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Sunday, May 2, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Democracy Plus Music Spells Chaos -- Death Threats, Pirated Records, Bogus Bands Mark Industry In Russia

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MOSCOW - Alexander Shishinin, 30 years old and boyishly handsome, had spent the day in a recording studio with the band he managed, and he was climbing the dark, narrow staircase to his fifth-floor apartment in a dingy building on the northeastern edge of Moscow.

It was between 8 and 9 p.m. on Friday, March 5, when he reached the landing between the second and third floors, the one with the graffiti "there is no happiness in life."

He was holding two guitars, so his hands were full when someone stepped from the darkness and plunged a 4-inch knife into his belly. Shishinin screamed; the neighbors said he was probably dead by the time the ambulance arrived.

Shishinin managed a popular five-woman pop band, Kombinatsia, which took its name from the Russian word both for "combination" and a woman's frilly slip. And to people familiar with the anarchic, racket-ridden world of Russian pop music, there has never been a doubt that his death was somehow related to money and the music industry.

The music industry is relatively new in Russia - as is most private business. And it is a business with few rules. There are no copyright laws, so new records are often copied and sold by pirates immediately after they appear. Contracts are signed, but there's no contract law to enforce them. And sometimes muscle takes the place of the law.

LEAD SINGER KIDNAPPED

Take the case of Black Coffee, a heavy-metal band that switched managers recently. While driving to the airport for its first concert tour under new management, the lead singer was kidnapped and held for three days, said Artemy Troitsky, who has written extensively about pop music here.

In the case of Shishinin, Troitsky wrote in the Moscow Times: "Everyone is confident . . . that Shishinin's death was not an accident. The question is, who killed Sasha? Or more important, who gave the order?"

In the lawless Russian music world, where gangsters routinely extort protection money from bands and where promoters steal names and singers from other bands, violence can be part of the business.

In some respects, corrupt practices in the music industry mirror those in Russian society. Jacques Attali, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said last year that there was "a race in Russia between the institutional building processes and the Mafia economic processes," and the outcome was uncertain.

Promoters and managers say it is a fact of life that when a Russian performer plays in the provinces, some "protection" goes along.

Because of pirating and the high cost of producing a record, there is relatively little money to be made on records, unlike in the United States. Records in Russia are used mostly to promote concerts; the real money comes from touring, so it's important to have protection on the road.

The usual cost for protection in the provinces, said Eisenspis, is 10 percent to 15 percent of a $3,000 to $4,000 purse.

Clone groups are another phenomenon, although apparently not as common as they used to be, when bands were not on TV as often. They work two ways: A band makes a hit song, and another group forms, takes the same name and goes on the road with the same material; or a group organizes several bands that perform multiple concerts on the same night, in different parts of the country, lip-synching to taped music.

"It's better if a prettier girl is lip-synching," said Andrei Sochnov, 33, commercial manager for an entertainment conglomerate called Lis's, which is owned by Sergei Lisovsky, a major force in the music business.

Pretty girls, lip-synching and high-powered music promoters all figure in controversies that have come to light since Shishinin's death.

Alyona Apina was the lead singer of Kombinatsia until she decided several years ago she could do better on her own. Her husband, Alexander Iratov, became her manager. Kombinatsia got a new lead singer, Tatiana Ivanova, but on the road, Ivanova had to lip-synch to Apina's voice. That caused friction between the two managers.

It was during that period that Shishinin came to Lisovsky, who also owned a disco here called At Lis's. "Shishinin came to us and said he needed protection from the sharks in show business," Sochnov said.

AN ONGOING ARGUMENT

Troitsky said Lisovsky and Shishinin "had an ongoing argument about who was more important and who should get more profits."

Sochnov, though, said relations were good until last fall, when Shishinin said "he wanted to own the name and songs of Kombinatsia."

Lisovsky responded by threatening to form another group, name it Kombinatsia, and put it on the road to compete with the original.

Police said Lisovsky, the disco owner, and Iratov, the rival manager, had been questioned. "And we are pursuing as one of the versions the possibility that the murder was over the division of money."

Troitsky, for one, dismisses the possibility that Lisovsky or Iratov was responsible. They are too big, and "the situation for them was not so dramatic as to hire a paid killer."

Instead, he believes racketeers were responsible, maybe because Shishinin "didn't pay his Mafia tax."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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