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Nadya T of Pussy Riot at SXSW: 'The war should end immediately'

“I want to start by saying I don't support the politics of Vladamir Putin,” Russian performance punk Nadya Tolokonnikova said at the top of her set at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Sunday. 

“The war should end immediately. (expletive) Putin,” she added.  

It’s no surprise that Tolokonnikova is not a fan of her country’s repressive government. Her appearance at the South by Southwest Music Festival coincides with the 10-year anniversary of a “Punk Prayer” performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour by her art punk group Pussy Riot.The incident led to her arrest on charges of hooliganism and religious hatred and Tolokonnikova spent over a year in a Russian penal colony. 

Nadya Tolokonnikova, a Russian conceptual artist and political activist and former member of the Russian protest punk rock group Pussy Riot, performs at Cheer Up Charlies on the third night of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2022.

In case it wasn’t clear that demolishing the patriarchy and upending the state with anarchic furor was on Tolokonnikova’s agenda, one of the first songs she played was the group’s 2017 track, “Police State.” 

Infusing the song’s sugary hook with seething sarcasm, she whipped the crowd into a fervor. 

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Tolokonnikova no longer sports the face-covering balaclava that became the group’s signature look. Instead, she rocked a black baby doll dress and knee-high white patent leather go-go boots. She was flanked by a pair of scantily clad, gender non-conforming dancers, who did wear the face masks as they thrashed manically around the stage. 

A few songs in she asked for rave lighting and strobes. “We like rave,” she said. 

With incongruent pop choruses laid over an insistent electro drone and pummeling beats, this rave felt like the Eurovision song contest at the end of a four-day bender. Tolokonnikova slunk around the stage wielding a red whip while her dancers indulged in obscene fantasy, giving the whole set a grimy fetish show feel.  

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Tolokonnikova assumed a split role of mixmaster, commanding the performance behind the computer, and singer and dancer. She also put in some time as content creator, filming her dancers. 

As she let her voice build to a howl while a typhoon of electronic bleeps battered the crowd, a mosh pit broke out. 

A charismatic performer, she led the crowd through an emotional vortex that invited cathartic release.  In 2022, while the Russian war against Ukraine weighs heavy on the minds of many Americans, Tolokonnikova's dedication to dismantling systems of oppression feels more potent than ever.