In Russia over the last few months, concerts by politically suspect rock and rap bands have time and again been disrupted – for various reasons, most of them ‘technical:’ a sudden power cut, smoke filling the auditorium, pepper spray released by hooligans or simply a fall off in ticket sales (people who had been loyal fans of the featured artists would suddenly go off them). Or perhaps a club where a ‘dodgy’ band is playing is suspected of selling drugs, and invaded by masked men who turn off the equipment, search everyone in the building and leave without finding anything.
It’s quite clear why 15-city tours by such stars as Andrei Makarevich and Diana Arbenina are getting cancelled at short notice; and rapper Ivan Alekseyev (stage name Noize MC) nearly lost his gigs as well; he did manage to perform in Samara in a smaller venue, and for free in Omsk, but not in Kursk or Ukhta. The reason? All three stars had performed in Ukraine after the start of the war in the Southeast, and expressed their friendly feelings towards the locals: Makarevich sang under a Ukrainian flag; Noize MC tied one around his waist; and Arbenina told the audience to ‘be strong.’
In Khabarovsk, Blagoveshchensk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk the promoters themselves (on whose orders, we can guess) cancelled a show by Ukrainian singer Ani Lorak, who told the local press, ‘I have nothing to do with politics – I’m for peace!’ The officials presumably found this statement ‘anti-Russian.’
Some musicians have found themselves on the ‘blacklist,’ that have never had anything to do with Ukraine or commented on events there. There seems to be no reason for them to be blacklisted, but their gigs are being disrupted by so-called ‘Orthodox activists,’ even sometimes against the wishes of local political leaders. In Novosibirsk, for example, the ‘Coordinating Council for the Protection of Morality and Family Values’ recently won another victory over the ‘unbelievers’ by having a concert by the British rock group Cradle of Filth banned, despite its having the support of the Mayor’s office.
Some musicians on the ‘blacklist’ have never had anything to do with Ukraine or commented on events there.
The concert’s promoters found out about the ban three days before the gig was due to take place, when police officers suddenly turned up at the venue, the Rock City club, to conduct a search of the premises. And these were no ordinary cops, but riot police in masks, and narcotics officers, which Viktor Zakharenko, head of ‘Siberian Gigs,’ recognised as a warning signal. The promoter spent the rest of the day in the local office of Centre ‘E,’ the body charged with combating ‘extremism;’ and the club’s manager Maksim Korotkikh was called in for questioning by the Public Prosecutor’s office.
The search had been preceded by a request to the city council from ‘the Orthodox community’ to ban Cradle of Filth’s show on the grounds that their song lyrics, if translated from English, were ‘satanic’ and ‘promoted suicide, violence and sexual perversion.’
Cradle of Filth’s lyrics were ‘satanic’ and ‘promoted suicide, violence and sexual perversion.’
Both the council and the acting regional governor Vladimir Gorodetsky had received an identical request from the ‘Coordinating Council’ back in June, asking for a ban on a planned concert by the American singer and songwriter Marilyn Manson. Gorodetsky had expressed bewilderment at a press conference at the time: ‘Our Orthodox friends would like us to consult them on every local event. What’s that about?’ The question remained unanswered, but someone obviously advised the city authorities not to give the go ahead to the concert on the planned date – 29 June, Novosibirsk Day, and to reschedule it instead for another date, which at that stage was unthinkable, for both technical and organisational reasons.
And in May, a group of 50 or so ‘Orthodox activists,’ in the presence of the police, blocked the entrance to the Rock City club before a gig by Polish heavy metal group Behemoth, and beat up several people, including the doormen. No action was taken against the ‘Crusaders,’ which is probably no surprise; local commentators believe that the ‘Coordinating Council,’ which is made up of local members of the ‘Russian Shield’ martial arts movement and the nationalist and Orthodox ‘People’s Assembly,’ has top level protection. Independent Russian media outlets have often reported on the fact that organisations of this type are overseen by the Security Services.
