Гражданская Оборона (Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Russian for Civil Defense, or ГО, often referred to as ГрОб, Russian for coffin) were one of the earliest Soviet and Russian punk rock/garage rock/psychedelic rock/post-punk/noise rock/shoegaze/hardcore punk/art punk/garage punk/reggae/experimental rock/lo-fi bands. They influenced many Soviet and, subsequently, Russian bands. From the early 1990s, the band's music began to evolve in the direction of psychedelic rock and shoegaze, and band leader Yegor Letov's lyrics became more metaphysical than political.
In 1982 the 18-year-old poet and musician Yegor Letov formed the band Posev (The Sowing, named after the official NTS magazine) with his friend Konstantin "Kuzya UO" Ryabinov. In 1984 Posev became Grazhdanskaya Oborona. The band was preparing to record an album, but their defiantly anti-authoritarian stance and overtly political lyrics made them an easy target for the KGB. "The mother of our [second guitarist] Babenko, she was a sort of a party official, she listened to our records and went to the KGB and said, "Comrades, my son is involved in an anti-Soviet organization", Letov recalled. In autumn 1985 Letov was committed to a mental ward, and Ryabinov was forcibly drafted into the army despite having a heart condition. Letov was released from the mental ward in March 1986 and immediately began to write and record music. He often recorded on his own, and while he credited other musicians, his collaborators went under pseudonyms as Letov remained on the outs with the Soviet system and, as he stated in an interview, the original members of GrOb were forced to sign sworn statements saying that they would stay away from Letov. In 1986-87 he recorded several cassette albums, playing all instruments himself, and released them through magnitizdat under the name of Grazhdanskaya Oborona. It was lo-fi, straightforward garage punk rock/post-punk with slight reggae influences and weird, irrational lyrics, inspired by Russian Futurist poetry.
In 1987 Letov was invited to perform at the Novosibirsk rock festival. "We weren't even going to play", Letov said, "but Zvuki Mu didn’t come and Murzin suggested that we play instead.". After all, he played a set with his friends Oleg and Evgeny Lischenko (from the local band Pik Klakson) under the deliberately provocative name Адольф Гитлер (Adolf Hitler), which would be released on CD in 2016. When Letov returned home, he found out the authorities were going to put him to a mental ward again. He immediately left the city with his then-partner, the fellow Siberian songwriter Yanka Dyagileva, and spent the entire year in hiding, hitch-hiking across the country until the prosecution was stopped in December 1987 with the help of Letov's relatives.
In winter 1988 Letov returned home and recorded three more albums (also released under the name of Grazhdanskaya Oborona) in his home "studio", known as "GrOb Records". In the same year the reunited band started touring across the USSR.
In 1989 Grazhdanskaya Oborona released four noise rock/industrial-influenced albums (Война, Армагеддон-Попс, Здорово и вечно and Русское поле экспериментов), often considered their best. Letov's lyrics became darker and more elaborate, inspired by Existentialist philosophy and literature (the Soviet proto-Existentialist writer Andrei Platonov in particular). Some songs (e.g. "Насекомые" (Insects) from Армагеддон-Попс, "Заговор" (Spell) from Здорово и вечно) also show his interest in Siberian folklore and pre-Christian beliefs. In the same year Letov, Kuzya and Oleg "Manager" Sudakov started a conceptual, Sots Art-like side project Коммунизм (Communism), where they combined kitschy Soviet art and Stalinist poetry with noise experimentation. GrOb also collaborated with Yanka Dyagileva, who recorded with them two albums (Ангедония и Домой!, both released in 1989).
In 1990, Grazhdanskaya Oborona broke up after playing their final concert in Tallinn: Letov stated he was afraid they would turn into a "commercial pseudo-counterculture project" and decided to put the band on hiatus. After that he started the psychedelic rock project Egor i Opizdenevshie with Kuzya and Igor Zhevtun. They recorded and released two albums, Прыг-Скок (Pryg-Skok, Hop-Hop) and Сто лет одиночества (Sto Let Odinochestva, One Hundred Years of Solitude) (an outtakes compilation, Психоделия Tomorrow, was released in 2001). In 1990, Letov ranked Русское поле экспериментов and Прыг-Скок as his best works.
