Friday, February 3, 2012

Putin and the Riot Grrrls

One thing is for sure, the developing protest movement in Russia is taking some interesting turns, case in point the all-female punk outfit called Pussy Riot, who have gained a fair bit of notoriety in recent months thanks to a series of impromptu performances and biting lyrics aimed squarely at Vladimir Putin.

The Guardian published this fairly in-depth piece about Pussy Riot, which acts more like a collective rather than a band, and whose members strive for total anonymity – wearing brightly colored balaclavas during performances and interviews to hide their faces.  Their most recent, and boldest, show was two weeks ago on a platform in front of the iconic St. Basil's Cathedral across from the Kremlin where they sang: “revolt in Russia – the charisma of protest / revolt in Russia, Putin's got scared!” – quite a change from just a few years ago when a Russian girl pop band sand about how they wanted “a man like Putin!”  Pussy Riot also sang atop the jail holding blogger and one of the de facto heads of the Russian protest movement, Alexey Navalny, after his arrest during the massive street protests on December 4; their lyrics that night included the lines: “death to prison / freedom to protest!”   

According to The Guardian, the average age of the members of Pussy Riot is 25, they describe themselves as feminists and say that most studied the humanities in college.  What I found really interesting though – beyond the mere idea of a feminist punk protest collective in Russia – is that they seem fairly savvy about the American punk/alternative scene from the 1990s.  Pussy Riot cited the iconic alternative act Sonic Youth as one of their references, along with Bikini Kill, a 90's-era, all-female punk outfit based out of Olympia, Washington who were one of the driving forces of the “riot grrrl” movement.  The lyrics in riot grrrl typically have a feminist bent, while the bands take on an in-your-face attitude.  It seems a good match for Pussy Riot's approach, it’s just surprising when you consider that the main influence on most contemporary female Russian bands are saccharine Europop outfits and that when riot grrrl was having its heyday, Pussy Riot's members were about eight years old and living on the other side of the globe. 

Pussy Riot say they plan to continue protesting, noting the historic role that women have played in Russia's many political upheavals. “There's a deep tradition in Russia of gender and revolution – we've had amazing women revolutionaries,” said a member of Pussy Riot, who in the spirit of anonymity went only by the name of Garazhda. 
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