Metro in popular culture in Finland and Russia: my music is always with me


Leaving the home and coming outside, the dynamics of sound and auditory experience open up towards a realm of greater public interaction conditioned by rhythms and the mobility of being on the go.

Labelle, B. (2010) Acoustic Territories Sound Culture and Everyday Life. London:  Bloomsbury Publishing


Noize in Metro.

There is a number of instances when artists address the issues of rules and forms of formal and informal control in public urban spaces as well as aspects of soundscapes of metro.

Metro has a special place in the works by Russian rap artists Noize MC, several of his songs and music videos are directly related to everyday life situation specific for metro. For instance in his song and music video  “Kantemirovskaya” (2009) Noize MC tells about young man with AIDS who committed suicide on Kantemirovskaya station in Moscow. Before jumping under the train a young man addresses other commuters and apologizes for causing inconvenience he will cause when their train will be delayed. Another rap song “In the Metro” tells about young and heavily intoxicated drug addicts traveling in the metro and imagining that at the arrival to their destination police will arrest them. Despite of their fears there was no police arresting them the platform. Therefore, they concluded that drugs gave them superpowers and forced police to run away.

Noize MC’s song “To Burn Electricity” was inspired by the Metro 2033 novel and video games. In his dystopia novels Dmitry Glukhovsky takes readers to the Moscow subway inhabited by survivals of global nuclear war, humans and beasts. We will take a closer look at these novels in  later  DiMe blogs.

Besides grim and tragic metro life Noize MC addresses also more optimistic and life-asserting urban themes.  One of his latest music videos “Make Some Noize” was filmed in Saint Petersburg metro by an action mini-camera and published In April 2016. This video refers to the themes of urban commuting, informal norms and control in metro. A young man is traveling across Saint Petersburg on his scooter and by the means of metro. On the streets and in a crowded metro he is listening music in his headphones and interacts with other commuters who are unaware that one of their co-travelers is a rap  star working on his news song.


Picture: Music video Make some Noize by Noize MC (2016)

While he is in the metro car he didn’t  notice that he was signing his song aloud and everyone could hear words but not music in his head phones:

My music is always with me,
the unbreakable and invisible sound wall separates be from the dark forces.

The sound in the headphones described as a wall that protects from undesired interactions with outside world. At the same time singing aloud he made an intervention into public space, causing same people to look at him or smile. This public interaction in the metro by the means of music was indeliberate. It challenged the norm of silence, even-though this human silence enforced by overwhelming  mechanical noise. Usually in Saint Petersburg or Moscow metro the loud mechanical noise produced by old train cars makes it very uncomfortable even to listen music in your headphones, although headphones with active noise-cancelling (similar to those used by Noize MC in his video) are rather effective in isolating the listeners.


Picture: Music video Make some Noize by Noize MC (2016)

Further in his song Noize MC addresses an issue of meaning of using gadgets and ways of spending travel time:

In this city there is always shortage of time
And a minimal time should be spent for travel from idea to a result.
I need no special place.
And what is audible only to me now
Soon will become an mp3 in someone’s player,
Will break apart a silence,
Sad silence couldn’t win
Over strobe lights on concert,
When video clip will flash on the screen.

Usually it is difficult to tell (unless we ask someone directly) if the metro traveler uses his or her gadget for productivity and work, or for fun, or for separating him/herself from the real physical world.

Noize MC describes the situation when his headphones help him separate from the surrounding environment, and at the same time the interaction with is continues when confused co-travelers can hear him singing. He uses his time in public transport for productivity, and can make his music tracks right on his smart phone. And soon these private sounds of musing from his headphones will cross the boundaries of his privacy and will appear in the mp3 players of other travelers.

Remote control

Let’s return back to Helsinki and take a closer look at an older music video filmed in Helsinki metro:  Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler (1999). Both in Russian music video by Noize MC and in  Bomfunk MC’s video the main characters are young male urban commuters listening to music on their headphones while traveling in the metro. In both videos the main characters interact with other commuters while listening music privately in headphones and using personal portable devices (smart phone and MP3 player). Furthermore, while sharing a physical space of train car or metro station the main characters engage in interactions with others. Electronic devices mediate these interactions. However, the intention of mediated interaction in Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler music video is different from intentions in Noize MC’s video.


Picture: Freestyler music video by Bomfunk MC’s (1999)

Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler music video starts with a scene of a teenager sitting on the bench in the metro station and listening music in his headphones. Soon a young man with a dark skin approached him and starts to behave aggressively: waiving hands and showing fist-fighting moves. A teenager escapes from the platform to the safety of a metro car. This safety was illusive.  Now in the train car a young black man sitting in front of teenager, there is an eye contact and a man smiles to a teenager. Suddenly the teenager noticed that he could control environment using Play/Stop, Rewind buttons on his MP3 player. He now can remove other people from the car or make fun of drunk white man or any suspiciously looking people. By pressing a button, a teenage boy removes a young black man from the train car. He freezes and repeats funny moves of a drunk man on escalator. He can also freeze or replay if there is something he likes: hip-pop dancers or cute girls. Thereby the control over everyday environment is mediated by digital device. But it is not a device that matters, it’s a fusion of private and public processes, where private digital devices becomes an important element in interacting the public surroundings. A digital device is used for controlling the environment and making it safer and more enjoyable.

It is also likely that Bomfunk MCs music video also intended to highlight fears and stereotypes related to interactions between people of different races. And they did it by reversing the everyday situation: they put a white teenager in the shoes of a black man. Young black informants whom we interviewed during Digital Youth in Media City project reported that everyday racism is most frequent problem they have while commuting in the city. Usually it is young black people being threatened or receive racist comments from other commuters.

Digital control

We see that although metro systems in Helsinki and Petersburg have very different cultural heritage, there are many important cross-cultural elements that unite them in present disregard of national borders and different cultural backgrounds. Popular music and music videos address the issues important for young people in Russia and Finland:  formal and informal rules and norms, control of public spaces, security and time use. The electronic devices used by young commuters have many important functions and entertainment is only one of many uses for smart phones, tablets, music players.

by Arseniy Svynarenko


Join the DiMe for a ride in Saint Petersburg metro! Turn the sound on, click “Play”  and watch a slideshow (sound recorded by Yana Krupets, photos by Yana Krupets and Saint Petersburg team) :

ст.м. Московская