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Siberia's hip hop concerts are in jeopardy, as parent groups discover the genre's fascination with sex and drugs

Meduza

Local authorities have canceled concerts by the group “Friendzone” in two Siberian cities

Known for its sharp-witted dance hip hop, the St. Petersburg group “Friendzone” performs music about teenage life and (more often than not) the sexual frustration that colors much of adolescence. One of the group’s founders is believed to be rapper Vladimir Galat — a regular competitor on the YouTube channel VersusBattleRu. At the time of this writing, Friendzone currently has more than 300,000 subscribers on Vkontakte. On November 1, the group embarked on a 28-city tour.

On November 12, Friendzone was supposed to perform a show in Krasnoyarsk, but the authorities showed up an hour before soundcheck and escorted tour manager Anastasia Zaitseva to the district attorney’s office. Zaitseva told Meduza that City Hall officials demanded the cancellation of the concert, “without presenting any related documents or court orders,” and accused organizers of labeling the event with the wrong parental advisory (the concert was listed as appropriate for individuals age 12 and older, instead of adults only). On Vkontakte, the group said it tried to raise the age advisory or find another venue, but it came up with nothing. “At the last minute, we found a venue at ‘Dozhd Studio,’ but the prosecutors popped up again and took our tour manager and the club’s art director down to the station,” Friendzone said in its statement.

The next day, on November 13, Friendzone lost another concert, this time in Kemerovo. According to Zaitseva, the local authorities again took issue with the age advisory, and they also accused the concert’s organizers of failing to pay the venue rental costs. “We tried to find a compromise: we suggested that kids under 18 would be allowed with their parents, and we wouldn’t charge their parents, but City Hall refused,” Zaitseva says. “Get this: the district attorney in Kemerovo today can’t even handle the word ‘vpiska’ [rager], which we used in our concert ads. They told us that the word is forbidden.” In its statement on Vkontakte, Friendzone also mentioned that officials objected to lyrics in the song “Butylochka” (Little Bottle), which they claimed “incites same-sex relations.”

The music video for “Boichik” (Little Boy), Friendzone’s biggest hit
FRIENDZONE

Zaitseva says this is the first time the group has had to cancel concerts, but it has encountered hostility from local officials elsewhere. For example, police came to Friendzone’s concert in Omsk on November 10, “staying for the whole show, recording everything on video, and then said they hadn’t witnessed any illegal activity.” Zaitseva says she has no idea why the group is suddenly having problems on its tour. City officials in Kemerovo and Krasnoyarsk have not commented officially on the cancellation of the group’s concerts.

The “Anti-Dealer” movement has taken credit for the cancellation of Friendzone’s concert in Krasnoyarsk

On November 13, the Krasnoyarsk social movement “Anti-Dealer” announced on Vkontakte that it had managed to “block” Friendzone from performing locally, thanks to “coordinated action with the police, the district attorney’s office, and the Culture Ministry.” The online community said “singing to children about drugs, same-sex love, and depravity is a crime against the nation,” calling Krasnoyarsk “a city with strong moral standards that was the first to fight against the propagation of unhealthy lifestyles and false values.” The Vkontakte post also cites a few examples of allegedly objectionable Friendzone lyrics, including “Crocodile Boy sells heroin to the kids,” “I’ll teach your little sister to smoke,” and “Kids are cutting themselves to my rhymes.”

The “Anti-Dealer” movement, which launched in the mid-2010s under the leadership of State Duma deputy and former Olympic athlete Dmitry Nossov, has a history of locking horns with musicians. The group’s activists were present in 2014 and 2015, when police arrested the rappers “Guf” and “SLiM” in Krasnoyarsk. “Ptaha,” one of their collaborators, later savaged the Anti-Dealer movement during a concert, and police later slapped him with felony charges for inciting hatred against the movement’s members. In 2015, Anti-Dealer activists tried to disrupt the “Media Strike” festival in Moscow. On its website, the movement says it helped block more than 1,500 pages on Vkontakte before the start of the year, “inspected” more than 1,000 pharmacies, and repeatedly accompanied police officers on raids. The movement takes special credit for Guf’s arrest, but until now it hasn’t claimed responsibility for canceling music concerts.

Daniil Podbornykh, who manages Anti-Dealer’s regional branch in Krasnoyarsk, told Meduza that his group learned about Friendzone only a week ago. After listening to some of their music, the activists asked a faculty member at Siberian State University to analyze the lyrics. Podbornykh says a psychology professor concluded that the music is inappropriate for teenagers, and so Anti-Dealer appealed to the Culture Ministry and local police to stop the group’s concert. “We used to fight only with rappers who openly promoted drugs. We never even suspected that this is already being promoted among children,” Podbornykh says. “[In Friendzone’s songs,] they sing about kids who are made of pills. Kids in school will hear this and think: ‘Well, why not?’ I’ve got a son in grade school right now, and I wouldn’t want him hearing this stuff. In the Russian Orthodox Church, they were pretty shocked by such music.”

Musicians performing songs with supposedly immoral lyrics have faced increasing pressure in Russia to cancel their concerts

In late September 2018, a 19-page petition appeared online, signed by the “Nizhny Novgorod Parental Community,” listing a whole slew of musicians (mostly rappers) who were scheduled to perform in Nizhny Novgorod, despite being dangerous to the youth and their “physical, mental, spiritual, and moral development.” The text named many prominent entertainers, including “Allj,” “Matrang,” “Monetochka,” “Gone.Fludd,” “Khleb,” and “Poshlaya Molly,” as well as the Dutch symphonic metal band “Within Temptation.”

A month later, the Nizhny Novgorod district attorney’s office announced the cancellation of five concerts at Club Milo (which the parent group singled out) due to the music’s foul language and lyrics with information “capable of tempting individuals into consuming alcohol and illegal substances.” Officials also faulted organizers for failing to restrict attendance to adults. Club Milo then notified ticket holders that concerts for “Jah Khalib,” “GUNWEST,” Monetochka, Matran, and Allj had been postponed for different reasons.

In late October, a group calling itself the “Tyumen Parental Community” launched a similar initiative, targeting concerts by several musicians scheduled to perform at Club Baikanur (including “Pornofilmy,” “Face,” “Khaski,” “Pionerlager Pylnaya Raduga,” “LSP,” and others). The parent group complains that these concerts would “feature profanity, incite antisocial behavior, and exploit interest in sex,” making the performances inappropriate for minors. The activists are trying to prevent these shows and stop children from attending future concerts by such musicians. So far, however, these performances are still on the calendar.

Story by Irina Kravtsova and Alexander Gorbachev, translation by Kevin Rothrock