One of Russia's most popular rock bands, Kino came to prominence during the Gorbachev era of glasnost and perestroika, and struck a nerve with many Soviet youths longing for a brighter, freer future. The group's legend was tragically cemented when frontman Victor Tsoi (sometimes Tsoy) was killed in a car crash in 1990, sparking a massive outpouring of grief rivaling that of icons like Kurt Cobain or John Lennon. The group remains an object of cultish adulation, manifested in graffiti, memorials, and tributes by lone guitar players in underground walkways throughout the former U.S.S.R.
As a 19-year-old, Tsoi formed the first version of Kino in his hometown of St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1981, along with Alexei Ribin and Oleg Valinsky. In its first incarnation the group was called Garin i Giperboloidy (Garin and the Deathray) but one year later became Kino. The Soviet regime considered rock music a threat to its tenets of collectivism and uniformity, so Kino, like all groups of the time, was forced into the semi-anonymity of underground clubs and gatherings at friends' apartments. These so-called kvartirniks were often referenced by Tsoi in his compositions, as were other details of life under Soviet rule recognizable to listeners.
The chance meeting on a St. Petersburg local train (elektrichka) between Tsoi and Akvarium's Boris Grebenshikov led to the recording of Kino's first album. Grebinshivkov overheard Tsoi playing the song "Vse Moi Druzya Idut Marsham" (All My Friends Go Marching By) en route from one of his concerts and introduced the young musician to Andrei Tropillo, director of Lenningrad's first independent recording studio. Akvarium provided the muscle for Kino's 1982 debut, 45. After its release, the trio moved to Moscow and splintered; Ribin left in 1983, leaving Tsoi to complete their second album, 46.
In 1984, Tsoi formed a new version of Kino with guitarist Yuri Kasparyan, bassist Alexander Titov, and drummer Georgi Guriyanov; they debuted on that year's Nachal'nik Kamchatki (The Master of Kamchatka). A performance at St. Petersburg's second annual rock festival heralded their return, and their next two albums, 1985's Eto Nye Lyubov (This Is Not Love) and 1986's Noch (The Night), saw their reputation steadily growing. Perestroika under way, Gorbachev's new policy of glasnost ended the group's confinement to the underground and spurred them into the realm of national renown. Their sound had matured, branching away from Russian bard music, and more and more resembled American alternative rock, particularly R.E.M. and the icier side of the Cure. In particular, Noch, for which Tsoi engineered a sound emulating Duran Duran, made a great impact on audiences.
Tsoi began to pursue an acting career on the side in 1986, and bassist Igor Tikhoromirov eventually replaced Titov. In 1987 Kino first shared the stage with American Joanna Stingray, who would later marry guitarist Yuri Kasparyan and implement the recognition of Soviet rock in the States by producing the 1989 Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the USSR compilation; the album included six songs from Noch. Tsoi's film career was also picking up with the 1987 release of Assa, whose soundtrack included the song "(We're Waiting For) Change"; it would subsequently become a teen anthem and the group's biggest hit.
In 1988, the band released its most polished album, Gruppa Krovi (Blood Type), which even got a favorable write-up in The Village Voice in America. Tsoi pursued his film career, starring in Igla (The Needle), which was the second-highest-grossing film in the U.S.S.R. for the year 1988 and featured songs from Gruppa Krovi and the group's upcoming 1989 release Zvezda Po Imene Solntse (A Star Named the Sun). For the film's premier, Tsoi and Kasparyan traveled to the United States and played their first and only American show.
On June 24, 1990, Kino played its last concert, for a crowd of 62,000. Tsoi died tragically in an auto accident in Riga, Latvia, on August 15, 1990. The band's unfinished album was released afterward as Cherniy Albom (Black Album). After the untimely death of its lead singer, the group gained legendary status. Tsoi lives on as the original catalyst of Russian rock & roll. ~ Sabrina Jaszi & Steve Huey, Rovi