Arts Desk

D.C. Bands to Play Russian Embassy on Anniversary of Pussy Riot Imprisonment

russianembassyD.C.'s punk rockers have a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin: They still don't like you.

This evening, outside the barricades of the Embassy of the Russian Federation, three local acts will play in solidarity with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, members of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot who recently reached the halfway point in the jail sentences they received last year for playing an impromptu show inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral. (A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on appeal last October.)

The lineup features G.U.T.S., a power-punk group; Soft Punch, the solo project of Tereu Tereu singer and guitarist (and WCP contributor Ryan Little); and Jail Solidarity, a noise-rock group that traces its origins to the Occupy D.C. movement.

The show, sponsored by Amnesty International, comes a few weeks after Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were denied parole, though their chances of being released early were, by Tolokonnikova's own courtroom admission, bleak. "I know that in Russia under Putin I will never receive parole," she said during her parole hearing.

Hardly a week goes by when there isn't some kind of attempt to disrupt one of the 176 foreign diplomatic missions in D.C., but when it comes to Pussy Riot's cause, activists have been doing more than ordinary signs-and-shouting demonstrations. The show is a follow-up to one last year right after the Pussy Riot performers were sentenced. To some, that protest recalled scenes outside the South African embassy in the 1985, when members of D.C.'s punk community banged on drums for hours on end in objection to apartheid.

"Policy wonks protesting on the street aren’t going to get the same response. It’s an amazing fucking thing to watch," Amy Pickering, who helped organize the anti-apartheid punk percussion protests as a member of the band Fire Party, told me last year for the New Republic.

And this year, the punks have even more issues with the Russian government. In addition to Tolokonnikova and Alekhina's continued imprisonment, there is the more recent issue of a new law banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," or, basically, all expressions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights. Russia's interior minister has said that the law will be enforced during next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"The fact is that the anti-LGBT legislation is another example of the continued crackdown on freedom of expression," Amnesty International spokeswoman Sharon Singh says.

Besides the bands, the concert will also feature some visual demonstrations, including protesters wearing balaclavas, and speeches from Russian ex-pats who disagree with their home country's policies.

But the hook remains Pussy Riot. Even when Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have been surpassed in attention by the new anti-gay law, the approaching Olympics, or the Putin government's relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, punk rockers rally to the cause of other punk rockers.

"This is clearly something that has garnered the attention of the punk scene," Singh says. "The bands that are playing are because they believe in this cause."

Jail Solidarity, Soft Punch, and G.U.T.S. play at 6 p.m. outside the Russian Embassy, 2650 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Free.

Flickr photo by Adam Fagen used under a Creative Commons license.

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