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Delicate Features - Escaping Russia for Creative Freedom
7 min

Delicate Features - Escaping Russia for Creative Freedom

Mar 17
7 min

Due to government repercussions, many Russian artists have censored themselves from speaking out against Russia's war on Ukraine. Those brave enough to voice out the injustice of the war could face 15 years in prison for challenging the government’s official line on Russia's invasion or criticizing the military.

Facing the fear of government retaliation for speaking against the war and apathy from their fellow citizens due to government propaganda, Pavel Diakov and Radmila Nikogosian, the Russian duo behind Delicate Features, decided to leave their beloved St. Petersburg. 

Delicate Features spoke with The DJ Cookbook about why they left St. Petersburg, the obstacles they encountered on their journey from Russia to Armenia and Georgia, their favorite Russian and Armenian foods and the making of their new EP, Economic Outlook, out on Freeride Millenium.

Q: What have you eaten today?

A: Oatmeal, chicken soup, and pasta carbonara.

Q: Since arriving in Yerevan, what Armenian flavors or dishes have you discovered that you have incorporated into your daily diet?

A: We are half Armenian and familiar with Armenian cuisine. Of course, we love Dolma (stuffed grape leaves) very much!

Q: Regarding food, what do you miss from St. Petersburg? Is it a favorite restaurant, bakery, grocery store, or street food?

A: Pancakes from the Teremok restaurant. It’s Russian cuisine. They make the best pancakes we have ever eaten. Our favorite was the pancake with salmon.

Q: Do you enjoy cooking? 

A: Yes, we really love cooking. It’s like meditation. But we don’t have much time to do it these days, so we usually order food.

Q: If yes, what do you like to cook?

A: Pavel makes awesome coffee with cocoa and cream. Sometimes we add ice cream to it. He also likes pizza with bacon, cheese, and pineapples. Radmila cooks carbonara pasta. And also lovely baked meat with cheese, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Q: Do you remember what you felt when you sat down to eat your first cooked meal after settling in Yerevan?

A: Well, we came to visit our relatives. We were under a lot of stress after a harrowing flight and the whole situation,  although the table was full of tasty dishes and we were greeted by a warm atmosphere, we can’t remember what we ate exactly. But we remember they served us Lavash bread, traditional Armenian bread. It was a very sweet welcome. 

To top it off, we both got COVID-19 the next day, and spent the next week in bed with a high fever temperature.

Q: Do you often cook a family recipe now that you are away from home? If yes, what is it (please share the ingredients and how it is cooked)?

A: One thing we cook often is Pamidorov Dzvadzegh, scrambled eggs with tomatoes. It’s sometimes called Armenian or Greek and is excellent for a light breakfast. It doesn’t take long to cook, but you need to find 3–5 plump, soft tomatoes (depending on how many people you want to feed). Wash them and put them in boiling water for 5–10 minutes. After that, you take them out, peal the skin and slice them as you like. It’s not so important how you slice them because we put them into a deep frying pan anyway. Cook them well until they are almost liquid. Meanwhile, pour several eggs into a bowl and beat them thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then pour into a pan with tomatoes. It’s important to stir them together while cooking. In about 10 minutes, the eggs will fry in tomato sauce, and you can add feta cheese and greens if you wish.

Q: What is your favorite Russian dish (baked, sweet, soup, street food-whatever you like!)? 

A: Blini are one of the most delicious pancakes. Okroshka (the Russian version of gazpacho) saves the day in hot weather. Also, there is a salad called Olivier and another one called Mimosa. Traditionally they are cooked for New Year in Russia, but we like to break the rules and eat them whenever we want. It's delicious, but it’s better not to overeat.

Q: How did your music journey begin? Are you both trained musicians?

A: We don't have formal training. Pavel’s mother taught him a little piano when he was a child, and then he switched to guitar. Manu Chao influenced him. Radmila sang before she could talk but never took it seriously. She also played guitar and performed in a folk ensemble for some time. Our childhood was in the Russian 90s, and we experienced a unique time of wild freedom in music, which is now gone. Everything was mixed up in this new post-soviet atmosphere, crazy discos, raves, underground, Russian rock. We were influenced by all of it. However, in 2012, when we met, the music we created was more like a pre-revolutionary Russian vibe. We always lived in our own world. Delicate Features are always something unearthly, more like paintings in a national museum.

Q: What instruments do you play?

A: In the past, we had a lot of samplers, synthesizers, and effects in our musical arsenal. But lately, we primarily use a laptop and a small MIDI keyboard, which is already falling apart. We are currently testing some AI that creates music. It sounds terrible, of course, but sometimes the result is pleasing. Maybe our next album will be produced with AI. 

Q: Who are your musical influences?

A: Many people and many things. Folk music from various countries and continents is one of our favorite genres. You could hear these influences on our first releases with Not Not Fun. You can hear elements of folk music from Russia, Armenia, the Baltic countries, and so on. In 2018, we worked at an Art Residency in Tartu, where we researched the musical culture of the Seto people living on the border between Russia and Estonia. Our previous EP, Fragile, released on Freeride Millenium, was about life and death. Old St. Petersburg cemeteries and epitaphs inspired us. You can hear a Soviet anti-war song, "May there always be sunshine," and the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be involved in the electronic music scene?

A: Pavel knew this from an early age during his school years, he was born and raised in St. Petersburg, where rave culture was highly influential. Back then, electronic music was something unearthly. People mainly listened to rock, which is simple and something they were used to. Bands consisted of several members, including a lead singer, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and drummer. But a guy with headphones standing behind some strange device with many buttons caused genuine interest. And most importantly, that 90s electronic sound made you feel as if you grew wings. These sounds carried you away to another world without any substances. And Radmila doesn’t see the point in classifying music into particular styles. You either like it or not. 