In 1993, Grazhdanskaya Oborona reformed and began playing live again, but no new material was released until 1997. In 1996, their entire discography was remastered and given an official cassette issue for the first time on the fledgling XOP label, which was a sublabel of Moroz Records used to release Letov-related material. In 1995, the anthemic, shoegaze-y Солнцеворот (Solntsevorot, Solstice) was recorded, followed by Невыносимая легкость бытия (Nevynosimaya lyogkost bytiya, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) in 1996. Both albums were released in 1997.
Being the most prominent figure in Siberian rock, Letov was often a source of contradiction. At times he expressed opinions that ran counter to his earlier pronouncements. In the early 1990s he joined the nationalistic, leftist National Bolshevik Party, despite his formerly strong opposition to despotism and nationalism. He ceased contact with the party about 1999 and distanced from politics since then. In his 2007 interview with Rolling Stone Russia, Letov stated: "In fact, I have always been an anarchist -- and I still am. But now I'm more into ecological aspects of contemporary anarchism, eco-anarchism, that's what I've been moving toward recently".
In 1999, after their first US tour, Kuzya left the band due to personal circumstances. On December 28 of the same year, their then-guitarist Evgeny "Makhno" Pyanov died after falling from the window of his apartment after a long night of drinking. He was 29 years old. Letov recruited a new guitarist (Alexander Chesnakov) and invited his wife Natalia Chumakova, whom he had met the year before, to play the bass.
In 2002 Letov produced Звездопад (Zvezdopad, Starfall), a nostalgic album that contains covers of Soviet-era songs. In the new millennium many Russian groups have recorded and performed tributes to GrOb, and in 2005 the group toured the United States. In 2004-05 they released the critically acclaimed dilogy Долгая Счастливая Жизнь (2004) / Реанимация (2005).
In 2004, at a GrOb concert in Ekaterinburg, a 19-year-old skinhead bashed to death a 23-year-old non-Slavic fan. Letov posted a note on the official GrOb website, "Official statement from E. Letov and GrOb regarding the events at Ekaterinburg", stating the band were "patriots, but not Nazis" and told "totalitarians on the left and right and of all colours and stripes" to "fuck off", saying "Please don't associate your stink with our activities".
Letov's last album, Зачем снятся сны? (Zachem Snyatsya Sny? / What Are the Dreams Dreamt For?) was released in 2007. In an interview in January 2008, Letov said that this album might be his last. This album was recorded as usual in the "GrOb studio", but is not typical of the band's earlier output. It is much brighter – Letov prefers to describe it as "shining". There are fewer songs with themes of tragedy, rage and turmoil on this album than in previous ones; there are no coarse words in it, and Letov’s voice sounds natural and calm.
Letov died on 19 February 2008 in his sleep at his home in Omsk from heart and respiratory failure. He was 43 years old.
While their earlier work (1984-1988) can be described as minimalist lo-fi punk rock/post-punk with dirty, garage sound (although there also was significant amount of reggae songs on 1987/88 albums), in the late 1980s the band's sound leaned toward noise rock and industrial, occasionally drawing inspiration from Russian folk tunes. In the 1990s, GrOb's music became brighter and more "anthemic", incorporating shoegaze and psychedelic rock elements, and some late GrOb albums even can be classified as art rock (for example, Zvezdopad).
Letov was a big fan of 60's garage and psychedelic rock and named Arthur Lee's Love as his favourite band, along with The Seeds, The Monks and others. Other favourites included Butthole Surfers, The Residents, Sonic Youth, CBGB artists such as Ramones and Television, and Psychic TV. In the February 2007 web interview he said that in the late 80's he "listened only to noise and industrial - such bands as Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Young Gods", adding: "Now I still like and 'respect' such music and listen to it from time to time, but not that often". When asked about "newer" bands he liked, he named Japanese psychedelic bands Acid Mothers Temple, Mainliner and Green Milk from the Planet Orange, the Swiss feminist cabaret ensemble Les Reines prochaines, the Argentinian experimental band Buscando a Reynols and the neo-garage band Marshmallow Overcoat. He referred to Mark E. Smith (of The Fall), Bob Dylan and Patti Smith as his favourite rock poets.
