Nadya Samodurova expresses that they were able to freely express their thoughts and feelings only after relocating to another country. She and Anna Moskvitina, members of the highly praised Russian psych-rock band Lucidvox, are currently speaking to me via video call from a humble room in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. They have chosen to move to Belgrade due to the conflict with Ukraine, as Samodurova states that it is a hazardous situation to speak out in their home country of Russia.
“I had the urge to relocate,” Moskvitina explains, “because I don’t want to feign being someone else.”
Their fellow musicians, Alina Evseeva and Galla Gintovt, have departed as well and are currently residing in Israel and Germany. Similar to numerous others in their field, the ongoing strife has forced them into exile.
It is a dangerous time to be an outspoken Russian artist. In November, a court sentenced Aleksandra “Sasha” Skochilenko, a musician, artist and activist from St Petersburg, to seven years in prison for “knowingly spreading false information about the Russian army” in March 2022. Skochilenko had replaced five price tags in a local supermarket with pieces of paper urging shoppers to stop the war and resist propaganda on television.
Since the start of the war in February 2022, the alternative music scene in Russia has experienced a significant loss of its top performers. This includes not only Lucidvox, who received widespread acclaim for their second album “That’s What Remained”, but also Gnoomes and Kate NV, who have all relocated outside of the country and have no plans to return. According to Moskvitina, it is not feasible in the near future and it is best to avoid thinking about it for the sake of mental stability.
Evgeny Gorbunov is a musician, media artist, indie label owner and guitarist in the band Glintshake. His solo project Inturist blends avant-rock, psychedelia, kosmiche and off-kilter electronica. New album, Off-Season, is his sixth. “It’s ironic stuff about a long term vacation,” he says. “That feeling where you are a bit lost in a new place and don’t know what will happen next.”
Gorbunov has relocated to Berlin, marking his third move since the start of the war. He previously resided in Slovenia and Tel Aviv. He explains, “The primary motivation for my moves has been the ongoing war. I do not endorse the current government and it is possible to face lengthy imprisonment for simply sharing any criticism of the president.”
Samodurova, who works in the music industry, had both practical and ideological reasons for leaving Russia. “I am involved with several showcase festivals in Moscow that feature artists from around the globe, and we came to the realization that we can no longer bring international artists to Moscow. Additionally, I did not want to perform on stage with artists who support the war.”
According to Moskvitina, there are musicians who have stayed in Russia and are critical of both the war and Putin. One example is the band Shortparis, who have made the decision to remain in St Petersburg. Moskvitina explains that they are against the war but want to stay and use their platform to express their opinions and support their friends. This has forced underground music to become even more underground. These individuals are incredibly courageous, as it is a risky choice to make.
This statement is not an exaggeration. According to Samodurova, saying something negative on Instagram can result in a five-year prison sentence. Many individuals, including activists, experience this on a daily basis. As a result, people are hesitant to express themselves on social media out of fear of imprisonment. The recent protest that I attended after the start of the war was particularly intense and aggressive for those involved.
There is an additional danger to consider. According to Gorbunov, the possibility of being enlisted into the military is a legitimate concern, but you still have the option to make a decision. “My peers would rather serve time in prison than go to battle.”
I am currently speaking to Gnoomes, now a duo composed of Sasha Piankov and his spouse Masha. They are in their hometown of Perm, located 1,200 km east of Moscow, finalizing paperwork to permanently relocate to Slovenia where Masha’s parents reside. This is a tense time for them. According to Sasha, “My parents recently received a letter inviting me to the military office. Although it’s not an official summons yet, it’s still worrisome. If I do receive an official notice from the army, I am unsure of what will happen. We do not feel secure here. It’s even difficult to discuss this within our own families.”
In a similar manner, despite being in exile, Samodurova still experiences some anxiety as she is participating in a festival that promotes peace and creates positive attention, and also because her band is involved. She hopes to eventually return home to visit her family, and although she may feel anxious, she refuses to remain silent.
