This is a long way down the list of important impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, clearly, but the events of the past week are beginning to spur action within the music and tech industries both within the two countries, and elsewhere.
Over the weekend, Russia was banned from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest; Green Day cancelled their planned stadium concert in Moscow on 29 May; and AJR cancelled their own upcoming show in Russia.
The Australian Road Crew Association is pulling its music catalogue from streaming services in Russia too. But it is not just international artists and organisations protesting.
Oxxxymiron is a popular rapper in Russia, but he has also called off concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, issuing a surprisingly blunt statementexplaining why. “I cannot entertain you when Russian missiles are falling on Ukraine — when residents of Kyiv are forced to hide in basements and in the metro, while people are dying.”
Pitchfork noted that other Russian artists who have spoken out about the invasion include Kasta, Shym, Vladi, Khamil, Zmey, and Noize MC. This is meaningful, because Russian rappers have real cultural clout there, as outlined in September 2021 by Warner Music Russia’s Alexander Blinov and ADA Russia’s Alexander Kasparov in a guest column for Music Ally.
“The dominant genre at the moment is local hip-hop, and pop music that uses hip-hop beats,” they wrote. “It’s not simply an echo of the US hip-hop sound, but also draws its roots from a folk tradition called Chastushka, which saw two artists perform poems – with a strong satirical element – over upbeat music.”
In our recent country profile of Russia, Blinov told us that around 70% of music streamed in Russia is by local artists. If those stars speak out against the invasion of Ukraine, could that influence the opinions of their fanbases? Or, to flip that thought around: does the fact that artists are protesting reflect likely anti-war sentiment that exists already among those younger people?
This month’s events are already having an impact on western tech companies and digital services. YouTube is ‘pausing’ monetisation for a number of Russian channels, including state-owned broadcaster RT; Facebook is blocking Russian state-media outlets from advertising on the social network (while the Russian government is partially restricting Facebook access in its country in return); Ukraine’s vice prime minister has asked Apple to stop selling its products and block its App Store in Russia; and TikTok is being watched closely to understand any attempts to use it for misinformation about the war.
This is a fast-moving situation, and western tech companies will continue to come under pressure to explain what they’re doing about and in Russia: in terms of moderation on their international services and their plans for their staff and platforms in Russia and Ukraine alike.
That’s complicated by the fact that recently-introduced rules required foreign tech companies with more than 500,000 daily users in Russia to open ‘representative offices’ there. Spotify has already complied with these new rules, while TikTok, Twitter, Google, Apple and Meta were among the other companies asked to do so.