This queer per­for­mance band from Rus­sia talk about the cen­sor­ship they’ve faced in their home coun­try, and how we can all help tackle LGBTQ dis­crim­i­na­tion across the globe.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS: - Pho­tog­ra­phy Jor­dan Eis­b­jerg Words Lewis Cor­ner

This self-de­scribed queer per­for­mance band from Rus­sia talk about the cen­sor­ship they’ve faced in their home coun­try, and how we can all help tackle LGBTQ dis­crim­i­na­tion across the globe.

“Cer­tainly many Rus­sian artists are gay, but the ma­jor­ity pre­fer not to men­tion it pub­licly to avoid trou­ble,” says SADO OPERA’s Katya when we ask her if there is even such thing as a queer mu­sic scene in Rus­sia.

The self-de­scribed queer per­for­mance band first came to­gether in St. Peters­burg, gain­ing at­ten­tion for their V For Vendetta-style painted faces, and their eclec­tic stage shows. But be­ing out­spo­ken against the coun­try’s preva­lent ho­mo­pho­bia and misog­yny meant they found them­selves be­ing cen­sored by club pro­mot­ers.

It wasn’t long un­til Katya and her band­mate known as Colonel re­lo­cated to Ber­lin, where they con­tinue to play their wild head­line shows and raise aware­ness of the is­sues that still af­fect Rus­sian LGBTQ peo­ple. Dur­ing their trip to the UK this sum­mer to take part in Ex­pres­sion Un­cen­sored, a panel event hosted by Sonos, In­dex on Cen­sor­ship and Gay Times, we caught up with the band to talk about the chal­lenges they still face, and how we can all help Rus­sian LGBTQ peo­ple who still face per­se­cu­tion in their home coun­try.

What are the bi est chal­lenges for a queer mu­sic act in Rus­sia?

Be­ing queer is quite a chal­lenge any­ways, not only for mu­sic acts. You might have heard of the Rus­sian fed­eral law for the Pur­pose of Pro­tect­ing Chil­dren from In­for­ma­tion Ad­vo­cat­ing for a De­nial of Tra­di­tional Fam­ily Val­ues. In­tro­duced in 2013, this fed­eral “gay pro­pa­ganda” law ef­fec­tively pro­hibits any pos­i­tive in­for­ma­tion about “non­tra­di­tional sex­ual re­la­tions” from pub­lic dis­cus­sion and ba­si­cally pro­hibits any pub­lic demon­stra­tion of LGBTQ in a pos­i­tive con­text. It means that queer artists are sim­ply not al­lowed to an­nounce on the ra­dio, TV or even on the street that they are queer and that it’s nor­mal to be queer. To make it shorter: if you raise a pride flag out­side in Rus­sia, you may get in trou­ble with the po­lice.

What was the re­ac­tion like to your mu­sic when you first started per­form­ing?

Be­cause of our mu­sic we’ve found a lot of like­minded peo­ple and our SADO fam­ily was in­stantly be­com­ing biˆer, wel­com­ing new fans and friends. Our songs though seemed un­com­fort­able to some and thus it re­vealed an­other big prob­lem of the Rus­sian so­ci­ety: the self-cen­sor­ship. We some­times also had some is­sues with aˆressive in­di­vid­u­als who wanted and tried to fight with us dur­ing or after our shows.

What is the queer mu­sic scene like in Rus­sia?

You might imag­ine that there are no gay clubs in Rus­sia at all, but that’s not true. Of course there are some, es­pe­cially in the big cities like St.Peters­burg and Moscow. There are some queer mu­si­cians but there is no real queer mu­sic scene in Rus­sia. It’s our dream and plan to help those tal­ented queer artists who hap­pened to be born as Rus­sian cit­i­zens to build one. Cer­tainly many Rus­sian artists are gay, but the ma­jor­ity pre­fer not to men­tion it pub­licly to avoid trou­ble.

How do you man­age to pro­mote your mu­sic in Rus­sia to fans there?

We keep in touch with our Rus­sian fans on so­cial me­dia quite a lot. And we come to play some­times as well. Not too of­ten, maybe once or twice a year. It’s way more of­ten that our Rus­sian friends and fans come to Ber­lin or other cities where we would be tour­ing. We also be­lieve that it’s an im­por­tant mis­sion to build bridges be­tween our Rus­sian com­mu­nity and our in­ter­na­tional Ber­lin com­mu­nity, and so we are also host­ing events and are invit­ing queer Rus­sian acts to play at our Ber­lin par­ties.

At what lengths do the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties go to cen­sor your art be­cause of its queer con­tent?

The Rus­sian sys­tem is very dif­fer­ent to the Euro­pean one. There are a lot of un­of­fi­cial sources in­volved and it’s a scary game. The dan­ger for the open minded Rus­sian peo­ple can come not only from the au­thor­i­ties them­selves, but also from so called “re­li­gious”, “pa­tri­otic” or other kinds of gangs who are col­lab­o­rat­ing or just sup­port­ing the trends in­tro­duced by the govern­ment. This toxic and stress­ful en­vi­ron­ment un­der­stand­ably leads to self-cen­sor­ship: peo­ple are afraid both of the po­lice and of those “fight­ing-for-morals” hooli­gans at the same time. Shar­ing our per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence we can say that our posters were some­times cen­sored by pretty open-minded pro­mot­ers. Our in­ter­views were cen­sored by pretty lib­eral me­dia, but the most un­pleas­ant thing was when po­lice at­tacked us on the street just be­cause of our makeup.

