Gig report: Pussy Riot

A review of the Pussy Riot concert (with Hagar The Womb) at Het Depot, Leuven, Belgium on 20th May 2022.

The concert was this year’s edition of the annual Breaking Barriers festival at Het Depot. The support band was Hagar The Womb from London – very much old school punk. The repartee between numbers was brilliant, and Ruth was lovely to talk to when I caught up with her after their set.

Lorna and Ruth from Hagar the Womb
Lorna and Ruth from Hagar the Womb

Pussy Riot’s performance was not a conventional rock and roll set, more like radical rock theatre, with the band declaiming their poetry to throbbing music and a political back projection with surtitles in English. They told the story of their conflict with the Russian regime, the gig in the cathedral that got three of them arrested, the subsequent trail and the imprisonment of Maria (Masha) Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Masha had just escaped from Russia to avoid being imprisoned again for her opposition to the invasion of Ukraine; according to reports she had slipped out of her home disguised as a food courier.

It can’t have lasted for more than about an hour but it was intense, and emotionally hard-hitting; I thought that the music was excellent and the poetry remarkable. It was the kind of thing that makes me want to rush out of the venue and start the revolution. However at the end Masha looked sad; perhaps the time in prison had left its mark. The lyrics didn’t flinch from the emotional cost of life in a Russian penal colony, for all their defiance. Certainly it’s difficult to feel optimistic about political conditions in Russia at the moment, and the asinine decisions to boycott Russian culture can’t be helping either. The band finished by calling for donations to a children’s hospital in Ukraine.

Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot’s Riot Days tour continues. If you get a chance to see it, do go.

Update: Since this was written, Maria Alyokhina has been interviewed in The Guardian (London).

In The Air

A short review of the In The Air exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London

I only had a few minutes to look around the In The Air exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, but I was impressed by how political it was. It was willing to look at air pollution in a political context; it included examples of the Hazards Bulletin published by the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science in the 1980s, and the BSSRS’ critical journal Science for People. There was even a pamphlet about the technology of political control that I remember owning. What blew me away however was the video produced by Forensic Architecture, that shows in detail how air pollution, produced by reckless and criminal despoiling of our forests and clean air, creates health threats across whole regions that transcend national borders. The shocking news about the murder of environmental activist Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips reminds us just how sharp and important the conflict around the earth’s resources is.

In The Air is on until the 16th October 2022.