Former Staind frontman and now solo country artist (and possible Qanon nutbag) Aaron Lewis disgustingly asked his audience to “listen to what Putin has to say” at a concert down south back in March.

What does this have to do with Dima, the lead singer of Tarakany!  Well, first, let me give you a brief history.

2010 – I MEET TARAKANY! IN MOSCOW 

Some of you may know the Russian band Tarakany! (Cockroach), I signed them to Punk Outlaw Records back in 2012, after a Punk Outlaw film trip to Moscow & St. Petersburg in 2010.

I interviewed lead singer Dima and the band at early morning rehearsals. It was my very first interview of that epic Russian trip.

I recall being extremely jet-lagged, groggy, and disbelieving that any punk band would rehearse so early in the morning. Welcome to Russia, where many of the best and brightest work with the precision of Germans but under an incompetent, disorganized, brutal, corrupt state structure run by kleptocratic, greedy buffoons. More on that later. 

In preparing for the trip, I researched Tarakany! very little and did not realize the history of the body of work they had already amassed by 2010.

As I returned to the USA, I left Moscow with a stack of CDs thinking, “how does a Russian punk band afford to put out this much music”? I did not realize then the depth and breadth of material from this band.

The following month, I was to move from NYC to California via a stopover in Latin America for a year.

So when I returned to NYC from Russia, I was busy preparing for the move of my life and my first real experience of living abroad.

Thus I put the CDs in a storage facility with my other belongings and flew down to my new home base of Medellin, Colombia.

From there, I traveled and hopped around South America for the better part of a year.

In late 2011, I finally resurfaced in Los Angeles, where my stuff (sans a couch that had somehow gotten “misplaced” by Schleppers Moving) met me, including my unopened Tarakany! CDs.

It was in LA that I would finally be able to give Tarakany’s music a serious listen.

Once I hit play on the first CD, I was hooked and astounded that I missed spotting such talent. I blamed the jet lag. I mean I was essentially witnessing Tarakany’s rehearsal at 3AM NYC time.

I’d come to find out that Tarakany! had put out so much music because they had been playing punk music for twenty years by the time I’d first met them in 2010.

After finally making my way through all their CDs and listening to their music, it was clear this band possessed first-rate musicianship.

Tarakany @ Rehearsal in Punk Outlaw Gear

Most of the tunes were original and had a surprising range of styles and influences. But they also had a unique, catchy, melodic character, thanks to Dima’s sometimes gravelly but not unpleasant vocals and the young, classically-trained musicians backing him.

Tarkany! had opened for The Offspring and played with Anti-flag, Frank Turner, and others. They routinely sold out large venues and played massive festivals all over Europe. I knew nothing of this when I interviewed the band, and it slowly dawned on me that these guys were actually quite big… in Russia.

After initially working with two bands from Latin America, I decided to get more serious about Punk Outlaw Records and expand our roster from other parts of the world and Tarakany! seemed a natural fit.

Dima in 2010

And then, coincidentally or through fate, two young punk rock transplant students from Moscow, also new to Los Angeles, answered my Craigslist ad for an internship.

When interns and future LA “Taco-Tuesday” pals, Tim and Snick, drove up to my apartment in Santa Monica from Orange County in a beat-up gas guzzler from the 1980s, I liked them immediately.

They were fans of Punk music and knew of Tarakany! well. They filled me in on the band’s history and what it was like to grow up in a place like Russia. Their stories of Russia fascinated me even more and I marveled at Tarakany’s success under such conditions. 

I wanted to work with Tarakany! to see if we could get them a broader audience by exposing them in the US if they’d agree to work with an unknown like me.

To my surprise and delight, Tarakany! agreed.

Despite the band’s European success, Dima, who had never seen the band get much US exposure over the years, was eager, and I could tell he had high hopes.

We collaborated on which songs to use from their existing catalog, and Dima went to work like a possessed man on a mission to record new versions of the songs.

