Over the last two weeks I’ve fallen into a little rabbit-hole trying unpick why I react so badly when people try and share my interest in Little Big by saying ‘Yeah – like Russian Aqua’.
No. No they are not.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Aqua. I still own both their 90’s albums, and their 2011 release ‘My Mamma said’ is still on my regular playlists. But, Aqua were a pop product of the last golden days of the record industry and Little Big are so much more than that.
Now, all my research has been filtered through the trippy lens of Google translate – but I’ll do my best.
Let’s start with the music. You don’t have to wander too far from the most popular clips before you’re in a world of rave and EDM. The bubble-gum pop sound of their Eurovision hit is not indicative of their catalogue. But that isn’t the interesting part, it’s the evolution of their music from the first album to their latest release that I find fascinating. Especially because they were never supposed to be a band.
Little Big comes from a one-off April-fools joke in 2013 with the video ‘Every Day I’m Drinking‘. Ilya ‘iLich’ Prusikin teams up with Olympia Ivleva and Anna Kast in a satirical explosion of Russian stereotypes. It’s probably worth noting at this point that Anna and Olympia are two little people and paired with iLich (a big person) is likely the inspiration behind the band’s name. Eh – don’t think too hard on it. Remember this was supposed to be disposable joke.
Nobody thought much more of the April Fools video until the booker for Die Antwoord’s Russian tour saw the video, loved it, and invited them to open for the band on their upcoming concert. At first iLich tried to refuse the gig explaining that it was just a one-off video and they didn’t have any songs, but the response came back that they had a month – so they could write some. A few weeks later they had written six songs, created some videos and performed the concert.
You can see the Die Antwoord influence in the first album, with zef-style nationalism running through the songs. ‘Life in da Trash’, ‘We Will Push a Button’, ‘Stoned Monkey’ – and really the whole album taken literally is bleak celebration of counter-culture in the face of an oppressive government.
But at the same time if you take a step back – it’s hilarious. ‘With Russia From Love’ ends with random lyrics about Ibsen and hedgehogs, the album opens with Russian folk music silenced by gunfire. There’s a certain comedy in presenting and exaggerated caricature and having it accepted as fact. That is the genius of Little Big where everything is performed with such stone-faced authenticity that it can be hard to tell if there is a joke – and constantly I feel if you can’t see the joke, the joke’s on you.
There’s a texture through the tracks. Hidden amongst the irony are moments like ‘Hateful Love’ which seem the opposite. Both musically and as a video, the song plays with dichotomy of violence against a sort of child-like femininity. At first glance the comedy is apparent – a tank made of balloons, a beautiful woman draped in a gross wet octopus – but the more I watch it the more I see it as an incredible criticism of our perception of femininity. Every frame is appealing, drawing you in with candy colours and dewy skin – the vocals are sweet and drip with innocence. It’s not until you engage analytically that you realise that, while the signifiers draw you in, the signs themselves are aggressively negative. This is what makes me love them so much. They slide a video about desire and autonomy right beside one that about a man with a very large dick.
Now that I’ve started talking about the videos it’s a good time to mention that Little Big is a much larger collaboration than the four members on the Eurovision stage would make you believe.
I appreciate that all their videos include a full list of credits and you can see the names shifting through the first few albums as the group developed. Sergey ‘Gokk’ Makarov was the first to officially join the three original members as DJ and songwriter. Gokk is the bass guitarist from a popular Russian rock/emo band called Jane Air and is likely the connection that brought Anton ‘Boo’ Lissov (previously the vocalist in Jane Air) into occasional videos. Anna appears and disappears through the early songs. Anton does the same as ‘The Clown’ – a role that is played by a few names during the early videos (and the origin of his distinctive black lipstick). Eventually Anna stops appearing and Sonya Tayurskaya becomes a permanent face. Olymipa decided to leave the band in early 2018 explaining that she was burnt-out after the intense growth of the band – and she’s currently quite successful as a model and influencer.
But even that’s not the end. The ‘Little Big Family’ includes a collection of bands, creators and YouTube television shows. I think KlikKlak Show is my favourite (not actually Little Big family but the same creative group). I don’t engage so much with the interviews but the slapstick dares where they torture each other in amusing ways (Thrash Lotto) is hilarious. And the dares can get large – as evidenced with the one where iLich drew the short straw and was challenged to ‘get a job’. Which he did. With one of the largest telephone carriers in Russia, working for three months as Creative Director, where he launched three major advertising campaigns.
A face that is appearing more frequently is Alina Pasok who has directed nearly every video alongside iLich. Alina is even profiled in Russian Forbes magazine for her achievements co-creating the ‘Little Big Family’ of creatives. I don’t want to write too much about her here because she’s amazing and deserves her own article. It’s the clear creative combination between the two of them that has generated the viral success of the band.
And this is really the key difference between Aqua and Little Big – they make everything themselves. They have the power. And their talent crosses so many creative borders. It’s a concept that is becoming more frequent as media evolves and we see young creatives describe themselves as ‘creators’ rather than directors, producers or actors. It’s this idea where something like a music video can be created as a wholistic idea – from the music, to the video and the promotions. With the ability to keep the process direct but professional a single creative’s idea can come through to it’s audience undiluted. It’s a powerful time to have good ideas.