The Daily Northwestern

What does a Pussy Riot sound like?

David Lee, Blogger

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Two former members of Russian feminist group Pussy Riot headlined an international peace concert, talked in-depth with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and gave what some consider the best interview ever on “The Colbert Report.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina have brought international attention to the politically radical 11-member collective within roughly a month of being released from jail.

The Sochi 2014 Olympics have given Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina an enormous platform to broadcast their message, but I cannot recall a band gaining so much prominence without any of their music being known.

But what does their music even sound like?

I went on YouTube to find out, and I was completely blindsided. I was at Norbucks searching  when I was hit with a grungy, hard-hitting punk song. I had heard they were a punk band, but Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina seemed so soft-spoken during interviews that it was surprising to find that they created this kind of music.

The lyrics to “Putin Lights Up the Fires,” were screamed, not sung, with an incredible amount of rebellious angst. The music video, which involves women taking off their clothes and then engaging in a sort of female “Fight Club,” also left me feeling completely vulnerable. Everybody at Norbucks definitely thought I was some crazy pervert — maybe I should have taken the video off full-screen mode.

“A Punk Prayer” is probably the group’s most well-known song, as it is also the title of the 2013 HBO documentary regarding their court cases. The song begins with a choir, mockingly singing lyrics like, “The Church praises rotten leaders. The march of the cross consists of black limousines.” The video depicts the group donning ski masks, bowing down as an apparent satire to the church and then rocking out as officials of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow try to escort them away.

The lyrics are abundantly clear: Russians are being severely wronged by President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. As the clergy line their pockets, Pussy Riot sings, “Freedom’s ghost (has gone to) heaven. A gay-pride parade (has been) sent to Siberia in shackles.” The actual music, again, is nothing special. They sound like a bunch of teenagers in a garage, blurting out their feelings with reckless abandon.

I realize, though, maybe that is exactly what they want. The group does not want the public to be distracted by things as trivial as musicianship. Rage Against the Machine held similar revolutionary views, but the band members seemed to be upstaged by their own skill. When the four-piece band signed to Epic Records in 1996, many questioned the legitimacy of the group’s political agenda in light of its financial success.

There is no such risk with Pussy Riot. Everything about them — the name, worldview, lyrics and interviews — calls for controversy. They are not a band with a political stance. They are a political machine with instruments and they shout because they want to be heard.

Email: davidlee2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @davidylee95

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