by Ivan Krasnov (@ivangagaski)
Bichkraft are a duo based out of Kiev, Ukraine and make dark, agitated post-punk. Their first two records, 2015’s Mascot and 2016’s Shadoof, saw them developing their unusual blend of live, piercing guitars backed by thumping drum machines. These entries mainly lurk in the darkness and grime of back alleys, yet occasionally poke their heads out to radiate beams of light. Their development inside of the isolated bubble of Kiev, however, means that their takes on shoegaze and industrial post-punk are strongly unique - divorced from the oversaturated American and Western European scenes. With 800, their third entry for esteemed home of weirdo music Wharf Cat Records, Bichkraft have come closer than ever to perfecting their exhilarating mix of guitars and electronics. Supported by stellar mixing and welcome guest features, as well as production duties spearheaded by Merchandise’s Carson Cox, Bichkraft have emerged with their strongest batch of songs to date. And thanks to the clearer presentation across 800, we’re allowed to delve deeper into frontman Jenia Bichowski’s thorny relationship with his city.
Immediately striking is the confidence exuded in each track, aided by especially strong performances and clearer songwriting. The road is paved for more choruses and refrains, where infectious hooks burst through the door. The reverb drenched riff on the beautifully moody “Ashley” will surely tug at some heartstrings, as will the nostalgic “13 Again” with its big major chord rock swagger and reminiscences of simpler Ukrainian summers from Bichowski’s youth. In other words, Bichkraft are embracing stronger pop and rock and roll sensibilities here while still retaining a sense of experimentation.
Richer production this time around has brought their pummeling drum machines to the forefront. While on one hand they push each track forward rhythmically, they also act as the band’s chaotic and irrational force. Cacophonous flurries of cymbals and other percussive elements fly over pounding kick drums and snares. They give the impression of each Bichkraft song being on the brink of collapse, yet never quite toppling over, deftly moving from one part to the next. Opening track “Reflection” wastes no time in showcasing these elements, offering up a classic rock and roll progression with unrelenting drum parts and clever guitar interplay between Bichowski and lead guitarist Dima Novichenko. In fact throughout 800, Bichowski’s and Novichenko’s guitars are in constant conversation with one another, at times evoking the open chord sprawl and tense counterpoint of Sonic Youth, at other times diving straight into sludgy walls of sound such as on “Night Lamp” and the My Bloody Valentine-esque “Introducing Yourself.” With former bassist Serzh Kupriychuk’s cavernous and dubby bass tone linking everything together, the result is a collection of richly dense tracks - each boasting a distinct identity.
Having lived in Kiev their entire lives, it is perhaps natural that moods of anxiety and alienation permeate much of 800. With Ukraine perpetually at the whim of corrupt politicians blindly allied with Putin’s Russia, while much of the country’s younger population looks Westwards to the (increasingly uncertain) liberalizing promises of the EU, this push and pull dynamic has created a near constant state of tension and political instability. Compounded by the recent war in the eastern Donbass region, Kiev and Ukraine are rapidly changing as a result, on one hand bringing more people and art to the capital while still acting as a reminder of enduring violence in the East. As Novichenko notes in a recent interview, “It influences art in a strange way. People want to entertain more. There’s a dangerous feeling across the country because you don’t know what will happen next.”
Such is the often contradictory reality for Bichkraft and indeed many young Ukrainians - living in a climate of distrust and seeming hopelessness and yet transcending it through art, music, and the lasting relationships that inspire their work. Vocalist Bichowski’s anxious yet sincere lyrical depiction of Kiev sees him pleading with friends and lovers as he attempts to navigate his relationships. It’s backed by his punchy vocal delivery that takes the best parts of 80s new wave romanticism and brings it into a punk context. On lead single “Yonder,” he arrives at a house late at night and addresses its inhabitant: “This storm is tearing everything up into pieces/It brought me to your home/Though I didn’t exactly plan/For us two to be alone.” Elsewhere Bickowski looks inward to his impressionistic side, like on the feverish “Introducing Yourself,” which sees him singing as if from a dream-like state: “Don’t even look at it/Naked rooms have long been awaiting/Tightly gripping a bouquet of knives/I don’t want to lose.” However it is the lead refrain of “Night Lamp” that best encapsulates 800, with Bichowski admitting “I no longer remember/Why I’m even so in love with this city.”
Rounded out by vocal features on behalf of Sam York (previously of WALL) on “Introducing Yourself,” as well as Elizabeth Skadden (of Finally Punk and WALL) on the sprawling closer “Some People Have All The Luck,” Bichkraft have crafted a truthful document of disaffection and restlessness all the way from Kiev, Ukraine. But instead of going at it alone, the spirit of collaboration behind 800 has not only shown the applicability of these anxieties across our postmodern condition. It likewise proves that the way to meaningfully resist them is to continue creating and searching for meaning in everything around you.