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Aside from musical mixmaster and producer DJ Vadim, there isn’t anything particularly Russian about the Russian Percussion.
With members British DJ First Rate and Brazilian-Swedish poet and vocalist Yarah Bravo, the name “Russian Percussion” just doesn’t convey the band’s musical and ethnic diversity.
Vadim’s music is similarly multifaceted, defying the simple classification schemes that dominate the contemporary music industry.
Labeling it “hip-hop,” as some record stores do simply doesn’t do it justice.
In fact, there isn’t a word in the current musical lexicon that could easily summarize DJ Vadim’s sound. Born in Russia, he has lived mostly in the United Kingdom. Vadim (Vadim Peare) creates his unique sound from a hodgepodge of sources.
Even the first verse of Genesis finds its way into his music, supported by a laid-back, skeletal beat in “Lord Forgive Me” from his debut album U.S.S.R. Repertoire.
“It’s just like different sounds to me, you know? I don’t really differentiate between a violin, or percussion, or emceeing…I just see them as different sounds all in a sort of hot pot,” Vadim says. “There’s elements of all kinds of stuff in my music, because I listen to everything, from reggae, to rap, to hip hop, to soul, to funk, to jazz, to ethnic music.”
Vadim is a virtuoso instrumentalist who works the turntable with a confidence and skill comparable to any musical maestro. In execution, his music maintains its own integrity without recognizing the traditional boundaries of genre.
And don’t think he doesn’t know it. Onstage at TT the Bear’s Place on Valentine’s Day, Vadim wore a subtle half-smile, challenging his audience to come up with the right words to describe his art.
As a live act, DJ Vadim plays his music with skill but without frills. Aside from the occasional head-bob, he never moves—standing in stark contrast to his bandmate First Rate, whose performance is sprinkled with turntablist body tricks.
DJ Vadim’s appeal lies not in performance, but in his innovations as a producer, a composer and a conceptualist.
He says that every single voice, every section of silence and every programmed beat of each track is part of an intricately designed superstructure.
One of the few sample artists who doesn’t use loops, Vadim is emphatic about the need for musical form and design.
He sees the precise organization of his music as a protective shielding against the selective pressures of time.
“I look at music as something that is timeless, something beautiful,” he says. “I want to be one of those artists that people will listen to in 30 years’ time…just like people listen back to Jimi Hendrix, or Miles Davis or Black Sabbath. They still live on. You got groups coming out now, like Ronan Keating, S Club 7, Spice Girls…that everybody’s going to forget about in six months’ time.”
He’s got a point. On the other hand, it’s not like people know where—or even who—DJ Vadim is. As an artist he has remained on the fringes of hip-hop music for his entire career.
“It’s not about what’s ‘underground’ or ‘mainstream’,” he says. “It’s about good music and bad music.”
In other words, mainstream doesn’t equate to bad and underground to good.
“Some of the stuff Missy Elliott’s done in the past few years is more innovative that most of the underground hip-hop I’ve heard,” he says. “Yet there’s stuff in the mainstream which I think is also devoid of…of anything. Like Ja Rule, DMX…it’s just not my cup of tea.”
Actually, there are several aspects of mainstream hip-hop—particularly in the United States—that aren’t Vadim’s cup of tea. One of these, he says, is the massive commercialization of hip-hop, where many people become hip-hop artists just for the money.
While he says many artists in the U.S. are genuinely passionate, he says he acknowledges the materialistic attitude that now permeates the music.
“I’m not in this for the money, bitches and hoes,” he says. “Sometimes people judge hip-hop and think, ‘That’s what hip-hop’s all about: money, bitches and hoes.’ And that’s not true. It’s like saying all R&B is about women taking their clothes off and not being able to sing.”
At the TT the Bears performance, Yarah Bravo gave voice to DJ Vadeem’s ideas. Songs like “Overexpose,” “The Pacifist” and “Your Revolution” speak not to “money, bitches and hoes,” but to social issues that generally escape mainstream American hip-hop.
“The Pacifist”, for example, was performed as a protest against war in Iraq. “Your Revolution,” a poem originally by African American feminist Sarah Jones, was directed against what was seen as the disrespectful attitudes towards women prevalent in rap music.
But DJ Vadim says that in the end, it’s all about combining diverse elements to create good music that will last through time.
“I’m not making an album like DJ Clue or DJ Envy—not an album with just 12 beats and 12 collaborative emcees that people will just forget,” he says. “I’m not trying to make beats; I’m trying to make songs, stuff that you can listen to not once or twice, but hopefully many times, each time discovering new things, new sounds within the structure.”
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