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My Incredible True Story of Gangsters, Oligarchs, and Pop Stars in Putin's Russia

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia opened its borders, and Russian audiences were hungry for Western popular music and the values it espoused. David Junk was one of the first idealistic, young Americans to seize this opportunity.

Rockin’ the Kremlin is the thrilling true story of how David became the first CEO of Universal Music Russia and built impactful cultural bridges with music—but also how that would all shatter with the rise of Vladimir Putin and invasions of Ukraine. There was no proper music industry in the USSR, and creating a modern music industry in Russia would be far more challenging than anyone had anticipated. David assembled a team of young and talented Russians, and they navigated a terrain filled with political chaos, organized crime, powerful oligarchs, bombings, and violence—with cultural clashes tinting many aspects. They captivated millions by bringing superstar acts and their music to Russia for the first time ever, including Metallica, Mariah Carey, Sting, Eminem, and Enrique Iglesias, while developing local talent such as Alsou and t.A.T.u.—Russia’s greatest selling pop act of all time. Eventually, David would even build a music industry in Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe.

While Russia’s descent into authoritarianism and two invasions of Ukraine have tarnished this, the industry that David shepherded has birthed a newer generation of Russian musicians who are speaking out against the war and Putin. Filled with unique insights as well as gripping—and sometimes humorous—stories, this book reveals how it all happened. Read sample


Music industry executive and cultural ambassador David Junk, and veteran music journalist Fred Bronson, have combined their talents to write a fast-moving, information-rich narrative about the intersections between politics and pop culture behind the Iron Curtain.
Their book will probably appeal to readers who want a behind the scenes look at the music industry in Putin’s Russia and a rare view of the powerful forces that spawn and prohibit the birth and proliferation of singers, songwriters, and their fans in a nation where freedom of expression and the First Amendment are not taken for granted.
He ends his book with the “hope” that by bringing “Western pop culture to the former Soviet Union,” he was “able to plant the seeds that will lead Russian youth to rise up, stop the war, and take their country back from the Kremlin.

-- Jonah Raskin, New York Journal of Books - read full review

What’s the link between an American record label executive and the war in Ukraine? In this book, Junk, the former head of Universal Music Russia, ponders that question as he returns from a visit to Ukraine following the 2022 Russian invasion. This intriguing memoir, written with the help of journalist Bronson (The Jacksons), details a peculiarly capitalistic adventure in Russia following the fall of the USSR, from the heady early days of American corporations exploring a veritable gold rush of new markets through the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Some readers may view Junk’s lens as somewhat narrow, yet it’s wider than one might think due to his having to deal with both the Russian government and the criminal underworld just to do business. Junk’s successes include mitigating music piracy in Russia, the international breakout of pop stars t.A.T.u, and helping to establish a distinctly Ukrainian music industry. How much difference these made will be for history to decide.
VERDICT An absorbing illustration of the mutuality of music and politics. For musicians, business people in the music industry, and readers interested in the intersection of politics and art.

-- Library Journal, to spark the inquisitive impulse and instill a lifelong love of reading

Junk, former CEO of Universal Music in Moscow, collaborated with music journalist Bronson to create a fascinating, nicely paced memoir charting the rise and, sadly, eventual fall, of Junk’s fortunes in Russia's music industry as he attempted to open the doors to international music acts (Elton John, Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi) and open world markets for Russian acts following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Junk’s journey from idealistic, young American rock 'n' roller to hard-tested music industry vet is peppered with encounters with myriad shady characters. When Junk began working in Russia in the early 1990s, he writes, the country was as “chaotic, corrupt, and dangerous [as] Chicago was in the 1930s.” Still, Junk scores a number of notable successes, introducing hip hop to Russia, convincing rising Russian pop star Alsou to go to the Eurovision Song Contest, and nurturing t.A.T.u., an act that attained international fame and became the biggest-selling Russian artists of their time. Putin, his increasingly authoritarian rule, and Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine cast a shadow, yet Junk’s accomplishments inspired hopes of what might be again in some future, freer Russia.

