ESince the Russian invasion of Ukraine in April 2014, there has been a culture boycott against Russian artists all over the West. Eurovision has banned Russian artists, while the Cannes Film Festival stated that it will not accept official Russian delegations. While the Metropolitan Opera severed all ties to one of their biggest stars, Anna Netrebko (Russian soprano), the festival announced that it would not accept official Russian delegations. The conductor Valery Gegiev from Russia was removed from numerous performances throughout Europe and America.
These cultural boycotts can be seen as acts of resistance or necessary deployments soft power. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has even called them a valuable tactic. Some people think they are McCarthyist nationalism. Others see them more as performative stunts. Debates rage and orchestra directors, festival managers, and venue booking agents are forced to make hard decisions. These choices serve as cultural proxy wars.
Nina Kraviz is currently the latest star to be in the midst of the commotion. Kraviz is arguably the most famous Russian pop musician on a global scale: over the last decade, she’s built an ardent following with 1.8 million Instagram followers, performed on Coachella’s mainstage, and collaborated with the likes of Grimes and St. Vincent. She sits close to the center of the global electronic music world, and was named Mixmag’s 2017 DJ of the Year.
Over the years she has left behind a trail on social media of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the war began in February, she made one vague post about “peace” before falling silent on social media for months, which prompted the criticism of those who feel that she should use her platform as one of Russia’s foremost cultural exports. In May, the Amsterdam music company Clone Distribution cut ties with Kraviz’s label, Trip Recordings, “due to different views on ethical and moral matters.” And TIME collected responses from several prominent members of the electronic music scenes in Ukraine and Russia—including the Ukrainian DJ Nastia and the Russian DJ Buttechno—who criticized Kraviz’s silence and asked her publicly to clarify her ties to Putin and to refute the war.
Kraviz is booked to perform at many European and North American music festivals this summer and spring. She is defended by her supporters as she does not have anything to do with war. Freedom of speech also includes freedom to express no opinion at all. An official for Kraviz didn’t respond to my request for comment.
Russian Artists and War
Russian journalists asked President Zelensky about his decision to boycott Russian cultural leaders around the globe in March. With regards to athletes in particular, Zelensky advocated for their boycotting, saying: “Unfortunately, they are involved. They might not fully feel it themselves, but they have to understand that they’re an instrument for the country’s international image…Understand when people are dying there [in Ukraine], you should at least be uncomfortable.”
Zelensky, in a May exclusive statement to TIME, praised Russian critics of the war including Maxim Galkin and Liya Akhedzhakova, and asked for Kraviz’s support. “It’s their country, and they can’t keep silent. They say what they think, and I believe that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m not advocating for a split in society. I’m advocating for those people to unite with the normal, civilized people of Europe. These people see the reality. They are open to seeing the truth. These people are open to seeing the truth, to assess and analyze what is happening.”
Continue reading: Inside Zelensky’s World
Members of the Ukrainian electronic music scene, which has grown dramatically in the last few years, shared Zelensky’s sentiment. In March, more than 100 entities from the scene, including labels, festivals, and artists, signed an open letter calling for music organizers to cut ties with Russian artists who did not actively resist Putin’s government. “If you create a space for Russian artists, you support an aggressor country, which is doing so many awful things,” Maya Baklanova, a Ukrainian music journalist who helped co-write the letter, told TIME. “Russian artists have shown their ignorance and their silence. But if you have support from people, then you should be responsible about your messages.”
The Ukrainian DJ Nastia adds that electronic music culture in particular has political roots, and that it stands for values that contradict Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Rave culture was always about freedom, human rights. We can see that from how the Detroit scene was a protest to what was going on in the U.S. to artists at the Berlin Wall,” she tells TIME. “Innocent people are dying. But people don’t want the responsibility, and they want to stay away.”
Numerous Russian musicians have supported the Ukrainian cause. Many Russian artists have taken up the cause of Ukraine, including the DJ Buttechno and Oxxxymiron. They have also used their platforms to raise funds and expose atrocities to Russian audiences, who might not otherwise have the same information. However, speaking out can also come with high risks: Alexandra Skochilenko (a St. Petersburg artist) could face up to 10 year imprisonment for protesting the war.
Artists aren’t the only ones who face threats from Russia. Many fear that antiRussian boycotts will become an even more pervasive form of Russophobia. Los Angeles Record Store Owner DJ Ed Karapetyan, who was being hounded to cease selling Russian music, told LA Times Because of his nationality, his landlord wanted to evict. In February, a Russian restaurant was broken into in Washington, D.C.
Kraviz’s History of Pro-Putin Sentiment
Kraviz however is under fire for both her politics and her nationality. In her time in the spotlight, she has mostly tried to avoid politics: “I think you should only speak out on subjects that you simply cannot remain silent on,” she said in a 2013 interview. “People often ask me to comment on the situation in Russia and the Pussy Riot case—I always decline.” (Members of the band Pussy Riot were jailed in 2012 for staging protests in Russia; one of the band’s members, Maria Alyokhina, escaped from the country last month by disguising herself as a food courier.)
