Pop history is made of one hit wonders. YouTube breakthroughs give way to the next sensation as viral videos abound to satisfy public’s nano-short attention span. Occasionally, a “justin-bieber” happens and music industry takes immediate notice. In September 2010 Ukrainian group KAZAKY made quite a splash in the virtual talent pool with the release of their debut single “In the Middle”. In 2 minutes and 33 seconds they managed to stump the cool back into the languishing music video format and genderbend the boyband concept beyond recognition. Three million views later “dance, dance for me baby!” is the new “relight my fire”. This just might last.
How did your project happen?
We had been friends long before the group was created. We had such an idea before but we were waiting for the right time. When it came we set up Kazaky.
What’s it like to be a virtual phenomenon?
We have ceased to be a virtual group after we gave the first live performance and the first interview in the magazine. Now we have already gone far beyond the Internet project. When the group was created, we expected that we will have tours and everything else. Now we have it all.
Do you consider yourselves foremost a dance troupe or a singing band?
We don’t divide these concepts. They walk side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Initially, we were dancers, yes. Now we are artists. We don’t want to focus on something concrete. Our creativity in aggregate is music + dance + style + much more. Altogether this is called Kazaky.
We have nothing to do with historical Cossacks. We have different names and are pronounced differently. In some ways, the Japanese language and culture have influenced our name.
What inspires you?
The desire to create a unique creative collective that’s what influenced us and continues to drive us forward. We draw inspiration from everything that surrounds us. It’s a flow of energy that cannot be controlled. Sometimes it comes unexpectedly. It’s always a surprise.
Early response set blogosphere afire with speculation over gender identity and sexuality of the performers. The quick and resounding consensus remains that it matters naught when one can move like that! Anatomy be damned, KAZAKY appear superhuman. They make acrobatics in stilettos seem entirely natural. The cornerstone of their appeal is a combination of classic dance beats that sound perpetually fresh, the kind of jaw-dropping raw choreography rarely seen on any screen since David LaChapelle’s film Rize and almost mythical masculinity sexualized to the max. KAZAKY boldly embody the post-globalization open source world void of trivial labels. Some say they are putting Ukraine on the world map of contemporary culture. Just as likely they make maps altogether irrelevant. The second single “Love” hit four million views, landed them on iTunes, stormed multiple charts, caught major press attention and assured the band steady stream of international performance engagements from legendary clubs and festivals to fashion week couture runways.
What is fashion to you?
Fashion is part of our project, part of the image that we create. But, very important is the fact the clothes should be comfortable and not constricting our movements on the stage. Participation in fashion shows for us is a pleasant experience. We worked with Anouki Bicholla and recently closed DSquared2 spring-summer 2012 show in Milan. Possibly in the future we will participate in more such events. It’s very interesting!
Who creates your original costumes?
We don’t work with a specific fashion designer. We have a stylist Anna Osmekhina. She is very-very talented. She creates the costumes for our performances. We like to work with her and we have full confidence in her, because she really feels our style.
Tell us about your superb handling of high heels!
In fact, it started as a joke. We just put on high heels at a rehearsal and tried to make some moves. At first it was funny, but then we noticed that shoes with heels make our movements more fluid. The optimal height of our heels is 5 ½ inches. During the concert program, we work in boots and sneakers for some show numbers but heels will remain in our program all the same, because it looks really interesting.
While KAZAKY are well poised for an assault on the international trendsetting scene, the support for their work in the former Soviet Union is an uphill struggle. Despite their claims to the contrary, the name itself serves as an apt cultural provocation. Cossacks (pronounced “kazaky” in Russian and Ukrainian languages) are a traditional patriarchal Orthodox Christian military-style social group that settled in the wide delta steppes of the Dnieper and Don rivers about four centuries ago. Disbanded during the Soviet era, the Cossacks enjoy a renewed cultural relevance and socio-political influence in the region. A recent KAZAKY show in the southern Russia city of Rostov-on-Don, the epicenter of Cossack heritage revival, was cancelled the day of the performance due to multiple threats against the performers, venue and audience. As is often the case with pop culture phenomena, controversy adds notoriety and cult status of any newcomers. Their new single called “I’m just a dancer” sounds like a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the power of pop culture to challenge the status quo and push the proverbial envelope of social change.
How is your life on tour?
We were ready for this and so we all like it. We think it is wrong to complain about what you choose consciously. You must stay focused and cannot do things that interfere or brings difficulties. Each concert for us is a new charge of energy. Such energy is enough to travel much and far.
How do you distribute responsibilities within the group?
We don’t have a leader, never thought about such an idea. It’s just us. In our group all are equal. We have four soloists: Oleg, Arthur, Stas and Kirill. Everyone makes equal contribution with their ideas, and every one of us equally gives a lot of work.
Are you looking forward to your debut in the United States?
Yes! We have upcoming performances on July 15 and 16 in New York City. Then we fly to Miami with another concert. Afterwards we’ll tell you about our American experiences.
Do you want to represent Ukraine in the legendary Eurovision Song Competition?
We often get asked about it. No. We don’t plan to participate in Eurovision. We don’t need this.
Do you wonder what the future may hold for you?
Regardless, we see ourselves on the stage. New shows, new tracks and new videos… everything is possible with the support from our fans.
New Yorkers can experience KAZAKY for themselves at XL Nighclub this Friday, June 22nd, 2012:
Text: Alexey Timbul / Interview: Alexander Lipovtsev.