Viktor Tsoi was a famous Russian rock artist and leader of the rock group Kino. He was born Viktor Robertovich Tsoi (Виктор Робертович Цой) to a Korean father and Russian mother on June 21, 1962 in Leningrad, USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia). He was killed in a car accident on August 15, 1990. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of Russian rock and has a huge following in the countries of the former Soviet Union even today.
Few bands in the history of Russian music have been more popular or have had more impact on their genre than the rock band Kino. Any discussion of Kino must inevitably begin and end with the creator, writer and lead singer of the band, a man who was once called "the last hero" of Russian rock and "a legend". The band was born when he was, lived when he did, and died with him in a tragic accident. The life of Victor Tsoi is the life of Kino.
Victor Tsoi was born in Leningrad in 1962. He began writing songs at the age of 17. His early songs discussed themes like life on the streets of Leningrad, love and hanging out with friends. Many heroes in his songs were young men with limited opportunities trying to survive in a tough world. During this time, rock was an underground movement limited to mostly Leningrad, Moscow pop stars ruled the charts and received the most exposure from the media. The Soviet government gave grants to artists who they liked, they provided them with housing, recording studios and anything else they may need to succeed. Unfortunately rock music was not too popular with the government. Rock tends to provoke rebelliousness among the youth and was influenced by Western rock groups bringing with them Western values like free speech, this was not something that the Soviet government wanted. Thus rock bands received little or no funding, they were not given any exposure by the state-run media and was given the stereotype as the music listened by drug addicts and hoodlums. At the age of 18 Tsoi was expelled from the Serov Artistic Academy which he was attending. The reason for the expulsion was "poor grades", however it didn't help that he was involved heavily in the rock music scene. By this time Tsoi had began to perform the songs he wrote at parties. During one of these performances he was noticed by Boris Grebenshchikov, a member of the established rock group "Aquarium". Grebenshikov took Tsoi under his wing and helped him start up his own band. This signaled the beginning of Tsoi's rock music career.
Leningrad's Rock Club was one of the few public places where rock bands were allowed to perform. It was here, at their first annual Rock Concert that Victor Tsoi made his stage debut. He was playing as a solo artist supported by two "Aquarium" members. Tsoi's innovative lyrics and music impressed the crowd. Before making it big, Tsoi said that the problem with music was that no one wanted to take chances. He wanted to experiment with lyrics and music in order to create something fresh that no one had ever heard before. Tsoi succeeded in his goal. Shortly after the concert he recruited other musicians and they formed "Kino", which in Russian means "cinema". They recorded a demo tape at Tsoi's apartment. This tape was quickly passed around Leningrad then all over the country by rock enthusiasts. Kino was beginning to gain a following.
In 1982, Kino released their first album titled "45". This album fist showed Tsoi's willingness to approach political topics in his music, something not too many other artists were willing to do. In his song "The Metro Train" he discussed a man stuck in a train that was taking him where he didn't wish to go, this was clearly a metaphor for life in the USSR and the band was quickly banned from performing this song live. The political message of the song made it popular among the youth of the anti-establishment movement that now began to look to Victor Tsoi and "Kino" as their idols. "Kino" displayed more of their political views at the 2nd Leningrad Rock Club Concert. The band won first place in the competition thanks to Tsoi's anti-war song "I Declare My Home... (a nuclear-free zone)". The song's popularity was fuelled by the ongoing Afghan War which was claiming the lives of thousands of young Russians.
"Kino" was still not getting much mainstream attention due to the lack of government support, that would all change with the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev came to power in 1985. His social and economic reforms, Glasnost and Perestroika, began exposing the social and economic problems of the USSR and allowed open discussion of them in the media. People were beginning to realize that the Communist experiment was not working out and that things needed to change. Glasnost loosened the restrictions on the media and allowed rock bands to be written about and shown on television. In 1986 Tsoi used the open atmosphere and public sentiment to release a song titled "I Want Changes". The song called on the young generation to demand changes within the current system and spread "Kino"'s name all over the nation.
1987 was a breakthrough year for "Kino". The release of their 7th album "Blood Type" triggered what was then called "Kinomania". The open political climate under Glasnost allowed Tsoi to make "Blood Type" his most political album yet it also allowed him to record a sound of music that no one before him was able to play. Most of the tracks on the album were directed at the youth of the USSR, telling them to take control and make changes within the nation, some of the songs discussed the social problems crippling the nation. The sound and lyrics of the album made Tsoi a hero among Russia's youth and "Kino" the most popular rock band ever. Over the next few years Tsoi appeared in several successful movies and also traveled to the USA to promote his films at film festivals. Several more albums were released, their themes were once again mostly political, further fueling the band's popularity. Even though Tsoi was a huge star, he still lived a relatively normal life. He kept his old job in the boiler room of an apartment building, this surprised many people. Tsoi said that he enjoyed the work and he also needed the money to support the band, as they still received no government support and their albums were copied and passed around the nation free of charge. This made Tsoi even more popular among the people because it showed that he was down to earth and they could relate to them.
"Kino"'s finest hour came in 1990 with a concert at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. 62 thousand fans filled the stands to celebrate the triumph of Russia's most successful rock group. On August 14th 1990, Tsoi finished recording the vocals for Kino's next album in Latvia, he was supposed to travel back to Leningrad so that his band mates could record its musical score. Early in the morning of August 15th, Victor Tsoi was killed when he lost control of his car and slammed into a bus outside of Riga. The car was completely demolished to a point of where one of its tires was never found. On August 17th, the Komsomolskaya Pravda, the nations leading youth magazine, had this to say about Tsoi and his meaning to the youth of the nation,
Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politicians, celebrities or writers. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. You can't not believe him... Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang... Tsoi is the last hero of rock.
Remarkably the only thing to survive the crash was a tape which contained the only recording of Tsoi's vocals for the next album. The tape was recovered and the surviving members of "Kino" recorded the music to the album that was now titled "The Black Album" as a sign of mourning to the fallen singer. The album became the band's most popular creation and solidified "Kino"'s place at the top of Russian rock's history and Victor Tsoi's as its greatest hero and legend.
Kino's impact on the Soviet music and society was huge. They introduced a sound and lyrics that no other Russian act before them was able to or willing to produce. Kino opened the doors for modern Russian rock bands. It's displayed today in many places around Russia, from graffiti on the fences of Leningrad to a whole wall dedicated to Victor Tsoi on the famous Arbat street in Moscow where fans still gather to remember their hero. Recently some of the nation's top rock bands came together and released their interpretations of Kino's best songs as a tribute to Victor Tsoi on what would have been his 38th birthday. Even though he is gone, Victor Tsoi still lives in the minds of many Russian youths.
Here are some pages with more info about Viktor Tsoi and downloads of his music.