Thurston Moore And Pussy Riot Talk FIFA, Punk and Putin

It’s the hottest day of the year and the sun is blazing down on the roof of London’s Village Underground venue, where, next to a pair of decommissioned tube trains, Maria Alyokhina is explaining her introduction to punk. “When I was 14, at a Muse concert [in Moscow], they gave away free copies of NME magazine. It’s how I knew the music. The NME and an illegal Russian market. I lived a few metro stations away from the biggest illegal market for western CDs in Moscow.”

It’s a rare moment for Alyokhina: one of the seldom occasions you’ll find her buttering someone up, in this case this very magazine, instead of putting them markedly in their place. It’s been three years now since her and her band mates in Pussy Riot were arrested and given two-year prison sentences for performing an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral, becoming political martyrs and instant punk icons. Jail time did little to calm the group’s fury at Russia’s LGBT abuses, anti-feminist agenda and alleged corruption: since their release, they’ve continued to campaign and launch platforms for dissent: most recent of which being Mediazona, a new independent media website.

It’s a story that has won Pussy Riot fans from across the world of music – one of the biggest being Thurston Moore. His former band, legendary post-punk innovators Sonic Youth, like Pussy Riot, sung about disillusioned youth and the plight of women, especially in the music industry. These days, he plays with a new group, The Thurston Moore Band – with whom Maria joined onstage tonight to dedicate a song to controversially imprisoned Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The track climaxes with Thurston and Alyokhina both shouting “For Chelsea!” into the mic, punching their fists in the air.

After the show, we sat down with the pair to talk about the recent FIFA scandal, the importance of protest and power of punk.

NME: What was tonight about for you guys?

Thurston: “Tonight was really about drawing attention to political prisoners and whistleblower prisoners. It’s not thugs in prison. It’s people with a certain conscientious activism.”

NME: The most famous political prisoner at the moment, of course, being Chelsea Manning – who you dedicated a song to tonight.

Thurston: “Why is Chelsea Manning in prison? For being a traitor? What defines being a traitor? For me, Chelsea Manning exemplifies patriotism.”

Maria: “I really agree and I hope that the US government is not like ours and this will be solved.”

Thurston: “It’s almost fucking ridiculous seeing young women in cages. The decision’s already been made. It’s like having your hands tied publicly. All we can do is align ourselves to fight these people.”

NME: When did you first discover Pussy Riot, Thurston? Was it when they were themselves imprisoned?

Thurston: “No – [it was] when they were first on YouTube. Years ago, on top of the bus. We came through the riot grrl movement in America which was a very new pro-feminist punk rock scene [so] people started sending the videos to Sonic Youth saying ‘look, have you seen this?’ Pussy Riot were doing this sensational thing because they were really going straight into the face of oppression. Everyone says it’s about activism, that it’s not about music, but I like the music. I was a fan and I always liked the idea that they never made a record. Just like bootleg CD-Rs.

NME: Just how important are Pussy Riot and what they stand for?

Thurston: “For me, Pussy Riot’s probably one of the most important groups of our time. The situation they found themselves in and then, against such a wall, to create such a dialogue, to create such a statement…”

NME: How do you each define punk?

Maria: “Punk is to live in Russia. Just to live there. It’s very enjoyable. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

Thurston: “Who this interview is for? The KGB? Oh, NME! I kid. Punk’s defined by purpose of independent thought. No ambition towards capital gain or corporate gain. Some punk music does it, but that’s punk with a capital P.”

Maria: “I definitely agree. I really believe life, if you’re politically involved in Russia, is punk.”

NME: Isn’t living in Russia for most people the opposite though?

Thurston: “That’s why punk is necessary. It’s a societal alternative. If you live in a society with issues around free expression punk is really radical. It’s inherently radical. In Russia they put you in jail for being punk.”

NME: Are you surprised that the World Cup is still going to be held in Russia in 2018, after the recent FIFA scandal and allegations that Russian officials bought votes?

Maria: “Of course I think Putin and his men paid [FIFA officials], of course. And I think the most important thing now, if we’re talking about Russia, is that principals become more important than business. Politicians in the west should address the situation and react.”

NME: As pro-LGBT activists, what was your reaction to the legalisation of gay marriage in the US last week?

Maria: It’s great news. Unfortunately if you come to Russia there is no gay pride at all. Some guys from the LGBT community in Moscow took to the street [recently] and they were arrested for ten days. That’s why we choose the Rainbow balaclava. I think we should use the rainbow symbol as a symbol of peace.”

NME: Will Pussy Riot and Thurston Moore ever collaborate?

Maria: “I think we can definitely do it.”

Thurston, “Oh anytime. They were working with [punk innovator] Richard Hell in New York. He’s an old friend of mine. He said I’ve been up all night recording with Pussy Riot and I was like ‘what? Bastard!’ Some people get all the good work. But he did invent punk rock…”

NME: Do you think punk can truly help break the situation in Russia?

Maria: “It depends on us. I mean yes, [the government] control everything. We have to do what we should do. We are women and with women anything can happen.”

Photos by Henry Wilkins and Tara Ganesh