He rounded up friends from the bands – Useless IDAnti-Flag, and Frank Turner and secured the talents of Louana, a Russian metal band that was hitting massively worldwide at the time.

He re-recorded several songs in English, and I helped him translate some of the lyrics.

I had that kind of time back then, and we had that kind of enthusiasm.

Russian Democrazy was born in 2013, the same year that a TV project I’d been working on for three years, Raw Travel was about to hit the airways.

I was losing my mind with the work of launching a new TV show completely independently and grossly understaffed. To say I was juggling multiple projects would be an epic understatement.

But I was committed to fulfilling my promises to Dima and the guys at Tarkany! I couldn’t let them down just because I’d finally broken through on my TV project. 

Fortunately, most of the work on Russian Democrazy was already recorded by Dima and Co. We’d be able to get it out and semi-marketed on whatever grassroots initiatives we could scrounge together, considering we had next to no budget. That’s where Tim & Snik came in, leading a guerilla, grass-roots campaign that was largely a success, at least for reaching Russian fans living in the USA. 

But first, we needed some killer artwork for the album cover. Dima came through again with several potential designs, one featuring a not-so-flattering illustration of Putin and his oligarch pals. I loved it and, not thinking it through, offered it as a “sneak peek” teaser on social media.

Dima immediately frantically messaged me, asking me to take the post down post-haste because that artwork was not “approved.”

Of course, I did, but I realized then and after subsequent conversations with Tim and Snik that Dima was not working as freely as my other artists from Latin America. I’d taken for granted that he’d have freedom of expression that I’d always… taken for granted. 

Dima, as a Russian citizen, had to think twice about what he was doing before doing it. He had to weigh the risk versus rewards for anything that could be remotely interpreted as critical of the government or even Russian society at large.

During the 2010 trip, I’d had my own semi-run-in with the FSB while filming in Red Square. 

Red Square just before confrontation by FSB Goon.

I was just an American tourist at the time, so I only received a tiny taste.  At the time, I had been concerned about getting my camera confiscated. Still, my poor Russian guide who was with me was borderline traumatized after this short but memorable encounter. Her concern gave me concern. I felt she, or perhaps we had just narrowly escaped arrest or at least a miserable few hours of questioning for the simple act of filming in Red Square with a microphone sans permission. The burly, barking gent’s bullying, needlessly aggressive attitude, and the literal spit coming out of his mouth as he yelled at us, is the primary image I recall from that encounter. That and my guide’s nervous attitude afterward. This was a real and genuine fear of his blanket authority.

Russian DemoCrazy’s Actual Cover

Fast Forward to 2022, and Russia has gone even darker. Putin even more controlling. 

Tarakany! has been blocked from performing in their home country and forced to disband. Dima and his wife are now exiled from Russia for taking an anti-war stance. What once was allowed and tolerated (mild and vague criticism of modern Russian society) was no longer allowed.

I’m trying to help Dima, and his spouse re-locate to another country in the Americas. I won’t get into specifics because you can’t be too careful when dealing with Putin’s Russia.

Most educated, young Russians are Alexei Navalny supporters. Do you know Mr. Navalny’s story? If not, please google him.

As an opposition candidate to the Kremlin’s kleptocracy, Navalny has survived vicious government harassment and slander, he’s had dye thrown in his face while walking down the street, most famously, he had a state-sponsored attempted poisoning while campaigning against Putin, and he is currently imprisoned under horrific conditions for a made-up crime, which he bravely returned to Russia to serve. He may very well be the bravest human alive. 

Putin has demonstrated with assassination attempts of enemies residing in Britain and elsewhere that he is not above sending his meathead goons to kill a perceived enemy of the state, no matter where they live. 

So, with this in mind and with Dima’s permission – I am publishing below, for the first time in the USA, Dima’s experiences over the past two years. He has already published this in Russia. It’s only been lightly edited in a few places by myself and Ryan, our current intern, for clarity’s sake in translating.

