The enduring popularity of Boney M in Russia’s regions

While the country is crying out for more good-quality contemporary music, the smaller cities still seem to have a craving for yesteryear’s great artists like Iron Maiden and the Scorpions.

The Russian music market differs from the European model in several ways. As the country was entirely shut to popular world culture prior to 1991, the few artists who were allowed to sell their records in the USSR continue to enjoy tremendous popularity in the former Soviet Union.

Boney M was one of those rare bands that were officially allowed in the USSR. Their songs were played in discos and Soviet citizens eagerly devoured anything associated with freedom and the West. This became the band’s passport to lifelong success. Boney M no longer exists, but this hasn’t turned out to be such a bad thing. Since Bobby Farrell’s death in 2010, the three remaining members of the band have been travelling across Russia performing Boney M hits. They have performed across the country, giving countless concerts in the regions. But they can more frequently be seen on stage at closed parties of well-off manufacturers and at corporate events.

Source: Boney M's 'Rasputin' / IndiaRussiaTV - YouTube

They don’t perform in Moscow or St Petersburg very often, except at 1980s Disco shows, which are attended mostly by people over the age of 40. As a rule, these concerts are held in large arenas and include such old time stars as C. C. Catch, Pupo, Zodiac, Bad Boys Blue, Soviet sex symbol Sabrina and Dschinghis Khan, who routinely perform their one and only hit “Moskau.”

A number of old rock bands have also made Russia their second home, playing to sold-out arenas of devoted fans. American Brazzaville and Bloodhound Gang hardly ever perform anywhere else. Old monsters of rock, like the Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Uriah Heep and German Udo are also frequent visitors to Russia, performing not only in the two capitals, but also touring the regions.

There is an anecdote in Russia that Paul McCartney was once denied entry into the USSR because Leonid Brezhnev reportedly said: “We don’t need half a McCartney (“Paul” sounds like “half” in Russian), give us the whole one.” Elton John, not yet a Sir at that time, was luckier. In 1979, it took superhuman efforts to bring him to the Soviet Union, where he gave several concerts in Moscow and Leningrad. They say a high-ranking official at Goskontsert agency went to England to make sure that Elton posed no ideological threat to the builders of communism.

The Iron Curtain fell long ago, but Russia remains a blank space on top stars’ touring maps. Fans have been waiting an age for Radiohead, and U2 have only come to Russia once. That was in 2010, as part of their 360 Degree Tour.

Music enthusiasts used to joke that world stars only come to Russia when their careers are drawing to a close, and there popularity in the West has waned. But there is a grain of truth in every joke. Metallica first performed in the USSR in 1991 and only came back 16 years later, in 2007, when all hopes of seeing them here had been lost. Many thought the band was not what it used to be, but Metallica sang to a full house at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Their success was largely due to the fact that their fans thought they might not live to see the band come back to Russia again. System of a Down came to Russia for a reunion tour only when fans had already stopped waiting for them. The same holds for The Cranberries.

“This isn’t true,” says Michael Shurygin, president of NCA Group, one of the largest booking agencies in Russia. “Many contemporary artists come to Russia – they make new albums and then go on tour, making stops in Russia. Some of the most recent examples are Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, 30 Secоnds to Mars, Linkin Park – our company booked all of them.”

Before bringing serious bands to Russia, booking agencies monitor the market to find out which artists Russian fans want to see. “In order to see who is popular, we make use of the NCA Friends Club, which has more than 40,000 members. It provides live feedback from the real audience. We also monitor social networks and keep an eye on fan communities of certain artists to see how much the Russian public is interested in them,” Shurygin says.

While Moscow and St Petersburg are spoilt by world-famous musicians, concerts in Russian regions are not that frequent. The regions are either too far from tour routes or fail to meet the rider requirements. Furthermore, the cultural scene in the regions is much smaller, discouraging local promoters to organise these kinds of concerts in regional centres. The remoteness from the capital really matters, which is why domestic performers are more popular in the regions. But it’s not as bad as it sounds, and carriers of global culture also visit Russian cities other than Moscow and St Petersburg. While Madonna and Red Hot Chilli Peppers perform exclusively in the two capitals, Sting, Guano Apes and Korn went as far as Kazan, Krasnodar and even Yekaterinburg. People in the Urals and Siberia are also eager to see their favourite artists in concert, but bringing them there without compromising on quality is often too hard a task.

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