Ukrainian Band Lyudska Podoba Talks Patriarchy, Sexualities and Trojan Horses

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

While civil unrest continues to pervade the east of Ukraine, a new generation of artists and musicians in Kiev are creating wide spectrum of sounds and spectacles. At the forefront of this burgeoning scene is Lyudska Podoba (Human Shape), a band devoted to shattering cultural ideals of patriarchy and pushing the boundaries of identity politics through a range of human emotion and experimental electro pop fantasies. I had the pleasure of interviewing Gosha and Anatoly of Lyudska Podoba on a grassy hill in the Baikov Cemetary, one that dates back as far as 1833. While the black smoke of a crematorium rose above us, they described to me the origins of the band, the importance of community, and their ambition to use experimental pop music as Trojan horse.

D - Daniel, G - Gosha, A - Anatoly

D: Can you guys tell me how you came together as a band?

G: I had an idea to create music and wanted to find a quality singer. I collaborated with some singers before, but had to basically explain to them how to sing. I told my friend that I was looking for a singer, he introduced me to Anatoly at the I love Kiev festival. After the festival we met several times, and then we made the "Human Shape" song, and I suggested to use this name for the band. And then Tolik (short name for Anatoly) invited Iana to the band, and I invited our percussionist Sasha.

D: Anatoly, you were working on something else before Lyudska Podoba, is that right?

A: Yeah, I have been working in visual arts since 2004. It was while working with a performance group, that I accidentally figured out that I could sing. That group was called "Penoplast" (Styrofoam). It was a performance group, which contained various types of people. Eventually the group disbanded, but my wish to sing and work in music only grew. I found these musicians - actually, we found each other, some guys that that were interested in experimental electronic music. It was more about music, experimental music. But in some time the band decided that they didn't need a singer. And I just started to have vocal classes too!

D: With songs like Transexual and lyrics like, "my lover is not a kisser, he's got a girl and principals", sexuality seems to play a part in the music that you create. How much would you say that sexuality informs your creative process?

A: Of course my sexuality and my art are connected. Stories in my lyrics are the stories from my life, my impressions on what happens around me, some are happy moments and others are failures. I created two illustrated porn novels, titled: "The Most Pornographic Books in the World", which contain both text and drawings. In the first book there is only one song lyric, which has become a Human Shape song. The second book was all comprised of lyrics. And both songs and lyrics are connected with my life and sexuality. I don't distinguish between art and life.

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

D: Have you met any resistance, or homophobic response in Ukraine to either the music or the books?

A: Ukraine is a homophobe country, and this is really a problem. And there were cases when the art gallery was burnt because there was a film screening and discussion of the problem of homophobia. After this I created artwork, which I performed on the streets. It was called "Homophobia today - Genocide tomorrow". For me the issue of sexuality in general is extremely important, and diverse sexualities in particular. I attempt to discuss the issue of diverse sexualities in a very simple and accessible way so that my thoughts and ideas might be heard not only in galleries or small and closed creative communities, but by the most possible number of people.

D: And this is true in work with Human Shape as well?

A: Yes pop-music is a great tool for this. I consider the music of Human Shape to be something like a Trojan horse. We are invited to play shows and festivals because we are an electro pop band that is fun to dance to, thanks to the good mood that we create through performance. But the lyrics are full of nuanced complexities about sexuality. And if we can get people to dance first, we may actually be able to change their perceptions once the lyrics hit them. Through provocative song lyrics we are hoping to promote discussion, because through discussion people often find answers to questions that they didn't even know they had. Basically, Ukraine is homophobe, and patriarchal. Its Patriarchal social model has a significant impact on its population. People are raised with some traditions and rules, and the music helps to shatter those rules, and gives good reasons for discussions.

G: As for me, our art is not only about sexuality or homosexuality. The accent is more on humanity in general and all the different forms of expression, including sexuality and others. We were developing our manifest, and was the sentiment that every human has a right to make mistakes, as long as a mistake is a way for learning and developing. That is at the core of Human Shape.

D: What's next for Human Shape?

G: We plan to release an album soon. We plan to do it in the next 2 months or so. As well, we plan to have more people who listen our music with our lyrics. We want to increase our audience for this type of music and for such content. For now our audience is limited. On our performances I see the same people, I even know what songs they like the most, and to which ones they prefer to dance. I want our audience to grow.

A: Regarding the album, we have enough material not for one, but for 2 albums. We met in 2012, and since than have been creating new material quite consistently. Now we are looking for the sound producer. We had different options, but had no time to work on this. But I hope that it will happen soon. Yet we perform at different events, this week we participate in the festival in Kyiv, we were invited to the queer festival in Saint-Petersburg in September and also a queer festival in Minsk.

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

Lyudska Podoba (Human Shape)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Lyudska Podoba. It has been updated accordingly.