-- Booklist, American Library Association

Music industry veteran Junk debuts with an energetic chronicle of his crusade to bring popular Western music to post-Soviet Russia. Inspired by the end of the Cold War, the author moved to Moscow in the early 1990s aiming to topple “the old Soviet music industry” in favor of one befitting the “new Russia.” At Polygram Records and then Universal Music Russia (where he eventually became CEO), Junk dealt with “gangster capitalism”; rampant music piracy; powerful oligarchs; and the Russian Orthodox Church’s antagonism toward pro-LGBTQ musical acts, most notably the Russian girl group t.A.T.u. Along the way, he scoured the radio, music competitions, and MTV Russia to discover top-selling talent including Alsou and Smash!! (Russia’s boy band answer to Wham!). Despite overselling things a bit when he implies that hip-hop’s rise in the aughts ushered in the “sounding defeat of communism by free market principles and business know-how,” Junk draws sharp insights into the musical traditions that coincided with the development of Russian rap, including the country’s electronic dance scene. It’s an exciting and colorful look at a dynamic period in Russia’s cultural history.

-- Publishers Weekly, international news website of book publishing and bookselling

“I led an American pop music invasion… to Russia. It was too loud and brash, like rock ’n’ roll—these words from David Junk impressed and inspired me. He tries to find meaning behind the cause to which he devoted over three decades of his life—bringing America and Russia closer together after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Visiting my homeland, Ukraine, David questions if dedicating these thirty years was in vain. His story is captivating.”

-- Ruslana, renowned Ukrainian singer and activist; winner of the Eurovision Song Contest and World Music Awards

"This book is fun, full of action, and perfectly captures the madness of the times as well as the ugly side of Russian show business, populated with scary thugs, dodgy characters, and impatient billionaires. Highly recommend. It reads like a thriller, but it all really happened."

-- Emmanuel Legrand, former global editor, Billboard; editor, Creative Industries Newsletter

"Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ‘wild 90s’ that followed was anarchic, violent, corrupt, and exciting, as this gonzo page-turner of an account makes clear—just as it illustrates the return of order first and then authoritarianism. Gangsters, rockers, entrepreneurs, idealists, Putin, Sting, and a mortar full of vodka—they’re all here."

-- Mark Galeotti, historian and author, A Short History of Russia and We Need to Talk about Putin

"A compulsive, shocking story. David Junk thought he was being made head of Universal Music in Russia, but in fact, he was being appointed the American music industry's commander-in-chief against the Russian underworld, their corrupt military, and Putin's appalling security forces. Yet, he still managed to give Russia its first ever international supergroup. David Junk is a man in a million."

-- Simon Napier-Bell, author, film maker, and music manager, Wham!, The Yardbirds, Sinead O'Connor

“A funny, fascinating, and frightening angle on Russia’s trajectory from decadence to dictatorship.”

-- Peter Pomerantsev, journalist and author, This Is Not Propaganda; senior fellow, SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University

"Holy perestroika! David Junk brings alive music and business in Russia with intrigue, insight, and humor. He barely pauses for breath, and the result is both compelling and satisfying."

-- Adam White, former editor-in-chief, Billboard; author, Motown: The Sound of Young America

“A revealing and engaging account by an American farm boy who became the most powerful music executive in Russia and led a cultural revolution, with behind-the-scenes stories of how he brought Western pop culture to the country and orchestrated hits by legendary artists like Mariah Carey, Eminem, Shania Twain, and U2."

-- Zach Horowitz, former president & chief operating officer, Universal Music Group

"David Junk chronicles his experiences in the exciting—if dangerous—Russia directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We were fueled by hope and belief that we were paving the way to a better society, and I am extremely grateful that David has put pen to paper. David invites readers into this world in this captivatingly told story."

-- Neil Turkewitz, artist rights advocate and former executive vice president, International, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)

This book was very interesting and far more enjoyable and informative than I expected it to be. I would recommend this book to anyone - especially if you're interested in the workings of a major record label. Although it doesn't give you the nitty gritty of absolutely everything, you do get a good sense of how it all works.
David Junk is a natural raconteur and he has a good sense of humour to boot. He doesn't compromise his own morals (re: homophobia and the Anti-Ukraine brigade) nor is he afraid to admit to his own failures. It's also interesting to read of his successes too. It makes the book more relatable and readable.

-- Quinn 1, Net Galley