When you think Russian rap, what do you think? 'Tri Poloski' by Davay or perhaps, 'Kalinka Remix' by Bass Boosted or perhaps the more mainstream Russian artist Timati who, in 2009, released 'Groove On' with Snoop Dog? Regardless of what you know before this article, I hope you leave with a better understanding of what rappers have to face in Russia and what actions are being taken by the Russian government to actively discourage these artists from creating and counteracting the intensity of their 'Soviet light' propagandist actions. According to The Human Rights Watch, 36 concerts were canceled from October to December of 2018, and the excuse given was diverse in topics...
(get ready, some of them are absurd)
1. Gay propaganda violations
2. Child protection claims
This correlates to the first point, but it more falls in line with the bill's aim at sheltering children from horrific, dangerous, or overtly graphic content of all kinds in efforts to allow them to grasp these forms of expression 'naturally' and with grace. (Keep in mind, they consider 16-18 year old's children on caliber with eight-year-old children)
3. Bomb threats
4. Explicit pressure from officials
The article points out a plethora of moments where officials an hour before, days before, months before, in the moment, suddenly concluded that the concerts are no longer acceptable. In one instance, the musician's lives could have been lost due to non-formal officers being told to take IC3SPEAK, who were moved to a fenced-off enclosure behind the club, "outside the city limits," due to 'safety concerns.'
5. Age Restrictions
The article outlines specific cases of age restriction being the predominant issue. For example, the article mentions two groups, specifically, IC3PEAK and Husky, both affected by erroneously inconclusive rules on what is and is not appropriate. From first being 12+, then having it moved to 16+ (the age of consent in Russia), to having it being bumped up to 18+, nothing seemed to satisfy the regulatory hand of the Russian officers.
6. Public Petitioning
Human Rights Watch notates two groups, and one's local children's ombudsperson' who raised 'awareness' at the inappropriate nature of the content of songs and the low (12+) age demographic of the audience. The group, 'Anti-Dealer,' founded by Dmitry Nosov was the main perpetrator of this act of lawful censorship.
Who is that?
He is a former LDPR MP (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), but not just former. He was ejected from the group in 2016 due to his 'losing touch with the party,' and he is now using the Anti-Drug Movement as a 'private guard.' We can assume his feelings are hurt for being kicked out of the LDPR, and now the only way to remain in possession of a full ego is to have a private militia. Oh right, he is also a former Professional judoka, the same sport Putin plays to stay 'fit.'
7. Public gathering and disturbance violations
The claim that Husky or any other group for that matter were violating public gathering regulations are wrong, and if not wrong, absolutely unwarranted. In the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (1996), Article 149, 'Obstruction of the Holding of a Meeting, Assembly, Demonstration, Procession, or Picketing, or of Participation in the Aforesaid,' it clearly delineates that officials in power cannot purposefully inhibit any of the following gatherings from occurring, 'through his official position, or through the use of violence, or through the threat of its use.' It is relatively unequivocal, and thus, by the sheer act of sending 'warnings' and officials to break up crowds and bar entry to fans, this Article is being broken*! This is not the only violation on their part either, Article 207, 'Knowingly Making a False Communication About an Act of Terrorism,' relates to the 'supposed' bomb threat made by police at IC3PEAK's November 23rd concert.
Russia has a history with Article 213, 'Hooliganism,' this crime being put onto Pussy Riot back in 2012, and thus one could argue that some actions taken by members of the audience at high-energy concerts could be considered hooliganism, but to be frank, those are outliers to the greater whole and to characterize the entire crowd as hooligans is disingenuous and slander. That brings me to Article 129, the illegality of 'Slander,' which is described as, 'the spreading of deliberately falsified information that denigrates the honor and dignity of another person or undermines his reputation.'
