Vladimir Putin has a favorite DJ and his name is Alexander Mamonov, better known as Fenix.
Curated by Putin himself to play the 2014 Music Box Award show, the Moscow-based EDM artist is the first DJ to ever perform at the Kremlin, earning him an audience with the Russian political elite and throes of dignitaries trying to let loose in bass. Fenix is no stranger to Moscow aristocracy either; he’s been known to hang around Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, whom he met while playing clubs throughout Moscow, and has previously opened for Putin following the leader’s second re-election. As if rubbing shoulders with oligarchs and throwing the Kremlin’s first postmodern rave weren’t enough, Fenix has also headlined some of Europe’s biggest shows and shared stages with such legends as David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Tiesto, and Steve Aoki. While the electronic music scene in Russia is still very much in its infancy, Fenix is bringing his own distinct sound of electro-trance and acid house to the upper echelons of Russian society, changing the way people think about EDM throughout Russia.
Where does your DJ name come from? Believe it or not choosing a stage name was not an easy task but I knew I didn’t want it to be something simple and predictable like my first or last name. I wanted it to be unique and memorable. So I decided to go with FENIX. The phoenix is a symbolic bird of resilience, a creature that always rises from the ashes and to the top. And that is how I see myself.
EDM music in Russia isn't as commercial or widely accepted than it is in other parts of Europe and the US. Who did you grow up listening to and how did you fine-tune your craft when you were first getting into electronic music? Believe or not I grew up listening to a lot of American and artists/bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica. But my all-time favorite to this day is AC/DC. They inspired me musically in a way that made me truly appreciate a genre of music for its unique qualities with what’s, in my opinion, the pinnacle of rock-and-roll pedigree. They gave me the passion to write and perform, and I always gravitated towards that type of music when I was younger. When I got into the EDM industry, I tried to approach my craft with the same care I saw in AC/DC’s music – I mean, even my first tracks were written and released in English. Thing is, much like rock-and-roll gets me moving, it sort of translates to electronic and dance music for me as well, in that it allows me to control the crowd in a way that’s always mesmerized me. Everything from the tempo to the samples, and everything in between changes the audience’s reaction. It’s something I definitely feed off of.
On your bio it lists that you've been handpicked by Putin as the Kremlin's official house DJ. How did this come to be and what's the arrangement the two of you currently have?Official House DJ, that’s definitely a notable title to have J. Let me put it this way, in order to perform at the Kremlin someone from high up has to approve it. And I have to say, being the first DJ to ever perform at the Kremlin was a complete honor! It is a tremendous achievement for the EDM community and me being invited to perform there shows just how far the EDM culture has proliferated through the public consciousness in my country.
As far as what the arrangement is now, those talks are ongoing. We were fortunate when it came to being selected for that first gig because the show runners finally understood the impact of DJ culture and the music itself, so they were willing to run with doing something that was previously unheard of. However, this title will definitely put me at the head of any discussions should any future gigs be planned at the Kremlin in general.
When Putin was elected president the second time, you spoke with him and played a set right before he was sworn in. What was he like as a person? Strong and goal orientated.
Aesthetically, how does EDM music differ in Russia and The United States? Aesthetically, I can’t really say that it does. Because EDM is not just about music, it’s a culture of its own. And as a culture it doesn’t matter whether it’s played in the US, Asia or Russia, the energy and the amazing music is the same. I will say, however, that the main difference is in the fanbases between east and west. I’ve had some of the best times of my career playing here in the states so far because the crowds really do go wild for electronic music, and you can see the dedication that fans have for the genre in general. The US has been exposed to EDM for so long, that its allowed for the spread of cult followings for different artists, and those fans are just hardcore, man. It’s definitely evident at each of the venues I’ve played so far.
EDM music in the States has become an over-saturated marketplace where only a few DJs achieve fame and notoriety, dominating the festival circuit at the expense of other talented artists. Is the same true in Russia? I will agree with you that there’s a bit of a saturation in one sense, but on the flip-side the industry itself is still in its infancy, and I personally think there’s plenty of room – especially due to the immense amount of subgenres in EDM – that allow other artists to emerge and flourish without feeling as though growth is being stifled. As far as Russia goes, I wouldn’t say there’s nearly the sort of competition for up-and-comers as there is in the West. I think I can say with some confidence that there’s a bit of a barrier – maybe it’s sheer distance, or perhaps it’s due to the lack of a shared digital economy present in Russia – that hasn’t facilitated the sort of growth in EDM culture at such a rapid pace as one sees in countries like France, Germany, and the United States. I guess that’s a good thing though because it means that we still have the chance to put Russia on the map as a leading source for electronic and dance music.
What was it like playing at the Kremlin and how did you prepare your set beforehand? My only preparation was trying to relax. Being the First EDM DJ to ever play at the Kremlin and to represent the entire EDM movement, was a huge honor. On top of performing, I was also nominated for best DJ and Best Producer, so I was very nervous. But the performance went great, the stage was huge and absolutely beautiful. And then the awards were held and I took home the trophy! It was an amazing experience!
So far, your music has been recognized by the Russian political elite. Do you have any future plans in cultivating this relationship? Maybe a foray into politics? Music brings people together, it doesn’t matter if you’re a politician or a regular person, it brings people together because music, ultimately, is a universal language that isn’t barred by geopolitics, personal misconceptions, or judgment. I’m a musician not a politician.
What is the bigger picture? How do you want your music to change the world and produce significant change? Just like any other musician, I want to do all that I can to leave a mark in music history and be remembered for work that I’m passionate about day in, and day out.
Text by Davis Richardson