From Unearthing The Music

Aquarium in 1986. Photo by Wikipedia user Grebenshikovb

Aquarium or Akvarium (Russian: Аква́риум; often stylized as Åквариум) is a Russian rock group formed in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg, Russia) in 1972. The band had many member changes over its 40-year history, with only lead singer and founder Boris Grebenshchikov remaining from its original line-up. Former band members include Anatoly Gunitsky, Mikhail Feinstein, Dyusha Romanov, Vsevolod Gackel, and Sergey Kuryokhin.

Formation, first lineup (1972–1991)

Aquarium was formed in 1972 by two friends: Boris Grebenshchikov, then a student of Applied Mathematics at Leningrad State University, and Anatoly (George) Gunitsky, a playwright and absurdist poet.[1] The founding members were Grebenshchikov, George (drums), Alexander Tsatsanidi (bass), Vadim Vasilyev (keyboards) and Valery Obogrelov (sound).

The popular story behind the name "Aquarium" is that it was inspired by the Budapest street Leningrad pub "The Aquarium" and suggested by one of the band members. However, Grebenshchikov has given differing stories in interviews, suggesting alternately that it came through band word association sessions or that it was inspired by a glass aquarium-like building.

In late 1973, guitarist Edmund Shkliarsky (later the leader of "Picnic" band) briefly became a member of the band. Bass player Michael Feinstein-Vasiliev (Fan), the first professional musician in "Aquarium", joined in 1973. The next year keyboardist Andrew "Dyusha" Romanov also joined the band, and, inspired by rock-flautists Richard Meier and Ian Anderson, retrained as a flautist.

Early concerts

In the 1970s and early 1980s, rock and roll was strictly regulated in the Soviet Union, and only a few artists managed to be approved and signed by the government record label Melodiya. Aquarium's usual concert venues were private apartments and they faced many years of fierce competition to land a spot on the label. These "apartment concerts" (квартирники) were a unique Soviet phenomenon created by underground musicians. They were usually acoustic, as noise could cause the neighbors to call the Militsiya, but the limited space fostered an atmosphere of intimacy between the group and its audience, who listened with bated breath, perhaps with someone recording the concert on a simple tape recorder. This was similar to the concept of the Russian bards.

Their first performance took place in March 1973 at their rehearsal space, a small country venue[2] while others place it at the Leningrad restaurant "Hold" at the Central Park of Culture and Recreation, for which they were paid 50 rubles in cash.[3] They did not, however, follow this up with more regular concerts.

Home recording albums

While on vacation in January – February 1974, Grebenshchikov and George recorded their debut album "The Temptation of St. Aquarium"/Iskushenie Svyatogo Akvariuma (Russian: Искушение святого Аквариума). The band recorded the album with home recording equipment, with variable sound quality results. "The Temptation of St. Aquarium" was long thought lost, but in 1997 the record was found and released in 2001 on CD in the book "Prehistoric Aquarium". All masters of this record appear to have been lost. Their second album was called "Parables of Count Diffusor" and was written by Grebenshchikov, George Fan and Dyusha Romanov, probably in the spring of 1975. They followed this up in 1976 with their third album, "S Toy Storony Zerkalnogo Stekla", or "From the Other Side of a Mirror Glass" (Russian: С той стороны зеркального стекла), named after a line from an Arseny Tarkovsky poem.

Theatre and regular performances

In 1974 the group became heavily involved in amateur theatre, playing pieces of absurdity on the steps of the Engineers' Castle. However, when the theater was headed by professional director Eric Goroshevsky, Grebenshchikov became disillusioned with the idea of a fusion of rock, poetry and theatre, and shifted Aquarium's focus to concentrate on musical activities (though they only made a complete break from the theatre group in 1977). George left the band, but kept in touch with its members. The following year, cellist Vsevolod (Seva) Gakkel joined the band.

Aquarium began to regularly perform live in 1976. Their first concert was on February 25, 1976 jointly with Grebenshchikov, Gakkel and Dyusha Romanov. On March 10 Aquarium was a surprise guest at the Tallinn Festival of Popular Music, where they played a set of four acoustic songs and won the prize for the most interesting and varied program.

