MOSCOW — Russian rock musicians who have expressed support for imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny say authorities are canceling their shows as retaliation.
Rock singer Ivan Alexeyev, known by his stage name Noize MC, says a major venue, Moscow’s VTB Arena, canceled a headline show scheduled for November. Police in Orenburg, in south-western Russia near the border with Kazakhstan, disrupted another show, on April 30, the singer says.
VTB Arena explained the cancelation by referring to Noize MC’s earlier Instagram posts, in which he criticized Russian authorities following a poisoning attempt against Navalny last August and his support for protesters in neighboring Belarus, Noize MC tells Billboard.
Navalny has become a thorn in the side of Russian President Vladimir Putin for organizing anti-government demonstrations and running for office to press for reforms against corruption in the country.
Police and Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, “are intimidating owners of regional venues that are supposed to host our shows,” Noize MC says. “The situation differs from city to city. Sometimes we still manage to hold the shows or promptly move them to other venues.”
But the police and FSB have also blocked the entrance to venues, the singer says. That was the case on April 30 in Orenburg, where the band booked two shows at two venues on the same day. “I was able to play the first one before the police showed up, but the second one couldn’t go ahead,” Noize MC says.
In Russia, where live shows have historically been musicians’ main source of income — as opposed to CD sales and, more recently, streaming — show cancellations could deal a serious financial blow to artists.
Maxim Pokrovsky, the frontman of rock band Nogu Svelo, says recent show cancellations set his band back roughly $100,000. Noize MC says it’s too early to discuss financial losses as he still hopes to play all scheduled shows at one venue or another.
Venues canceled Nogu Svelo’s eight-date Siberian tour and a May 9 show in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. Initially, local authorities informed the band’s promoters that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to the cancellations. “But it soon became clear that the true reason was our political stand,” Pokrovsky tells Billboard, adding that local authorities had apparently followed orders from the central government.
Specifically, the Ural Cultural Center in Yekaterinburg told him that his participation in the April 21 rally in support of Navalny was the reason for the cancellation, he says. The venue said the city government made the decision. “Then there was information that there was an order from the president’s office,” Pokrovsky says. “We can’t comment on this information or verify it, but we believe it’s true.”
VTB Arena and the Ural Cultural Center did not respond to Billboard’s request for comment.
Navalny returned to Russia in mid-January after treatment in Germany following a poisoning attempt, widely believed to be orchestrated by the FSB. Putin denied government involvement in the poisoning. Authorities immediately imprisoned Navalny for allegedly violating probation in an earlier criminal case.
From March 31 to April 23, Navalny was on hunger strike as his health deteriorated and prison authorities refused to get him examined by civilian doctors. According to recent media reports, he is still facing health problems that cannot be properly treated within prison.