We first took notice of Saint Petersburg, Russia’s Blankenberge in March of 2016, as some of the smartest folks we knew were praising their debut self-titled EP. For a debut to feature such an epic, cavernous sound right from the start, well, that’s some confidence right there. While still formative, the seeds were planted for something pretty big.
Since then, Blankenberge got to work. Polishing, amplifying their singular sonic vision, writing and recording their newly-released debut LP, Radiogaze. And it’s a wonder. The sonic caverns are deeper, the vocals more assured, the space they inhabit is fully their own. Already critically lauded as one of the best albums in the genre thus far in 2017, Blankenberge have carved out their own space in a scene that sometimes seems okay with “good enough”. We sat down with these dreamers, to find out more about their sound, approach, and future plans. Noting the language barriers in translation from Russian to English (and vice versa), we’re thrilled to present this first English-language interview with Blankenberge. Press play below, and follow along.
DKFM: How did Blankenberge come together?
Daniil [guitar, synth]: All of us, except Sergey (our drummer), knew each other before moving to St. Petersburg, even though we were living in different cities in Russia. We were obsessed with guitar effects and mailed them to each other. I bought a pedal «Shoegazer» from Dayan and started playing shoegaze.
Yana [vocals]: Our band originally started in a small city in the south of Siberia, Barnaul, in early 2015. It included Daniil and I and our friends from Barnaul that are not in the band now. Before that, we traveled throughout Europe and visited some cities and towns in Belgium. Blankenberge was one of them. We were so impressed by that trip, especially by the North Sea coast that we called our group Blankenberge in honor of that city. After returning we composed several songs, some of which were included in our first EP. Then that same year, Daniil and I moved to St. Petersburg, because we thought that we would have more opportunities to develop our music. We also think that this is the most beautiful city in Russia and it gives a lot of inspiration to artists. Soon after the move, we found the rest of the current members (Dmitriy – bass, Dayan – guitar, Sergey – drums). We often performed in St. Petersburg and finally in March 2016 we released the self-titled EP.
DKFM: Saint Petersburg, Russia. We know that Pinkshinyultrablast was formed there, but most of the other Russian-origin dream pop and shoegaze bands seem to have come from Moscow. Is there much of an alternative music scene in Saint Petersburg, and what is it like?
Dmitriy [bass]: For me the music scene of St. Petersburg has always seemed more underground than in Moscow. In my opinion, there is a huge number of great bands, which haven’t become popular for some reasons. For example, I like the band «Elektrorebyata», that has unfortunately split up now, I think they are the Russian “Guided by Voices” or “Dinosaur Jr”.
Yana [vocals]: We know a few good bands that are playing shoegaze and dream pop music, and they are all from different cities of Russia, not only Moscow and St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg I would like to mention some very good post-rock bands, for example «TRNA», «Show me a dinosaur» and «Antethic».
DKFM: Who would you say are your influences? Who has helped shape your sound, your sonic approach?
Daniil [guitar, synth]: In the sound of Blankenberge, I’m guided by «This will destroy you» and «Sigur Rós». Now I also really like the new band of Stuart from «Mogwai» – «Minor Victories». I saw a lot of reviews about our music and some of them are saying that it is similar to «Slowdive», but honestly, I’ve never been a fan of their music.
Dmitriy [bass]: It’s hard to say who are the influences of our current sound because our music tastes are very different, but I really like «Slowdive», «Adorable» and «Swervedriver», they are my own influences.
Yana [vocals]: I think we all listen to different music and it reflects on our music in a good way.
DKFM: Tell us about this group of talents, and what they bring to the songwriting process?
Yana [vocals]: Daniil composes almost all the music. Before that, he composed music in his bands «Every Second of Inertia» and «Век Ноль»(«Vek Nol’»), and he already had a great experience in composing music. Each participant certainly invests something in the process of composing while rehearsing. I write lyrics and compose the vocal melodies. Dayan and Dmitry are well versed in the choice of guitar effects, which greatly affects our sound. Sergey is our drummer and I couldn’t imagine our sound without him.
Daniil [guitar, synth]: Some songs appear spontaneously, for example when I’m on the subway. You know the noise of a subway car is quite melodic. If you put drums there, you will get excellent shoegaze. «We» and «Falling Stars» were definitely composed that way.
