If this collection of curveball Kyiv kooks and crazies isn’t the best girl band on the planet then my name’s Yuliya Tymoschenko and I demand to be let out of clink.
Don’t think I’ve ever seen such an awe-inspiring show. It was billed as фрiк кабаре – freak-cabaret – and that would seem about right.
In a dark, dank, dilapidated den of a venue seven soulful sisters systematically smashed out a brilliant mix of melancholy gloom and soaring hypnotic vocals and acted out the songs they sang.
The YouTube vids on here don’t go anywhere near doing them justice – they’re on to give a flavour of the event because they haven’t captured the sonic beauty of the daughters. There are better versions already online at YouTube if you want more.
So far as I can tell Dakh Daughters have emerged from the Kyiv-based avant garde theatre Dax.
It has produced the ethno-folk, whatever that means, Dakha Brakha band, who brilliantly accompany mimed versions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear. That might sound terrible but it isn’t – they are incredibly powerful performances and Dakha Brakha are brilliant in their own right.
Mala Opera – typical bloody Ukraine – is a ramshackle theatre in the Lukyanivska area, a stone’s throw from the British Embassy.
Outside, where a hoarding would shout out the latest show, there is just an empty rectangular tube of metal. The exterior is crumbling.
On the night a huge pile of snow slags, blackened by the daily grime, yet to be melted two weeks after a huge snowstorm, partly blocked the pavement.
There were girls in dreads, girls in hotpants, girls in furs, blokes smoking pipes – haven’t seen that in public since the 70s – the cream, or was it the dregs, of the Kyiv arty scene.
Inside, after a White Rabbit traipse through the theatre corridors, you find the theatre. It has a hole in the ceiling, the light fittings are all ripped out and the sound desk was partitioned off by wooden pallets stacked on their sides. The stage awning is decorated with hammer and sickle symbols, sporting the Red Army badge inside.
You wouldn’t let your pet rat loose in here. But it gave off a tawdry late-70s punk feel and the pre-concert atmosphere was similar, without the threat back then that violence would break out and you’d be lucky to survive the night.
The daughters number seven – one looks like Debbie Harry, another like a less austere Siouxsie Sioux, another Jessie J. One is Nina from Dakha Brakha, a fifth acts as a mother hen type and does a lot of the coiled, spitting anger in the show. A sixth exuded a child-like innocence amid the mayhem and the seventh radiated a translucent melancholy beauty of the kind Ukraine is famous for – OK, ossifer, arrest me, throw me through the Dnipro ice to cool down but fish me out and let me sing Iggy’s ‘I wanna be your dog’ to her. Woof Woof.
Three days later I’m still barking at the moon.
Anyway, they came on in green housecoats, sporting sunglasses and wearing colourful head scarves under which a huge flower nestled.
Playing the cello, drum, electric violin, keyboards, glockenspiel, mouth organ and a bit of guitar and most of all using their voices to extraordinary effect they produced one of the best gigs I’ve been to.
Several songs in and the housecoats were stripped off to reveal glowing white angels who perform cabaret songs mainly in Ukrainian. But French, English and German featured in the songs.
A version of ‘My Favourite Things’ was recognisable – lyrics spoken sardonically and nasally, as is the way over here.
Some Mississippi swamp blues plumbed doomy depths that would have turned Nick Cave green with envy.
It had a Joy Division intensity. Live, Public Image’s Religion might be a touchstone.
But if all that sounds heavy well most of it wasn’t. I couldn’t understand the lyrics of course but the rest of the audience could and were frequently roaring with laughter.
The seven voices often melded beautifully to produce wonderfully evocative harmonies. Art-punk turned into delicate song at the drop of a hat.
The musicianship was top class too. Dakha Brakha’s Nina is a fiend on the cello. She then played the guitar top string as a bass before plucking out Ry Cooder-esque Paris Texas twangs and then theatrically donning a white glove on her white hand, plunked the cello strings to provide a bass beat for one number. An outstandingly gifted talent – a sort of Ukrainian version of John Cale.
And, with the theatrical flourishes, it might well be the best show I’ve ever seen. Two hours of hyper-real, surreal, shrieking, squawking, screaming excellence and though that sounds like overwritten gush, I actually believe it.
What was particularly impressive was that it made no concessions to mainstream cheesy sleb or slob cultures. No kitschy, knowing Madonna references.
It was in Ukrainian and uniquely of Ukraine – quirky, feisty, sexy, ridiculous, unembarrassed and open-hearted.
It was sensationally good, and even aside from the testosterone typing, this was an utterly remarkable show.
It set the bar for whatever I see for the rest of my life so high that it would be a surprise to witness something better.