Bi-2 (russ. Би-2, pronounced "Bee-dva") are a Russian Alternative Rock band and considered one of the most successful, longest playing and influential rock bands within Russia. Combined, they have won about two dozen awards for best rock band, best vocalist and best rock song in Russia, as well as one World Music Award as Best Selling Russian Group in 2001.
It was originally founded under the name of "Братья по оружию"/"Bratya po Oruzhiyu" (Brothers in Arms) in 1988 by a group of people which included Alexandr "Shura" Uman and Yegor "Lyova" Bortnik, who had met as teenagers in a theater group in 1985 in Minsk, Belarus. Soon the band was renamed "Берег истины"/"Bereg Istiny" (Shore of Truth) and it had moderate success within Belarus with a varying line-up of around fifteen members and stage shows which skirted Absurdism. Though Lyova had been writing the band's lyrics all along, he only became its lead vocalist in 1989 when the band renamed itself again, this time to "Bi-2" ("Берег истины 2"/"Bereg Istiny 2", Shore of Truth 2), and recorded its first album.
In 1991, Lyova and Shura then immigrated to Israel, where they continued to perform as Bi-2 and also enjoyed some succes before they disbanded and went their separate ways, Shura immigrating again and playing in the darkwave band Chiron in Melbourne, Australia and Lyova serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Through all this time, they both kept writing music for their common band and exchanging it via phone and internet.
When Lyova joined Shura in Melbourne in 1998, they decided to officially revive Bi-2 and recorded another album, which they tried to market in Russia, again with only moderate success. They both left Australia for Russia and in a last bid to be noticed pooled their money and threw a giant BBQ party at an acquaintance's dacha (holiday house), inviting all and every journalist whose contact information they could get their hands on. This landed them a gig at the first "Nashestviye" festival — which would go on to become Russia's biggest rock festival — but also a TV appearance and brought their songs onto a couple radio stations. It also lead to Bi-2 contributing to the soundtrack of the popular Russian film Brother 2 with their song "Полковнику никто не пишет" ("Polkovniku nikto ne pishet"; engl. "Nobody writes to the Colonel"), which along with "Варвара" ("Varvara") and "Никто не придёт" ("Nikto ne pridyet"; engl. "Nobody will come"), became a hit and launched the band's career.
Initially playing with varying musicians with Lyova and Shura as the joint Face of the Band, Bi-2's line-up eventually solidified to:
- Lyova Bi-2: vocals, lyrics, acoustic guitar, percussion
- Shura Bi-2: guitar, vocals
- Andrey Zvonkov: guitar
- Maksim Andrusschenko: bass guitar
- Boris Lifshitz: drums
- Yanik Nikolenko: keyboard, flute, tambourine, back vocals, lyrics
Bi-2's music is characterised by unusually westernised sounds but also by lyrics which fall squarely into the genre of Russian rock by employing both obscure and less so literature and popculture references, dealing with nostalgic and darkly abstract themes and striving to capture a moment's feeling rather than telling a coherent story. Lyova encourages listeners to interpret the band's lyrics in whichever way they feel it relates to them and their own lives, and while the band's music and lyrics evolve as its members change and focus on different topics it is highly unusual to find a song which can be pinned down to reference a particular event.
Beside releasing their tenth studio album titled Горизонт событий (Horizont Sobytiy; engl. Event Horizon) in 2017, the band has released five albums each titled Нечётный воин (Nechyotny Voin; engl. Odd Warrior) which consist exclusively of duets and collaborations with other bands or musicians, including Diana Arbenina, Latvian band Brainstorm, Agata Kristi and John Grant. Furthermore, Bi-2 have released two albums collaborating with the Prague Metropolitan Symphonic Orchestra, which feature their songs rewritten to be performed by an orchestra, as well as provided a number of soundstracks for various Russian movies.