In 1977 Romanov and bassoon player Alexander "Fagot" Alexandrov ("fagot" ["фагот"] meaning bassoon in Russian) were drafted in the military for two years. With the loss of these members, Grebenshchikov recorded a highly successful solo album entitled "All Brothers are Sisters" (Vse brat'ya - sestry). Aquarium also became popular to the point that Grebenshchikov would be recognised in the street. In 1979 the band met with two important figures of Soviet rock, critic Artemy Troitsky and Andrey Tropillo, who became their manager the following year and in whose studio Aquarium recorded their first 'historic' albums.

Tbilisi Rock Festival

Aquarium burst into the consciousness of the Soviet rock scene by competing at the 1980 Tbilisi Rock Festival. The band caused a scandal with their performance, which was considered bizarre and shocking. During the set, Grebenshchikov lay down on the stage and made provocative movements while playing the guitar, causing all the jury members to demonstratively leave the hall. "Aquarium" was accused of promoting homosexuality (the guitar actions), incest (Grebenshchikov changed words while singing the song "Marina", though this may have been through poor technique) and indecency, and banned from the festival. The incident became known in Leningrad, and as a result Grebenshchikov lost his job and was expelled from the Komsomol (Young Communist's League, expected of working Russians). However, while they did not receive any prizes, the band's performance made them become a symbol of the Soviet alternative culture.

The 'historical albums'

Until 1987, Aquarium recorded all of their albums in live concerts and in a self-assembled underground studio (several members had engineering education) disguised as a "Young Technicians Club". A notable exception was the album Radio Africa (1983), which was secretly recorded using a government-owned mobile studio after bribing a technician.

In January 1981 Aquarium recorded the "Blue Album", their first material recorded using this studio, which was marked by its reggae influences. In March 1981 of the same year the Leningrad Rock Club was founded, and Aquarium were immediately accepted into it. That summer, the band recorded another album, "Triangle", with jazz pianist Sergei Kuryokhin. Grebenshchikov sought to make this album the "new Sergeant Pepper", and its lyrics had a distinct absurdist influence, some of them being written by George Gunitsky.

Mainstream success

The advent of Glasnost in the second half of the 1980s brought many underground Russian rock musicians to public recognition and Aquarium became one of the most popular acts. They were allowed to play in large concert halls, appeared on state-owned television and recorded soundtracks for several films, most notably Assa.[4] In 1987 they recorded their first album for the state-owned Melodiya record label. With official backing and legalized distribution the album was a huge hit in the Soviet Union, selling well over a million copies within a few months. Grebenshchikov subsequently recorded two albums in English and toured with several different backing bands. In 1992 after the break-up of the Soviet Union he released music under the name "the BG-Band", "The Russian Album", a collection of melancholic folk songs influenced by his travels all over Russia and demonstrating a return to his Russian roots.

Second lineup (1992- present)

Grebenshchikov kept touring and shortly began calling his band "Aquarium" again, although the lineup bore little resemblance to the original band. In 1996, Aquarium co-headlined (along with DDT) the VladiROCKstok music festival in Vladivostok; at one memorable point, Grebenshchikov invited thousands of fans to stream out of their grandstand seats and into the area near the performance stage.

The band continued to release more albums and tour extensively over the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and places with Russian-speaking immigrant communities in Germany, Israel and the United States. In 2007, Aquarium performed for the first time at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In 2008 the "Aquarium International" project (with participation of over 20 musicians worldwide) was created.

Their 2008 album Loshad' Belaya (White Horse) was released in a similar fashion to Radiohead's 2007 In Rainbows: it was offered for free download in mp3 format with the downloader opting to pay the amount they saw fit.[5]

Although often criticized for departure from their original style and constant line-up changes, which made the later incarnations of Aquarium essentially a Grebenshchikov solo project, the group still enjoyed considerable success in Russia with regular radio airplay of their old and new songs, popular albums, and frequent tours.

Aquarium's lineup in 2017 consisted of Boris Grebenshchikov, Andrey Surotdinov (violin), Alexey Zubarev (guitars), Alexander Titov (bass), Liam Bradley (drums) and Brian Finnegan (flutes).

Musical influences

Aquarium were strongly influenced by Western rock music, particularly by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, T. Rex, and progressive rock acts like Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Roxy Music as well as by new wave and reggae artists. This was reflected in the band's often complex compositions and wide-ranging lyric themes, even including references to Celtic and Indian cultures.



