Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) are a Russian punk rock group formed in the Siberian town of Omsk by bandleader Egor Letov. Over the long history of the group, Letov would go on to be its only constant member. Setting his group apart from other Russian groups of the period that were only nominally objectionable to the tenets of Communism, Letov branded Grazhdanskaya Oborona with the slogan "I will always be against." Grazhdanskaya Oborona (or GrOb for short, meaning grave) -- many of whose former members committed suicide or met other unfortunate ends -- are synonymous in Russia with self-destructive punk energy in the name of social dissidence.
Grazhdanskaya Oborona started in 1982 as the group Posev (Sowing), which included founder Letov, who played drums and sang and who joined forces with bassist Konstantin Pibinov. But because of the group's unapologetically defiant stance against the administration and aggressive music that condemned militarism and totalitarianism (some song titles included "I Hate the Red Color" and "Good Tsar, Familiar Stink"), it immediately became a target for the KGB. Letov was subsequently committed to a mental ward, and Pibinov was sent to the Army.
In 1984 Letov formed Grazhdanskaya Oborona and immediately began to write and record albums. He would often record all on his own, though he credited other musicians, who were really just pseudonyms. His style verged toward lo-fi, noisy punk rock, occasionally drawing inspiration from Russian folk tunes. His many albums were recorded with minimal technology in Letov's apartment or the apartments of friends and a changing cast of collaborators. He was so prolific, recording other groups as well, that his apartment came to be known as GrOb Studio, or GrOb Records. The albums recorded during this period were 1985's Nasty Youth (the first album ever composed by Letov) and Optimism; 1987's Necrophilia, Red Album, Totalitarianism, and It's Good; 1988's The Steel Was Tempered in Such a Way, Fighting Stimulus, and the live record Songs of Joy and Happiness; and 1989's War, Fine and Forever, Armageddon-Pops, Russian Field of Experiments, and the compilation album Red March.
During this period of heavy censorship and monitoring by the Soviet administration, GrOb's albums were copied many times and passed from one friend to the next. This system was named the magnitizdat network after the illegal samizdat self-publication and distribution of the literature of dissident authors throughout the Soviet Union. The group occasionally performed at small amateur venues and played a few rock festivals, which on one notable occasion ended with the electricity being cut off by KGB officials in the audience. In 1987 Letov formed the band Byelki Oktyabr (Great October) with Yanka Dyagileva, who would become his common-law wife. They traveled the country, playing songs and evading the KGB. They recorded three albums rooted in folk music: No Permission in 1987, and Go Home and Angedonia in 1989. He started working on the conceptual project Kommunizm (Communism), where kitschy Soviet art and Stalinist poetry were accompanied by Letov's dissimilar compositions. In 1990 Letov's music experimented with lo-fi and noise. His lyrics became more irrational, and Letov began releasing recordings of his solo performances. He was incredibly prolific, releasing more than 30 albums under the name Grazhdanskaya Oborona, though he was experiencing personal problems, some say related to drug use or schizophrenia.
When Communism ended, Letov became a contradictory character. Though once he had bitterly expressed his hatred for the Soviet regime through his lyrics, he proclaimed himself a "true Communist." He shunned attention from the West, claiming that no one outside of the former Soviet Union could possibly understand his compositions. He also rejected offers of recording contracts, complaining that professional recording technology tainted the authenticity of his work. He started to expressing opinions of "ultracommunism" and "love of totalitarianism" in interviews, and his music reflected the same patriotic sentiment. During the same period, two former GrOb collaborators, Yanka Dyagileva and Dimitry Selivanova, committed suicide. In 1994 Letov became one of the founders of the ultra-leftist National Bolshevik Party, often accused of neo-fascist beliefs. In the new millennium many Russian groups have recorded and performed tributes to GrOb, and in 2005 the group toured the United States. They also recorded the critically acclaimed 2005 album Reanimatziya (Reanimation). Egor Letov died at the age of 44 on February 19, 2007, because of heart problems. ~ Sabrina Jaszi, Rovi