With anti-establishment act Pussy Riot now performing from a cage, it’s interesting to see how their own antics have carried on one particular Soviet tradition. And despite Putin’s best attempts to muscle in on the music scene – witness his moving rendition of Blueberry Hill – the KGB crooner might have his work cut out for him.
Since its underground rumblings in the 1980s, Russia’s punk subculture has had a fair bit of practice in bringing it to the people. The Soviet Union’s first punk band, Civil Defence – or Гражданская Оборона – or GrOb (ГрОб, Coffin) for short – had to duck and weave both censors and KGB. And they still found time to release illegal recordings; apparently known as “Bones” – homemade bootlegs often made from discarded medical x-rays.
In the 1970s and 1980s a growing surge of blackmarket fashion and underground music – openly challenging the Soviet-grey old-guard – delivered a dawning sense of freedom. By the mid-80s a tide of avant-garde artists, punks, rockers and psycho billies were roaming the streets, often meeting with spontaneous public performances – and the occasional police crackdown. Fashion shows could easily devolve into raucous rock gigs; catwalks and gigs colliding in places as diverse as Sergey Kuryokhin’s Popular Mechanics Group, the Sovincenter Hall, squats, concert halls and busy city streets.
As the Russian subculture site Kompost declares: “The subcultural people, who established their own market of attributes, had already formed their ideas about the standards of appearance”.
“The music and lyrics of punk rock provoke among the young fits of aimless rage, vandalism, and the urge to destroy everything they get their hands on. No matter how carefully they try to clean it up, it will remain the most reactionary offspring of the bourgeoisie mass culture.” (Pravda, official newspaper and mouthpiece of the USSR)
On May 9th 1991, 24-year-old poet and singer Yana Stanislavovna Dyagileva (Яна Станиславовна Дягилева,) known as Yanka (Янка) left her Novosibirsk country home, never to be seen again. Yanka was Russia’s own Patti Smith, her delivery thoughtful and message sharp. On May 17th her body was found in the Inya River. Her death officially remains a mystery – although there was apparently no water in her lungs and a fractured skull. The fact that she was married to the singer from Yegor Letov may not have helped. Her record sales have grown since her death.
J.M.K.E. was one band whose name made it beyond the Iron Curtain. Civil Defence also survived into the post-communist years, releasing a number of albums and gathering a large following. Unfortunately lead singer Yegor Letov (Его́р Ле́тов) reportedly died in his sleep two years ago.
State prosecutors yesterday demanded three years each for the Pussy Riot members in a corrective labour facility, after their public anti-Putin performance protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. They each received two years – on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In response to that, it’s worth reading Tolokonnikova’s closing statement before her sentencing (and there’s nothing wrong with Socrates):
“Socrates was accused of corrupting youth through his philosophical discourses and of not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates had a connection to a divine inner voice. What did that matter, however, when he had angered the city with his critical, dialectical and unprejudiced thinking? Socrates was sentenced to death and, refusing to run away, although he was given that option, he drank down a cup of poison in cold blood, hemlock”.
“And I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a demon and out of his mind.”
Pussy Riot Images via English Russia.
The motley collection of videos below include:
1. Civil Defence’s ‘I Don’t Believe in Anarchy’,
2. “Yanka” Dyagileva
3. Viktor Tsoi “Change” that concluded the 2011 protest anti-Putin Twitter/Youtube protest.
5. Propeller – Punker.