Meet the artists driving Russia’s new wave of queer music

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04/21/2020

The city of Norilsk is located above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s north. With just under 200,000 inhabitants, it’s known as a harsh, industrial place, its history shaped by extensive mining of nickel and copper and its Soviet-era prison camps. It’s not a place you’d associate with dreams of a music career — and it’s not a place where it’s easy to be queer. Yet it remains a source of inspiration for non-binary singer-songwriter Augustine, whose debut single “Papa Sever” (Russian for “Father North”) is a poetic dedication to her hometown. “The song is about Norilsk, a special place of power and inspiration for me,” Augustine explains. “There are no roads leading into the city — you can only reach it if you are a bird. The lyrics are born from my sorrow, and the song is born through my cries. At first, it was supposed to be a ballad, but I wanted to make it more life-affirming. I wanted everyone to dance with me to this Northern cry”. Aged 22, Augustine could sense she was different since early childhood — and later came out as non-binary. Her sensual dreamy voice is pleasurably hard to place on the gender spectrum, and her songwriting is ridden with metaphors and mythical creatures, such as mermaids — tropes especially attractive to queer creatives who have trouble fitting into an ordinary reality.

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