This article was originally posted on the MYPLACE blog. The MYPLACE blog first reported on ”Pussy Riot’s” anti-Putin punk prayer protest, in March. Now, as 3 members of the group have been sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for “hooliganism,” the University of Warwick’s Dr Ivan Gololobov writes on the scene in Moscow which forms the background to Pussy Riot’s rise to infamy.
In the last few months a lot of media attention in Russia and abroad was drawn to the trial over three members of the feminist punk-band Pussy Riot arrested and charged with hooliganism for their performance ‘Punk-prayer’ that took place inside of the Christ the Saviour, the biggest Orthodox cathedral in Russia on the 21st of February 2012. Musicians all over the world from Madonna, Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel, to Bjork, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Faith no More expressed their clear disagreement with the proposed sentence and showed their support to the arrested girls. Russian musicians, however, expressed surprisingly little interest to this affair. And if the silence of pop and rock stars whose careers vitally depend on good relations with the authorities is more than understandable, the absence of vocal response from underground musicians looks pretty strange.
It would be wrong to say that such reaction is completely absent, but interestingly enough it comes from rather unexpected corners of the scene. The first song produced in support to Pussy Riot was recorded by a well-known rapper Siava, famous for his colourful portraits of yobs’ life. The song was called Maliava Pussy Riot [A prison letter to Pussy Riot], it was released in April 2012 shortly after the arrest.
Since then, no one really added to this single voice until in August 2012 Elizium, an emo-core band from Nizhniy Novgorod came forward with the slogans of support to Pussy Riot on Kubana, the biggest open-air festival Kubana in the South of Russia, and BARTO, a feminist electro-punk band from Moscow recorded a track called Kis’ia eres’ [Heresy of little cats]
The silence of the Russian music underground, and what is more surprising – punk scene is, however, not that unpredictable. As a matter of fact Pussy Riot, although calling themselves a punk-band and using the sign of punk in their performances, never belonged to the Russian punk scene. They consider themselves as art-actionists, clearly place themselves in the context of contemporary Russian actionism, quoting the names of Prigov, Brener, Kulik and other art-provocateurs of the 1990s.
From the very beginning Pussy Riot was an art-project and their personal connection to the famous art-group Voina is not an accident in this regard. Ideology and actions of Pussy Riot are clearly oriented towards media reaction. The songs which appear in the internet are pre-recorded in studio, their actions are pre-rehearsed and sometimes include several takes, like the one in the Christ the Saviour, where footage from an identical action in a smaller church performed earlier was mixed in the main clip. This is, somehow, not particularly punky. In the same way as it is not particularly punky to stage a gig and to play without any audience, just for the cameras, portraying it later as a ‘concert’.
The punk-prayer is not over, it is being written now, and its after-effect appears to be much more important than the performance itself. Performance itself was not that interesting and, moreover, many found it appalling, but what happened next is by far much more appalling. This however made Russian music underground silent as it did not find the ways of reacting on this performance which appeared to be much more real than any ‘real’ punk concert, ironically suggesting that probably the only true rock and punk musician in Russia appeared to be rapper Siava, previously known for his hit Bodriachkom, patsanchiki [Get on the way, lads], caution, explicit lyrics!!!