The story of how Coates came across “X-ray music” started in 2012. Coates – the lead singer in jazz band The Real Tuesday Weld – was strolling around a flea market in Saint Petersburg, when he spotted a curious, record-shaped X-ray film. Asking the shopkeeper what is was got no answer; Coates decided to buy it anyway.
Back in London, he tried it on his record player. “It was obviously an X-ray, but also a record. I played it and I found out it was a 78 RPM: it was 'Rock around the Clock',” Coates tells me. “I obviously decided to find out more about this.”
It transpires that until the Soviet Union legalized civilian tape recorders in 1964, the only way to copy state-unapproved music was on discs cut from discarded hospital x-rays on a home-made horizontal lathe-
“Stalin didn't like anything that made people dance,” Coates explains. “The only music that was allowed were classic composers, or simple folk tunes, whose words were all about how great socialism was.”
Any other vinyl recording was prohibited on the grounds that it was bourgeois, western, or otherwise dangerous stuff. Jazz and US-made rock ’n’ roll obviously faced the ban, but so did...Vadim Kozin, a popular tenor who was sent to a concentration camp for refusing to sing about Stalin. .. “ X-ray film is soft enough to be recorded on, but strong enough to hold the groove,” he explains. “It was also very easy to find: Russian hospitals had to get rid of their X-rays within one year because they were flammable, back then.”
Bogoslowsky teamed up with some friends to create the “Golden Dog Gang”: a bootlegger outfit able to get hold of smuggled vinyls and churn out tens of copies of “bone” records. The records acquired the nickname of “ryobra”— Russian for “ribs”: a consequence of the Soviet Union’s tuberculosis epidemic, which resulted in a glut of chest X-ray recordings.
That didn’t prevent the government from jailing rib-makers ... and labelling them as “soul-thieves”.