Usually we try to compose songs at rehearsals all together shrouded in a shimmering and loud sound. We record all that and then I listen to it at home in silence and under the influence of sound hallucinations, a new track appears.
When I compose music, I just make those sounds that I would like to listen to later.
DKFM: Though they are different bands, with different sonic foundations, some have compared Blankenberge to Pinkshinyultrablast, perhaps because of the angelic vocal layer that rests atop the guitar’s haze. Do YOU see any similarities, or do you find the comparison short-sighted?
Daniil [guitar, synth]: In fact, comparison with «Pinkshinyultrablast» is a compliment for me. When I first heard them, I was really amazed and I told myself – this is what I wanted to hear for a long time, and this is ideal. It was for me something like satori.
It seems to me that we have quite a different structure to the tracks from «Pinkshinyultrablast» and therefore there are more differences than similarities – that’s all that I can say.
Dmitriy [bass]: The first time I heard «Pinkshinyultrablast» was in 2011. It was their EP
«Happy Songs for Happy Zombies». Back then I didn’t even believe that it was a band from Russia, because in those days, popular rock music in Russia was very different. I think that we are influenced by «Pinkshinyultrablast» one way or another, but we never thought about copying their sound.
Yana [vocals]: I think that of course the fact that «Pinkshinyultrablast» comes from St. Petersburg creates a kind of connection between us for everyone who is listening to us. We really like what they do and it is definitely reflected in our music, but there are a lot of bands that have influenced us. For example, I’m very grateful to «Pinkshinyultrablast» for having discovered the «Astrobrite» band for me by naming their band after one of the albums of «Astrobrite». Apart from «Astrobrite», I am inspired by many bands, such as «Mogwai» and «Sigur Rós». Their music is magical.
DKFM: There are eleven-time zones in Russia. Do you get to tour the country at all, given the geographical challenges involved? And are there any plans for an international tour?
Yana [vocals]: Apart from Sergey, the members of our band come from different cities. We dream of touring inside Russia and playing in our home cities too. So far, we have only played in St. Petersburg and Moscow. We also would like to tour Europe, but so far, we cannot name exact dates.
Daniil [guitar, synth]: My big dream is to tour the world and play my music. We really want to go somewhere in the near future, to Blankenberge for example. (*laughs*)
DKFM: Talk about what it took to put together this full album: the songwriting process, the recording process. Also, where did the album’s title, ‘Radiogaze’ come from? Almost seems like it was made for us radio DJs playing shoegaze!
Daniil [guitar, synth]: The process of composing and recording was very difficult and long, but I really enjoyed doing it, even though there were a lot of issues. It took us a few fuzz and reverb pedals and a good sound engineer. The album came out and I like it. This is my first work that I’m really happy with and I can say this without modesty.
Yana [vocals]: The first songs from «Radiogaze» appeared almost immediately after the release of our first self-tittled EP at the beginning of 2016. For a year we composed songs with six months left for recording and mixing. We wanted to make a lighter and dancier album than the previous EP, but we didn’t want to step far from shoegaze, so we tried to mix shoegaze with dream pop. We tried to select the best of what we liked in the songs of our favorite bands and put it together in our songs. «Radiogaze» is a word derived from some associations. The noise of analog radio is for us associated to the noise that we hear in shoegaze music. It’s simply saying it’s something like “A radio, which plays shoegaze”.
DKFM: What comes next for Blankenberge? The album is a critical success, largely based on word-of-mouth, as well as stations and blogs like ours who have championed your sound. Any upcoming plans?
Yana [vocals]: Now we are planning to publish the album on physical media – tapes, CDs, vinyl. Then we want to tour the cities of Russia and other countries and make noise in clubs outside St. Petersburg, where we often perform. Of course, we will also compose new music and try to make it even more perfect, in our understanding of that.
Daniil [guitar, synth]: We want to take advantage of the existing experience to make something new, surprise ourselves and make something louder than what we have already made. And of course, we want to get some new guitar pedals.
Yana [vocals]: Thanks to DKFM for this interview! We often listen to your radio and there’s always very good music. A real paradise for lovers of shoegaze and dream pop music all over the world!