Taking their name from a character in the famous children's books of Tovi Jansson, Mumiy Troll have become one of Russia's most popular and critically acclaimed contemporary pop/rock acts of the '90s and 2000s. Centered around the offbeat romantic lyrics and intelligent, charismatic presence of songwriter and frontman Ilya Lagutenko, the band has developed separately from the rest of the Russian music scene, opting to work with foreign producers and recording the majority of its work in England. Although experimenting with different musical genres over the years, Mumiy Troll have developed an idiosyncratic sound placed halfway between traditional Russian rock and Brit-pop.
Lagutenko originally started writing and recording as a teenager in Vladivostok in 1981. The following year, he formed the band Shock with Vladimir Lutsenko (bass) and Alik Krasnov (all the remaining instruments), and they adopted the name Mumiy Troll in 1983 before recording their debut studio album, Novaya Luna Aprelya (New April Moon), throughout 1984 and 1985. The album was well received locally, and by 1986 was regularly played in Vladivostok discos. However, with the band officially unsanctioned in the Soviet Union, the new attention was not without its drawbacks, and at a meeting of students at the Far East State University, Mumiy Troll were bewilderingly pronounced to be among the period's most "socially dangerous" bands. For the next few years, the band went on hiatus while Lagutenko did national service in the Soviet Army, and it wasn't until 1990 that Mumiy Troll recorded another album, Delai U-U (Do U-U). The reunion was short-lived, however, as Lagutenko, a fluent English and Mandarin speaker, went to work with a business consultancy firm in London and China and the record disappeared without a trace.
In 1996, while living in London at the peak of the Brit-pop scene, Lagutenko decided to resurrect the band and started recording a new album with producer Chris Bandy, who had previously worked with the Cure, Duran Duran, the Rolling Stones, and Tears for Fears. The resulting album, Morskaya (Sea), was released later that year. The new commercial sound was an immediate success in Russia, and by the time of its follow-up, Ikra (Caviar), a more traditional Russian rock album, appeared six months later, the band was experiencing unprecedented popularity at home. Having settled into their current lineup of Lagutenko (vocals, guitar), Yuri Tsaler (guitars), Evgeni Zvidenniy (bass), and Oleg Pungin (drums), they started their first tour of Russia and neighboring countries in 1997. With a substantial presence in the media and videos regularly played on television, 1998 was a prolific year and saw the release of the two-volume set Shamora: Pravda o Mumiyakh i Trollakh (Shamora: The Truth About Mumiy and Troll) as well as the mini-album S Novym Godom, Kroshka! (Happy New Year, Baby!).
After a short break, Tochno Rtut' Aloe (Exactly Mercury Aloe) was released in 2001, and the same year Mumiy Troll were chosen to represented Russia in the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest, coming in 12th with the song "Lady Alpine Blue." A new album, Meamury (Memories), was recorded in 2002, this time with Grammy Award-winning producer John Hudson, and shortly after its release it was awarded a gold disc for sales in Latvia. The accolades continued, and the same year the group was awarded the Russian music industry's Zolotoy Grammophon (Golden Gramophone) prize and was named Best Group of 2002 at the Nashe Radio Awards, while the song "Eto Po Lubvi" (Because of Love) won the award for Best Song of 2002.
During the next few years Mumiy Troll concentrated their efforts on film and television soundtracks, recording music for the films Azazel (2002), Nochnoi Dozor (2003), Pohititeli Knig and Neznaika i Barrabass (2004), and Kosmichesky Reys (2006). They also collaborated with former Suede singer Brett Anderson for the sci-fi thriller Paragraph 78 in 2007. During the same period, the band lent its name to various social causes such AIDS awareness and environmental concerns, and played at several awareness-raising events around the world. In 2005 they released the album Sliyanie I Pogloschenie (Merger and Acquisition), an album containing oblique lyrics relating to themes of identity, big business, and global power, and subsequently toured in China. In 2006 they participated in the international gala concert Stop Contrafact in Moscow, an event timed to coincide with the G8 summit calling for the protection of intellectual property. On the symbolic date of July 7, 2007, Mumiy Troll's 11th studio album, AMBA, was released, and for the first time the bandmembers announced that they would be recording an English-language version. ~ Neil Davidson