Q: When and how did Delicate Features begin?

A: We started dating as a couple in 2012. We were attracted to each other's musical tastes. It was terrific; our playlists had the same songs on them. Later Pavel shared some of the first tracks he created. He always had problems with vocals, and Radmila sang well. We decided to make something together for fun.

Q: Where does the name come from?

A: This name was Radmila’s idea. And it seems she doesn't remember where it came from. Perhaps it describes our music and ourselves very well.

Q: Before the conflict began, can you describe what a night of clubbing in St. Petersburg was like?

A: To be honest, we haven't been keeping up with the club scene in St. Petersburg lately. We have yet to see such freedom as we did in 2000 in St. Petersburg. We may sound like old timers, but free speech in Russia gradually faded, and it began to affect the music. Some major festivals started closing down for completely baseless reasons, and they sometimes canceled them a day before opening. Then Covid-19 completely shut everything down. A lot of clubs in St. Petersburg closed because of this.

Q: How has it changed now?

A: Right now, we don't know what's happening there. Many of our acquaintances in the music industry have left, from the underground to prominent artists, just like we did. And those who stayed probably do organize something, but it all seems like an agony. Very sad. It all started out so cool.

Q: When did you realize it was time to leave St.Petersburg? Was there a particular moment or a culmination of events that led to the decision?

A: On February 24th, at first, we didn't believe that a war had started because it’s insane and unbelievable to do such a thing in the 21st century out of the blue after everything we went through with Covid-19. As if the world didn’t have enough problems, and now this. But besides the news posts, we also saw posts from our acquaintances in Kyiv, who we talked to just a couple of weeks ago. Some were hiding underground, and others were sharing videos, scared and in tears; we heard the sounds of explosions.

We saw nothing happening in the streets of our city. People were living their lives as usual. We saw people supporting this so-called operation, and it became clear that we didn't belong there anymore. Seeing and hearing the silence and support for what was happening was a big shock to us. To be fair, some people did protest, and it’s not hard to guess what happened to them.

Q: Was Armenia your first option? If not, what other countries did you consider?

A: Initially, we decided to fly to Georgia through Istanbul, but tickets became three times more expensive and were almost sold out. We found a direct flight from St. Petersburg to Armenia. By the way, it was the last flight at that time. Russian IT specialists were on our plane, and many young people were leaving.

At some point, we felt no one wanted to see us anywhere. We felt uncomfortable contacting people for help or anything for a long time. No one would talk to us because of this war. And it’s devastating, considering that those who left in the first weeks were mostly kind, smart, talented, and conscientious people who could not put up with or see themselves tied to this terror. They just left everything.

Q: Did you know what equipment to take with you? What hardware did you leave behind, and have you bought or been gifted equipment?

A: We only took laptops and a microphone. There were a lot of things left in Russia.

Q: Do you have a studio where you can make and record music?

A: Unfortunately, we don’t have a studio, and we don't know if we will have one in the near future. We could do without a studio; having inspiration is more important.

Q: How did the concept of Economic Outlook start?

A: The news flow was quite intense the whole year, especially regarding the economic situation and the effect the events caused everywhere, so it was hard to ignore. We were just listening to some of our archived tracks on the way and merged them based on this topic. We finalized  the tracks we liked, and here they are.

Q: Each track on Economic Outlook represents a time, a place, and a mood.  What tracks began in St. Petersburg, and which ones ended in Yerevan?

A: We stayed in Yerevan for about two weeks in March. After that, we moved to Georgia because Radmila was born there, and we had a small house where we could stay without paying rent. The majority of this material was recorded back in 2018 in St. Petersburg. But we selected, finished, and polished the tracks in Georgia.

Q: Given the government's crackdown on dissent, are Russian electronic music artists defying the government?

A: The electronic music scene in Russia is a small group of people who work out of enthusiasm. We don't follow other musicians closely, but probably most of them are already abroad. Many expressed their feelings on their Facebook and other social media pages in the first days of the war.

It's difficult to understand what's going on from the outside when you've never lived in this environment because the government has been building a wall for years. State propaganda poisons most people. You will most likely be turned over to the police by your neighbor if you go out and protest. All of this drains your energy and turns you into a vegetable. The events in neighboring Belarus undermined many people. As a result, they realized protesting was pointless. It was no longer possible to have faith in a bright future. So leaving the country was the last viable option.

Q: Has the electronic music community done enough to help artists fighting the Russian government?

A: Considering everything that has already been said, we like to add that most artists in electronic music are better known in Europe, America, and England than in their homeland. So there is no such thing as a community, as you would understand it. There were artists in the music scene in Russia who openly protested; most are now registered as so-called foreign agents and are subject to criminal proceedings.

Q: How did you connect with Freeride Millenium?

A: They found us through our mutual friend from Manchester, Joseph Manning — a musician from bands such as Ménage À Trois, Los Angeles, Souvenir, and also one of the founders of a small label from Manchester called Ocean Records. Their art and authenticity inspired us, and we were happy to collaborate. This spring, it will be five years since we started working together.

Q: Do you plan to tour this year?

A: First and foremost, our plan is to survive. But if we can organize something later, it would be cool.

Q: Do you have new releases for the rest of the year?

A: We have a lot of unfinished material and must find a place to continue working on it peacefully. It's hard to say anything for sure in such circumstances.

Q: Thank you again for being a part of The DJ Cookbook!

A: Thank you for inviting us. Now it's time to have a snack.

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Listen to Economic Outlook