‘For technical reasons’
Recalling this incident on the eve of the British band’s concert, Novosibirsk’s mayor Anatoly Lokot promised that there would be no repeat of this disruption: ‘We will act strictly according to the law, and won’t allow anyone to break it.’
Novosibirsk’s ‘Orthodox,’ however, have a different view of the law. After the Mayor’s announcement, their well-known activist Aleksei Lobov popped up on the Rock City site and asked the rockers, ‘Shall we drop some coke?’ He got the answer, ‘Try – risk it.’ Viktor Zakharenko meanwhile went on the social networks to ask journalists to ‘be at the club for the start of the concert, ready to report on whatever happens.’
Novosibirsk’s ‘Orthodox’ have a different view of the law.
Fortunately, nothing happened, except that the concert was cancelled at the last minute after all – ‘because of technical problems,’ as the promoters explained to the fans. The Orthodox activists who were standing around were more upfront about the reason: ‘The police banned it.’
The gig, however, still went ahead, although in a much truncated form. The disappointed fans, most of whom knew nothing about the background to the decision, were told to go, ‘calmly and quietly,’ i.e. pretty much in secret, to another address. This was not somewhere where music could be played, but they at least got to chat and have an autograph session with the British musicians.
A few days earlier, the planned Cradle of Filth concert in Nizhny Novgorod had been cancelled for the same ‘technical reasons,’ and five days before that the Russian Drugs Control Service had broken up a gig by another band, Cannibal Corpse, in the same city after only five numbers were performed.
Rockers against Orthodoxy
It looks as though the Orthodox activists have more clout than anyone else in Novosibirsk – a situation, which our official leaders cannot of course accept. Our governor and mayor have both made unambiguous, although extremely circumspect statements to that effect. Governor Gorodetsky told journalists that ‘there has been a bias towards cancelling concerts’ that didn’t sit well with the region’s image. And Mayor Lokot called the situation ‘unhealthy,’ and assured the people of Novosibirsk that he ‘did not intend to ban anything in the future.’ Both instructed their minions to ‘find a way out of the situation.’
The Orthodox activists, however, do not intend to rest on their laurels. Ten days before the arrival in Novosibirsk of the German band SODOM (who were booked to play at Rock City on 4 November), the ‘champions of morality’ posted threatening statements on social networks, saying that they would not tolerate this ‘black Sabbath.’ This was effectively a direct challenge to the city and regional authorities.
The local rockers set about supporting the officials, announcing the mobilisation of ‘the enemies of obscurantism’ on VKontakte and Facebook. On 26 October they organised a series of single-person pickets [the only kind allowed in Russia] around the city, each in turn holding a placard reading: ‘A request to the FSB [Security Services]. Stop the spread of Orthodox extremism.’ They received lots of supportive feedback on local forums from people who said they didn’t like heavy metal but ‘didn’t want somebody else deciding what music they should listen to.’ And judging from their remarks, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Novosibirsk residents ready to protest on the streets.
As for SODOM’s actual fans, they were ready to see off the ‘Orthodox Brotherhood,’ but the management at Rock City, unwilling to rely on the police to keep the peace (or perhaps listening to their advice) cancelled the concert at the last moment: it took place at the obscure R Club on the edge of town, ‘to avoid conflict.’ This allowed the promoters, Siberian Gigs, to save face: people who had bought tickets were given refunds, and the hardcore fans got their concert for next to nothing, paying a token 200 roubles (less than £3) for a ticket.
‘Western rock songs ‘undermine the foundations of the state’.
But although clashes were avoided, this outcome can still be considered another victory for the ‘Orthodox activists.’ Their spokesman Aleksei Lobov explained in an interview on Novosibirsk TV why he and his colleagues hate Western rock bands so much. It was not, he said, just a question of their songs, which he believes contribute to the ‘moral degeneration’ of young people. They also ‘undermine the foundations of the state,’ and create an atmosphere in which ‘the Euromaidan is possible and even inevitable.’ In other words, this music arouses in the defenders of traditional values a revulsion, which is not only aesthetic but also, primarily, political – which no doubt explains their aggressive protest against it.