Bi-2's studio albums are:
- Бесполая и Грустная Любовь (Bespolaya i grustnaya lyubov'; engl. Genderless and Sad Love) (1998)
- Би-2 (Bi-2) (2000)
- Мяу Кисс Ми (Miau Kiss Me; engl. Meow Kiss Me) (2001)
- Иномарки (Inomarki; engl. Cars of Foreign Make) (2004)
- Молоко (Moloko; engl. Milk) (2006)
- Лунапарк (Lunapark, referring to the amusement park of the same name in Sydney, Australia) (2009)
- О Чём Говорят Мужчины (O chem govoryat muzhchiny; engl. What Men Talk About, soundtrack to a movie of the same name) (2010)
- Spirit (2011)
- #16плюс (#16plus) (2014)
- Горизонт событий (Horizont Sobytiy; engl. Event Horizon) (2017)
Bi-2's music provides examples of the following tropes:
- All Myths Are True: Invoked in the chorus of "Вечная призрачная встречная" ("Vachnaya prizrachnaya vstrechnaya"; engl. "Eternal ghostly oncoming lane"). The song is, roughly, about feeling spiritually lost and constantly on edge and the chorus invokes a potential salvation via all available religions.Eternal ghostly oncoming lane,
Can it save me,
This common subject matter of all religions?
- Audience Participation Song:
- "Полковнику никто не пишет" ("Polkovniku nikto ne pishet"; engl. "Nobody writes to the Colonel") has become so well known and such a staple of the band's live shows that usually, half the verses are sung by the audience.
- "Серебро" ("Serebro"; engl. "Silver"), similarly, is such a populat songs among the band's fans that it's impossible to keep the audience from singing along, and Bi-2 just run with it.
- "Реки любви" ("Reki lyubvi"; engl. "Rivers of Love"), on account of having a Title-Only Chorus, is meant to include the audience in said chorus. Shura is the vocalist for this one and, unlike Lyova, is not too shy to tell the audience what he expects them to do.
- Break-Up Song:
- "Сердце" ("Serdce"; engl. "Heart") ist about the protagonist's wife leaving him for another man and the protagonist wondering where those famed charms and good memories have disappeared to.
- "Варвара" ("Varvara") has the protagonist suffering melodramatically after the eponymous Varvara dumped him and ran away "to the edge of the world" where he swears he would've gone for her. He's unable to ever be happy again and wonders if he'll manage to live any longer.
- Grief Song: The lyrics of "Зажигать" ("Zazhigat'"; engl. "To set on fire") address a woman who has lost a very dear friend, describing the deep grief and emptiness he left behind and telling her to not forget to live on. In the last verse, she breaks apart due to her grief.Greedily the sun is swallowing,
Two silvery wings.
Your dear friend will not return
To this city ever again.
And the lights of tired streets,
Will be missing you.
It is just that they're unable,
To comprehend such grief.
- Homesickness Hymn: The band songs that reference homesickness on their 2017 album, Horizont Sobytiy (engl. Event Horizon):
- A song called "Rodina" (engl. "Homeland") talks about the yearning to return home after being away for so long. It describes tearing up at the sight of pictures of birch trees, the songs of nightingales and sleeping among blackthorn bushes. The song concludes that even though your homeland may be widely known as the Empire of Evil, it is impossible to not love the places that are close to your heart.
- The lyrics to "Pora vozvrashyatsa domoy" (engl. "Time to return home") deal with an immigrant's desire to return home to a house which is still vivid in his mind, even if it may already have been razed to the ground. While said home may not be the best place, sometimes the heart triumphs over reason and that connection to place becomes one's greatest desire.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The music video to "Виски" ("Viski"; engl. "Whiskey") tells the story of two wise-ass marketing specialists who decide to get rich by selling cheap whiskey to the peasants of a remote village, only to discover that they've ended up in a nest of cannibals when they are served soup with eyeballs swimming inside and the locals start snacking on their hired help.
- Lyrical Cold Open: While the original album version does have a short instrumental intro, Lyova occasionally goes right in with the vocals during live performances of "Полковнику никто не пишет" ("Polkovniku nikto ne pishet"; engl. "Nobody writes to the Colonel"), especially when the band are playing a heavier concert than they used to back when the song was released.Lyova: BIIIIG CITIES! EEEEMPTY TRAINS!
- Obnoxious In-Laws: The song "Мать" ("Mat'"; engl. "Mother") describes how the song's protagonist suffered beneath his ex's mother, getting drained of all money and never being good enough. Balkan melodies used in the music give the theme its final touch.I could never understand, how many sacrifices she wanted,
She was sawing at me, as if sawing at a budget,
How my fleet crashed, with all of its ships,
Against the severe granite of maternal love.
