Saturday, December 01, 2012

Sound of the Year: 2012 – PUSSY RIOT

On February 21, 2012, five modestly clad Russian women entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia.  And once inside they cast off their black outer wear to reveal brightly colored skirts and tights beneath. Then they pulled equally colorful homemade ski masks over their faces and stormed the front of the church whereby they launched into 'Mother of God, Drive Putin Out', a song that has also been called a 'punk prayer'.

The quartet, composed of several members of the arts activist collective, PUSSY RIOT, staged this bit of disruptive theater as a form of political protest. And in their punk prayer they loudly appealed to the Virgin Mary to chase the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, out of power, along with the oppressive patriarchal political system that they've said Putin represents.

That none of the performers actually played a musical instrument suggests that it was probably not the actual song itself that captured the world’s imagination, but rather how the Russian authorities reacted to this performance that rushed others to their support and pushed the band into the public eye.

First, when news of the group's arrest and a video of the performance was posted online, it created a divide between those who were morally offended by their actions and those who were outraged by their incarceration. While the former argued the the ‘girls’ perhaps needed a bit of manners knocked into them, the latter found inspiration in four strong freedom fighters whose swift silence by the Russian state made their situation a cause célèbre.

That the members of Pussy Riot also looked equal part Teletubby as they did Terrorist gave fashionistas as much a reason to talk about the women's creativity as their politics stirred journalists and Human Rights groups to action. Add to this milieu the ongoing social unrest in the Mideast framed as an ‘Arab Spring’, and the Occupy protests in America, and the members of Pussy Riot seemed to provide yet another potent and creative symbol of ongoing global change.

Which is why, if "We Are All Pussy Riot" as the band's slogan suggests, it's not because of any universal appeal attributable to their music. It's because they came onto the global scene like costumed superheroes and arrived into a world whose economies and power structures seem universally in need of severe disruption. Perfectly suited for the role, icons they became.

As a result, not since the Beatles has one band earned the interest of so many so quickly. And the last band to irritate a state to such a degree were the members of the The Plastic People of the Universe who in the seventies suffered arrests, convictions and even deportation at the hands of the communist Czechoslovakian government. But in a pre-Internet age, that band’s efforts was largely muted to the west by an insularizing Iron Curtain. –Even if inside the country these injustices would inspire Václav Havel and other Czech intellectuals to further resist and change the system.

Certainly, many artists work under despotic conditions, but unfortunately most lack the perfect combination of creative strategies, social networks and political motivations to achieve global recognition for themselves or their cause. Thus, they continue to struggle in near or complete anonymity.

What makes Pussy Riot different, on the other hand, is that whether through politics or poetics, the group seems to offer something that everyone can relate to on a personal level.

And that's why Pussy Riot inspires and fascinates; all of us can identify some aspect of their art or purpose to relate or react to, whether we admire their tactics as performers or debate their efficacy as change agents.

And that’s why Pussy Riot strikes some as the only band that matters today.

And that's why Pussy Riot, with their riotous, rebellious punk prayer, 'Mother of God, Drive Putin Out', is the 2012 Critical Noise Sound of the Year.

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The Critical Noise Sound of the Year goes to that sound source, event, entity, happening or concept which so effectively produces wide response and reaction, whether intentional or not, such that it stirs collective emotion, inspires discussion, incites action, or otherwise lends itself to cultural analysis and resonates across the globe.

Prior Sound of the Year winners include The Cry for Freedom (2011), The Vuvuzela (2010) and Auto-Tune (2009) 

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