Over the years, Kraviz also showed some support for Putin. In April 2014, a month after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, she posted a photo on Instagram (that has since been deleted) of herself smiling and holding a cardboard cut-out of Putin holding a gun with a flower coming out of the barrel. She also posted a photo on Instagram in 2016 of herself smiling and holding a cardboard cut-out of Putin, with a gun that had sprayed flora out of the barrel. tweeted a meme of Putin at a rave, writing, “Don’t underestimate a Russki.”
In a 2011 documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian businessman and one of Putin’s rivals, she criticized the filmmaker’s sympathies for his subject, calling it a “freak PR action for the guilty person.” Kraviz also once dismissed the allegation that Stalin killed 20 million Soviets as “propagandist wiki info” on Twitter; the figure has been supported by many historians.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Kraviz posted a video of herself writing “peace!” in Russian. However, some people on Instagram criticized Kraviz’s short message. The most notable was Nastia (a Ukrainian DJ), who felt that the message only reinforced her support for Putin.
Electronic Music Community Response
As Kraviz continued her public silence—she is normally a frequent poster—Nastia and others became incensed and began urging electronic music festivals not to book her. Nastia says that Kraviz was once a friend of hers before she and Kraviz broke off for personal reasons a few years back.
“Music always been in politics with sexism, racism, human rights, crises – don’t tell me we have nothing to do with it,” Nastia wrote on Instagram. “I am calling her out because she is a public person and for such a big media person you can’t stay silent for 2 month and doing your business like nothing happened. You are responsible for the power that people gave you.”
Baklanova began sending emails to festival and concert organizers, like the Pollerwiesen Festival (Germany), asking them to swap Russian artists, like Kraviz who have been silent about the conflict, for artists from wartorn areas like Syria, Palestine and Ukraine. “Music and clubs is a place of unity… But also it’s a place of radical ideas and protest,” she wrote. “That’s why cutting down Russian artists is one of the smallest ways of making Russia and its citizens face its crime and be accountable.”
In early May, the Amsterdam music company Clone Distribution announced it would end its agreement with Kraviz’s record label Trip Recordings. In an email to TIME, Clone founder Serge Verschuur explained his decision, writing: “The murdering, looting, raping and destruction in the name of Russia continues while Nina is trying to continue her life as if nothing happened and while not showing any remorse for her Pro-Putin stand and her CCCP/USSR flattery…the disinterest and the toxic positivity in the techno scene is not what we, Clone Records, represent. Techno and house stood for minorities for those less fortunate or oppressed. It is built by minorities and oppressed people.”
The Russian-born DJ Pavel Milyakov, who is better known by his stage name Buttecnho and who released music on Kraviz’s label Trip in 2019, criticized Kraviz’s silence in an email to TIME. “Russian artists (especially the ones with a big audience) should accept their collective responsibility and also admit the imperialistic & colonizing approach of Russian culture and politics throughout Russian history,” he wrote. “Being silent or making neutral posts with just ‘PEACE’ word—is the same support of Russian regime and hence support Russian invasion, support killings… of Ukrainian people.” He says he and his wife, who is Ukrainian, left their home in Russia at the start of the war.
On Instagram, Dave Clarke from England also voiced his disapproval of Kraviz. In an email to TIME, he stressed that there’s a difference between an outright boycott and holding someone accountable for their past views. “To ban sports people who have not expressed any political stance sets a dangerous precedent,” he wrote. “But any person that supports such a war needs to be held accountable for such beliefs. Any person that was looking to take advantage of the ‘annexation’ of Crimea also should come under that umbrella.”
Kraviz: Backlash against Criticisms
Kraviz has not yet responded to critics. On the current tour, she has festival dates in Europe and the U.S. Nastia’s comments, meanwhile, sparked their own backlash, with some on social media defending Kraviz. “I really think this is super unfair for you to single Nina out,” wrote DJ Rebekah. “Freedom of speech is also a freedom to not use it if you don’t feel comfortable.”
Another DJ, Danny Tenaglia, alluded to the risks of Kraviz speaking out: “I also can’t imagine how hard this is for a high profile figure like Nina to come out against Putin because she will definitely become a target and God only knows what might happen to her and her innocent relatives,” he wrote.
Nastia believes Kraviz is being protected by the electronic music industry for financial reasons. “Everyone wants to stay comfortable in their zone, keep the business running,” she says. She also says that due to the youth of much of the electronic audience compared to other genres, it’s been tough to get people to care. “Classical is more for adults and more mature people, who have their position and opinion about things. Electronic dance music is about having fun. They don’t want to think about anything: they want to stay away from these kinds of topics,” she says.
Nastia Kraviz and Kraviz have been booked to perform at the Movement Music Festival, Detroit. Nastia says that initially, she told the festival’s organizer that she wanted to withdraw from the show as well as other festivals that featured “Russian artists who haven’t made their statement about war in Ukraine.” But ultimately she decided to play the festival in order to represent her country. “I am the only one to represent my country at this festival. More important to show up and raise the Ukrainian flag in the DJ booth,” she wrote in a message.
An official from the Movement Festival didn’t respond to our request for comment.
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