BUT WAIT – SO WHAT DOES AARON LEWIS HAVE TO DO WITH THIS? 

Well first, perhaps it may help you understand why I’m so angry that a fellow musician would take Russia’s side and repeat Putin’s propaganda after the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Aaron Lewis (formerly of Staind), on stage, in an unhinged Qanon-inspired rant about “the deep state,” said that “maybe we should listen to what Putin has to say”?

Does “listening to what Putin has to say” mean targeting and killing innocent civilians, including schools and train stations? Or allowing criminals disguised as Russian Soldiers to rape babies (google it) and women? Or execute civilians on the spot? Or simply invade a sovereign country that posed a ZERO threat to Russia? Or perhaps he can explain to my Ukrainian videographer’s family which has been internally displaced in 2014 when Putin invaded Crimea and now externally displaced in 2022 with this latest adventure, what he meant by “listening to what Putin has to say”? Can he explain to Anastasia’s little 13 year old brother why she’s his sole caretaker now that his mom and dad had to stay behind in Ukraine to fight Russian criminals disguised as soldiers? 

 I’m not sure where Mr. Lewis makes a stand between right and wrong, but he has forever stained his and his former band’s legacy. 

Even if, after all the misery of 

  • Russian war crimes 
  • Four million-plus Ukrainian displaced external refugees and millions more internally displaced refugees
  • Civilian targeted killings 
  • Separation of millions of families 
  • Loss of Ukrainian economy 
  • Food shortages that will lead to starvation in much of the developing world
  • Trauma that will be felt for decades by Ukrainian youth (the ones that survive)

Even if Lewis walked back his words now (as far as I know, he has not), their impact on the Russian invasion cannot be muted.

Innocent Ukrainian Civilian Murdered by Putin’s Soldier

It’s hard to believe of all the inspiration Lewis could garner from the early days of the war, it was to praise the one man responsible for so much death, destruction, and misery. 

Yes, forget Ukrainian bravery. Lewis was inspired to take the side of a proven murderer and now child killer.  

Not the outmanned and outgunned Ukrainians whose brave president Zelensky refused to leave his country, though, at the time, it would have meant certain death. 

Yes, Lewis took Putin’s side. Why?

Does Lewis identify with Putin’s bullying ways? Does Lewis beat his wife? Is he married? Perhaps he’s an incel? He’s famous but let’s face it he’s nothing to look at.

Does he secretly wish he could silence his critics, like me? Mr. Lewis, I’ll meet you anywhere, any place, with pleasure. Try not to bring an AR 15 if you can please. 

I know you won’t because, like Putin, you are a coward. Seeking out controversy from the stage to presumably stoke the fading flames of your foundering career. Fucking pathetic. 

Or maybe you are a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracist and you are being sincere? Maybe you tried to challenge the mainstream conformity for so long that you forgot where reality ends and fantasy begins?

I don’t give a shit. There is no justification for unjustifiable. There is no defense for the indefensible.

Yes, I know, Lewis is a washed-up, has-been here in the USA.

Still, he parrotted Russian propaganda and implicitly supported a soulless, heartless, brutal regime hell-bent on driving Ukrainians and their culture off the face of the earth. He planted doubt in the credulous minds of his few fans who can’t think for themselves and clearly distinguish a corrupt, murdering kleptocrat from a legitimate, brave leader like Zelensky.  

Aaron Lewis’s propaganda has been repeated for State-Run media in Russia. You see, they’re just not that into nuance or facts in Russia. Steven Segal, a bloated D-list joke, and Aaron Lewis, a washed-up has-been former musician (what is he now? I’m not sure but he’s no artist). Same, same. 

Like the right-wing, fantasy-dwelling MAGATs Mr. Lewis allegedly represents, they only want the news that justifies their falsely held beliefs. 

Putin represents everything dark in the world, trying its best to extinguish everything light, including music.

