'We Are like a Porno Film' ; Leningrad Are Banned from Moscow. They Sing about 'Corruption, Politics, Religion, Sex'. Ah, That Explains It

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If you thought the gypsypunk theatrics of Eugene Hutz and his band Gogol Bordello were a one-off, you won't have heard of Leningrad. This 15-piece Russian ska/punk/salsa/rock/gypsy/hip-hop outfit, formed by Sergey Shnurov in St Petersburg in 1997, are the darlings of millions of vodka-fuelled Russian youngsters and expat hell-raisers.

Their popularity is at odds with the radio play they get - virtually none, owing to their contentious, often obscene lyrics. They were banned by Moscow's mayor Yuri Lushkov from performing in the capital. Perhaps this is because, as the vocalist Shnurov once suggested: "Leningrad is like a porno film." So they remain a guilty pleasure in spite of huge record sales and regular sell-out tours.

"They still don't like us much in Moscow," says Shnur, as he's known, when we meet to talk about their first UK distributed album, Hleb. Their previous CD was a collaboration with the London-based gypsy cabaret three-piece The Tiger Lillies.

Shnur thinks the new album's title is one of Leningrad's most dubious. "The interpretation comes from the sacred Christian rite of communion," he says, explaining no more. Schnur, who has been described as reclusive, is not a man to waste too much time on long sentences.

When I suggest that all his songs have stories attached, he counters that "the stories are not important at all - [what's] important is the emotional message". Asked which are Leningrad's favourite topics, he says simply: "Corruption, politics, religion and sex."

The only time Schnur gets fired up is when we talk about Chelsea and its Russian owner Roman Abramovich. "It's strange for me that the governor of Chukotka invests in English football, although he has achieved tangible results. I support Zenith [a St Petersburg club] and Arsenal. I don't like Chelsea that much because of their pragmatic style - although what can you expect from a team owned by such a pragmatic man?"

The band's debut album Pulya was recorded by Leonid Fyodorov (ex- leader of the famous Russian band Auktyon) in 1999. Their original vocalist was Igor Vdovin, but he quit and bassist Shnur was thrust to the front with his gravelly voice, which he says is fuelled by "vodka, cigarettes and something else".

"There were great live bands and clubs in St Petersburg then," he says. "It meant more to sell out smaller, hotter venues than play big, cold stadiums. Leningrad tried to become, without much practising, one of the coolest bands around. That's how our style was born."

They were, and still are, inspired by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Massive Attack, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Grazhdanskaya Oborona (a Siberian punk band). However, unlike many bands, they went out of their way to avoid sounding like just another homogenised Western act. …