SXSW Music Review: Pussy Riot

Russians protest employing political techno

It felt like chaos, a mental mugging. The first of two official SXSW showcases from Muscovites Pussy Riot, Tuesday evening at the old Emo’s on the corner of Sixth and Red River (now the Main and Main II), staged a political protest more so than a musical performance.

Photo by Jana Birchum

Beneath a drooping, rainbow-colored banner proclaiming in black Olde English script “PUSSY IS THE NEW DICK,” Pussy Riot founder Nadezhda Tolokonnikova announced that the group had been instructed not to obscure SXSW signage with its backdrop.

“But I don’t think commerce should take precedence over art!” she snarled.

Tolokonnikova explained that Pussy Riot was less a band than a performance art troupe, utilizing music to convey its message, before bringing on Chelsea Manning to introduce them. The gender-fluid activist then took to ranting against the prison system. Perhaps overlong, it nonetheless proved a profound moment in a profound exhibition.

Pussy Riot’s initial guerilla hit-and-runs in Russia were soundtracked by a raw, modernist take on classic English punk such as Sham 69, from whom guitars were sampled said Tolokonnikova at one point, giggling. More recent singles “Police State” and “Bad Apples,” both featured Tuesday, demonstrate the act’s forceful evolution into agit-electro outfit, a DJ setup now replacing standard punk instrumentation.

As such, a deliberately overloaded P.A. system at the venue added to the tension, as Tolokonnikova and a loose cast of locally sourced Russian women performed in their trademark brightly colored tights and balaclava. Lighting frequently boiled down to a flashlight Tolokonnikova brandished, augmented by the rare strobes. The effect was akin to a terrorist interrogation.

As festivities closed with a Pussy Rioter waving that “PUSSY IS THE NEW DICK” flag, spirits were high and lives changed by a new generation's punk heroines. The future of rebel rock isn’t rock & roll as we know it. It’s heavily distorted political techno.

Pussy Riot appears again tonight, Wed., March 14, at the Belmont, midnight.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Pussy Riot, SXSW Music 2018, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Chelsea Manning

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