Shortparis: tackling inequality and racism
Shortparis was initially more of a niche musical project that sought to appeal to Western audiences. However, their more recent work manages to capture a number of post-Soviet anxieties and problems that have been extremely pertinent in the Russian society: from xenophobia and inequality to extreme militarization and violence. In light of the economic inequality that seems to be the driving force
behind army recruitment, Shortparis’s focus on the lived experience of different classes across Russian society is especially relevant.
Visually and semantically, Shortparis refers to workers’ lifestyles and the simple folk in such works as “KoKoKo
” (2020) and “Twenty
” (2021). In addition, they invoke the so-called “deep nation,” conventionally pictured as supportive of the regime, but also apolitical, combining this with clear references to the iconic moments of political reawakening (e.g. the 1968 protests in France). In both videos, Shortparis appeals to, and associates itself with, socio-economically disadvantaged groups. Yet they also create new linkages and alliances, broadening the emerging political collective. The most diverse social strata – from artists and intellectuals to hipsters and hooligans – are invited to join the common people’s cause, to unite and amplify their silenced voices.
The problems of racism and xenophobia, combined with reflections on some post-Soviet and post-imperial traumas, such as the Beslan school hostage crisis, are most visibly addressed in “Dreadful
” (2018). The music video starts in a desolate residential area, showing a school building and kids dressed in school uniforms. The musicians, resembling skinheads in their attire and hairstyle, enter the school’s gymnasium, filled with people who would be racialized in Russia as non-white labor migrants.
However, the anticipated climax of racially motivated violence never happens. Instead, both the band and the labor migrants join in a sparkly dance performance with unmistakably queer undertones, in sharp contrast with the song’s somber lyrics. By creating this sensory shift and making the routinely invisible labor migrants equal participants in the visual, the artists flatten the racial and class hierarchies and suggest that anyone can be both a source of fear and a fearful subject.
Importantly, while Shortparis quotes French philosophers and conveys queer aesthetics, its online audience does not perceive the band as a Western import, as becomes evident from the comments to their videos. Engaging with and recycling various Russian tropes, images and music, its art bears distinct cultural markers, be it the aesthetics of post-Soviet suburbs, Russian romance or references to specific social groups, such as migrants, military veterans
and young delinquents
. This is what makes its art so subversive, but also evasive, when it comes to direct repression.