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28 September 2022

The raucous return of Pussy Riot

As Vladimir Putin escalated his war the Russian punk rebels performed in Canterbury, urging him to “jump up into hell”.

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

On 21 September, the day that Vladimir Putin announced a mobilisation of army reserves to fight in Ukraine, Pussy Riot performed at the Gulbenkian Arts Centre in Canterbury. It has been ten years since the balaclava-clad Russian punk group were arrested following an anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral, but their raucous performance art is more pertinent than ever.

Maria Alyokhina has borne the Russian state’s wrath at her rebellion ever since. One of three Pussy Riot members sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, she spent time in a penal colony in the brutal surroundings of the Ural Mountains. Since her release she has been assaulted in public and arrested countless times. Threatened with another prison stay, she fled her home country in April 2022, and is now bringing a new iteration of Riot Days, a multimedia retelling of her time in the darkest depths of Putin’s Russia, to UK audiences.

Onstage in a white dress, a crucifix hanging around her neck, Alyokhina kept her gaze straight ahead. Olga Borisova joined her on vocals, the pair howling in Russian about “pricking Putin’s ass with a pin” so he would “jump up into hell”, and recognising security agents at their door by their silly, pointy shoes. A screen behind them showed English subtitles of their lyrics and red-tinged footage of their demonstrations.

There was no sign of an electric guitar: Taso Pletner played a guttural flute and Diana Burkot – one ankle impaired after she had flung herself off the stage at a previous gig – hammered away on drums and electronics. Pussy Riot’s punk spirit lives in their ability to mock the dangerous pageant that is the Kremlin. Before returning for an encore in which they stood in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, Alyokhina made it clear that despite state pressure to keep quiet, Pussy Riot’s rebellion is far from over. “I’m riding in a car that is picking up speed,” she shrieked.

[See also: Nick Cave’s second coming]

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This article appears in the 28 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Truss Delusion