SADO OPERA are not your average band. They’re not even your average Berlin-based, queer Russian electro-funk band, to be honest. Since decamping from their native St. Petersburg to the German capital, they have made the legendary club Wilde Renate their home, a haven for inclusive and progressive hedonism that they have moulded into their own image.

Led by The Colonel, they channel traditions from performance art and subversive theatre as well as the likes of Prince and George Clinton to conjure an escapist world in which the bigotry and oppression that had made staying in Russia difficult no longer exists.

The provocative nature of their music extends into their videos too, enough so that earlier this year, YouTube banned the video for their single ‘In the Dark‘. We caught up with The Colonel and Katya from the band to discuss being censored, being discriminated against and finding their home away from home. But first of all, The Colonel wanted to start the conversation talking about something else.

The Colonel: Can we talk about sex? English is not my first language, but I look pretty, so people usually forgive my mistakes, especially when I kiss. I could speak it better if I didn’t kiss so much.

Kissing makes your English worse?

TC: Yeah, because the time I could use improving my English, I waste it kissing with English speaking people. Are you from Great Britain?

Yes, Manchester.

TC: Ah, I’ve never kissed anybody from Manchester before.

Katya: How do you know?! Maybe in a dark room! But ideally, we can’t talk about ‘In the Dark’, because the video is banned.

Yes, how does it feel to be banned?

TC: I feel confused.

Were you trying to get banned?

TC: No no no, certainly not. We don’t speak about anything obscene, we are absolutely sincere and we only care about love.

Do you understand why you were banned?

TC: Because of hypocrisy! We don’t have TV sets at the Sado Palace, where we all live. So every time we stop at a hotel room, we turn it on and we were watching a music channel last night and we saw maybe ten videos in a row that were really pornographic in a way. I wonder why they are not banned, but they banned our cartoon with funny characters in a dark room.

So who is the hypocrite?

TC: Definitely not me.

K: Of course, it’s upsetting on one hand. But on the other hand, this video got nominated for several movie festivals all over Europe and even one in New York, and one in Tel Aviv recently, so we have several nominations in art and film festivals.

TC: So fuck YouTube!

K: I won’t be surprised if maybe some Russian people reported it.

TC: But this is not correct, we don’t know that.

K: We can’t say if it’s nudity or if it’s homophobia or if it’s because of cartoon human nipples, we don’t know.

TC: We had some aggressive comments from Russian people, this is why we assume this.

K: Somebody left a comment saying, ‘look at these fucking f*****s, singing when they’ve still got sperm in their mouth’.

Is this the reason you ended up leaving Russia?

K: This is one of the colours in the spectrum, it’s one of the reasons.

TC: Yeah, there are many reasons. But in the modern world, it’s super natural for people to choose where to live.

K: We don’t want to say that we had to run away from Russia because it’s not true. We are upset with some things that are happening there and we try to be active in the ways that we can to support our fellow colleagues and activists there. It just happened that we found our home in Berlin, and that Berlin found us. It was mutual. Our very first gig in Berlin happened in 2011 and we moved there in 2014.

Do you find any of the same intolerance in Germany?

TC: Of course, it’s everywhere, humanity is made this way. The difference is the level of the hate, but unfortunately it’s typical of humans and it’s a question of balancing that. You have some aggressive people, but the difference between Berlin and Russia, for example, is that in Berlin people mostly are friendly or they understand that it’s not appropriate to be aggressive to someone, even if they would want to. They know that people would not support them, even if they attack a gay person in the underground, they know the others would not support them and they would be protective.

K: It’s hard to compare, because the level of aggression that queer people face in their everyday life, there is a lot of homophobia and especially transphobia even in Berlin. For sure, for people to appear in drag is still dangerous. It’s better than in Russia, of course, but there is still a lot to fight for.

Do you find the activism is the main reason for SADO OPERA to exist, more so than to perform or make music?

TC: It’s always hard to answer with just the one reason. It’s like the question about what are your musical influences, there are millions of things.

K: I would say one of the reasons is to make the people around us aware that there is no necessity for those radical choices. Do we want to be musicians or activists? We want to be both. As much as we love to make music, we love and are passionate about certain other things and they of course are reflected in the music that we make. There is no need to choose if you don’t want to.

TC: One of our songs is called ‘We Are Stray’, which is about the fact that you don’t need to choose whether to be a cat or a dog, you can be both at the same time, if you know what I mean.

K: Some people know what they want to do and they don’t want to do anything else, and that’s also fine.

Do you think the politics and activism could get in the way of you becoming more successful?

K: I would say it’s a hard question for us because we are not music industry bosses, we are just musicians and we talk about things that we are passionate about. It happens that we want to write songs that touch our hearts.

TC: We go with the flow, we are soldiers of love. The priority in our system of values is of course love.

K: For sure, being queer can potentially get in the way. But it can work both ways. We are very careful with really encouraging people to ‘go out, be who you are, enjoy yourself’, you know, Lady Gaga style, because it would be a little bit irresponsible from our side. The most important thing is that people find comfort within themselves, that they cope with internalised homophobia or internalised misogyny, and then if they want to speak out for others, it’s their decision.

When you left Russia, did you imagine that you’d get to the stage where you’d be touring Europe regularly and running regular gig nights at Wilde Renate?

K: I can say for myself that I didn’t have a particular, detailed picture. What I was aiming for was to be a part of a bigger international community, one that would be bigger than any borders or restrictions and that lets same-thinking people support each other so something greater can happen.

They play Standon Calling on July 27th.