Pussy Riot, the band that pissed off Zeman and Putin

Pussy Riot, the band that pissed off Zeman and Putin
Pussy Riot, the band that pissed off Zeman and Putin

“I don’t want to go to jail for singing my songs about the government or the patriarchy. I can’t even imagine such a life,” the singer of the American punk band War on Women Shawna Potter confided to the editor of the Pitchfork music site in August 2012.

She was referring to the band Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist collective whose three members were at the time awaiting sentencing for “punk prayer”. That is, for the fact that, dressed in brightly colored hoods, they ran into the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior and shouted the lyrics of their most famous song to date Mother of God, banish Putin.

As we already know, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Marija Alyokhinova were sentenced to two years in prison (the third, Yekaterina Samutsevichova, escaped with a conditional sentence). Pussy Riot and their act of protest, which according to the New York Times was as much political activism as media spectacle, became a global phenomenon. Everyone had to comment on it – including leading Czech politicians.

The prime minister at the time, Petr Nečas, was angry that we were losing good business because of the “false adoration of bad taste” by Russian punks. President Miloš Zeman coined a new English word “passy” when criticizing “deviant ladies”. By the way, according to the members of Pussy Riot, the Czech president showed that he is a “typical patriarchal idiot” who does not understand what is happening in Russia. If we were to paraphrase the New York Times once again: Pussy Riot managed to mix things up at times, but in retrospect they seem prophetic.

Ten years after the verdict, which probably should have silenced them, Pussy Riot is still active, albeit in a rather “liquid” formation. This is influenced by various creative trends, but also by whom the Russian state apparatus wants to imprison. So far, the last Černý Petr was taken out by Aljokhinová, who managed to escape from house arrest in the guise of a courier in April.

In whatever formation they come to Prague, Pussy Riot will bring a performance with operatic and theatrical elements to MeetFactory next week. They will also most likely play from their debut mixtape, which was released at the beginning of August. It’s called Matriarchy Now and it bears no resemblance to the punk anthem that made the feminist collective famous in 2012. Which can be subversive on the one hand – and almost not at all on the other.

Photo: Pussy Riot archive, Getty Images

Pussy Riot, a fluid formation consisting of a few people on stage, but also hundreds or thousands of other members.

Sweet protest

“I’m turning your weapons into pushpins, your batons into tampons, I’m turning your prisons into clubs where everyone is free,” sings Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in the song Poof Bitch, the final track from Matriarchy Now. Her voice sounds sweet, in contrast to the heavy rhythms and the text, which is undoubtedly addressed to Vladimir Putin.

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Poof Bitch is one of the better songs on the record. It can take away, free a person from the swirl of questions that otherwise accompany listening to Matriarchy Now. Is it supposed to be the record that definitively moves Pussy Riot from the position of punk activists to musical pop stars? If so, isn’t her sound already too tired and the feminist lyrics too far-fetched? Would anyone care about Matriarchy Now if Pussy Riot hadn’t become famous for their bold political gestures? And on the other hand, is it fair to separate the activism of Russian punks from their artwork when they are so closely related?

“Music has always been secondary to Pussy Riot,” notes music columnist Julia Gray on the Pitchfork.com server, recalling that in 2013 several members even left Pussy Riot because they felt that releasing music was contrary to the anti-capitalist ideals and the war against authoritarianism that they were once the core of the entire collective.

But Matriarchy Now certainly does not feel like a secondary product. According to some reviews, on the contrary, it gives the impression that Tolokonnikova, the main author of the current music project, has higher artistic ambitions than it might seem.

The result is not perfect. Mainly because Tolokonnikova jumps on the trend of sweet hyperpop with considerable delay and does not add anything special to it. Opening track Princess Charming it is downright tiring in its emptiness. But it cannot be denied the wow effect that those who have not heard of Pussy Riot since the days of “pass, Mr. Moderator” will surely experience.

The mark of punk

“Maybe we won’t see all those changes right away, but I think the music scene will see a change. We will feel the influence of Pussy Riot in the next five or ten years. Maybe they’ll get more women to make music,” predicted musician Shawna Potter in August 2012.

Music columnist Michaela Peštová sees the greatest influence of Pussy Riot in the fact that content wins over form, which is liberating for the music environment. “This combination shows that when you have something to say, you don’t have to be silent until you achieve some virtuosity. And even from that, really great things can arise.”

For Tolokonnikova, the mark of punk now is that she puts the music first. It’s not a painless process, but it’s certainly inspiring. Matriarchy Now gradually gradates, synthetically pure pop slowly fills with emotions, mainly spontaneous aggression and joy that pulses through the song Hatefuck or Poof Bitch. Punk, but completely different. Metapunk. Something that has to work perfectly live.

Perhaps also because the positive energy of Matriarchy Now is in such stark contrast to the serious situation to the east of us. Not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia, where, according to Tolokonnikova, it is now very risky to show resistance. “Basically all the people I knew had to leave the country – the members of Pussy Riot. I don’t feel in a position to advise people who have stayed in Russia because it is really extremely dangerous. Everyone has to decide for themselves,” said the Russian activist in a recent interview with the American radio station NPR.

“I took the event as a civic duty,” says Adam Ligas, the organizer of the Prague concert. The band’s fee will go towards the restoration of a children’s hospital in Kyiv. Civic duty at MeetFactory will be punk.

Pussy Riot, 8/9/2022 MeetFactory, Prague

The article is in Czech

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