Yury Shevchuk, of DDT, is famous for speaking up for what he believes in.
Yury Shevchuk, 52, the charismatic leader of DDT, is an unusual Russian rock star, a lone crusader against low-quality pop music and corrupt politicians, a Russian Bono who is adored by his fans.
Shevchuk will headline a concert in defense of Moscow’s architectural heritage Sept. 2 at the VVTs, or All-Russia Exhibition Center, a Soviet landmark that celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and which is under threat from development.
“It was our childhood, our own Disneyland, and we all were very glad to go there to see all those cows, those achievements,” he said, speaking about the center, which hosted pavilions dedicated to the agricultural and industrial achievement of the 15 former Soviet republics. During the concert in the capital, Shevchuk will play songs from his new album, “Lost Without a Trace.”
Shevchuk added that the idea for the concert came from his friend, architect Sergei Morozov, a defender of the city’s historical landscapes who said the reconstruction will destroy the center. Development is due to begin in 2010. Shevchuk also said he is concerned about the fate of the center’s iconic statue, “The Worker and Collective Farm Girl” by Vera Mukhina, which was dismantled and taken away from the center and whose restoration has been continuously delayed.
The singer is known as a fervent defender of his hometown St. Petersburg. He chaired a panel during this year’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum dedicated to the topic of preservation, where he showed more than 100 pictures of buildings demolished in the city since 2003.
“We are losing the city where we live. We will leave nothing to the younger generation,” he said at the time.
Shevchuk is closely associated with the northern city, and he has dedicated many songs to it, including one of his most famous songs “Cherny Pyos Petersburg,” or “Petersburg, a Black Dog,” from 1993. The song imagines a dog running through the streets: “At night, I smell your smell of stone, I drink the names of your streets, blocks and trains.”
Raised in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, Shevchuk studied graphic design as a student and soon began performing in student bands. He started playing in the early 1980s, when underground rock music started to grow in force in the Soviet Union. He often clashed with the authorities, who disliked his lyrics and music at the time. Even the name of the group, DDT, after the pesticide used on Soviet farms, was a challenge to the system.
DDT was one of the most famous rock bands under perestroika, and in 1989 they were allowed to record their first official album “Ya Poluchil Etu Rol” (“I Have Received This Role”). There have been dozens of albums since, but the songs of the first album remain Shevchuk’s most popular because of their apt lyrics. The song “Don’t Shoot!” is about the owner of a shooting gallery and is clearly a song about Afghanistan, the Soviet Union’s last war.
Shevchuk would later dedicate songs to the conflict in Chechnya, but unlike other rock musicians he avoided nationalistic sentiment, preferring to focus on the human casualties of both sides. “War is the most outrageous part of human relationships,” Shevchuk has said. He spent time with troops and locals in Chechnya and locals and wrote about the
experience in a series of short stories.
Shevchuk has said rock ‘n’ roll for him is “spirit and freedom,” and his fame protects him in some ways, but still a number of his songs are banned from state television.
One of his most recent songs includes the lyric, “When the oil runs out, dry, our president will die,” and although it is popular on YouTube it is little-known to the general public.
“Among the older rock singers, he is the one who produces the least interesting material,” said music critic Yevgeny Levkovich, a regular contributor to the Russian edition of Rolling Stone. “However, while many of his colleagues have turned into servants of the current administration, he remains an incorruptible man.”
Yury Shevchuk and DDT will play Sept. 2 in the square in front of the Cosmos pavilion at the All-Russia Exhibition Center. 115A Prospekt Mira. Metro VDNKh. Ticket prices start at 1,200 rubles.