Russian musicians live with one eye over their shoulder. Music has provided one of the few remaining outlets for anti-government dissidence, but protest is a dangerous career, as three members of Pussy Riot found out in January. However, while many dissident bands prefer to keep a low profile, or remain entirely anonymous, the same cannot be said of Ic3peak.
Ic3peak are an experimental electronica duo consisting of Anastasia Kreslina and Nikolay Kostylev. They did not ostensibly begin with the intention of involving themselves in Russian politics. Until 2017, they sang entirely in English and toured Europe and Latin America, keeping a fairly low profile in their homeland. Their early music reflects the overall gothic and depressive state of Russian popular music and youth culture, an aesthetic sense Kreslina ascribes to economic decay, an unresponsive government and little hope for change. This attitude should be well known to anyone familiar with the myriad Russian Doomer post-punk playlists that overtook YouTube a few years back, but the rest of Ic3peak’s image might be a little more surprising.
Unlike their post-punk contemporaries, Ic3peak’s sound is brash and aggressive, formed on industrial hip-hop beats adapted from Witch House. This association with Russian hip-hop is, according to the speculation of NPR, likely what first landed them in trouble with the government, as hip-hop is seen as especially subversive and degenerate in the eyes of the President. However, it would not be Ic3peak’s music that would catapult them to fame, but their response to government pressure, particularly in the form of their absolutely insane music videos.
Music videos are a little bit of a lost art form, but Ic3peak wields them more effectively than perhaps any other indie band working today. The muted but cohesive color palates, violently macabre imagery and darkly comic political satire combine into videos that feel deeply pointed despite never making a precise political stand. Their visual art complements the dark, yet not explicitly abrasive music, using images that are too over the top and ironic to be scary, while retaining a sense of grounded seriousness.
This is the kind of video that can get you killed, but Ic3peak’s overwhelming popularity has likely helped insulate them. As Kreslina said in the video for “Death No More,” “I fill my eyes with kerosene, let it burn, the whole of Russia is watching me, let it burn” [translation from their closed captioning]. As their profile and music video budget rises, the whole of the world has started to watch as well.
The authorities have been unable to definitively silence Ic3peak, but that hasn’t stopped them from making their lives as difficult as possible. They have been caught in a wave of cancellations by local security forces, with live shows either outright banned or prevented by temporary detention. Government backlash has grown to such an extent that from the talk page of their Wikipedia article, the government appears to be paying third parties to edit in more flattering appraisals of the government reaction. This, in addition to being extremely petty, shows just how serious the threat this duo of 20-somethings poses is.