Imagine Ed Wood meets Davie Allen & The Arrows, and they go to a covert Soviet-era studio on the moon. Maybe they bring along Lux Interior of The Cramps for the ride. And a theremin. Strange sounds emerge and are broadcast in Eastern Europe on scratchy old radios. People listen and begin to dance in strange formations. Then they all turn into vampires, or huge flesh-eating robots, and destroy America and Western Europe to the tune of this entrancing, psychotic beat. Or something.
That’s Messer Chups. They hail from Russia, and/or Germany, but beyond that, these spy-surf-horror space cadets remain largely shrouded in mystery. Cloaked in prehistoric Soviet analog synth sounds, their enigmatic catalog of hits features a retro style that has as much to do with scratchy old vampire films from the ‘60s as it does with easy listening and surf styles. You’re probably wondering about the name. Well, according to Messer Chups main man Oleg Gitarkin, it “came from name of Chupa Chups lollipop mixed with name first faimos project of Oleg Gitarkin Messer fur Frau Mueller.” Hmmm. Maybe you just need to hear it to understand.
Well, ok. The truth is, if you sift through the flotsam of broken English (and read some articles about them by the adventurous journalists of Cool and Strange Music) you can come up with a rough outline of the who, why, and what of this mystery gang of post-Soviet spy guys.
We know that they arose from the ashes of Messer fur Frau Mueller, self-described as an “industrial psycho-hardcore” act with a pinch of psychobilly thrown in. Membership waned until just one remained—the irrepressible Oleg Gitarkin. Over the course of the mid-1990s, мистер Gitarkin (that’s “Mr. Gitarkin” to you…you ugly American) met Oleg Kostrow, who collaborated on a revamped version of MFFM, which morphed into the strange and wonderful Messer Chups we know today.
We know that there were ultimately three Olegs (seriously: Messer Chups producer Oleg Tarassov joined in 1999), along with German promoter-musician Annette Schneider. Since the various members were living in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Hamburg, studio recording was a bitch. So they engaged in cross-border cassette trafficking, and Chief Oleg, Mr. Gitarkin, created sample-delic musical soundscapes from these.
We know that Gitarkin’s obsession with Italian and American horror films of the ‘60s and ‘70s made for a scary headspace, but lots of fun, too: the first back of the group’s regional records includedMiss Libido 2000, Bride of the Atom, and Vamp Babes, all released in 2000-2001. When the ever-expanding Messer Chups collective met Lydia Kavina—a theremin player and, believe it or not, the grand-niece of Leon Theremin himself—that wacky and beautiful instrument came into the mix as well, for 2002’s Black Black Magic. More records followed, including The Best of Messer Chups: Cocktail Draculina. Gitarkin and Kavina have toured as a duo several times under the Messer Chups moniker. Gitarkin has toured with others, and on his own. Messer Chups even played in America, in Central Park, New York City, among other strange places.
We know all this…sort of. But things get a bit hazy when you try to sort out who’s actually in the band these days…Gitarkin says at this point it’s just him on guitar and Sveta “Zombie Girl” on bass. Where’d the other Olegs go? Why’d they get rid of the theremin lady? Who plays keyboards? What do song titles like “Cat Religion” or “Cowboys, Indians and Their Parents” mean? Who knows… maybe it’s best just to shut up and listen.