- Егор Летов (Yegor Letov) - Vocals, Guitar, Percussion, Noise Effects †
- Наталия Чумакова (Natalia Chumakova) - Bass, Keyboards
- Александр Чеснаков (Alexander Chesnakov) - Guitar, Keyboards
- Павел Перетолчин (Pavel Peretolchin) - Percussion
- Константин Рябинов (Konstantin Ryabinov; Кузя УО (Kuzya UO)) - Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals, Backing Vocals, Noise Effects (1984—1985, 1988, 1989—1990, 1993—1999)
- Андрей Бабенко (Andrey Babenko; Босс (Boss)) - Guitar (1984–85)
- Валерий Рожков (Valery Rozhkov; Val (Вэл)) - Flute (1986)
- Олег Лищенко (Oleg Lischenko; Бэби (Baby)) - Guitar, Vocals (1987) †
- Евгений Лищенко (Evgeny Lischenko; Eugene (Эжен)) - Bass, Vocals (1987) †
- Игорь Жевтун (Igor Zhevtun; Джефф (Jeff)) - Guitar (1988—1989, 1989—1990, 1993—2000, 2004—2005)
- Аркадий Климкин (Arkady Klimkin) - percussion (1988–90)
- Олег Судаков (Oleg Sudakov; Манагер (Manager)) - Vocals, Backing Vocals (1988; also one of the founding members of Коммунизм)
- Янка Дягилева (Yanka Dyagileva) - Backing Vocals (1988, 1989, 1990) †
- Дмитрий Селиванов (Dmitry Selivanov) - Guitar (1988) †
- Евгений Деев (Evgeny Deev; Джон Дабл (John Double)) - Bass (1988) †
- Игорь Староватов (Igor Starovatov) - Bass (1988—1989)
- Сергей Зеленский (Sergey Zelensky) - Bass (1989)
- Александр Рожков (Alexander Rozhkov; Иваныч (Ivanych)) - Flute (1993)
- Аркадий Кузнецов (Arkady Kuznetsov) - Bass (1994)
- Александр Андрюшкин (Alexander Andryushkin; Призрак Оперы (Phantom of the Opera)) - Percussion (1994, 1997—2005)
- Евгений Пьянов (Evgeny Pyanov; Махно (Makhno)) - Bass, Guitar (1995—1999) †
- Анна Волкова (Anna Volkova) - Bass, Keyboards, Electric fiddle, Backing vocals (1995—1997)
- Евгений Кокорин (Evgeny Kokorin; Джексон (Jackson)) - Guitar (1997)
- Сергей Летов (Sergey Letov) - Saxophone (2000—2004)
- Игорь Гуляев (Igor Gulyaev) — Guitar (1994) †
- Олег Ивановский (Oleg Ivanovsky) — Guitar (1985)
- Александр Бусел (Alexander Busel) — Bass (1985)
- Андрей Машковцев (Andrey Mashkovtsev; Иван Камикадзе (Ivan Kamikadze)) — подпевки (1984)
- Андрей Васин (Andrey Vasin; Курт (Kurt)) — вокал, подпевки (1984—1985)
- Александр Клипов (Alexander Klipov; Иван Морг (Ivan Morgue)) †
- Ирина Рябинова (Irina Ryabinova) — вокал, подпевки (1985)
- 1985 - Поганая молодёжь
- 1985 - Оптимизм
- 1986 - Игра в бисер перед свиньями
- 1987 - Мышеловка
- 1987 - Хорошо!!
