Before Pussy Riot, There Was Samizdat: Hear The Sounds Of Russia's Soviet-Era Counterculture

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Before the Berlin Wall came down, before the Iron Curtain crumbled, there were already cracks in the foundation of the Soviet Union. An entire culture of unofficial and often illegal writing, music, and lectures existed underground, via handmade books and pamphlets and home-made recordings on Dictaphones and cassettes.

The term Samizdat was coined in the late 1940's to describe this material -- the term is shorthand for the Russian words for “self-published.” The musical material was occasionally termed Magnitizdat, though it too was part of the DIY, uncensored, countercultural Samizdat aesthetic.

The Samizdat exhibit at George Washington University’s Gelman Library was put together by Mark Yoffe, Curator of the International Counterculture Archive and the Soviet Samizdat Archive of the Global Resources Center, George Washington University Libraries. The exhibit focuses on printed Samizdat, but the archive also houses the largest American collection of audio Samizdat/Magnitizdat material.

As part of our From Russia With Soundcheck week, Yoffe talks about Samizdat movement and provided us with this list of key songs and bands.


Akvarium, "This Train Is On Fire" 

Leningrad/St.Petersburg, 1979-present, late 80's recording


Kino, "Changes! [We Demand Changes!]" 

Leningrad/St.Petersburg, 1983-1991, 1988 recording  


Zvuki Mu, "Gray Dove" 

Moscow, 1980-91, late '80s recording


Nol' (Zero), "Boogie-Woogie"

Moscow, 1983-93, 1988 recording


Grazhdanskaya oborona (Civil Defense), "Everything Goes According to the Plan"

Frontman: Yegor Letov, Siberian, late '80s recording



Rada and Ternovnik (Blackthorn), "Our Souls Were Sitting"

Moscow, 1996-present, 2008 recording  



Auktsyon, "Roads"

Leningrad/St. Petersburg, 1980-present, 1996 recording


Pelageia, "It Is Not The Evening" 

Moscow, present, 2012 recording


Leningrad, "WWW"

St. Ptersburg, 2002-present 


Strannye Igry (Strange Games), "Watch Out!"

Leningrad, 1980-1987, 1986 recording