Music review: Pussy Riot

Masha Alyokhinas Riot Days is more political art happening than a Pussy Riot gig
Masha Alyokhinas Riot Days is more political art happening than a Pussy Riot gig
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You never quite know what you’re going to get with Pussy Riot – just ask the worshippers in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour when the group smuggled in guitar and amp and donned colourful balaclavas to play a brief guerrilla gig in 2012, protesting Vladimir Putin’s third term in office. During their subsequent trial for “hooliganism”, three unmasked members of the group – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria “Masha” Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – became the most celebrated faces of the Snow Revolution. Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina served two years in prison and, on release, Alyokhina published the book Riot Days on which this show was based.

Art School, Glasgow ***

Her celebrity as a political activist was enough to draw a capacity crowd of all ages to witness whatever she had to present. It transpired that Riot Days in its live incarnation is more political art happening than gig – the rudimentary music simply providing an invigorating undercurrent to the strident bombardment of slogans, statistics, photos, footage and court illustrations which accompanied the subtitled story of Pussy Riot, as declaimed by Alyokhina and three comrades. Much like the performance which led to her arrest, strong emotion and eloquent thought were channelled into something quite basic and bruising, a sort of punk provocation which was not without moments of humour – “we ate whatever God sent us – which was usually pasta,” she said of their clandestine preparations – and bittersweet lyricism, such as her last glimpses of street life from the van transporting her to jail.

A detailed account of their cathedral ritual, when they delivered a punk prayer to “put Putin away”, was interspersed with narration from the subsequent court transcripts reclaiming their “non Orthodox music” and “planned leaping and hopping” and duly accompanied by monastic chanting, urgent punky blasts of saxophone, invigorating beats and some planned leaping and hopping of their own.

There was little let-up along the way. Water was sprayed on the crowd and tipped over Alyokhina during a sobering sequence on the privations of prison life in the Urals, where she successfully challenged the gulag conditions. Since her release, she has continued to campaign for prison reform and the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, most recently shutting down Trump Tower with another guerrilla action. However, this particular punk protest was more about excitement than incitement.

FIONA SHEPHERD