Igor Fedorovich "Yegor" Letov (Russian: И́горь Фёдорович (Его́р) Ле́тов [ˈiɡərʲ ˈfʲɵdərəvʲɪtɕ jɪˈɡor ˈlʲɛtəf]; 10 September 1964 – 19 February 2008) was a Russian poet, musician, singer-songwriter, audio engineer and conceptual art painter, best known as the founder and leader of the post-punk/psychedelic rock band Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense). He was also the founder of a conceptual art avant-garde project Kommunizm and psychedelic rock outfit Egor i Opizdenevshie. Letov is a younger brother of famous free jazz saxophonist Sergey Letov. He also collaborated with singer-songwriter Yanka Dyagileva and some other Siberian underground artists as a record engineer and producer.
|Birth name||Igor Fedorovich Letov|
|Also known as||Yegor Letov|
|Born||10 September 1964|
Omsk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Died||19 February 2008 (aged 43)|
Omsk, Russian Federation
|Genres||Punk, post-punk, noise rock, garage rock, psychedelic rock, shoegaze, hardcore punk, noise, industrial, experimental music, avant-garde, musique concrète, plunderphonics, conceptual art, singer-songwriter|
|Occupation(s)||poet, musician, vocalist, songwriter, producer, painter|
|Instruments||singing, guitar, bass guitar, drums, noises, tape loops|
|Labels||GrOb-records,Zolotaya Dolina(on LP 1992–1994), BSA, HOR, Misteriya Zvuka, Vyrgorod|
|Associated acts||Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Kommunizm, Kuzya UO, Egor i Opizdenevshie, Yanka Dyagileva|
Letov was born in Omsk, Siberia to Fyodor Letov, a military man and World War II veteran from Northern Ural (Perm Krai), and Tamara Letova, a doctor of Russian Cossack origin from Kazakhstan. Letov family has Russian, Mordvin, Komi and Turkic ancestors. They moved to Omsk from Semipalatinsk a few years before Yegor's birth. From a young age Yegor and his older brother Sergei were of weak health, and Yegor even had clinical deaths in his childhood. After graduating school, Yegor went to live with his brother, who was in Moscow at the time and was a relatively successful jazz saxophonist. There he learned to play some instruments (drums, bass guitar), had contacts with Moscow underground avant-garde artists, and enrolled in a professional technical school as a builder, where he worked as a plasterer. Two years later, in 1984, Letov left the technical school and returned to Omsk. At this time he had already started writing poetry and short stories, and decided to try music. He mostly listened to Rock in Opposition and free jazz back in the early 80s, and his first recordings were very amateurish garage rock, using suitcases instead of drums. Later, Letov characterized these recordings as "talentless curiosity", "baby talk" and "shame and reproach". Soon he found fellow musicians and companions in Omsk, who also listened to this type of music (which was very unpopular and little known in the USSR, especially in deep province such as Siberia), and they started the garage rock band Posev (Russian for sowing, crop, seeds). The most important of these companions was Konstantin Ryabinov (better known as Kuzya UO or Kuzma), a musician and poet, who was Letov's comrade-in-arms in Grazhdanskaya Oborona up to the late 90s, and a close friend. Posev became Grazhdanskaya Oborona in November 1984.
His dissident philosophy, as expressed in his lyrics, and popularity throughout the USSR, resulted in a KGB-initiated internment in a mental hospital for three months in 1985. There he was forced to take anti-psychotic drugs. On his release he defiantly wrote a song about Lenin "rotting in his mausoleum".
A prolific musician, Letov was also a polarizing figure in the Soviet Union. He was controversial in the mid-to-late 1980s when he satirized the Soviet system and developed a gritty Siberian punk sound. After the fall of the Soviet Union, during the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, being strongly opposed to Yeltsin's government, he developed a fan base among nationalists and communists. Yegor Letov was one of founders and the first members of National Bolshevik Party. He ceased contact with the party about 1999 and distanced from politics since then. In his 2007 interview with Rolling Stone Russia, Letov stated: "In fact, I have always been an anarchist -- and I still am. But now I'm more into ecological aspects of contemporary anarchism, eco-anarchism, that's what I've been moving toward recently". In 1997 Letov married the bass guitarist of Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Natalia Chumakova. They had no children. Yegor Letov died of hear failure in his sleep on 19 February 2008 at his home in Omsk. He was 43 years old.
In an interview, Letov expressed that his favorite poets were Alexander Vvedensky (1904–1941), one of the OBERIU writers, and the Russian Futurist poets, such as Vladimir Mayakovsky and Aleksei Kruchenykh. At the beginning of his interest in poetry he was hugely influenced by the Austrian poet Erich Fried. He also expressed his interest in Conceptualism, and spoke of his own work in punk music and in creating a public image as a work of conceptual performance art. Letov's favorite writers, who considerably affected his world view and writing style, were Andrei Platonov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, Bruno Schulz, Flann O'Brien, Leonid Andreev, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kobo Abe, and Kenzaburō Ōe. His worldview was also inspired by Existentialist philosophy, traditions of Russian Cosmism, and Latin American magic realism (Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez).