The Kremlin can only rule through terror, and they fear free speech and light because they hide in the darkness and crevices of corruption. Mr. Lewis, supposedly a beacon for “free speech” and “expression of opinion,” has chosen to celebrate a regime that stands for the opposite of what he proclaims to believe. How ironic. But such is the case with many ignorant statements of arrogant and ignorant people.

I’ll bet my life’s savings that Mr. Lewis has traveled little outside of the small and limited confines of touring. 

He knows little of the challenge of free speech in places like Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Belarus, Myanmar, Russia, etc. 

Mr. Lewis – the video that is below from Tarakany… Lie for Lie is dedicated to you. And remember, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s okay to “just shut up and play.” Or, if you’re truly unhappy with the USA, I’ll borrow another phrase from low-level thinkers on the extreme right – “love it or leave it.” I hear Moscow is lovely in January.

But if you do want to learn, truly learn, the truth about Putin and Russia, let me know, and I’ll put you in touch with Dima.

Or I can invite you to travel with me to help the 4 million Ukrain refugees next month. The lucky ones, the ones still breathing.

Don’t worry. I won’t hold MY breath.

BELOW IS DIMA’S LETTER TO TARAKANY! FANS  

FROM DIMA / LEAD SINGER OF RUSSIA’S “TARAKANY”

Light editing by Robert & Ryan for translation clarity

Human rights activists and opposition media have concluded that the media purge that continued throughout 2021 (the recognition by “foreign agents” and “extremist organizations” of blocking) was nothing more than preparation for war. It was these media platforms that helped the public to shape their own opinions, and that would inevitably create a powerful counteraction to state propaganda with the outbreak of war.

In addition to targeting the media, there were also powerful attacks on us, the musicians. It becomes clear now – with the same goal.

We had been left alone for a while. There were already many Russian bands that had already been under pressure for several years at the time: their concerts were banned and canceled, and the organizers were strained and intimidated.

We calmly sang our songs (all of them, even those with the sharpest and most unambiguous content). On stage screens in halls of various sizes across the country, footage with Putin was shown, in which he was mounted with various world villains, performed in Ukraine, spoke from the stage and in interviews whatever they wanted.

For a long time, it was clear we were in the “blind” zone for the “FSB”: Either too small to notice or considered incapable of having a significant influence.

 In 2021, this all began to change.

In January, we shot the video for our song “And Nothing but the Truth.” At the suggestion of the director, almost the entirety of the filming was done at a Moscow rally in support of Alexei Navalny, A brave man who had been unfairly taken into custody at the last major Russian opposition rally.

Alex Navalny After Putin Poisoned Him

The premiere of the video took place on the Youtube channel “Caution, Sobchak!” (Ksenia Sobchak was an opposition candidate in the presidential elections in Russia in 2017) in March 2021. Suddenly, we were in the spotlight; our message reaching the broadest masses of Sobchak. I believe Ksenia herself and her public and journalistic activities have long been under the supervision of the FSB, and thus we had become as well.

2021 was our 30th anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate as brightly and loudly as possible. On a grander scale than ever before to surpass our previous anniversary five years ago, and to make it up to the public for our noticeable decrease in activity due to COVID restrictions in 2020.

But in most regions and cities in which concerts were scheduled, restrictions were not lifted in any way. It was decided to postpone the concerts to the fall of 2021, and time has shown, our efforts were done in vain. Out of 20+ concerts, we were given only 1 regional show. Ironically, taking place in Belgorod (a city on the border with Ukraine), just 3 weeks before the war. Even at this time, tanks with the letter Z on their sides could already be seen driving around.

Then suddenly in April, I was notified by the Police that an administrative case had been opened against me. Under Article Part 2 of Art. 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation for “The organization or holding of an unauthorized public event”.

