The Pussy Riot Appeal

At a Noise Pop performance last year, DIIV's Zachary Cole Smith donned a now-culturally loaded sartorial accessory: the neon balaclava. The Russian performance art group Pussy Riot and its signature headgear are all over American rock music and culture, whether as a prop in a Terry Richardson photo shoot or any number of articles touting it as a direct offshoot of riot grrrl. Leaders of politicized punk like Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail are outspoken supporters. Rock musicians, and especially punks, aligning themselves with radical movements is nothing new. Still, why do Pussy Riot and its balaclavas resonate so deeply with American musicians?

Because Pussy Riot isn't just a group of subversive demonstrators; it's a group of subversive demonstrators whose actions look kind of like punk shows. Conversely, punk shows tend to stylize themselves as subversive demonstrations. For any youthful transgressive endeared to punk as a protest way of life, one defined by its ongoing affront to notions of good taste and normalcy, Pussy Riot crystallizes the same pursuit and touts a larger following than any other "band." Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer and Voina, two documentaries about the group, screen on Saturday, March 8, at Artists Television Access in San Francisco as part of Other Cinema's ongoing alternative film program.

On Wednesday, March 12, at the Knockout, volunteer-run Excelsior record shop Thrillhouse and long-running local punk rag Maximum Rocknroll merge their respective tastes with a co-presented gig. Crabapple headlines with skittish pop falling into shimmering shambles, while local hardcore acts Nervous, Ritual Control, and Apriori open. The bill illustrates that punk taste in pop — neglecting that conjunction of the two terms in reverse — runs towards the shambolic, as primitive musicianship imbues hooks with urgency. With a melody in mind, the thinking goes, why hone one's skills before committing it to tape? Crabapple makes a compelling case for a punk insistence on letting songwriting speak through the damage.

Sensible people everywhere agree that "pay-to-play" shows are basically bullshit. The more insidious version of this ploy is an arrangement in which bands are pitted against each other to peddle pre-sale tickets, with the act that generates the most money for organizers dubbed winners, except it's called something like "audience response." Gorilla Music is one national purveyor of such outright exploitative "showcases," and DNA Lounge is set to host a "Battle of the Bands" for the company on Sunday, March 9. The event description reads, "The more people you bring, the better your chances of winning! Don't forget to tell your fans to stick around until the end of the show" — as if the subtext couldn't be clearer. Of the $10 ticket price, the bands collect nothing, though a meager payoff for the winners of a "finalists" battle in the future exists. When young bands are so easily lured into such a scheme, it's a dire state for all-ages music in San Francisco.

 
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