Russian graffiti culture is a fascinating avenue often separated from accounts of Russian hip hop culture in academic literature.
However, given my ongoing project there is an expressed need to understand the history of graffiti art in Russia. In order to not bore you with all the details and semantic jargon that make up the Russian graffiti language, I will look at one of my main voices and developers of the subcultural artform. I’m talking about Oleg Basket, considered to be one of the first major voices in the Russian graffiti landscape, having begun in the 90s right at the time when hip hop was first becoming a cultural phenomenon.
Oleg was a member of one of the first breakdancing-rap groups in Russia, Bad Balance. At the time, MCing, rapping, and breakdance were all kinda blurred together, and if a group did one think they probably were thinking about or doing the other elements of hip hop culture too. It’s no surprise that Oleg was a member. But from this participation came the popularizing of graffiti culture, events being held which brought the community together and gave participants a sense of authentic fraternity during some of Russia’s most challenging developmental moments. In 1994, the Center of Hip Hop Culture opened in Moscow, the emanant DJ Vlad Valov hosting classes there. By the late 90s, Russian graffiti culture had grown to such a degree that there was a diverse ecosystem of different groups testing each other’s skills and venues and events created where such teams could come together. In the late 90s, subway “bombing” (quick graffiti of public spaces) became a cultural norm, and as Russian society was undergoing its first post-Soviet trauma, youth were echoing this feeling of uncertainty on the walls and spaces of Russian society.
At the turn of the 21st century, the group called “Rus Crew” was formed. As recounted by member Worm, a second-generation member, the group was formed by Anton Make (Make), Philip Tek (Tek), Ilya Kamar (Kamar) and Lesha Se (Se). Oleg was a second-generation member along with Worm. The group’s focus was showing to the world that Russian graffiti culture is not delayed or insufficient. Rather, by using the word “Rus,” the group could convey the legitimacy of the Russian graffiti culture to others.
“The name of our team “RUS” was a message from us to colleagues and like-minded people around the world. The news that we are from Russia and that everything is in order with our style here. That we are not smearing paint on the wall with our bast shoes.”Worm (Petrograff 2019)