- 1987 - Тоталитаризм
- 1987 - Некрофилия
- 1987 - Красный альбом
- 1988 - Всё идёт по плану
- 1988 - Так закалялась сталь
- 1988 - Боевой стимул
- 1989 - Тошнота
- 1989 - Песни радости и счастья
- 1989 - Война
- 1989 - Здорово и вечно
- 1989 - Армагеддон-Попс
- 1989 - Русское поле экспериментов
- 1990 - Инструкция по выживанию
- 1997 - Солнцеворот
- 1997 - Невыносимая лёгкость бытия
- 2002 - Звездопад
- 2004 - Долгая счастливая жизнь
- 2005 - Реанимация
- 2005 - Лунный переворот
- 2005 - Сносная тяжесть небытия
- 2007 - Зачем снятся сны?
- 1989 - История: Посев 1982-89
- 1989 - Красный марш — Раритеты 1987-89
- 1990 - Попс: 1984-90
- 1990 - Хуй через плечо: Уникальные редкости и красоты 1987-90
- 2002 - Поезд ушёл
- 2003 - Егор Летов, ГО, Лучшее
- 1987 - I новосибирский рок-фестиваль (12.04.1987)
- 1987 - II новосибирский рок-фестиваль (14.04.1988)
- 1988 - Анархия в НГУ (02.05.1988)
- 1988 - Выступление на фестивале "СыРок" (Москва, 04.12.1988)
- 1989 - Фестиваль "Рок против сталинизма" (Харьков, 26.02.1989)
- 1989 - Концерт на VII Фестивале Ленинградского рок-клуба (08.06.1989)
- 1989 - "Свет и стулья" (01.10.1989)
- 1989 - Гражданская оборона и Янка Дягилева — Ленинград
- 1990 - Концерт в МЭИ 17.02.1990 (Янка и ГО)
- 1990 - Последний концерт в Таллине (13.04.1990)
- 1990 - Концерт в Иркутске
- 1994 - "Русский прорыв в Тюмени" (12.02.1994)
- 1994 - Концерт в Тюмени, ДК "Строймаш" (14.02.1994)
- 1994 - Русский прорыв в Ленинграде (03.06.1994)
- 1994 - Гражданская оборона в Норильске (25.11.1994)
- 1994 - Гражданская оборона и Родина — "10 лет ГО" (08.12.1994 и 09.12.1994)
- 1994 - "Русский прорыв в Новосибирске" (11.12.1994)
- 1994 - Концерт в общежитии № 5 НГУ (14.12.1994)
- 1997 - Ленинград, клуб "Полигон" (24.05.1997)
- 1997 - Концерт в Москве (04.07.1997)
- 1999 - Новосибирск, кинотеатр "Аврора"
- 1999 - Ижевск
- 2000 - Курган
- 2000 - Москва, кинотеатр "Марс"
- 2002 - Свобода (Концерт в к/т "Улан-Батор", 26.04.2002)
- 2002 - Москва, клуб "Точка"
- 2003 - Лубянская площадь, "Рок против диктатуры"
- 2004 - Концерт в клубе "Плацента" (07.11.2004)
- 2004 - Концерт в ККК "Синема АРТ Холл" (28.11.2004)
- 2004 - Концерт в ДК МАЗ (30.11.2004)
- 2005 - Ленинград, ДС Юбилейный "Поэты Русского Рока"
- 2005 - Ленинград, ЛДМ
- 2005 - США, Сан Франциско, Last Day Saloon
- 2005 - Москва, ДКГ
- 2006 - XX лет. Концерт в ДК Горбунова (13.11.2004)
- 2007 - Концерт в клубе "Рокс" (12.05.2007)
- 2007 - Выступление в клубе "Рок-Сити" (17.05.2004)
- 2007 - "Зачем снятся сны". Концерт в клубе "Б1" (26.05.2007)
- 2010 - Апельсин. Электричество (19.10.2006)
- 1983 - Ранние дела
- 1984 - Душевные песни (История Омского Панка # 1)
- 1984 - Кто ищет смысл (История Омского Панка # 2)
- 1984 - Поносные звучания
- 1984 - Гражданская Оборона
- 1986 - Психоделия Today
- 1986 - Песни в пустоту