Kaunas my tastes took an unexpected turn towards Russian rock music. I made friends with a few people from Vilnius, Klyav and Korya (Juanita Is Dead, Vilnius Noise), and the shows transferred to the capital: tributes to Kino, DDT and so on. Electronic and club music became totally uninteresting. I also began organizing shows from various artists in the Baltic countries or in Belarus. That includes Gurzuf, Biplan, Aleksandras Makejevas, Kruzenshtern & Porohod, Sovijus and many more.
The crucial breaking point coincided with some changes in my life. At this time I made friends with the group “Fusedmarc”. Denis and I spent a lot of good times together and he was the one who showed me an entirely different side of music – one that had probably already been discovered by many other music lovers, but which to me was still fresh, new and spectacular.
I wouldn’t arrange shows anymore since suffering from a financial fiasco with the audiovisual festival “Ad Astra”. After some encouragement from my friends I tried my hand at playing as a DJ and eventually I would organize shows again, only now they were parties instead of concerts.
At one time I could’ve sworn I would listen to progressive house all my life, the same with Russian rock, but change is inevitable.
All of the above indicates a life of many layers, both in the music scene and in your personal life. Which of your shows is the most memorable to you?
I would highlight my first ever set. I don‘t remember what year it was, but we had been playing with the same Denis (Nurasho) for a long time in the local bar Jamaika. It was a question of bravery, because the way I played was somewhat comical – simply with a computer and a “virtual DJ” application, sliding the faders with my mouse. It was embarrassing, but my will to showcase my selection won over.
I was very nervous. One guy came over from the bar, lied down on the sofa, leaned his legs on the table and appeared to listen closely. Suddenly he threw a shoe at me. Shocked by such an action, I went over to him with the shoe just to ask why he did that. Apparently it was his way of saying that he enjoyed the music and he couldn’t care less that I was just clicking faders on my laptop. The compliments from other listeners after the set inspired me to continue doing it.
Other than that, many memorable shows would happen at the “Movido” bar in Kaunas. At the time it was a place with the right audience who would thoroughly listen and even dance to my “non-danceable” music. Also, Kanepes Kultūras Centrs in Riga. Great audience, similar to Kaunas in a way.
In the present you are a manager of culture in the small regional town of Plungė where you organize experimental and outsider music events. After all, this fringe music scene fails to attract a lot of attendance even in the largest cities. How does it go down in Plungė? What are some of the challenges that you face?
It depends. Essentially the biggest challenge is to get people to go outside. I‘m not even talking about the youth because to me they seem the most apathetic, although there are exceptions.
Another problem is uncertainties and various weird inner pre-conceptions or fears, but I‘m working on it myself.
Arranging events, whether it‘s in the cultural centre, independently organizing parties or just musical nights, it‘s noticeable that people are genuinely interested and open to it. One evening I organized called “Audiotantra” in the local library / coffee bar “Ex-libris”, I played ambient, new age and experimental music. The majority of the attendees were middle aged and they seemed to be listening closely, some with their eyes closed, and they enjoyed it.
Another example would be “Underground Fashion” in the local club “Mental Room” with Jelisejev, Nuclear Princess and Cilia from “Fusedmarc”. The reaction of audience was anticipated with fear, because the club usually hosts house and tech house parties, but the people actually welcomed our different kind of music with great enjoyment.
All in all, disregarding minor difficulties, I really do like it here and it‘s a rich, untapped soil for cultural work, not only on the level of Plungė, but also talking about the whole region of Žemaitija.
Having gone from the deepest DIY underground to working in an institution of a local municipality, how would you compare these different worlds?
It‘s difficult to compare. DIY is unlimited creative freedom with limited possibilities, while in a budgetary institution your freedom is strained, but you have nearly limitless resources in terms of technical support and so on, so it is somewhat easier to work. Nonetheless, cultural centres are usually ethnic cultural centres with their own visions, which often do not encompass comtemporary art and music (the Kirtimai centre being an exception). The understanding of culture is somewhat narrow. Although I can‘t say that it‘s totally impossible, because I do have some freedom of expression. Not all of my suggestions work, but I‘m not being completely shut down.
Aside from your musical work, you have recently become involved with a contemporary dance project as well as introduced your own exposition of photography and graphic art. Was music not sufficient for your self-expression?
Both photography and drawing have been with me since I was a child. The personal computer era had pushed these interests over to the side, but they‘ve come forward again. As for contemporary dance, I approached the head of the “Hera” dance group of our cultural centre and suggested we should work on a project together. I was in charge of the musical selection (from Massive Attack to Martin Gore and Jon Hopkins), while she created the choreography with the girls. Add the visual side, the lights and it really came together. It probably wouldn’t surprise many in Vilnius, but in Plungė it‘s definitely something new and exciting.
As for self-expression, I like everything – photography, drawing, playing… For the most part I’d say I’m a creative type, a generator of ideas.
Every month your SoundCloud profile is graced with a new mix, while many local DJs tend to take tons of time, perhaps even slack off or not really enjoy recording new selections. Where do you find your enthusiasm? How do you not run out of tracks and what are your digging methods?
Every month has its own mood – that‘s the crux of what I‘m sharing. I don‘t have any particular goals, especially when I‘ve seen the statistics and noticed that I have some loyal listeners from Latvia, Australia or even Palestine as well as Lithuania. I‘m happy if it resonates with someone. I definitely don‘t lack enthusiasm. I don‘t run out of music because I constantly dig for something new and interesting.
There is a close bond between you and perhaps the longest-active Lithuanian experimental music project Sovijus. How did this friendship come to be?
Oh, with Mindaugas we both studied philosophy, ethnology and history. We‘ve had a tight friendship from years way back. I‘ve been supporting Sovijus ever since he started playing in the project, and at that time I had already started organizing shows, so I‘ve helped them perform in Latvia, Estonia and Belarus.
The genre flags of your selections are very extensive – from harsh experiments to disco. How would you describe your favorable music or sound?
The emotion, mood and trip are what‘s important to me in music.
By Viktoras Urbaitis and Algirdas Šapoka.
- Gama – Down The Rabbit Hole [Chill Mountain Rec, 2017]
- Ground – In This Junglegleglegle [Chill Mountain Rec, 2018]
- Chancha Via Circuito – Guajaca [Wonderwheel Recordings, 2014]
- Dengue Dengue Dengue & Penya – Pua [On The Corner Records, 2018]
- Ground – Vodun [Chill Mountain Rec, 2015]
- Patrick Shaw-Iversen & Raymond C. Pellicer – Bushfukka [Jazzland Recordings, 2003]
- Ümlaut – Among The Hours [Carpe Sonum Novum, 2017]