Freemuse meets Pussy Riot: Punk is a great inspiration

There was a good deal of humour and a talk about the meaning of punk culture when original Pussy Riot members Masha and Nadya (Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) met Freemuse Director Ole Reitov in front of an audience at a jam-packed Kulturhuset in Oslo, Norway, on 13 May 2014.


Asked whether music has to be simple in order to function in a political context, Nadya replied:

“No, I don’t think it has to be simple. We just don’t know how to play.”

The two members were joined on stage by visual artist cum activist Lucina, who also took part in the recent Pussy Riot protests in Russia against the Olympic Games in Sochi.

The one-hour conversation was translated by Nadya’s husband Pyotr Verzilov, one of the members of the Russian art activist group Voina – a group that even included Nadya and Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich. For Voina and Pussy Riot, punk culture has always been a great inspiration.

“I treat punk culture in a broader sense – for example the 1990s activist performers in Russia. The Ukranian performance artist Oleg Kuli, who performed as a ‘mandog’ and was biting people in front of museums worked in the attitude of punk,” said Nadya, and her husband Pyotr mentioned Iggy Pop as a great inspiration.

“Unfortunately you need a lot of brains to do effective punk. It is a very complex aesthetic tradition and you always have to consider how to recreate yourself,” Nadya pointed out.

Anarchists meet the west
Anarchists and anti-consumerists are usually not Western politicians’ and media’s “cup of tea”, but since their release from prison, the Russian activist-artists have been invited to talks at several major American tv shows, they have met with U.S. Senate politicians and with dozens of famous American music stars.

“Unfortunately we have to meet these people without balaclavas,” Nadya said and added that on the other side, it also gave them the opportunity to criticise the imprisonment of Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan.

The interview in Oslo touched upon the increased persecution of artists in Russia by the so-called Centres Against Extremism – an issue recently dealt with in a Freemuse article.

The Pussy Riot members considered these attacks an example of the failure of Russian police to do their job. When the police fails to combat real criminals, it is easy to target artists, homosexuals and minorities.

Commenting on the surprisingly many civil Russian voters for the Eurovision song contest winner Conchita Wurst from Austria, Masha said:

“It is important to use pop culture to bring forward different ideas and values of the LGBT community, so we think this is a great thing she did.”

A few hours after the overwhelming success of the Austrian singer, Russian ultra nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky labelled the result as “the end of Europe” and said: “There is no limit to our outrage.” He even indicated that after Russia liberated Austria during the Second World War, Russia had made a mistake by leaving Austria. Commenting on this, Masha said:

“We have had several artists in Russia performing like Conchita. Zhirinovsky may wish to make it look as if he is not aware of what is going on in Russia. But of course he is aware.”

The question never asked
A few days before the session, the Norwegian daily Klassekampen published an interview with Ole Reitov asking him which question to Pussy Riot he was looking most forward to getting an answer to. Reitov replied:

“This must be: the question no one ever asked them.”

So what was the question that in the hundreds of interviews was never put to the Pussy Riot members? Nadya and Masha looked at each other…

“That is a tough question!”

…and then the answer came after long consideration:

“We were never asked which is our favourite animal,” said Nadya.

And the answer to that question is… still blowing in the wind

Watch the interview

Pussy Riot interview in Oslo – Duration: 52 minutes. Published on on 13 May 2014