- The Muse: "Муза" ("Muza"; engl. "Muse") is about exactly what the title promises. The verses have the protagonist passionately struggle with his possibly imaginary muse, imploring her to take note of him, claiming that it's pointless to keep inspiration away from him and nonetheless feeling powerless. The chorus reveals that this is all so that he can finally enter the Schengen area of the European Union.
- Ode to Intoxication: "Виски" ("Viski"; engl. "Whiskey"), which features John Grant, is an ode to both the beverage it's named for and to Russian drinking culture. John Grant's sober and somber deep voice invokes dark woods, the Russian countryside and cliches about grim, god-fearing peasants, while Lyova's high, lilting chorus longs for intoxication and asks which Russian does not drink whiskey?John Grant: My God is severe, my destiny difficult and my hut is my prison,
But even into my dense forest progress has come on a winding path.
Lyova: Even when it's throwing me side to side, the soul will demand a miracle,
Whether in Irkutsk, or in Norilsk, which Russian does not drink whiskey?
- Phrase Salad Lyrics: This is Bi-2's modus operandi as far as lyrics go. Most of their songs evoke a feeling rather than tell a coherent story, so they string phrases together which may have an overarching thematic meaning or evoke certain mental images, but only flirt with coherence at best. To be fair, the most egregious cases tend to rhyme in Russian. Case in point, "Реки любви" ("Reki lyubvi"; engl. "Rivers of Love"):My head is spinning in these labyrinthine streets,
The hammer-and-sickle-moon — my witness and friend,
The pilot is not God and he's used to trusting his instincts,
He's holding on tight to a safety buoy.
- Self-Titled Album: Unusually, the band's second album was titled Би-2 (Bi-2), not the first. This is likely because their second album was the one which made them widely known and which was released while they were in the process of becoming famous, to drive it home that yes, this is Bi-2 releasing an album.
- Sexy Cat Person: "Мяу Кисс Ми" ("Miau Kiss Me"; engl. "Meow Kiss Me") is, unsurprisingly, stuffed with references to cats and allusions to Intercourse with You, equating a woman to a dangerous but sexy cat. The song also features whooping background sounds and Lyova using a voice that's somewhere between purring and snarling for the verses.
- At the end of the music video to "Виски" ("Viski"; engl. "Whiskey"), John Grant is shot by Lyova and pretends to die only to the blink awake again and come at him, bloody fangs bared and wearing the Witcher pendant from the video games.
- On the same album, the rapping part performed by Oxxxymiron in the track Пора возвращаться домой (Pora vozvrashyatsa domoy; engl: Time to return home) includes several shout-outs:
- First, Oxxxymiron references H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and George Orwell in one fell swoop when listing attractions a homesick traveller may have seen:[...] Here you've seen everything: the mine shafts of Dortmund, the cliffs of Cornwall,
A herd of Morlocks from the slums of early Orwell books,
On the palm of the wanderer is the entire world while the links to point A are torn, [...]
- He then goes on to reference the myth of Icarus when he is rapping about the weary traveller/immigrant finally boarding a plane and leaving behind the foreign lands, alluding to the idea that doing so rashly is as dangerous and unpredictable as it was to leave home behind in the first place.[...] Look, Icarus has folded his palms closer to his forehead,
Behind us — the sounds of cockroaches running, Paris and Istanbul,
Three hundred millilitres of cognac, the plane rises highter — and suddenly describing a circle
Around the headland — dare, friend, but down there...
- First, Oxxxymiron references H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and George Orwell in one fell swoop when listing attractions a homesick traveller may have seen:
- "Bowie" is a song-long Shout-Out to David Bowie, or rather, to his music and his style and what kind of influence both has on young teenage girls, both the good sides (the music being a good way to deal with dark thoughts) and the bad sides (trusting alluring strangers).
- Silly Love Songs:
- "Скользкие улицы" ("Skol'zkiye ulicy"; engl. "Slippery streets") is full of silly, sweet Phrase Salad Lyrics just dripping with honey. Even the foreign cars are kissing in the streets until these become slippery.Slippery streets,
Foreign cars are kissing
Of unhappy love.
The minutes are marked
By chance encounters,
But nobody can tell
What lies ahead.
- "Мой рок-н-ролл" ("Moy rock-n-roll"; engl. " My rock'n'roll") is more of a silly longing for someone song, made even more soppy by being a duet between Shura (low, sober, manly voice) and Yuliya Chicherina (high, fragile, feminine voice).All words will fall like rain,
And where you are not awaiting me,
The wind will bring you a cool breathe.
