No Fear: Russian cultural resistance

Welcome to our new series No Fear, highlighting Russian contemporary artists and projects struggling with censorship and propaganda, accompanied by exclusive artworks. Read our editor Polina Korneeva's intro to revolting musicians you should definitely check out.

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They are blaming us, our parents, themselves for not doing enough. Or sometimes for not doing anything at all. They are blaming us for being ignorant, for our common fucked up future – no, this is not a climate change discussion, but a piece highlighting brave Russian musical performers resisting political pressure through their art and showing us that, albeit sometimes scary, it’s definitely worth it.

Last year, many artists in Russia suffered from concert cancellations. Monetochka, Husky, Allj – the whole list is quite long. It started with smaller festivals and punk shows and developed into (political) persecution of the most radical. People have been told that State forces were not involved into this process. In some cases shows’ age restrictions were cited, while in others the organisers themselves were blamed for cancellations. Sometimes there was no single reason given at all, but nobody really tried to ask. Because all those cases were way too obvious.

It might seem from the outside that Russians do not resist. Special message to non-believers: they do. Looking back in time and thinking about all those brutal stories from political demonstrations, violence against Russian opposition, there is no doubt people have been trying a lot to stand up against authority. And some of them are incredibly unstoppable. But has something changed? That’s a hard one. Nevertheless, new and new artists are speaking out loud.

The right to protest can’t be taken away from people, just like the freedom of expression. Well, just to be fair, Russian “content control” mechanism aiming to protect “young people from harmful for the development music” saves from lots of bullshit too. Nevertheless, State censorship has nothing to do with art, even bullshit art.

Please welcome to my personal short list of highly different artists who actively reflect their political opinion using that art to inform the society about communal, social, economic and other problems.

 

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Dolphin
I bet no one’s gonna talk about him in political context nowadays, except the older folks. By giving Dolphin the first place here, I am really going back to roots. Such things can be easily forgotten having all those youngsters around, but that’s just not fair. Dolphin had radical political positions “before it was cool”, however, his most recent 2018 album called 422 is definitely the darkest one. It’s an open protest, in which many problems affecting Russian people are touched upon. One can say it’s a sign that shit just got real. But looking back to Dolphin’s discography and older pieces of writing I would say, shit has always been real.

FACE
No, I’m not kidding. Starting as a sort of a joke, this 22 years old dude became a significant media figure in 2018. Calling himself a FACE of his generation, he arrived to the music scene with pretty meaningless and highly sexist rap songs back in 2015. It took him 3 years to transform from a gucci gang boi to one who’s not scared to tell “the truth” out loud. It’s honestly pretty weird how FACE is still able to perform in Russia (even though the promo for his European tour says otherwise”, why why why : ) ) since he’s extremely critical, and too real. Recently he even made it to the main TV channel, what an achievement!

Shortparis
Shortparis is certainly much more than just political talks. It is a huge art project, and therefore to understand rhetoric of the band we need to see the whole context of their works. Their music and visuals are full of symbolism, including political. All those symbols could be interpreted in different ways separately, but together they create a unified picture. Shortparis brings a completely new way of protesting: it’s unabashed but also smart. They make it all neat and tidy.

Pussy Riot
As it turned out not so many people know that Pussy Riot is not only a protest art group but also a “punk rock” collective performing all over the world on massive music festivals, headed by my personal ultimate girl-crush Nadya Tolokonnikova. I mean, I wouldn’t call their music somehow innovative, but the texts are rough and “sad but true”, and their videos are just fun.

IC3PEAK
Ok, now that’s a real deal. Finally, I’m talking about someone who was followed by the police, yay. If you’re out of focus: in one of the music videos IC3PEAK brutality referred to current political and other problems of Russia. As a result, the band had their shows canceled all over the country, one by one. “Oficial reasons” of that are obviously non-political. The IC3PEAK story is sad and scary. Needless to say, the band was highly supported by other musicians with the same political opinion and by their fans. Moreover, IC3PEAK is still planning shows in Russia.

 

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So that’s it, just a really short list of nonconformists you probably wanna know. One can say criticizing Russian politics is a way to make a quick start on the West. It’s a fair thing to say, in particular given the fact that Russia’s policies have damaged its relations with, well, lots of countries where those musicians are invited to perform, as a sort of fuck you to the country. Nevertheless, this fact doesn’t make their words less powerful or less valuable in the context of the current political situation – while performing all around the world, they never really left Russian cultural stage. So far it seems like this whole “new wave” of protest music is just getting started.

 

Text: Polina Korneeva
Artworks: Sonya the Moon

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