This is precisely what Nosov's fake Movement has been doing, and precisely what Putin is doing with his treatment and views of Rap music They are not only dangerous and harmful, but they are widely incorrect and come from a place of total ignorance and disregard for what rap in Russia is addressing, both politically and socially. Just quickly, tacking onto the four already listed Articles are the two Articles from The European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10, and 11, which explicitly state a person's 'Freedom of Assembly and Association' and their 'Freedom of Expression.' Russia, 22 years ago, enacted these Articles onto the Russian lands, yet the freedoms that they are supposed to give each citizen are not being enforced, strange indeed.
8. Food and Kitchen Inspections
9. Fire Safety Inspections
10. Terrorism Safety Check
On November 30th, IC3PEAK was due to perform, but on the whim of those in power, the prosecutor's office issued a warning, and among the points was the lack of a 'terrorism safety check' for the venue due to the massive amounts of people gathering. They also compounded onto that the need for a security certificate for 'mass events,' this concert deemed a mass event. What is strange about their 'need' for a terrorism safety check is the lack of probable cause they were working with. Yes, Russia has seen terrorist attacks by group ISIS and other hate groups of various origins. However, the key to point out is the lack of evidence pointing to a concert being the venue of choice. In fact, from the years 2011-2017, there were no cases of terrorist activity being taken in venues even remotely close to a concert.........
2010: Metro Station
2013: Mass Transit/Bus
2014: Town Hall/Press building
2017: Metro/Security Office/ Supermarket
With this information being displayed, one can understand how unnecessary and at best pernicious 'fake terrorist' threats are. Not only because terrorism poses a genuine threat in Russia and around the world, but because it tarnishes the reputation of officials who accurately respond to 'actually' problematic situations, not just artists and creators who are deemed unacceptable.
11. 'Anonymous Drug Alerts'
The article mentions that no group or organizations who were linked to the 'supposed tip' that would have given the officers probable cause. The police dog 'sniffed' some substance, which granted the officials to search the bags of IC3PEAK's luggage. Like aforementioned, Anti-Dealer, the organization run by deflated ego Dmitry Nosov, is notorious for incriminating music groups deemed 'dangerous' to the well-being of the state and children and jadajadajada...In 2018, they shut down a FriendZone concert because, "it was (is) a crime against the nation to sing about drugs, same-sex love, and perversion," and similarly shut down one of their tours because they were promoting, 'unhealthy lifestyles and false values.'
What Russia is suffering from right now is a re-immersion of Soviet censorship, now through the gaze of religious fervor, I believe aptly dubbed, 'Soviet light.' Russia's government has always been part and parcel with their religious Institutions, and because of that, the powers that religious institutions have in the forming of what traits are good/bad in the eyes of society become stronger. For example, The Kremlin has created the concept that being fervently religious is the 'most desired trait' to acquire, thus giving groups like Anti-Dealer and other smaller offshoots the okay to actively break European codes of self-expression, which are seemingly not being enforced. How strange.
12. Wiring problems
Right. Wiring problems. The article uses the word 'allegedly,' but I have no reason to think that the technicians would be lying. Of course, one must hypothesize if they were paid to say certain things or if the damaged cables were caused by a 'mistake,' but that is all conjecture.
In the Russian Federation's Constitution of 1993 (amendments added through 2014), within the 44-page document, 7 Articles correlate to actions that the Russian government has taken that violated their laws and Articles at one time or another. From censoring Concerts to dismissing crowds to conflating religious values with musical ones, the Russian government cannot quite seem to understand what it means to a) live in a secular country, and b) genuinely advocate for the freedom's of all of its citizens, including those citizens who fervently believe points that contradict the 'state narrative.'
Chapter 1, Article 2: Man, his rights and freedoms shall be the supreme value....
Chapter 1, Article 13.2: No ideology shall be proclaimed as State ideology or as
Chapter 2, Article 17.3: The exercise of human and civil rights and freedoms must
not violate the rights and freedoms of other people
Chapter 2, Article 29.1 / 4: Everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of thought and
speech / Everyone shall have the right freely to seek, receive, transmit, produce
and disseminate information by any legal means.
Chapter 2, Article 31: Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to
assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, mass meetings and
demonstrations, marches and pickets.
