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What Pussy Riot Actually Sounds Like

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What Pussy Riot Actually Sounds Like
Image Credit: AP

Two members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot have officially been freed after serving a two-year prison sentence in Russia for "hooliganism." They were punished for a performance of their political anthem, "Punk Prayer," at the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Since the arrests, the drama of their subsequent trials has exploded in the media. There has been a lot of talk about the group's politics, but little actual attention paid to their music. This is one of the most famous bands in the world, but it seems nobody knows what they sound like.

Pussy Riot makes political punk music in a rich Western tradition. They draw inspiration from 90s punk bands including Bikini Kill, Karen Finley, and the Riot Grrrl movement. These bands and genre all share similarly aggressive and revolutionary political attitudes and feminist stances. In Pussy Riot's case, though, those stances got them arrested.

"What we have in common [with Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl movement] is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, non-standard female image," Pussy Riot said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. Their music is always more of a political act than a musical one. Even after being arrested, they were challenging the status quo. They released this song, "Putin Lights Up the Fires," after being arrested nearly two years ago:

The band's music is also a form of Oi!, a sub-genre of punk music that draws its influence from working class folk music. André Schlesinger, singer of The Press, described Oi! as having the same simplicity and political imperative as the best folk music — so the lyrics and performance are often more important than the music. 

Pussy Riot may be far from what we think of as folk, but they are definitively simple and political — the music seems always to be as minimal as possible in order to foreground their performance or their politics. Their two-minute-long concerts are often described as performance art and members of the band have said, when recruiting more women to join, that you don't need to be musically inclined to do what they do: "You don't have to sing very well. It's punk. You just scream a lot." In each performance, they aim to provoke as quickly and simply as possible.

Members of the band have admitted Pussy Riot was never meant to be a band as much as a form of protest. Nonetheless, their music and lyrics have gained the world's attention. Whether they're more a musical group or a political collective, Pussy Riot is definitively a group of very brave women.

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