UPDATED: While it’s hardly top of mind given the tragedy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pop act AJR has canceled its upcoming concert date in the country, scheduled for October.
“We are sad to announce that we will be cancelling our upcoming show in Russia,” the band wrote on social media. “Thank you to our Russian fans who oppose their country’s unprovoked and criminal behavior. Our hearts are with the people of Ukraine. At this point, the best thing you can do is share ACCURATE info.”
We are sad to announce that we will be cancelling our upcoming show in Russia. Thank you to our Russian fans who oppose their country’s unprovoked and criminal behavior. Our hearts are with the people of Ukraine. At this point, the best thing you can do is share ACCURATE info.
— AJR (@AJRBrothers) February 25, 2022
Yet they’re hardly the only major Western act with tour dates scheduled in the country. While the status of many tours is unclear given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, dozens of artists are scheduled to perform in Russia in the coming weeks, and especially in the summer.
According to artist websites, Songkick and other sources, in Moscow alone, Saint Jhn, Tricky, Disclosure and Bring Me the Horizon have shows scheduled for March and April, with Khalid, OneRepublic, Yungblud, Girl in Red, Judas Priest, Denzel Curry, OneRepublic and a Green Day concert at Spartak Stadium slated for May (UPDATE: Green Day canceled that concert on Sunday).
But those are just a preamble for what was looking to be a very busy summer concert season, including the alt-rock-leaning Bol festival and two Park Live festivals (the latter featuring the Killers, Gorillaz, My Chemical Romance, Iggy Pop and many others) along with summer dates by Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Imagine Dragons, Bjork, Eric Clapton and others.
Geoff Meall, a London-based agent for Paradigm Agency, tells Variety, “We’ve got [multiple] of acts due to be going there from next month right through the summer — rock acts, alternative acts, a lot of electronic artists as well. As it stands, I can’t see any of those shows being able to happen. Ukraine is an obviously an active war zone so it’s impossible to do a concert there, and with Russia, first, every government is advising its citizens not to go there unless it’s essential business — rock and roll probably wouldn’t be considered that — but more, a lot of artists wouldn’t want to be seen as supporting the actions of that government at the moment.
“This is not normal,” he adds. “It’s a Western-ish, modern country, and I’m getting emails back from people there saying they were woken up at 5 a.m. yesterday by missiles hitting buildings close to them — that’s not a normal conversation we have with our promoters anywhere. I asked how a friend there was doing and he’s bunkered in a metro station, it’s insane. People’s lives changed in 24 hours.”
While very few Western acts performed in what was then the Eastern Bloc until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the territory has become a lucrative one: U.K. rock act Bring Me the Horizon has 10 dates in Russia and even one in Ukraine still on its tour schedule, and Meall says that Canadian act Three Days Grace did a 19-date tour in the country a few years back.
“It’s lucrative for artists,” he says. “Over the last 15 years or so, a huge burgeoning middle class has grown there that wants to spend its money on entertainment, and there’s very, very low taxation rates on artists fees, sometimes none at all, and artists can make money at several very large festivals.”
However, none of that looks likely for many months, if not years.
“Our thoughts are it’s going to be a long time,” he says. “You’ve got a postwar situation to deal with, even if it is over quickly, and the second part is that it would become a moral decision to play in Russia after this.”
Reps for many of the acts contacted by Variety declined or did not respond to requests for comment, with some saying that the status of the dates had not yet been determined.
Reps for Live Nation and AEG said the companies to not produce events in Russia, although the former had a Moscow office for a couple of years in the 2010s, and on Sunday the live-entertainment venue development company Oak View Group, announced that it is indefinitely no longer doing business in Russia. “In light of the tragic conflict rapidly unfolding in Ukraine, Oak View Group has pledged to not do business in or with Russia, nor will we serve Russian brands in any of our venues on a global basis, effective immediately,” the statement reads.. “We stand with the people of Ukraine, we condemn the actions of Russia, and we hope our stance inspires others in our industry to take action where they can.”
While it seems likely that many more artists will cancel their Russian concerts in the coming days, some are already making their intentions clear: On Friday, Oli Sykes, lead singer of Bring Me the Horizon — who have eleven April dates in Russia, Belarus and even Ukraine still listed on their website — posted on Instagram, “My prayers are with Ukraine, it’s a very special country that I’ve visited/worked in many times, made lots of friends & has a special place in my heart. I can’t believe this is happening. Please be safe.”