Pussy Riot's more punk than you will ever be

The band of political provocateurs just might be Russia’s best pop-culture claim to fame

Russia is famous for producing many things, including, but not limited to: an endless parade of porn stars who somehow all seem to be named Natasha, unemployed drunkards whose blood-alcohol level on any given day is 73 percent Beluga vodka, and taxis that aren’t driven by anyone even remotely qualified to be a taxi driver. What it’s not famous for is producing pop stars who’ve managed to make a name for themselves beyond the fabulous city limits of Dzerzhinsk.

And, sorry, but t.A.T.u. doesn’t count. Not only were Lena Katina and Julia Volkova the shittiest Euro-trash dance duo this side of Andrew Ridgeley and that dude who loves to wank it in public crappers, they were even shittier lesbians.

Massive props, then, to Pussy Riot for not only busting out of Mother Russia, but doing so in a blaze of pure punk glory not seen since the Sex Pistols. Not since the rise of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock has a band so brilliantly managed to convince the world that it is indeed a threat to everything a society holds sacred—“society”, in this case, meaning Russian president Vladimir Putin, who seems like the kind of humourless rock ’n’ roll–hating ghoul who spends his downtime pulling the wings off flies, angels, baby budgies, and fairies named Tinker Bell.

As has been reported everywhere from the New York Times to that blog run by your neighbourhood Harry Hardcore, three members of the provocateurs Pussy Riot are currently up shit creek with a turd for a paddle back in Mother Russia. One minute—on February 21, 2012, to be exact—they were cavorting around Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, treating the Bible-kissing faithful to a guerrilla rendition of the more-riot-grrrl-than-riot-grrrl number “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”. The next, they’re being arrested, hauled off to a кенгуру court, charged with religious-hatred-motivated hooliganism, and then sentenced to two years in prison. That’s another way of saying that, with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich now all behind bars, Pussy Riot won’t be heading to your town next year as featured players on the Warped Tour. Too bad. It’s easy to rail on about the police, the government, and that out-of-control high-school hall monitor when you know the chances of actually getting a reaction are slim to none.

In the span of a couple of months Pussy Riot has exposed every band that ever called itself punk as a bunch of sad pretenders. If the 12-person anarcho-collective has taught North America’s spiky, dyed, and dirty masses—both past and present—anything, it’s that they’ve always had it pretty easy. Hell, you can soak the American flag in petrol, stick a corner in your safety-pin-studded ass, light Old Glory on fire, and then do the dance of the flaming anus on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and the worst thing that will probably happen is that you’ll end up on YouTube.

In the summer of 2004, Green Day contributed the song “Favorite Son” to the anti–George W. compilation Rock Against Bush Vol. 2, backing that up with American Idiot, an album that suggested the U.S. is populated largely by redneck morons and high-powered idiot sons of assholes. For their troubles, Billy Joe Armstrong and company didn’t get a midnight visit from the suede-denim secret police, instead going six times platinum and securing a future invitation to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

If it hadn’t been for Ronald Reagan, the iconic punk bands of the ’80s would have had nothing to write about, which would have meant no laying the groundwork for the Offspring, Rancid, or, yes, Green Day. You didn’t see the members of Shattered Faith, Wasted Youth, or D.R.I. getting express passes to Rikers Island. If they had, you can pretty much bet that an entire generation of kids would have fled the punk-rock ship for a safer genre like, say, heavy metal. No one gives a shit if you sing about Satan, as long as you don’t go on about him sodomizing your Geritol-addicted grandfather.

Not so for Pussy Riot, which might be the first punk-rock band in history to find out that sometimes, when you mess with the bull, you get the horns. And despite it all, their message remains loud and clear: they still hate Putin. Despite being made up of women, Pussy Riot has just proven it has more balls than the boys.

Comments (10) Add New Comment
Tony k
In mother russia, parole give you board. And cell to die in.
10
21
Rating: -11
Hmmm ...
Your article seems to suggest that "punk" bands in the USA have much more freedom than these Russian girls ... how fast do you think a punk band would find itself in the clink after storming a church somewhere in the southern Bible Belt?!

It's great that they've raised some awareness to their issue, but the disgusting & overwhelming celebrities latching onto this is absurd ... there are far more problems in your own backyard to address.
15
19
Rating: -4
Shay S.
So no punk rockers were ever jailed, spied on, beaten, killed, or had to go on the lamb from the g-men except for Pussy Riot?

Ever heard of Black Flag? How about the Squamish Five? Who were they? I could go on and on. How about being jailed for just being a true scum punk (GG Allin, Sam McBride, Nicki Sicki) Does San Quentin not compare to a Russian gulag? What about going to jail for politics you don't agree with. Ever heard of Rock Against Communism (Skrewdriver, No Remorse)?

"If it wasn't for Reagan there would be nothing to rebel against in the 80s?" Dude, were you even alive in the 80s?

I've never heard Pussy Riots music but I imagine it's as cliche as their "actions". Maybe sticking a raw chicken into your vagina is breaking new ground in Russia but over here sticking stuff in your vagina, taking it out, reading it etc. as feminist performance art/provocation is even more tired and cliche than punk rock has become.

I will give them props for getting the Anthony Keidis endorsement. That's street cred right there.
18
21
Rating: -3
John Lucas
@ Hmmm...

You raise a valid point, and it reminds me of something the Vandals once sang: "America stands for freedom/But if you think you're free/Try walking into a deli/And urinating on the cheese."

Pissy Riot!
9
17
Rating: -8
gearbox
anarchy burger!!!

Hold the government!!!
14
20
Rating: -6
L. Knutsen
Yeah, Pussy Riot are so punk! No wonder the anarchists at Radio Free Europe love 'em.
17
19
Rating: -2
Kato Hublix
The following link will lay out how these girls are about as much a band as they are a collection of Sex Pistols bass players....the second one that is, and how they never played a concert...it was a bum rush the alter during services and that their Malcom had tried to get them arrested numerous times before for the publicity.... it was western media that called them a band, said it was a concert, and got everyone back into the USA|is so free and Russia is so communist way of thinking on this one. If you can find a single album, 7 inch, single track from this punk band..... I'd love to bu it.
http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/23/the-secret-history-of-pussy-riot/...
17
19
Rating: -2
Shay S.
That's an excellent article Kato. Pussy Riot has more in common with Kim Kardashian than they do with Abbie Hoffman.
16
17
Rating: -1
GGalien
This is a somewhat belated, but intelligent and informative writing from M. Usinger. Somewhat out of character as there is not one comment about the fans fashion sense, residency, economic status or other poseur values.
13
22
Rating: -9
GGalien
Please disregard the first "somewhat".
14
24
Rating: -10
Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.