On our faces, without an answer,
Only the dawn reflects from,
The one where you are not awaiting me.
- "Скользкие улицы" ("Skol'zkiye ulicy"; engl. "Slippery streets") is full of silly, sweet Phrase Salad Lyrics just dripping with honey. Even the foreign cars are kissing in the streets until these become slippery.
- Something Blues: "Блюз 16+" ("Blues 16+") is about that particular time in everyone's life between still being a child and becoming an adult and the particular mood (blues) that comes with it, a state between euphoria and wanting to burn something down.
- Soprano and Gravel: Lyova's and Shura's voices strongly contrast, with Lyova's voice being pretty high and occasionally squeaky while Shura's voice is very low and smooth. Most of the time, Shura only does back vocals, lending Lyova's vocals a deep, rich background sound, but the contrast becomes particularly strinking on those rare occasions where he performs the parts of songs which are sung by outside vocalists on the album versions but are given to Shura during live performances.
- Stage Names: Yegor Bortnik and Alexandr Uman often go by Lyova Bi-2 and Shura Bi-2, respectively, even in official interviews and the like, and Shura in particular actually had his name in his Australian passport legally changed to his stage name. Both are nicknames they received when still young and kept even when they became famous.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Shura often sings exactly one song in every show and/or album. When it's his turn during a concert, Lyova usually goes as far as leaving the stage or otherwise disappearing, especially since Shura's songs tend to be slower and quieter than the band's usual fare.
- There's No Place Like Home: The album Горизонт событий (Horizont Sobytiy; engl. Event Horizon) has not one, but two songs that talk about there being no place like home:
- A song called "Родина" ("Rodina"; engl. "Homeland") talks about the yearning to return home after being a vagabond for so long. It describes tearing up at the sight of pictures of birch trees, the wonderful songs of nightingales and sleeping among bushes of blackthorn. The conclusion is that though the aforementioned homeland may be widely known as the Empire of Evil, it is impossible to not love the places that are close to your heart.
- The lyrics to "Пора возвращаться домой" ("Pora vozvrashyatsa domoy"; engl: "Time to return home"), which features the rapper Oxxxymiron who has lived in Germany for a long time, deal with an immigrant's desire to return home to a house which is still vivid in one's mind even if it may have been razed to the ground in the meantime. When the surrounding cities burn with the love of strangers and all the roads lead nowhere, palm trees and azure waters won't be able to sooth the melancholy lump in the throat that's longing for home. And while said home may not be the best place, sometimes the heart triumphs over reason and hearing one's native tongue just feels more real.
- Title Drop: The song "Деньги на ветер" ("Den'gi na veter"; engl. "Money to the Wind") name drops the band's name itself, "Берег истины" ("Shore of Truth"):Money to the wind,
Between the saints and the guilty,
Money to the wind,
There is another shore of truth,
Money to the wind,
Let it come on the rays of sunset,
It will come — don't touch, it's mine.
- Title-Only Chorus:
- The chorus of "Забрали в армию" ("Zabrali v armiyu"; engl. "Drafted into the army"), which is about losing faith in the face of being drafted and made to shoot at your friend for following a different religion, consists entirely of repeating the song's title again and again.
- "Реки любви" ("Reki lyubvi"; engl. "Rivers of Love") also only uses its own title as the chorus. Said chorus is also the pretty much only indicator regarding what the song as a whole is about, thanks to its phrase salad verses.
- Title Track:
- Bi-2's 2001 album Мяу кисс ми (Miau Kiss Me; engl. Meow Kiss Me) is titled after its first song.
- Лунапарк (Luna Park) is also titled after a song included in the album.
- Vocal Range Exceeded: Both verses of "Не умирать молодым" ("Ne umirat' molodym"; engl. "To not die young") are sung by Lyova in such a highly pitched voice it constrantly seems on the edge of breaking, only to drop to his lowest cadence in the chorus.
- Worth Living For: "Не умирать молодым" ("Ne umirat' molodym"; engl. "To not die young") is all about keeping on living while one is able to love and be loved and to feel alive. The verses describe the fears and difficulties of being alive, but the chorus goes:It's just that I've decided to not die young,
While I love and am loved — I feel myself be alive.
It's just that I've decided to not die young,
While I love and am loved — I won't leave my burden to others.