November 20, 2021

Birchpunk, an Internet Gift



Birchpunk, an Internet Gift
The weird world of birchpunk. Birchpunk website

Cyberpunk + Russia = Birchpunk. It is a brave new world on the internet.

Cyberpunk is a "combination of lowlife and high tech." Indeed. Just watch some of Russian musical group Little Big's videos to see lowlife and high tech – though Little Big is not considered cyberpunk.

The Birchpunk YouTube channel, in contrast, combines lowlife, high tech, and big ethical questions about exactly what all that high tech will bring us. In the video Russian Cyberfarm, the farmer shows us around the dystopian kiberderevnya in heavily-accented English. Life is lived online on the farm – even if all you have is dial-up internet.

"Heart" asks whether technological progress is good for us humans while using that very technology to get attention. The song has choruses in Russian and verses in English, which is fun. It considers the breakdown of infrastructure-poor village Retrozavodsk – where Grandma has to walk herself to the hospital on foot – while QR codes cover the landscape. The QR code is, by the end of the video, almost the only art left. How timely since every Russian city either has had, has, or will soon have a QR code regime to make this pandemic go away.

In "Heart," Birchpunk sings, in English, these provocative lines: "I know the progress will never end / I know bodies will turn to sand," "For robot, there is no good and bad," and "I know soldiers would need no head / But until we're dead, the best thing we have is what I call it: serdtse (heart)."

Birchpunk also has a news report parody of Russia Today called Russia Tomorrow.

The project combines hip hop and traditional village folk singing – but with groups of village women singing about themes like androids and robots.

As dystopian as Birchpunk is, it is not as downright bizarre as Little Big or as frightening as some other cyberpunk projections of what the future holds. Plus, it is somehow extremely pleasant to listen to a skilled blend of rap in purposely bad English and Russian. But it does show how disturbing it is to have high-speed internet in your village but no clean drinking water.

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