In 1997, Belavkin released his second album, X-Rated, through Art-Tek, a label he set up to help push a then-promising crop of Russian artists. 22 years later, another Russian with similar intentions, Nina Kraviz, has reissued the LP as the second release on her трип sub-label, GALAXIID, giving it its first vinyl release. For many, this will be their introduction to Solar X—despite a promising start in music, Belavkin eventually pursued another of his great loves, science, completing a masters degree in physics, then a PhD in Computer Science, before landing a teaching position at London’s Middlesex University. Had he taken music further, who knows what he could have achieved. X-Rated, instead of becoming an obscure gem, might have been a classic.
X-Rated’s smutty track titles, lifted from the call girl cards plastered all over London’s red phone booths in the ’90s, show Belavkin’s playful side. “All those phrases offer you pleasure,” he said. “So does my music.” He’s right, though this silly streak only filters into a couple tracks. Mostly, X-Rated is serious, complex and deeply emotional. The album zig-zags fluidly between tempos, moods and genres. “Wicked & Beautiful,” which opens the record, is the goofiest cut, a palette of loud, bright sounds that morphs from cheery techno into demented drum & bass via a slo-mo vortex. In the space of 90 seconds, the BPM yo-yos feverishly between 85 and 195. It’s the work of a gifted producer who delights in experimenting.
All this might remind you of another ’90s talent with a mischievous streak: Aphex Twin. His influence can be heard across X-Rated, particularly in the album’s softer tracks, a suite of weepy IDM bombs with feral drums and golden melodies. That said, these aren’t knock-offs. Belavkin’s atmospheres are warmer and cosier, more candle-lit afterparty than dawn field rave. His sonic signatures are strong and unique, like on the excellent “TюchPulses (Edit).” The intro might not sound out of place on Selected Ambient Works 85-92, but the honeyed synths that follow definitely would. “Mistress Awaits You,” a gentle downtempo jam with cooing synths, is also excellent, as are “Hot Cherry,” “Soft & Deep,” “Spanking For Pleasure” and “Doom At The Dorm.” Like the best IDM from that period, the compositions sing with life and feeling.
X-Rated might be the lightest-sounding of Belavkin’s three albums, but it has its gnarly moments. He excels in this mode, too, especially on “Dominatrix,” a sleek and bleepy roller. Pushing 150 BPM, it would go down a storm in Kraviz’s sets. Now, thanks to her, a new generation of DJs and music nerds can enjoy the magic of this music. As for Belavkin, more than two decades since he was Russia’s dance music posterboy, let’s hope he gets another day or two in the sun. It’s no more than he deserves.