Russian rappers defy authorities to challenge societyComments
"I fill my eyes with kerosene, let it all burn, let it all burn", sings Nastya Kreslina dousing herself with liquid outside the Russian White House, which houses the country's government, as band musician Nikolay Kostylev drops a lit match.
In October the duo, known as IC3PEAK, published their first political music video. In 'Death No More' their characters tackle youth protests and Kremlin’s crackdown on the opposition.
Two months later, Kostylev was detained at the train station in Novosibirsk. The video of a police officer dragging the handcuffed performer to the police station went viral. 'Death No More' racked up over nine million views and the band's album moved to the top of Russia's iTunes music chart.
After the release of their video, IC3PEAK found themselves in the sights of the country’s security forces. Venues cancelled on them one after another. Their manager had to reorganise the gigs in secret and the group managed to fill 12 of the 15 scheduled concerts.
“Our manager send the details by hand to every person who had registered on our VK [Russian social network website] page one hour before the concert so that the police couldn’t get there on time,” Kostylev told Euronews.
The band feels they must continue to fight for their music. "We wanted to hold these concerts because if we had stopped or given up, censorship would have won”.
Crackdown on Russia’s youth music scene
IC3PEAK are among a dozen performers who have attracted police attention over the past two months in what activists describe as a crackdown on Russia’s youth culture. Many venues across the county were subjected to inspections and often self-censored, shutting down or refusing to work with artists in order to avoid sanctions.
In October the Prosecutor’s Office in the cosmopolitan city of Nizhny Novgorod fined several concert organisers for showing adult content to younger audiences.
"Checks revealed that the songs performed at these events might encourage alcohol consumption, use of prohibited substances or actions that might harm individuals or those around them," a statement published on the prosecutor's website declared.
The authorities claim these measures are necessary. "There is no censorship and there is no crackdown," insisted Russian MP Mikhail Dyagteryov. "If the police receive complaints, they are obliged to investigate them. There is nothing to criticise the police for."
For music critic Alexander Gorbachev the alleged crackdown is the accidental result of a new conservative policy carried out by the state.
"I have a feeling that this is some kind of a bizarre coincidence caused by the general mindset (of the authorities),” he said. “It’s some sort of a new puritanism which the state, the church and some conservative state-funded organisations have been actively promoting in recent years".
“I will sing my music, hey! The most honest music, hey!”, chanted rapper Dmitry Kuznetsov, known as Khaski to his fans as he was detained by the police in Krasnodar. Charged with hooliganism he was sentenced to 12 days of administrative arrest but was released on December 4 following a public outcry.
Later that week State Duma’s [lower chamber of parliament] youth committee invited several rappers to a roundtable discussion but no compromise was found.
However, Gorbachev thinks that the authorities don’t want to risk inflaming the situation further.
"If you escalate it, you’ll get a huge solidarity protest which can make a loud noise,” said Gorbachev. “The situation might turn black and white where innocent musicians clash with wicked law enforcement officers".
“Every rapper must sing about social issues ”
Ivan Dremin, 21, a.k.a. Face, gained his popularity singing about sex and youth, laughing at conservative values.
This year he published his first political album, calling Russia a prison and slamming its poverty that pushed young people into criminal deeds.
“Every rapper must make an album about social issues," Dremin told Euronews. "Especially if he lives in Russia”.
Over the past years, Russia has seen the surge of youth protests with teenagers participating in anti-government demonstrations.
However, a couple of notorious cases of violence perpetrated by teenagers have caused concern at the impact of youth culture.
On October 17 Vladislav Roslyakov killed 19 people and wounded more than fifty at his college in Kerch. Later that month a 17-year-old man blew himself up at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.
Dremin thinks the backlash is a sign of weakness: "They don't like youth movements because they fear everything they don't understand. They have no idea what to do with us."
“Make Russia a first-rate country and there will be no more songs like this, he said. You can ban my songs. You can do whatever you want with me. But it won’t change anything. People will still shoot people. And others will sing about it”.