When listening to Molchat Doma, optimism may not be the first thing that comes to mind. The Belarusian post-punk band frequently appears in Youtube “doomer” playlists and their sound is not the cheeriest. With ’70s disco beats tempered by dreary synth chords, it is the antithesis of what you hear on Spotify’s “Have a Great Day” playlist. Their sound is reminiscent of British goth pioneers Joy Division or Depeche Mode. Polished and resolute, the band combines bleak synth reverberation with danceable beats sampled off a drum machine.
Molchat Doma is similar to many bands of the New Russian Wave, which began in the 2010s and has since become known in the West as a nostalgic glimpse back to the space race and the Gorbachev-era Soviet Union. Sonically, the genre is inspired by gothic rock, new wave, and synth bands that were popular during the late ’70s and early ’80s. At first, the sound seems bleak and cold, but it’s surprisingly uplifting and energetic. Take your darker SoundCloud rappers, add some reverb and a little base, put Russian lyrics on top, and you have Molcaht Doma.
“Everything happened quite organically. In 2014, the musical movement New Russian Wave was popular in our latitudes, where some of the groups played similar music,” Molchat Doma told Riff Magazine via a translator. “Well, at the same time, we began to research it. On top of that, some musical groups slipped through in our childhood. Our parents listened to similar music. This left an imprint on us.”
Their sound and visual cues are of pure nostalgia with a twinge of ironic longing for a political system and lifestyle they have never experienced. Molchat Doma’s album covers are littered with Soviet symbols, like apartment blocks or the hammer and sickle. If you didn’t know any better, you would think the band is a creation of Russian Intelligence trying to remind a younger Western audience of forgotten Soviet glory.
Despite the Soviet imagery, Molchat Doma’s music is not an exaltation of Russian politics; in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The events of 2014, which included Putin’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, began to create an authoritarian atmosphere in the Russian-speaking world. Bands of the New Russian Wave don’t long for Soviet-era politics, but they lament a time of progress that they never experienced—the optimism of being the first nation on the moon or the freedom that would come from the crumbling of the Berlin Wall.
Living under the watchful eye of “Europe’s last dictator,” Belarusian president Alexander Lukanshenko, the band is no stranger to hardship. Less than a week after Russia invaded Ukraine last February, they tweeted a statement condemning the war—an acute risk for Molchat Doma, as any comment against Lukanshenko or Putin could prove perilous given the two leaders’ close relationship. Prior to leaving for their tour, the band briefly moved to Poland, aware of the danger their message may put them in if they were to return to Belarus.
“We left basically because the war started,” Egor Shkutko, lead singer and songwriter, told Creem Magazine via a translator. “We were afraid the borders would be closed, and we would not be able to leave and meet our assignment with the tour.”
Given the events of the past few years, the longing for a nostalgia they never experienced almost seems justified. In line with their anti-imperialist view of Russia, their concerts transport the audience to an underground show in late-’80s Moscow—you feel like the Berlin Wall is about to come down, and you are finally free to dance. An unofficial music video for their song “Sundo” showcases the song with clips from a 1990 48 Hours episode entitled “Moscow Vice.”
While Molchat Doma is vehemently anti-war, their music has been misused for pro-Putin propaganda on TikTok and other apps like Telegram. The same algorithm that brought the band to Western audiences during lockdown is now using slowed-down and reverberated versions of their hits as the background soundtrack to memes, many of which glorify Putin with videos of Russian tanks rolling into Ukrainian cities or with massacred Ukrainian soldiers lying motionless on the battlefield.
Watching Molchat Doma live is an emotionally turbulent experience. Their stage setup is minimal with limited ornamentation, the band dresses in all black, and lights are used sparingly—blues, reds, and yellow illuminate the words “Molchat Doma” on a digital display. The live show allows for an unfiltered synth sound that is considerably less polished than the records. Although none of the band’s songs are in English, you can feel the emotions without speaking Russian. Despite these barriers, one can’t help but dance when you begin to feel the bass lines pulsating out of the speakers.
The band has continued touring since they left Poland last February—they brought their anti-authoritarian message to the Americas last spring, and to the European festival circuit last summer. When their April 8 show at 9:30 Club was announced, it quickly sold out, and a second date was added for April 9.
Molchat Doma is an example of resilience in the face of tyranny, an optimistic story coming out of a gruesome war. And if dark, gloomy, gothic-inspired synth waves are not your thing, you should still give them a listen, if for no other reason than the message they convey.