Tag Archives: Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot Rally Review

This is not a concert review.

Pussy Riot did not play a show at the Los Angeles club Echo Saturday night.

Pussy Riot are artivists who don’t believe in the commercial practice of concerts. As they say in a press release, “Events that we organize are political rallies, not concerts.”

Pussy Riot held a rally at the Echo Saturday. It cost $25 in advance to take part in this rally, $28 day of show rally. They also rallied Sunday night, and will do it one more time tonight.

I saw a really good rally at the Echo Saturday night.


Pussy Riot has changed a great deal since they first grabbed the world’s attention after they were arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for performing “A Punk Prayer” at Russia’s sacred Orthodox cathedral. The Pussy Riot that led Saturday’s rally was not an all-woman anarchist punk collective, but a coed techno/rap duo. The only recognizable member of Pussy Riot on stage at the Echo was Nadya Tolokonnikova, and by recognizable, I mean that even though her face was covered by a balaclava, everyone knew it was Nadya – she has the most famous musical lips since Mick Jagger. There was also a DJ/programmer, a man who goes by Chaika – every rally needs a DJ – and a woman who occasionally bounced around and shouted (every rally needs a gogo dancer/hype person too). It was unclear if we would have recognized these two even if their faces hadn’t been covered by cloth. “Anyone can be Pussy Riot,” Tolokonnikova said Saturday, a claim the group has always made. Still, it was a bit weird to see a guy on the mike. Aesthetically, Chaika seems like a good collaborator for Tolokonnikova. But is this what people want when they see Pussy Riot?

Tolokonnikova has become a skilled MC. Her word flows sound particularly mesmerizing with a Russian trill; she also raps in English, especially when it’s subject appropriate, as in the Trump takedown “Make America Great Again.” Chaika’s beats propelled the tracks into climactic explosions; the rally became a rave. Their songs remain provocations, with infectious agit-prop hooks: Nadya led the audience in chanting, “Pussy is the new dick!”

Pussy Riot are deft visual as well as musical propagandists. They performed rallied Saturday in front of stunning videos, including visuals by jailed Russian artist Oleg Navalny for “Election,” their timely commentary upon the recent “win” by Vladimir Putin.


Make no mistake, protest was the running theme of Saturday’s event, along with coalition building. Pussy Riot have invited community members to join them on all the stops of their current tour. Saturday, Fat Tony took the stage before Pussy Riot with a set that fused bass-heavy hip-hop with not one but two Ramones songs. In the music journalism biz, we used to call this “an opening act” – I’m not sure what the rally equivalent is. Pussy Riot seem to be particularly reaching out to black American artivists, a tactic that reminds me of the Clash.

I don’t really care if you call what I saw Saturday a rally or a concert, but then again, I got in free as press. It was cool to see Nadya hanging out in the audience of the tiny Echo and not acting like the kind of rock star she deserves to be; after all, how many other musicians have spent time in the gulag for their art? I’ve always said that the quality of Pussy Riot’s music tends to get eclipsed by the impact of their message, and I feel like that more than ever now. I’d pay money to see Tolokonnikova in concert, and she wouldn’t even have to call herself Pussy Riot.

 

 

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Girl Power Night With Pussy Riot & Transparent

Allison Wolfe (left) and Nadya Tolokno. Courtesy of Allison

Allison Wolfe (left) and Nadya Tolokno. Courtesy of Allison

Last night was a queer punk rock feminist dream come true, hanging with and hearing some key gender game-changers, past and present. First, Allison Wolfe and I went to the Ace Hotel, where Nadya Tolokno of Pussy Riot was holding court. It was the first time the original Riot Grrrl had met the original Pussy Riot girl, so that was a bit of a moment. We also ran into Mukta Mohan and Gabrielle Costa of the very cool Honey Power female DJ collective. Lots of girl power on that rooftop last night. Tolokno showed her three new videos, in which Putin’s least favorite punk raps and grooves. The former art student is pursuing a more Madonna/Peaches/PJ Harvey groove than the band’s former anarcho thrash. The videos are very sexualized, and bloody. Allison will be on a panel with Maria from Pussy Riot Monday night at the Regent, so she is on the full PR tour this week.

Afterwards, the Sex Stains goddess and I trucked up to USC, where we caught the second half of the Trans/Gender Tipping Point event organized by Jack Halberstam and Karen Tongson, two scholars whose work is not just analyzing but leading the discourse on gender variance. Four members of the Transparent artistic team talked about that show’s, er, transformative effect on trans visibility, television, and their own lives. Director Silas Howard, producers Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, and actor Trace Lysette also discussed how the show could go even further, including having feature characters who have fully transitioned. Howard, for one, is optimistic the show will continue to break ground, saying of Jill Soloway’s Transparent team, “Whenever they’re most afraid, they most bravely go forward.” Stay tuned.

