Six hours before they are due to play an underground concert at a secret location, Anastasia Kreslina and Nikolay Kostylev are stashed in an Airbnb in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
There’s good cause for the secrecy: as soon as the name of the venue is made public, there is a fair chance that police or local thugs could storm the club mid-set. This way, at least they will get to play a few songs before the event is shut down.
“It’s almost like during the Soviet Union, when bands used to have their gigs in secret,” says Kreslina, dressed in a black sweater and a cream-coloured scarf bearing the skull and crossbones.
She is one half of Ic3peak (pronounced “icepick”), an experimental electronic duo who call their music “audiovisual terror”.
“They’ve tried to cancel our gigs in almost every city,” adds Kostylev, wearing a black hoodie. Now even a half-finished show “is like a victory for us”.
The band have been caught up in a crackdown on popular music acts across provincial Russia, where shows have been cancelled in a flurry of local pressure that is said to have provoked an intervention by the Kremlin.
The most prominent victim was Husky, the stage name for Dmitry Kuznetsov, from Ulan Ude, a rapper whose dark and dexterous lyrics skewer life in Russia outside of Moscow’s Garden Ring.
He was arrested in Krasnodar last month for mounting a car to perform for fans after his show was unexpectedly cancelled under government pressure.
The crackdown has targeted other rap acts too, including Gone.Fludd and Allj, provoking a backlash from young Russians and signs of official contrition. Sergei Kirienko, often called the “curator” of Russian domestic politics, recently said blocking the shows was “stupidity”.
But no act has been so hounded or censored as Ic3peak, who have been chased by hostile local officials from town to town.
Over the past month, police have shut down six of their shows and venue managers have cancelled several more. Undercover police cars have tailed them through cities. Anti-extremism police have questioned them in two cities, and narcotics officers approached them in another. They began travelling with a lawyer to handle legal challenges on site. “You could write a book about this tour,” said one journalist following the band.
The musicians believe the reason for the scrutiny is a music video they released recently for Death No More, a “political satire” showing Kreslina and Kostylev straddling Russian riot police officers in front of the former KGB headquarters and eating raw meat in front of Lenin’s tomb.
“I pour kerosine in my eyes, let it all burn,” Kreslina sings in a whisper that rises to a whine, over Kostylev’s insistent baseline. “All of Russia is looking at me. Let it all burn.”
“We think this is because of our last video, because it has a political message,” says Kreslina. “Someone didn’t like it. And they started a campaign of ideological chasing of our music, of censorship.”
Kreslina used to sing in English, and the band have gathered a small but devoted following overseas. After touring abroad, she says, they returned last year and felt a sense of estrangement to their own country.
“When we arrived back we just thought that we need to have some dialogue with our own generation,” she says. “When you come back to Russia and you start to have conversations with Russians, you feel the sadness and anger and disappointment people have here and you just can’t avoid it or pretend that you don’t see it.”
Their focus on young Russians may have spooked local officials as much as the provocative imagery in their videos.
As the doors open at Su-27, a hole-in-the-wall music club in Krasnodar serving $1 shots of vodka, hundreds of teenagers from Krasnodar and nearby cities stream through the doors.
The majority are young women. Some take up spots by the stage and begin braiding each other’s hair to resemble Kreslina’s trademark plait, which sits high on her head and occasionally tumbles over her face as she performs.
“We’re not scared about the police – everyone here knows they could shut down [the venue] – but we want to support Nastya [Kreslina],” says Darya, 18, a business management student. She sports a braid and heavy mascara, and she and her friends sing lines from another hit, Grustnaya Suka, or Sad Bitch. The show starts more than an hour late.
“We have seen a lot of super-talented, energetic, crazy, amazing, beautiful young people and there is a dissonance when you see the place they live in and their inner worlds,” says Kostylev. “It’s just a bit depressing sometimes.”
The Kremlin knows it has a youth problem and has focused on damage control.
On Wednesday, Russia’s Commissioner for Human RIghts said that Vladimir Putin had asked her to investigate why popular concerts were being shut down.
In an unusual move, the head of the state-funded RT has suggested that the presidential administration intervened in Husky’s case, in contravention of supposed judicial independence.
And Dmitry Kiselyov, a conservative television commentator, told viewers in a remarkable bit of cultural appropriation that rap was actually a Russian art form.
“It’s thought that rap as a culture came from black America,” Kiselyov told viewers. “That’s not entirely true, however. The precursor of the Russian rap poetic tradition was Vladimir Mayakovsky, of course,” he said, referring to the Russian playwright, actor and artist who died in 1930. Then he rapped Mayakovsky’s poem Khorosho about the 1917 revolution.
By the time Ic3peak get on stage in Krasnodar, local officials seem to have got the message. The hour-long show goes off without incident. Kreslina tells the crowd: “This is dedicated to our friends who haven’t joined us tonight.”
“It was strange,” said Kostylev in the dressing room afterwards. “For once on this tour, I felt like we were able to concentrate on the music.”
Source : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/12/were-not-scared-bands-defy-russian-crackdown-on-political-music