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Space Punk: The Online Video Years – “Group Pussy Riot burns Putin’s glamor”

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Pussy Riot 2

By Al Larsen

These clips of Pussy Riot are amazing. Members of the all-woman anonymous feminist collective – in bright dresses and red, yellow, green, pink and blue ski masks – are rocking out, jumping around and shouting and making a mess with pillow feathers and fire extinguisher spray. The sound is shambling messy punk with distorted aggressive vocals and the lyrics and the statements they’ve released reveal both a sense of humor and an anti-Putin, anti-government, anti-materialism, anti-sexism message.

Pussy Riot – “Группа Pussy Riot жжет путинский гламур”  (“Group Pussy Riot burns Putin’s glamor” ?)

Pussy Riot – “Девчонки из PUSSY RIOT захватывают транспорт” (“The girls of PUSSY RIOT seize vehicles” ?)

The feeling is angry and celebratory at the same time. This would be refreshing just as regular punk rock performed on a stage in a club, but Pussy Riot only play unsanctioned shows in public spaces. They’ve been staging these guerilla shows in Moscow for a few months now (for which they’ve been arrested and fined) and the clips show the group set up in Red Square, inside a posh boutique, on a fashion show runway, even on top of a bus.

According to the group, “We come and take over platforms that don’t belong to us and use them for free”. The videos show how they occupy and temporarily transform public spaces … filling them up with color, sound, motion … claiming control with humor and chaos … even acting on the volume of space around them by dispersing feathers and confetti, and setting off a fire extinguisher.

Security guards and shop employees look puzzled and unsure, while bystanders and shoppers appear curious, amused, as if they’d been waiting for some kind of anarchic, libidinous rupture in daily life.

But also notice how constructed the clips are … the clips above are tightly-edited montages of several different performances … the soundtracks of both feature drums but all you see in the videos is a single guitarist. Given the spaces they are performing in, they actually don’t seem to have much in the way of amplifiers either … Something happened in those places on those days, but it was something quite different than what is represented.

I’m not saying that’s bad. We don’t expect that Jack White or Josh Homme or whoever actually recorded all those layered guitar tracks at the same time. The truth in the videos is in projecting an idea of the possibility of what can happen in public spaces. Where rock’n’roll has traditionally been concerned with recordings and touring, this is more about doing something in public space and representing it online. The performances are about the moment and for the moment. But there’s also some pretty serious staging going on. It’s ephemeral and it’s for the archive.

What Pussy Riot is doing has something to do with rock’n’roll, punk rock, street theater, performance art, protest and flash mobs but none of those terms really hit the mark. “Interventionist protest art” would be a decent, if dull-sounding, description but the framing of Pussy Riot as a band is significant. It suggests something that anyone can get in on. Because, who knows – ? Maybe the recording industry will stop threatening to collapse and get on with it. Maybe we’ll see a new form – a blossoming of bands that dispense with “touring the album” in favor of creatively engaging the poetics of public space.

In the meantime, here are some “space punk” video nuggets from the archive, each pointing to a possible opening in everyday life where space can be occupied and momentarily transformed, be it obliquely, obnoxiously or pointedly.

(continues overleaf)

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