 At first, I thought this was in response to several of our fans being detained while we were filming at the rally (we asked them not to come, but how could we control this?). Unfortunately, one of them was underage, and the police held him in custody at the department for a day, called his school, and notified his parents. A frightened mother wrote to me, directing insults, accusations, and everything else my way, as usual. She claimed it was our influence that got him involved, and now that he’s in trouble we are distancing ourselves to avoid being held responsible.

My sources said the investigator who was in charge of the case was putting serious pressure on the parents to write a statement about me “involving a minor”, for which we have a separate article in our country, much more difficult than Part 2 of Art. 20.2

In the end, I truly don’t know if they wrote it or not; but after examining the notification with a little more detail, I was even more surprised.

As it turned out, the issue was that I recorded a video in support of Navalny (when opposition politician Alexei Navalny returned to Russia after treatment due to poisoning, he was immediately arrested).

The caption accompanying the video posted on the FBK channel read: “January 25, Lubyanka street. Everything.” 

In the video, I do not call people to take to the streets, nothing like that. But they decided to blame me for calling for an unsanctioned rally, as well as organizing it. A violation that, in the event of a second offense, may result in criminal penalties.

We lost the trial and I was sentenced to a fine. We filed an appeal, but it also did not help. After all the “internal” methods were used, we filed an appeal with the ECtHR.

In May 2021, the organizer of our concert at one of Moscow’s most famous venues told us that he had received a call “from the prefecture”. The caller, without identifying himself, said that our event was undesirable, and that during it a raid by Rospotrebnadzor (a department in Russia that, among other things, monitors the implementation of epidemiological restrictions. They too, have in fact become another tool of repression), was likely to take place and accuse us of violations. Violations that would, in turn, entail the closure of the club for 90 days.

It was our first “call” in 30 years of our career.

After hearing this, I contacted many other artists who, like me, had recorded videos in support of Navalny in January; asking them if they too had been facing problems with the police. Did they start a case, did they go to court, and were they fined? It turned out they had not, we were the only ones being targeted so severely. This puzzled me greatly.

A couple of weeks before the start of our anniversary tour in the fall of 2021, it became clear that the tour was falling apart, as our concerts were banned in most cities. All done so according to one of three schemes: cancellation/postponement due to real pandemic restrictions, cancellation/postponement due to fictitious restrictions, and pressure from the authorities on the organizers/site directly, without using COVID as a cover-up.

It turned out to be more expensive to speak loudly about the lawlessness that the authorities applied to artists. For more than a year, we have had to live with our mouths sewn shut, keeping quiet about the fact that we had fallen under the repressive surveillance of the authorities and hiding the true reasons for the cancellations of concerts.

Why? Because if we were to publicly declare that our concerts have been canceled due to pressure from the authorities, the organizers and venues in other cities would immediately cancel them themselves, without waiting for a call.

People in the regions are so frightened and so strongly demoralized by the authorities that they are ready to personally refuse the concerts of those who have been rumored that they are now “undesirable”.

Additionally, some of the local authorities had not (yet) made their own blacklists and knew nothing about bans in other regions; but if we were to officially admit that we were “banned”, we would have informed them of this ourselves.

We really wanted to keep our anniversary tour. Up to a point, we hoped that a couple of cancels here and a couple of transfers there were just random hits, but there were also COVID restrictions. Therefore, reluctantly, we had to agree with our management’s opinion that we should not advertise the true reasons for our cancellations / transfers but explain them to the public as a result COVID restrictions. A decision that was very difficult for us.

In the end, not a single regional concert of our tour in honor of the band’s 30th anniversary in 2021 ever took place. The organizers of the Moscow anniversary concerts, scheduled for November, continued to call and warn, warn and notify. It is these terms that have become synonymous with the demand to cancel the concerts of “undesirable artists” in Newspeak of the Russian word substitution.

No one addresses anyone openly. Not required to cancel events, but warned not to hold them. Even the “blacklists” that we were already on at that time were a sort of secret. Every promoter and owner of every venue in this country has seen them, but officially they don’t exist.