Some students asked me recently what the best part of being a journalist is, and I would say it’s being a witness to the making of history. Being in a room with Howard and Wolfe again, a couple decades after we were all first connected to Revolution Girl Style, or watching Allison and Nadya talk, or being dazzled by Lysette’s simultaneous poise and vulnerability — it felt like another of those nights. That’s my blessing as a journalist; my job is to tell you about it, which I just did.

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Oh Bondage Up Yours: The Punk Rock Sexual Revolution

punkfeminismI promised I would post the remarks I made for the Punk Feminism and The F Word shows in Stanford and Oakland last week. The first half of my presentation, with images from the slide show and notes of music cues, follows. I’ll post the Patti Smith critical karaoke another day. The lecture began with music: X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage Up Yours.”

Punk is a female energy.

Look it up, in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first use of the word punk dates back to the 17th century and meant strumpet or whore. Later, the word referred to catamites, aka homosexuals, and then petty thieves. Etymologically, punks are gender outlaws – the OG victims of slut shaming and fagbashing. PunkwomenMusically, punk is the sound of dissonance, of dissent against even the hegemony of dissent. Making noise and ugliness virtues in a culture obsessed with harmony and beauty, punk’s means are destructive, but its impulse is creative. Sometimes, in its frisson of friction, lies escape.

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Riot at OCMA

Evelyn McDonnell, Tracie Morris, and Alice Bag

Evelyn McDonnell, Tracie Morris, and Alice Bag

Tracie Morris and Alice Bag had never met before they joined me for “The F Word Vol. II” panel last night. And yet the pieces they presented — Tracie’s improvised exegesis of 1950s Hollywood femininity and Alice’s excerpts from her memoir Violence Girl — complemented each other fiercely. It was an emotional night at the Orange County Museum of Art, with an attentive audience of second-, third-, and no-wave feminists.

Following is an approximation of the remarks I made to launch the panel. Continue reading

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The Julie Ruin Postpones Tour Due to Kathleen’s Relapse

Thinking good thoughts for Kathleen Hanna, who has had a relapse of Lyme Disease, according to a press release from her publicist. The Julie Ruin has postponed their international tour while “The Punk Singer” undergoes more treatment. Kathleen is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve had the good fortune to ever meet, and her influence on the world just seems to grow every minute — there would be no Pussy Riot without the raddest of the Riot Grrrls. Please say a Punk Prayer for her.

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Pussy Riot Book Review

Where did Pussy Riot come from? Who are these young women who went on trial and were sent to the gulag for singing a punk rock song? Masha Gessen’s revealing book about Pussy Riot, Words Will Break Cement, which I just reviewed for the Seattle Times, answers many of these questions — though still leaves a follower of the band like me wanting to know more.

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Fifth Column

Fifth Column

I finished reading Masha Gessen’s fascinating, intelligent, and well-written book about Pussy Riot, Words Will Break Cement, yesterday. A Russian-American who has previously written about Vladimir Putin and had tremendous access to the band, Gessen explains much about how these women came together; their context within Russian literature, politics, and dissidents; their actions and trial; and the horrors they experienced in prison. The more I find out about Masha, Nadya, Kat, and the rest of these artist/activists, the more impressed I am with their foresight and bravery in trying to stop an autocratic nightmare. The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the emergent xenophobia in Russia that reported in part:

“At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new ‘state policy in culture.’ Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that ‘Russia is not Europe’ and urges ‘a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance’ in favor of emphasizing Russia’s ‘unique state-government civilization,’ according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy.”

As evidence of this emerging monocultural supremacy, the article cites a banner hung in Moscow that decried the “fifth column” of dissenting bloggers, politicians, and musicians. Putin used this loaded phrase himself in a speech, setting the stage for the potential purging of difference. Chilling stuff, as the Times says. Interestingly, Fifth Column was the name of an amazing queer-punk Canadian band in the early ’90s, associated with the Riot Grrrl movement from which Pussy Riot gets their name. They were dissidents against the homophobia of the era of the Defense of Marriage Act, just as Pussy Riot oppress the anti-gay politics of Putin’s Russia.

Somewhat amusingly, Masha and Nadya questioned Putin’s own sexual orientation on Real Time With Bill Maher.

 

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