What’s the bi est mis­con­cep­tion when it comes to Rus­sia and ho­mo­pho­bia?

The dom­i­nat­ing ‘prison cul­ture’ in Rus­sia makes peo­ple per­ceive ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a bot­tom of the hi­er­ar­chy. For in­stance, many men would be afraid to shake a gay per­son’s hand be­cause they will “lose their sta­tus” in their fairy­tale-hi­er­ar­chic world. This per­verted sys­tem is fully sup­ported by the govern­ment. The biˆest mis­con­cep­tion is that the ‘gay pro­pa­ganda law’ is the only trou­ble. Misog­yny is also a very big prob­lem in Rus­sian so­ci­ety, as well as the vi­o­lence against women and girls. There’s even a law that re­cently de­crim­i­nal­ized do­mes­tic vi­o­lence... so there is a lot to talk about and a lot to fight for.

Why do you think mu­sic is such a pow­er­ful tool to use as a form of ac­tivism?

In the Soviet times, dur­ing the “Iron Cur­tain” era, for ex­am­ple, Soviet peo­ple could se­cretly lis­ten to many for­bid­den West­ern bands. And de­spite the gen­eral iso­la­tion, this of­ten was the only con­nec­tion with the rest of the world for them. We doubt that only this tool led to the fall of USSR, but def­i­nitely the more tools, the bet­ter. Mu­sic (and art in gen­eral) seems like a uni­ver­sal way of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and that is a su­per­power.

How do you help LGBTQ cit­i­zens in Rus­sia now that you are based in Ber­lin?

We sup­port queer artists from Rus­sia by help­ing them to get gigs in Ber­lin clubs and fes­ti­vals. Our res­i­den­tial club Wilde Renate helps us a lot in this di­rec­tion and we deeply ap­pre­ci­ate all their help and sup­port on that. We also some­times do char­ity events with the help of Wilde Renate and our other Ber­lin col­leagues to raise money for the Rus­sian LGBT Net­work – an in­ter­re­gional, non-gov­ern­men­tal hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes equal rights and re­spect for hu­man dig­nity, re­gard­less of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity. They started work­ing in 2006 and de­velop re­gional ini­tia­tives, ad­vo­cacy groups (at both na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els), and pro­vide so­cial and le­gal ser­vices. Need­less to say, this is a very im­por­tant and brave or­ga­ni­za­tion. If peo­ple are won­der­ing how they can pos­si­bly help, the Rus­sian LGBT Net­work al­lows peo­ple to make a do­na­tion on­line.

Do you think the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should be do­ing more to help pro­tect LGBTQ cit­i­zens in coun­tries where be­ing LGBTQ is tough, or in some cases, il­le­gal?

The only thing we can do in these cir­cum­stances is to create our own lit­tle world us­ing so­cial net­works and gen­eral net­work­ing in­volv­ing peo­ple from all around the world to make sure that more like­minded peo­ple are in touch with each other. We be­lieve that it is ex­tremely im­por­tant to let queer peo­ple in Rus­sia or sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal regime coun­tries know that they are not just part of some iso­lated coun­try, but they are mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional queer fam­ily.

What would you say to peo­ple in the UK who feel like they can’t help change LGBTQ per­se­cu­tion in for­eign coun­tries? In what way could they join the global fight for equal­ity?

There were many mo­ments in hu­man his­tory when peo­ple couldn’t help change some un­fair laws, but they could – and did – help those who were per­se­cuted. In the case of Rus­sia, UK peo­ple can help at least by sup­port­ing the Rus­sian LGBT Net­work or­gan­i­sa­tion and make it pos­si­ble for more Rus­sian queer peo­ple to have ac­cess to le­gal sup­port and pro­tec­tion.

What’s next for SADO OPERA?

This au­tumn we are re­leas­ing a track called In The Dark which is an erotic odyssey con­ceived as a trib­ute to one of our fa­vorite hang­outs in our home base of Ber­lin, Ficken3000, which cel­e­brated turn­ing 20 this year. Other fans of the in­fa­mous sex club in­clude voyeuris­tic Hol­ly­wood celebs and Parisian de­sign col­lec­tive Vete­ments, who re­cently ran a line of t-shirts stamped with the club’s logo and motto, Share the Blame. And blame for In the Dark can be shared with Damien Van­desande of dOP (Cir­cus Com­pany) and Les Fils du Cal­vaire (Be­cause Mu­sic). We wrote and pro­duced the track to­gether us­ing five dif­fer­ent ana­log syn­the­siz­ers. Strut­ting the line be­tween hi-NRG and acid house, the song is based on a true story that hap­pened in the base­ment dark­room of Ficken3000 with an anony­mous man who had a rough beard, strong hips and a wife who is ei­ther very open-minded or to­tally obliv­i­ous.

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