 As a result, at the cost of incredible efforts and transcendent courage of the organizers of the Moscow anniversary series, we played the capital’s concerts. How? The organizers were simply not afraid. It was that simple

In most cities, these venue owners don’t even dare to utter a word. Each time we asked them to provide an official paper from the prohibitors, with a reasoned ban. The answer they gave us? – See screenshots.

They value their businesses, refusing to make a stand to remain safe. I wonder what will happen to these businesses when the authorities ban all the artists? Will they close due to losses? Our unwillingness to fight, at the very least for our right to do business and perform the way we want, will eventually lead to even greater, already global costs.

A recent example is Evening Urgant (A late-night show on Russian federal TV, akin to Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show). They invited us to do a show on the eve of Moscow concerts, and conveniently the day before filming “the lights went out”.

Despite claiming throughout years of the show’s existence that they could call anyone on the air and did not depend on the opinion of the authorities of Channel One, the editors of Evening Urgant canceled our debut shooting with them in less than a day. Many other regional organizers and clubs did this as well, as hosting our performances was considered “too expensive” and “bad for business”.

In addition to banning concerts and appearing on federal channels, the authorities also tried to put pressure on us through vague warnings. Twice we were sent messages through “distant relatives of friends of colleagues of friends”, who allegedly were involved with authorities and who “accidentally” came across a development just for us.

The second we found out that a command had been assigned to monitoring our personal accounts on social networks, I was being prepared to be labeled as “foreign agents”. Finally, we saw (see screenshot) the same “blacklist”. It was sent to us by a familiar organizer from the Urals.

At the end of 2021, having not played a single scheduled regional concert and rescheduling them all to February/March 2022, we decided that we would not be rescheduled for the third time. If we are not allowed to perform, if they continue to suppress us, we will announce a farewell concert in Moscow at the end of 2022 and end the existence of the group.

We entered 2022 with several dozen concerts that were absolutely excellent, a couple of dozen concerts postponed for the third time to February / March, and the decision that we will be rescheduling anything else; that if we fail to perform, we will announce their cancellation and the end of the band’s career. Moreover, I personally had been ready for our finale for a couple of years, for a number of personal and professional reasons.

One of the cancellations went according to a non-standard scenario: it was the only time the club received a written (rather than verbal) order to withdraw from the concert. It came from two all-powerful Russian departments at once: from Rospotrebnadzor and the prosecutor’s office.

 I and the other guys wanted to go public with this so incredibly bad, to scream and shout and expose the authorities’ actions; but again, there were reasons not to do this.

We became co-organizers of the festival in Moscow in February, and we still wanted to hold it. Raising noise would be a clear and guaranteed end to both this and the rescheduled dates.

After the failure of the 30 Years Tour, it was naive to expect that we would be given another, albeit a farewell one. We decided that we should at least say goodbye to our Moscow fans with dignity, especially since concerts in Moscow have not been canceled in a while for the time being.

We no longer dreamed of concerts in other regions or even in St. Petersburg.

Even the summer festivals (already brought to a half-dead state by miraculous anti-COVID measures) have begun to give alarming signals; the “lists” seem to have informed them as well.

But there was still hope that the capital’s concerts would remain inviolable.

However, our plans did not come true here either.

Exactly one day before the start of the war, on February 23, 22, a meeting was held at the mayor’s office. We (and a few others, apparently) had finally been banned completely, now in Moscow. The next day the war began. We made the decision to refuse performances ourselves, canceling any and all the concert plans we had remaining at that time on our own.

Now, finally, I can say the following:

  1. All our “rescheduled” concerts have been canceled. Request a refund at the place where you purchased your tickets. Tomorrow we will publish a detailed explanation for each ticket holder.
  2. The group announces the termination of its activities. There are still a couple of releases with old material ahead, which were planned long before the start of the war.
  3. In the event of a change of political power in the country, we will still try to organize farewell concerts.

END OF DIMA’S LETTER  

 

 

 

 

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