Albums (archival) from the 1970s

  • 1973 - Iskushenie Svyatogo Akvariuma (Temptation of St.Aquarium)
  • Menuet Zemledeltsu (Farmer's Minuet)
  • 1974 - Pritchi Grafa Diffuzora (Parables of Count Diffusor)
  • 1976 - S Toy Storony Zerkalnogo Stekla (From The Other Side of Mirror Glass)
  • 1978 - Vse Bratya - Syostry (All Brothers are Sisters)

Studio albums

  • 1981 - Sinii Albom (The Blue Album)
  • 1981 - Treugolnik (Triangle)
  • 1981 - Elektrichestvo (Electricity: History of Aquarium, Vol. 2)
  • 1982 - Akustika (Acoustics: History of Aquarium, Vol. 1)
  • 1982 - Tabu (Taboo)
  • 1983 - Radio Africa
  • 1984 - Ikhtiologia (Ichthyology)
  • 1984 - Den’ Serebra (The Day of Silver)
  • 1986 - Deti Dekabrya (December's Children)
  • 1986 - Desyat’ Strel (Ten Arrows)
  • 1987 - Ravnodenstvie (Equinox)
  • 1987 - Feodalizm (Feudalism)
  • 1992 - Russkii Albom (Russian Album) Released as BG-Band
  • 1993 - Lyubimie Pesni Ramzesa IV (Favorite Songs of Rameses the IV)
  • 1994 - Kostroma Mon Amour (Kostroma my Love)
  • 1994 - Peski Peterburga (Sands of Petersburg)
  • 1995 - Navigator (Navigator)
  • 1996 - Snezhnii Lev (Snow Lion)
  • 1997 - Hyperborea (Hyperborea)
  • 1997 - Lilit (Lilith [US: Black Moon]) Released as BG and The Band
  • 1999 - Psi
  • 2002 - Sestra Haos (Sister Chaos)
  • 2003 - Pesni Ribaka (Fisherman's Songs)
  • 2005 - Zoom Zoom Zoom
  • 2006 - Bespechny Russkiy Brodyaga (Careless Russian Rover)
  • 2008 - Loshad' Belaya (White Horse)
  • 2009 - Pushkinskaya 10 (Poushkine Street, 10)
  • 2011 - Arkhangelsk (Archangelsk)
  • 2013 - Aquarium Plus (Aquarium Plus)

Live Albums

  • 1982 - Arox & Shtyor
  • 1982 - Desyat Let (Ten Years)
  • 1982 - Electroshock (Electric Shock)
  • 1993 - Pis'ma Kapitana Voronina (Letters of Captain Voronine)
  • 1993 - Vizit v Moskvu (Visit to Moscow)
  • 1994 - Akvarium na Taganke (Aquarium at Taganka)
  • 1995 - Tsentr Tsiklona (Center of the Cyclone)
  • 1996 - Sezon dlya Zmey (Snake Season)
  • 1996 - Dvadtsat Let Spustya (Twenty Years Later)
  • 1997 - Akvarium-25, Istoriya (Aquarium-25. The History)
  • 1998 - Molitva i Post (Prayer and Fasting)
  • 2008 - The Royal Albert Hall

Songs performed by Aquarium Incognito

  • 1994 - Anna Karenina Quartet
  • 1997 - Russian-Abyssinian Orchestra “Bardo”
  • 2000 - Terrarium. "Pyatiugolnii Grekh" (Terrarium. "Pentangular Sin")


  • 1986 - Red Wave


Documentary films about "Akvarium" and Grebenshchikov

  • Rok (Rock, 1987), dir. Alexei Uchitel, Soviet Union
  • The Long Way Home (1989), dir. Michael Apted, United States

Soundtracks by "Akvarium"

  • Ivanov (1981), dir. A. Nekhoroshev, A. Ilkhovsky
  • Assa (1987), dir. Sergei Solovyov
  • Zolotoy Son (Golden Dream, 1989), dir. Sergey Debizhev
  • Chernaya roza – emblema pechali, krasnaya roza – emblema lyubvi (The Black rose..., 1989), dir. Sergei Solovyov
  • Dva kapitana 2 (Two captains II, 1992),[6] dir. S. Debizhev


  1. Vera Ivanova and Mikhail Manykin (14 February 2007). "The legends of Russian Rock Music". Russia-InfoCentre. Guarant-InfoCentre. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  2. "Events: July 1972 (translated)". Archived from the original on 5 January 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  3. "Events: July 1972 (translated)". Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  4. "Assa". Film. IMDb. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  5. Aquarium (2008). "Aquarium". Kroogi (in Russian and English). Kroogi. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  6. Dva kapitana II at IMDb.

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External links

Text adapted from Wikipedia