Russian Artists Putin Won't Dance To
From edgy and brusque rappers to pop idols of the new generation
Music in Russia is becoming one of the most influential platforms for saying “no, we don’t like that” as other forms of spreading dissent are either controlled by the government or don’t present a substantial threat to the common ideology.
Artists featured in this article are all fighting for the freedom to critique policymakers without any artificial constraints. They might not be playing jazz — a genre very much adored by Putin — but they exhibit an irresistible thirst for liberty: something that they share with many jazz musicians out there.
IC3PEAK is perhaps the most controversial act on the Russian stage at the moment. Their grotesque visual aesthetics, ear-piercing vocals and daring lyrical content form an effective medium for unclothing both political and social problems of modern Russia.
The message here is always simple and straightforward — leaving no room for interpretation and doubt. And this simplicity is what allows the group to create an impact that is both powerful and persistent.
“Смерти Больше Нет/No More Death” is literally the most shrill and frankest cry IC3PEAK dropped up to date. As the lead singer explained in one of her interviews, “Смерти Больше Нет” is about the state of complete apathy — when you feel that life around is so bad that death doesn’t seem so dreadful after all. And indeed, the video clip channels this despair very well.
Lyrics, in turn, present a consistent and methodological summary of all unfortunate things happening in Russia: from police’s routine mayhem and brutality on rallies to imprisonment for social media posts. No wonder IC3PEAK got into much trouble out of this message. The police cancelled their concerts in several Russian towns and even arrested the group in Novosibirsk on suspicion of committing a crime.
A complete opposite of IC3PEAK, Monetochka is a master blaster of irony and double entendre. She neatly wraps meaning and substance into non-trivial and novel expressions. Her lyrics stand out for the great level of depth and cheeky storytelling.
Monetochka doesn’t sing exclusively about Russia — her message is universal and applicable to all of us. One of her songs “Не хочу ничего знать” is an anxious meditation on all the conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific statements you could think of — from how toothpaste is bad for your teeth and how girls ruin hip-hop music to how ultrasound can damage your organs, and other nonsense.
“Русский ковчег” deserves special attention as being one of the most brilliant songs about Russia to be ever written. The brilliance of it lies in one’s perception. Upon hearing it for the first time, you might see the song as a genuine panegyric to a nation that rises from ashes and overcomes the evil tempter luring it into sin. But anyone who is familiar with Monetochka’s music well enough knows that “Русский ковчег” is an ingenious satire that makes fun of artificially-constructed pseudo-values and everyday mysticism. Sadly, this false bottom is not something that the majority would want to see or acknowledge.
The lead singer of Shortparis once mentioned that he feels the urge to convert the reality he sees into music and sound. This is why their melodies might remind you of the weather, architecture and mood in St. Petersburg (the band’s hometown) — rather cold, gloomy and detached narration which is simultaneously bourgeois and pompous, mirroring those grand palaces and fanciful churches so commonly seen in the city.
Shortparis are not necessarily the most politically-outspoken band out there, but their song and associated video clip “Страшно” are nothing less than a subtle but effective modern political manifest. The video touches on so many provocative topics which are still sensitive for many people in Russia. You’ll see the references to the problems of terrorism and neonacism. The song also alludes to the increasingly prominent protesting mood amongst the younger population of Russia.
But “Страшно” is not only about Russia. Disturbing things are happening all over the place — in Europe, USA, Africa, everywhere — and it was never so clearly seen and experienced as now with the unchecked power of the digital webs.
“Scary” is indeed the word that is now pronounced the most frequently in every country or culture. And we all fear that something unfortunate and irreversible might result from the inability of our nations to find common ground and establish an adequate dialogue with each other.
Husky is the best you can have when it comes to Russian street rap. His style is unusual, with captivating pronunciation and mellow delivery, making him stand out amongst generally aggressive peers.
The rapper suffered significantly from the undue attention of law enforcement agencies. Last November, the police cancelled his concert in Krasnodar and arrested him for “hooliganism”. The event caused a lot of discontent within the community of rappers and the general population. The former even organised the concert in support of the imprisoned artist.
There are many reasons why Husky might have fallen into disfavour of the state’s officials. His lyrics are brave and unapologetic. One of his songs, “Поэма о Родине”, is the love story where the rapper uncovers both flaws and virtues of his homeland. Husky rhymes about people being sent to wars and locked in prisons. He also acknowledges the prevalence of bribes and the use of drugs and alcohol. Political opposition is prominent in many other songs of this artist and his dissenting voice on many issues is clear and univocal.
Former expert in burgers and sex, and now the conscience of the nation, FACE released his latest album in a painfully-single-eyed and youthly-romantic attempt to uncover all the injustice he sees in front of him.
In “Пути неисповедим” the rapper rhymes about very much everything: the brutality in prisons, police illegitimate behaviour, the hypocrisy of religious teachings and many many other things.
It’s kind of nice to see how a young person acts as a vessel for conveying the anger that overflows the progressive part of society. But at times it feels like FACE is just trying to please liberal-minded intelligentsia instead of telling us something that he actually felt or experienced on his own.
Eventually, the manifesto feels derivative and immature. But if you’re looking for a good tutorial to guide you through the reality of life in Russia — this album might be a place to start.
This is all I have for today. Enjoy and share. Lots of love.