Gnoomes are eager to depart permanently. Masha expresses, “We have been wanting to do this for a while.” The war was a wake-up call for us. Living in a bubble, the pandemic only exacerbated the situation. Remaining here would hinder our musical career.” During their time in Perm, they find solace in what Sasha refers to as “inner emigration.” In their minds, they have already departed.
The situation of Gnoomes highlights a separation. According to Moskvitina, in Moscow, “among our circle, which consists of artistic and imaginative individuals, I cannot find a single person from our generation who backs Putin and the conflict. However, Moscow does not represent all of Russia. It is a highly European city with a large population of creative individuals. In other regions, there may be different perspectives due to varying lifestyles.”
Masha confirms that Perm is different from Moscow. She says that you cannot find a bottle of Coca-Cola here. The artists all agree that older generations are less likely to question the news and pro-Putin propaganda from official sources.
While art has the power to transcend boundaries, Russian artists have faced backlash from the global music community despite speaking out against war. In October, British duo Giant Swan and Swiss-born Aïsha Devi withdrew from performing at the Serbian music festival Changeover because Russians were involved in organizing the event, including Samodurova. According to Samodurova, some artists cancelled due to aggression from Ukrainian individuals, but it should be noted that the festival also has Ukrainian staff and one of Samodurova’s colleagues is considered a threat in Russia. The festival posted explanations of their views and Samodurova emphasizes their goal to support artists and foster a space for music and emotional expression without responding with aggression.
She is concerned about the potential impact on the reception of Lucidvox. She noticed some negative remarks on Facebook after the single was released. She worries that some individuals may not even listen to the album and instead just leave comments like “Russians, fuck you!” It is disheartening. Many are unaware of the current situation in Russia and how the government poses a threat to its citizens. On top of that, it has been a challenge for us to adjust to a new way of life. We have had difficult conversations with our relatives. My father even said hurtful words like “You’re not my daughter anymore.”
Gorbunov recalls the initial panic surrounding the war and the fear that Russian culture would be suppressed. He felt conflicted because he wanted to be a part of society, but also recognized that this was unjust. In Russia, the counterculture typically opposes the repressive government, which has long withheld funding for modern art and culture due to its non-traditional nature. Gorbunov believes that trying to eliminate Russian culture is not a wise choice, as art serves as a tool for protest. Fortunately, he has not encountered anyone who has judged him for his views.
The majority of Lucidvox’s album was recorded in Moscow during 2020. The effects of the war have greatly complicated their creative process. According to Samodurova, they used to have frequent rehearsals and meetings, but now it is much more difficult.
“I haven’t seen Moskvitina in a year,” states Moskvitina. “We reunited in Moscow one year ago and only had one day to rehearse! Fortunately, now that Nadya and I live in the same city, creating music together should be simpler.”
There has been both disruption and opportunity in recent times. Emerging creative communities are coming together, and there is a feeling of enthusiasm and revitalization. Belgrade has become a central location for Russian artists who have immigrated; this is one of the factors that led Gnoomes to choose Slovenia as their new home, as it is only a five-hour drive from the Serbian capital. Initially, they considered relocating to the UK with a global talent visa, but the financial implications of Brexit made it unfeasible to tour mainland Europe from Britain. “We have always felt secure in Europe,” says Masha.
Gorbunov has faced challenges while managing his band, Glintshake. One of our band members, who plays the bass, has familial responsibilities and cannot leave Russia. The rest of our members are spread out across different countries, making it difficult to schedule rehearsals. As a result, we have not had a rehearsal in over a year.
Through Inturist, he has formed strong connections and collaborations, particularly with a creative community in Brescia, Italy. He reflects on his decision to leave Russia and realizes that he may be away for an extended period of time. He likens his experience to a toxic relationship where he normalized behaviors that may seem outrageous to outsiders. Now, he has no desire to return and instead hopes to integrate into different societies. He finds comfort in the fact that there are many like-minded individuals scattered across the globe who share his passion and understanding. He finally feels like he belongs and is filled with excitement for what the future holds.