Russian Bombers - The Life Of A Graffiti Crew In Saint Petersburg
It’s 2018, however from watching the news you’d be excused for thinking we were back in the Cold War era. Any mention of Russia in the news involves spies, nerve agents and strange goings-on in hotel rooms. We know little about the people living in Russia, those behind the headlines. A country of over 140 million individuals, yet we only know about their country’s geopolitical strategies and resource politics from Western news agencies. Like any other nation, Russia is a country of full of creative minds that walk, run and skate the streets on a daily basis.
I’ve been lucky enough to form great connections with a host of crazy, beautiful Russian minds over the years, and through my Stone Island research had the chance to talk with young creatives, hustlers, casuals and more. Each and every one of them has a story worth telling, and Biancissimo aims to cover as many of them as possible. We’ve even had a go at writing a few articles in Russian, but timing and real-life madness have got in the way of me mastering my translation (that time will come, I promise!).
With all this being said, I am happy to publish this article that’s been six months in the making. My good friend A. is part of a graffiti crew from Saint Petersburg. His crew Нефть have been bombing their city for years, and he got in touch with me wanting to give an insight into their life and their hustle. Coming from Berlin, a city where most graffiti crews stay underground forever and are extremely reluctant to talk about their work, I was more than excited to meet these guys and find out more about them.
Thanks to the whole Нефть crew for connecting with Biancissimo to talk about your art and work.
Russian Bombers - The Life Of A Graffiti Crew In Saint Petersburg
Hey A, can you please introduce yourself, your crew and your city to us?
Hi. I’m a proud member of Нефть crew. We make graffiti in the classic way, and also do some street art and wheatpasting. The other members are Wakos, Furs One, Fanch and our chubby brother Ramb. We live in the most beautiful city in Russia, Saint Petersburg, and that’s about it.
How does the graffiti scene in Russia and in Saint Petersburg look in general? Are there a lot of crews out there and can you get into a lot of trouble?
Russian graffiti has its own story, you know. Lots of crews, a considerable number of locals and even intercity collectives. Of course, we get some trouble, but Russian cops are just like prostitutes but in uniforms - money can usually solve your problems.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of graffiti in Russia, please? How did it get famous and how did your crew get started?
Graffiti in Russia started in the 80s, with the help of absolutely heroic enthusiasts. By the end of the 90s, Russia’s scene was finally formed, and some of those guys still keep it moving! They’ve always been a massive inspiration to us. Our reason to start painting? You know, every one of us has their own reason, and it would be trivial to go through them all. Let’s just call it the aspiration for self-expression.
Are there any rules in the Russian scene that you have to abide to in order to become part of the subculture?
I suppose. There is a very special sort of relationship between a bomber and his city. It’s like rough sex with a beloved girlfriend – you might not be very tender with her at that moment, but you have a consensus, a mutual respect and even a symbiosis. A lot of so-called ‘vandals’ love their environment, but it’s an unusual way of loving. Besides that, just a set of basic morals is required.
You told us a little bit about the police already, but how dangerous is it to spray in Russia? Do people call the police often, and what is the overall opinion about graffiti in society?
People in Russia usually don’t give a shit about each other, but often use their chance for self-affirmation. Every old man is a kind of neighbourhood watcher, you know, but if you’re being impudent I don’t think you’d really get in trouble with anyone other than the cops. You just have to watch your back, nothing more.
Can you please tell us more about Нефть? Why did you choose the name and what does it mean for your crew?
Our crew tries to make a sort of connection between graffiti, street art and contemporary art. All of us take a huge inspiration from street culture, casual clothing and hip-hop. "Нефть" ("Nyeft") means "oil" - a very valuable thing in the world, in our country, in the whole damn galaxy. It’s the most popular reason for wars and murders, so we try to reduce it to just a word on the wall and nothing more.
How much does Нефть play a role in Russia? How would you explain that to someone that lives outside of Russia?
We don’t want to play any kind of role. I suppose we’re just a bunch of friends with an unusual hobby.
And what role does oil play in Russia?
As a natural resource, oil is everything for my homeland. It’s all the media talk about as if we have nothing other than oil. So, as I said before, we are trying to make it nothing but letters on walls.
Graffiti is famous for finger-pointing and social critique. How important is this part of graffiti for you and how hard is it to do all that in Russia?
For me, graffiti never criticizes in a positive way, only in a destructive one. Graffiti has no point of view, no meaning and no sense. It exists for itself, and that is excellent. So, we protest against everything and nothing.
Do you interact with crews from other cities in the world and are there any scenes you look up to?
Our crew has some friends in other Russian cities, but I can’t say that we’re particularly interested in any serious connections. We prefer to do stuff in our own company and being part of a graffiti scene full of its own rules and problems is not our way. But, of course, we respect all the guys who do something for the culture.
What’s the next big thing for your crew? Are there any goals you want to achieve, cities you want to visit or big walls you want to spray?
The main aim is our first video, which will contain bombing, street art and some lifestyle. We’ve been shooting it for years because want it to be unusual and memorable. It will even have a plot - quite simple, but funny. The film will be a massive step for us.
In Germany, it’s actually not that easy to get people talking about their graffiti crews and the subculture they live in. How secret is the scene in Russia and how many people are allowed to know about your real life?
Graffiti is a mainstream culture among Russian youngsters, I think. Every kid in fake Nikes has his own tag. As for serious bombers, they prefer to keep is as some kind of conspiracy – especially train bombers. As for us, we’re not interested in making steel or anything like that, so we don’t give a shit about revealing too many secrets.
Do you think the internet has allowed people to understand Russian youth better as you’ve been able to show what you do to the world?
There is a prevalent opinion in the scene that the internet has harmed the original spirit of graffiti, that it’s too easy to get information, bite styles, catch trends in writing… I think that’s absolute bullshit. The internet tears down borders – culturally and geographically. A lot of modern writers, bombers and street artists have been inspired by stuff they saw on the net, and a lot of them met there too.
You got any last words to our audience?
НЕФТЬ - КРУТО!
Thanks a lot for your time!
Thank you, Bianco.