Moscow Tried to Blunt Street Protests With Free Music, But Artists & Attendance Figures Didn't Add Up

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
Police officers detain a protestor during an unsanctioned rally in the center of Moscow, Russia in Aug. 3, 2019. 

MOSCOW — The Moscow government's attempt to use live music to distract from recent street protests has led to fresh controversy.

Last weekend, city authorities organized a last-minute rock festival called Shashlik Live in Gorky Park to coincide with an unauthorized political rally in support of independent candidates barred from running for the city's legislature.

However, the rock bands Bravo and Tequilajazzz were surprised to see themselves on the lineup and stressed they had no plans of performing at the festival, which wa free to the public.

Similarly, Alexey Kortnev, the frontman of the band Neschastny Sluchai, who was tapped to be the festival's host, declined and expressed support for the barred candidates.

"I believe [the situation around the election] is a total disgrace," he was quoted as saying by the online news magazine Meduza. "What they've done with the independent candidates is utterly outrageous."

On Aug. 3, over 1,000 protesters were detained by police in central Moscow, while the festival in Gorky Park still carried on, featuring such rock acts as Chaif, Splean, 7B and Uma2rman.

However, a new controversy erupted when city authorities reported that 305,000 people turned up for the fest, a figure many believed was greatly exaggerated. To prove the high attendance, the Moscow government released a helicopter video, but a Twitter user calculated the approximate number of people in it and said it was around 1,500.

Other observers put the attendance figure at 10,000.

Russian social media users reacted to the exaggeration by publishing sarcastic comments about how the hastily organized festival was able to outdo major global outdoor music events, such as Glastonbury and Coachella.

The Moscow city government declined to reply to Billboard's request to comment on the attendance numbers.

Meanwhile, another free, open air event in Gorky Park, Meat&Beat food and music festival, has been scheduled for Aug. 10 to coincide with another -- this time authorized -- protest rally. And, again, as soon as the lineup was announced, artists began to pull out.

The band Kurara said it won't play at the event out of solidarity with the protesters. "It's better to beg than feed guys with batons by playing dubious fests," frontman Oleg Yagodin wrote in the band's page on the Russian social network VKontakte, referring to riot police who brutally beat up participants of recent street protests in Moscow.

At the same time, the Moscow government banned the scheduled performance of rap acts Face, Krovostok and Ic3Peak at the Aug. 10 street protest, threatening to withdraw the permission for the rally.

All of these acts are known for their outspokenness. Several of Ic3Peak shows were canceled last year by local authorities in Russia's regions.

Street protests began in Moscow two weeks ago when the city's election committee barred several dozen independent candidates from running in the city parliament election, scheduled for next month, over what many saw as false pretexts.


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