Era of Dance: How Riga Brought Techno Music to the Soviet Union
Latvia may not be known for being a techno destination, but in the late 80's under a Soviet regime, Riga became the hotbed for electronic music in the former USSR.This article originally appeared on Deep Baltic
A new Latvian/Russian documentary film, Deju Laikmets (Era of Dance) tells the story of how the techno explosion of the ’80s was brought to the Soviet Union – via Riga, in a most unexpected way.
It is above all the tale of one extraordinary, and often overlooked man: Indulis Bilzens, born in Riga in 1940 but raised in West Germany after his father was deported to Siberia and his mother fled the Soviet invasion. Having studied electronic composition in Düsseldorf, become involved in the British peace movement while studying at Cambridge University and worked for a number of German newspapers, Bilzens began to visit his homeland, still under Soviet occupation, in the late ’70s. A friendship with the German DJ Maximilian Lenz (who plays under the name WestBam, taken from a name Bilzens gave him – “Westphalia Bambaataa”) led to an interest in the new electronic music coming out of the US. Bilzens and Lenz made repeated visits to Riga in the late ’80s, introducing DJ culture to a curious, and increasingly enthusiastic Latvian audience, but being viewed with decided suspicion from official quarters – including the KGB.
As well as Lenz and Bilzens, now in his mid-’70s, Era of Dance features regular talking head contributions from US techno pioneers Derrick May, as well as Russia’s leading music critic Artemy Troitsky, resident in Riga for much of this period, and also focuses on local talents who were active during this period, most prominently Roberts Gobziņš (who took the name Eastbam).