In music, Letov was a big 60's psychedelic/garage rock fan, especially citing Arthur Lee's Love as his favourite band, as well as Texas noise rock band Butthole Surfers, Genesis P-Orridge's Psychic TV, and The Residents. Other notable influences include Sonic Youth, Ramones, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, The Fall, Dead Kennedys, The Birthday Party, Swans, Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, and Einstürzende Neubauten. He also cited industrial, ska and reggae, avant-garde composers such as John Cage, medieval and baroque classical music, Soviet VIA bands and various folk music as influences on Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Egor i Opizdenevshie and Kommunizm, stating, that everything he listens to is to some extent reflected in his music:
Well, I can personally say that about 80% of what I’ve composed was incited by what I’d listened to. But there doesn’t have to be a direct connection. I can listen to Dylan and then, influenced by his music, write a hardcore song. So, definitely, if I didn’t listen to anything, I wouldn’t write anything.
– Letov, 1989.
In the late 80s Letov was close with Yanka Dyagileva, though it's not clear whether they were partners or not. Later, he had two wives, Anna Volkova (in 1990s) and Natalia Chumakova (from 1998 until his death). Letov had no children, as he had childfree views.
Letov was always a controversial figure. While some considered him as a genius, others completely rejected him. Famous musical critic Artemy Troitsky spoke of Letov as a poseur, misanthrope and very pretentious person, whose musical abilities were "very mediocre" (this, though, might be a reaction to Letov's attack on Troitsky in 1990 at the Alexander Bashlachev memorial concert, where he publicly accused Troitsky in "conversion of whole Soviet rock into shit"). Poet Elena Fanailova stated that Letov was "really fucked up and really free artist, whose main and only mission was to experience limits of his own freedom" and "certainly large, significant author, who created his own world – which, though, works only in the context of the post-Soviet civilization". Most contemporary critics consider Letov an important person in the post-Soviet culture and one of the best Russian poets of the late 20th century, although disputes about this status are still common; while the importance of his legacy is not denied, controversy remains regarding his radical political statements. As for Letov himself, he repeatedly stated that his personal views and opinions, or even his person, should be of no interest to anyone, and that his art is the only thing that matters:
There is a certain stream of existence running through me, but what I am is something no one knows. No one should be interested in that, it's an idle curiosity. I, for example, don't care who Dostoyevsky was or what he thought—I'm interested in his books, but I would never give him a ring or pay him a visit.— Yegor Letov, 2002
- Yegor Letov, Yanka Dyagileva, Konstantin Ryabinov. Russian field of experiments, 1994. ISBN 5-87787-004-1
- Yegor Letov. I don't believe in Anarchy, 1997. ISBN 5-87109-058-3.
- Yegor Letov. Poems, 2003. ISBN 5-85929-122-1.
- Yegor Letov. Autographs. Drafts and drawings, vol. 1, 2009. ISBN 978-5-903718-03-0
- Yegor Letov. Autographs. Drafts and drawings, vol. 2, 2011. ISBN 978-5-9902779-1-5.
- Yegor Letov. Poems (second edition), 2011. ISBN 978-5-9056230-1-1.
- I Don't Believe in Anarchy, Documentary, RUS/CH 2015, Dir.: Anna Tsyrlina, Natalya Chumakova
- "Comments:". 8 September 2009. Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- "Yegor Letov: 'Father of Russian punk'". The Guardian. 2008. Archived from the original on 2015-06-26.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)Archived
- Punk and national-bolshevism Archived 2013-10-23 at the Wayback Machine
- [Сорокин, Кирилл Егор Летов. Средства «Обороны». Rolling Stone Russia, July 2007]
- Cult Rock Musician Egor Letov Died, 19.02.2008
- "Punk Legend Yegor Letov dies of heart failure". Archived from the original on December 15, 2010. Retrieved 2012-10-15.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) 21.02.2008 The eXile
- "Егор Летов. Ответы на вопросы посетителей официального сайта Гражданской Обороны, 24.11.04 / Off-line интервью с Егором Летовым и группой "Гражданская Оборона" - Гражданская Оборона - официальный сайт группы". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
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- ru_grob, Весна Психоделияwrote in; 23:09:00, 2008-10-15 23:09:00 Весна Психоделия 3xcx3 ru_grob 2008-10-15. "Артемий Троицкий о Егоре Летове". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- satanas1111 (26 February 2008). "Егор Летов на мемориале Башлачева 1990". Retrieved 2 December 2016 – via YouTube.
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