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Review of Pussy Riot at El Club Detroit – 9.13.18

Pussy Riot

by Becka Helhowski

Fresh out of Russian prison for storming the field during the 2018 FIFA World Cup as a political protest, Pussy Riot brought down El Club in a wave of flashing lights, stunning visuals, and a raw performance of anti-fascism punk rock fueled with feminism, and pure anger.

If you’re unfamiliar with Pussy Riot’s music, you might recognize them from their outspoken feminism and activism. They almost always perform while wearing their trademark balaclava masks. They’re considered radical in terms of Russia’s standards (President Putin is… not a fan). Members of the group have an archive of legal disputes and detainments under their belt, which is impressive enough to make the average feminist feel like a hermit. Touching on every subject, from fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, to staging a 2012 political performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which they deemed as “Punk Prayer,” in protest of the Orthodox church leaders openly supporting Putin. Nadya, Katerina and Maria were arrested for “hooliganism in result of religious hatred” in result of the Punk Prayer and each of them was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Nadya and Maria were released two months early.

Pussy Riot

Two amazing bands, Girl Fight and FREEBLEEDERS kicked off the show. Both bands regularly used the intermissions between songs to remind the crowd about the severity of the current political climate, the importance of consent, and the harsh treatment of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community in today’s society.

Girl Fight was contagiously energetic; their lyrics slapped the crowd into reality with themes like problematic white feminism and men dictating laws onto the bodies of women. The duo’s anger echoed through the venue and everyone was dancing in the angriest way possible.

FREEBLEEDERS were a powerhouse of feminist punk rock you can only imagine being out of “10 Things I Hate About You”. For a moment during their set, I was actively searching the crowd for Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. FREEBLEEDERS oozed with influences from bands like Letters to Cleo and Bikini Kill. These women are so punk rock, I have never felt so intimidated in my life. They even shot red glitter covered tampons into the crowd with a nerf gun. They finished with a mosh-pit inducing cover of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” that would move Henry Rollins to tears.

What happened next was something you truly needed to just be there to experience the full effect. Before taking the stage, Pussy Riot played a montage of political facts impacting Russia and the US. This REALLY got the crowd going. One particular slide of this pre-show presentation mentioned how Vladimir Putin is one of the richest men in the world despite being only in government careers, and how his closest friends are also rich, as to suggest he helps them using government money. The crowd at this point was chanting.

Nadya walked out on stage sporting her classic neon green balaclava accompanied by two background dancers with matching masks. She went straight for the microphone, and immediately started belting out with Russian feminist fury. Suddenly every native Russian in the crowd came out of the woodwork to catch a glimpse of a hometown hero. Each song had a montage of early 2000’s internet aesthetic nonsense. They included two men shoveling a snowy sidewalk at a Windows 98 pop-up, flashing QR codes, war propaganda, alongside a sing-a-long style lyric display. Needless to say, it was very avant-garde. When a song playing required no vocals, Nadya joined her background dancers to collectively lose their marbles dancing.

A personal favorite played was their 2016 viral hit “Make America Great Again.” The song is unusually calm for them, and has a very chill tempo. It’s easy to sing along to, while also keeping you checked on the motives of America’s current leader.

Nadya thanked everyone for all the support while she and her band mates were in prison. She thanked the crowd, expressed her deep love for Detroit. She then confessed they had run out of songs to play and left the stage. The crowd was having none of it and demanded one last song. With no other songs to play, she returned to the stage with all of her dancers and obliged the crowd with a three-minute-long electronic dance party to end the show.

Everyone in the audience was walking out covered in sweat, and discussing feminism, politics, and what we as Americans can do to improve the country for all the people living in it. And honestly, as activists first and a band second, I can only imagine that their entire intention of being a touring band is to get people thinking and active with their country and community.

Overall, the experience was personally and objectively empowering, all while also being a little weird. But, if you have a good time and leave the show feeling inspired, who cares how weird it was?

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