Yegor Letov formed his first band Posev in 1983 in his Siberian hometown, Omsk. They played relatively simple, amateurish punk with occassional touches of reggae and ska.
In 1984 he formed Grazhdanskaya Oborona, who remained active until his death. The music was a mixture of raw punk, traditional Russian folk influences, and dissonance. In the Soviet era, the band was not given the opportunity to release an official record due to the controversial lyrical content. However, they released many home-recorded tapes that were circulated via underground networks all over the Soviet Union.
Because of his anarchist, anti-government views, the authorities subjected Yegor to prison and mental asylums at various points throughout the 1980s. His close friend and sometime musical collaborator Yanka Dyagileva was found dead in a lake near her home in May 1991. The official cause of death was suicide.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Letov’s views took a surprising turn when he founded the National Bolshevik Party alongside the writer Eduard Limonov and a number of other Russian artists, now calling himself “a true communist”.
The party combined elements of extreme nationalism and fascism with authoritarian socialism – you could say the worst of both left and right. Their logo merged the Soviet hammer and sickle motif with the colours and layout of Nazi Germany’s swastika flag. Many claim that the National Bolsheviks were originally intended to be a conceptual art happening rather than a serious political party.
As membership increased and the National Bolsheviks successfully recruited among Russia’s disaffected youth, Letov left the party declaring they were “pussies”. From thereon, he referred to himself as a Stalinist, and later, despite his life-long atheism, as a “world Christian”. Many felt he had become nostalgic for the Soviet era. But Letov sometimes mentioned that he regarded both his life and his musical persona as a sort of conceptual art. Most tellingly, he remarked that “I will always be against [everything]”.
Aside from his incredibly prolific main band Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Letov had several other projects over the years ranging from an experimental band called Communism through the psychedlic project Yegor and the Fuckups. The music he recorded ranged from raw punk and garage rock to Russian folk, industrialm and psychedelic rock.
Yegor Letov died of heart failure on 19 February 2008 in his flat in Omsk. He was 43 years old. A fascinating and eccentric character, Letov’s work ranks among the greatest, most extraordinary punk and rock music ever recorded.
Rest in peace, Yegor.