Pussy Riot: Matriarchy Now review — the Russian activists’ most accomplished record to date

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A decade ago, members of the young Russian feminist activist group Pussy Riot staged a flash-mob-style guerrilla gig at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, including their 40-second anti-Putin anthem “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away”. That action propelled the group’s DIY political protests (and distinctive colour-block balaclavas) to the world stage. It also saw the arrest and imprisonment for hooliganism of three of its participants, including then 22-year-old Nadya Tolokonnikova, seen as the ringleader.

While Pussy Riot’s activists were freed in late 2013, their statements have been increasingly global (and digital). They’ve sold NFTs to raise funds for causes including Ukrainian war refugees; earlier this summer, they dropped a 45ft banner at the Texas State Capitol building in support of abortion rights; and their latest music release is a seven-track mixtape, executive-produced by Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo.

The electropop-fuelled Matriarchy Now is not the first time Pussy Riot have moved away from the scrappy guitar punk sound of 2012’s “Punk Prayer”. It’s a reminder that they’re a free-form multi-genre project, described by Tolokonnikova (the core member on this record) as a “conceptual performance art collective” rather than a conventional group. Perhaps their increasingly high-profile collaborations and tour dates seem at odds with their anti-capitalist origins; still, there’s an excitingly sharp energy to their most accomplished record to date. Matriarchy Now captures Pussy Riot’s iconoclastic energy and transmits it to an even broader platform.

Ksti Hu’s bold cover artwork (a knife slicing through an aubergine, with all its sexual emoji connotations) sets the scathingly irreverent tone, as does the opening track “Princess Charming”: a coquettish, candied Eurodance melody with a splendidly spiky heart (“Everywhere I go, I become the CEO; sorry bro,” sings Tolokonnikova, slipping between English and Russian lyrics). Tove Lo appears on “Punish”, with shimmering groove and murky sentiments, while US rapper iLoveMakkonen features on “Plastic”, a dark satire on pliable femininity which comes with an eerie video to match. The breathy “Poof Bitch” is a duet with bounce hip-hop pioneer Big Freedia (also sampled on Beyoncé’s recent stormer “Break My Soul”).

Pussy Riot can’t claim a radically new approach here — they owe something to the defiant spirit of 1990s riot grrrl rockers, and these tracks occasionally recall the surreal electro of Fever Ray. But Matriarchy Now is full of thrillingly insistent expression: sweetly snappy pop as a subversive shock to the system.

★★★★☆

‘Matriarchy Now’ is released by Neon Gold Records

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