Brought to you by record collector and DJ Grace George, Label of Love is a new series that tells short histories of music labels & their legacies. For this week’s Label of Love, we travel east to Ukraine to look at Студія Лева (Studio Leo), a recording studio & music label founded in 1990, ceasing operations in 2009.
10 years later & it’s 2019, President Trump is still in the Whitehouse and Ukraine recently elected Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a sitcom comedian who had previously no political experience aside from playing the president on television. Now conversations have emerged between the two TV star Presidents where Trump is trying to dig dirt on previous Vice President Biden, leading to a possible impeachment. Ukraine has had a difficult political past, and undoubtedly this is not the first of many scandals & troubles it has faced.
The modern independent state of Ukraine was formed in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Subsequent presidents must have struggled with the sudden fresh independence, as the economy shrank by almost 20% under the first leader Leonid Kravchuk & the 2nd leader Leonid Kuchma was embroiled in corruption scandals & accusations of putting a chokehold on media freedom. Skip forward to 2014 and a Revolution is brewing after further corruption scandals surrounded the president Viktor Yanukovych whose government is subsequently overthrown. This then leads to Russian military intervention & the annexation of Crimea, which was mostly in support of Russian leadership, unlike a majority in mainland Ukraine who wanted closer ties with the EU.
Despite the many modern troubles it faces, Ukraine’s music scene must have erupted post independence as it is almost impossible to find independent music labels operating prior to 1990. Under the iron rule of the Soviet Union, countries in the Eastern bloc will have had many creative freedoms squashed or monitored closely and most music will have been released under the massive Soviet state-run Melodiya label (a story for another time…).
Studio Leo was set up primarily as a recording studio and worked with famous Ukrainian composers, also helping to start the careers of many Ukrainian sound engineers. Releasing mostly cassettes & CDs (potentially because of cost & lack of vinyl pressing plant resource) between 1992 & 2010, its output was mostly in the pop, rock, folk & experimental spheres, with some deviation into the Euro-Trance world of the 90’s. The artwork of the early cassettes are psychedelic, swirling with colour & potentially folkloric references. Luckily the dominance of ITunes on the digital market means some of Studio Leo’s music is available online, as the original cassettes are not readily available.
Sounds of Studio Leo
Скрябін (Skryabin) – “Мова Риб” (“Pisces Language”) (1992)
The first album of rock/synth-pop Ukrainian group Skryabin is a fusion of breakbeat, Massive Attack style softly-spoken rap, lofi house, synth-pop & sudden Techno/Trance outbursts. Even a hint of Happy Mondays in here! The references shouldn’t deny them the individuality of their musicianship, this is well worth a full listen. Lucky to have found a full cassette ripped here.
Ольга Юнакова (Olga Yunakova) – “Королева ночі” (“Queen of the Night”) (1996)
Recorded at Studio Leo but released on the bigger Ukrainian label NAC in 1996, Оля Юнакова is a Pop singer still going strong in her home country. I recommend going down a Youtube wormhole into Olga’s early music videos, the drama & sexual deviousness demonstrated is A*in entertainment value.
Окрема Територія (Separate Territory) – “Не минай” (“Don’t Pass”) (1996)
Ukrainian rock group that performed together between 1994 – 2001, this track from their first & only album recorded at Studio Leo has a gentle, sombre indie sound as they perform to a small audience in what looks like Ukraine’s MTV Unplugged. Nirvana’s Unplugged session springs to mind…
Discogs – Скрябін
Discogs – Мелодия