Pussy Riot At The Echoplex, Monday April 2nd 2018

Written by | April 4, 2018 4:55 am | No Comments

Share

Pussy Riot

 

These days, everyone has heard of Pussy Riot, the all-girl guerilla band whose members got arrested after an impromptu performance inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012. Their ‘punk prayer’ was interpreted as a double blasphemy, directed against the church and Russian president Putin, who was in the middle of an election campaign at the time. As a result, three of them, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were charged with ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’, and if Samutsevich’s sentence was suspended, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina spent 21 months in Russian prisons.

Everyone has seen footages of Pussy Riot’s warrior-like performances, a gang of women showing up in the most unexpected places in Moscow, with their colorful balaclavas contrasting with the white snow. Everyone has heard about their feminist activism, their rebellious spirit and amazing courage (these Russian jails were not cozy places), standing up against Putin’s authority and calling to revolution, a call which has now spread worldwide.

If their Pussy Riot spirit was inspired by the Northwest Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement, the Russian warriors are back in the US, with a tour and three shows at the Echo/Echoplex this weekend.. I attended their last one on Monday night.

I had already attended a few talks with Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Maria (Masha) Alyokhina, I had been to Pussy Riot theater a year ago , and I have followed their stories over the years, always admiring their courage and convictions, However, none of these previous events were close to their guerilla-style performances which were designed to disturb order in Russia.

So I was curious about this new set of performances, although they were only one of two people on stage, and no sight of guitar or any other instrument, this may have been the closest thing to their ‘criminal’ performances in their native country,… At the Echoplex, their punk show was all electronic, abrasive bass and hard beats, an exercise in minimalism but apparently an efficient exercise.

If I didn’t expect to see Masha or Nadya’s famous faces, I believe the frontwoman of the night was Nadya herself.. I recognized her mouth through the mask, despite the fact we never really saw who was behind these balaklavas. Another member (a man this time who could have been her husband??) was most of the time behind the electronic/laptop table, serving as a DJ and beat programmer.

The masks, the urban wear, the DJ on the  side and the wide empty stage ready for Nadya’s athletic and boxing antics, everything had the feeling of a rap show, and the show was probably much closer to the performance of a ferocious hip hop artist than I had ever thought.

The entire night had a heavy feminist agenda with first, a sexy performance by Bebe Huxley, ‘a queer jew from Los Angeles’ as she presented herself, who told us to enjoy our pussy’. She stripteased during a series of dark satirical synth songs that she performed with an amazing vocal range, and she got hilarious during a song about our new national hero, Stormy Daniels, spanking Trump. Bebe was followed by queer-electro-pop Dorian Electra who had a song about the history of the clitoris and another one about vibrators. Her pop music had a retro ‘80s vibe with costume changes and dynamic choreographies executed like a new Madonna number, while London Jade, the first transgender rapper, also made an apparition during her set,…. At this point, I could have been back to another Sex Cells evening , but there was no mystery why the accent had been put on the LGBT community: gay rights are currently violated in Russia, with a recrudescence of LGBT hate crimes, and the same day it was announced that the Russian government had blocked access to a popular gay website (Gay.ru), saying ‘it violates the law against propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations’.

If you were ready for a disruptive show, Pussy Riot gave you one, with a raw electronic bass constantly vibrating through people’s entire body and a deafening sound aggressing everyone’s eardrums, while Nadya, sometimes accompanied by another Pussy riot who was jumping on stage, was screaming and rapping her lyrics in English or Russian.

The screen in the back, projecting lyrics and slogans, helped to understand what was going on, with sentences like ‘My shit-faced parliament wants to make contraception illegal’… ‘My country suffers from neurosis, my government is total waste’… ‘’Putin’s gang, fuck’ em’… ‘Iron curtain and labor camps suck, jail is no fun’…‘Their talks about the economy and defense are bullshit’… ‘Why do we have to see those damn jerks’ faces in the homeland of avant-garde’… ‘My president replaced his dick with an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)’, even though his name was coming back in the tirades and war chants, and it was not difficult to substitute Putin for Trump in these collusion times, and this became even more true as Trump was also name-checked several times and Nadya took a Forbes magazine with Trump on the cover and tore it apart at everyone’s great joy

‘Activism really works’ she screamed from behind her balaklava, while throwing to the crowd a load of multicolored balaklavas or telling us to vote and get rid of Trump. The entire show was high speed from start to finish, with a ferocious and menacing hip hop vibe, a stage-shaking and earthshaking energy that had little to do with their polished video for Make America Great Again, the song was unrecognizable (I didn’t recognize it at all, although it was apparently part of this incomplete setlist), reinterpreted with a series of ferocious attacks, at the image of the entire set.

If I obviously couldn’t comprehend anything said in Russian, most of the rest (even when it was in English) was not very audible, but it didn’t really matter to the crowd who was there, the message could have easily been either lost in translation or in reverb, but people around me couldn’t have cared less, they were very enthusiastic, showing they were not really attending some ordinary music show. At this point the music or rather the explosions, the harsh electrobeats, the strong vibrations and strident noises, the aggressive noise à la Death Grips didn’t matter much, it was not a concert, I (nor anyone there) was not really interested by analyzing the beats and the noise, this was beyond the point, this was a political rally in its most powerful expression with colorful masks, loud sounds and videos of jailed Russian artists and even a large pussy riot flag waved above our heads at the end of it… And this part was triumphant, showing that Pussy Riot’s wave of revolution has reached the US. If they were jailed by Putin, they currently protest Trump America as much as the conditions of their country, they sing about all these  ‘Bad Apples’ (a track recorded with Dave Sitek), the elections, and the cops, the bad cops, as if these songs had been written by some US rapper. Several people, including rapper Desi-Mo, got on stage during their last song, about vagina (‘Straight Outta Vagina’) bringing their radicalism to the next level.

The show was wild and the music, blending rap, techno, experimentation even going in full EDM mode at one point, was a modern and up-to-date evolution of their previous punk demonstrations, using the most popular sonic expression of the moment to be able to reach masses. At the end, I am still not sure how to describe a Pussy Riot concert, it was certainly something else than entertainment, although people were entertained, and it was certainly a political rally, although it’s difficult to know if the message made us forget about the music, or if the music made us forget about the message.

Setlist (partial)
Organs
Bad Apples
Elections
Make America Great Again
Intermission Punk Prayer
Straight Outta Vagina

More pictures here

Pussy Riot

Bebe Huxley

Pussy Riot

Dorian Electra

Pussy Riot

Bebe Huxley

Pussy Riot

Dorian Electra

Pussy Riot

Bebe Huxley

Pussy Riot

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *