Commie Electronica


A new documentary, Elektro Moskva, shows how Soviet communism worked against its citizens' desire to indulge in even the simple pleasures of modern electronics.

"Censorship was ruthless and everywhere," says one man whose friend was imprisoned for possessing American music. Another man shows off his TV antennae made of forks, because acquiring a real one was a bureaucratic nightmare.

At the film's core is the story of Russian synthesizers. They were made from scrapped or pilfered parts, sourced from the same surveillance and censorship agencies that banned electronic music. Built in secret, these instruments made unpredictable, cosmic sounds and sometimes literally shocked musicians. The scarcity of the devices made them "almost sacred" tools.

The uncertainty and eeriness of the music mirrors interviewees' recollections of daily life under communism. Shots of decaying infrastructure and old propaganda deftly capture a sense of conflicted nostalgia for the fear and excitement of self-expression. —Zenon Evans