Chapter 2, Article 44.1 / 2: Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of literary,
artistic, scientific, technical and other types of creative activity and teaching /
Everyone shall have the right to participate in cultural life and use cultural
establishments, and the right of access to cultural valuables
Chapter 2, Article 45.1 /2: State protection of human and civil rights and freedoms
in the Russian Federation shall be guaranteed / Everyone shall have the right to
protect his (her) rights and freedoms by all means not prohibited by law.
Now onto the music part! I have compiled into a list 53 Russian rappers and groups (which will be the next blog post) collected through various sources, i.e., Youtube, Spotify, Instagram, web-searches, and recommendations. Thus I have come to realize that the subject matter of many of these groups is quite similar in that they are pushing the envelope of creativity to the max, both politically and artistically. The 'alternative' artists of modern Russia are no longer concerned with what is acceptable or feasible to create in a climate of control, but rather what is new/innovative/yet to be done by Russian musicians. A wonderful example is Oxxxymiron's 2015 conceptual studio album 'Gorgorod' ( Горгород) which depicts a writer, named Mark, and his journey from ambivalence to the interconnection of life and along the way, we are shown moments in his life that changed his vantage point, i.e., his love of Alice, the Mayor's daughter, his meeting with 'the Guru' who imparts an eye-opening revelation to Mark. The main pivot piece among the 11 tracks is 'Polygon' (Полигон), Mark's manuscript that his publicist, heard in-between the tracks, called him to let him know is due in a month. By this song, it is done and has been published and is described as an 'anti-utopia,' this being seen through textual descriptions of screaming people, smog-filled atmospheres, cement buildings, and those who sow false news, ''Provocateurs, leaders ... Be on the alert!' (Провокаторы, главари... Будь начеку!) The last four songs wrap up the story with Mark being released by the Mayor on the promise that he will never see his daughter again, whom he was in rapturous love with. Mark makes the observation in the second to last song 'Ivory Tower' (Башня из слоновой кости) that the artist's abode is not in a city or a town-hall. It does not exist anywhere tangible, case in point the title. In this vein, he poses the question, "May an artist live in an ivory tower?" (Ты ответь на такой вопрос мне: может ли творец жить в башне слоновой кости?)
Oxxxymiron points to a larger question, should the musician/artist/commentator actively participate in the political landscape that they are commenting on, or should they 'live in an ivory tower' and relegate themselves to the observations of behaviors without actually getting involved? I do not claim to know the answer, but what I can speculate on is the role this question plays in the minds of music creators in Russia. How much does one venture into politics, what is too much, what is too little? IC3PEAK's 2018 album 'Сказка' (Fairytale) deals with themes ranging from utter loss of a lover to negligence in the face of pain and the inevitability of suffering, all the way to the liberation of the mind and body to the total consumption of oneself due to the overpowering hand of grief. Russian rap is steeped in symbolism, poetry, and takes on an aesthetic of a prosodic retelling of reality from a surrealist perspective, although there are plenty of examples that are simple models of the American rap model. This poeticism is something that I believe came about due to the intense pressure on artists to be 'family-friendly' and play by the Russian social rules, which apparently don't exist in writing because the ones that do exist in writing are not being abided by. Whether it is true or not that the transition to social commentary in an esoteric and allegorical way was generated by social pressure, the fact remains that Russian rap is very much (on the whole) unlike its American brethren in that rappers do not 'spit' to hear themselves talk, they do it to answer injustices. Whether you agree with the art, they create or not is certainly not the issue. The issue is whether or not they will be allowed to create in the land some call home.
The answer should be an unequivocal yes, listen up Kremlin. I'm talking to you.
Oxxxymiron (Miron Yanovich Fyodorov)
(*)Take what I say with a grain of salt because, although I have read through the codes and regulatory documents of Russia, I am not or never have claimed to be a lawyer or one who is within complete jurisdiction to passionately argue the legality of the Russian government upon its own citizens (as of right now).