Arts, Culture & Media

What does Russian punk band Pussy Riot owe to Yanka Dyagileva?

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Credit:

A. Kudravtsyeva

Yanka Dyagileva

When you think of Russian punk rockers, you might think of Pussy Riot.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The self-described punk protest band has been grabbing headlines for their loud acts. Three band members were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism after a performance in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral. They were released from prison in December in what was widely seen as a public relations move ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

On Wednesday, two members of Pussy Riot will perform in New York at an Amnesty International concert. But long before Pussy Riot, there was Yanka Dyagileva. She was one of the most popular figures in Russia's 1980's underground punk scene.

Dyagileva died in 1991 at the age of 24. It's believed she committed suicide after a long bout with depression.

"She had a cult following," said musician and songwriter Alina Simone. Simone's 2008 album "Everyone is Crying Out to Me, Beware" was a collection of songs written by Dyagileva.

"This was an underground scene," Simone said. "[Dyagileva] was associated with some far more prominent Siberian punk rock groups. And Siberian punk during the 80s in the Soviet Union had a caché that the rock scene in Moscow and St. Petersburg did not. Siberia was really, sort of, the center of the punk scene at the time. And as the only female solo singer in this group, she stood out."

Moscow-based author and filmmaker Vladimir Kozlov is working on a documentary about the 1980s Siberian punk rock scene.

"Basically my goal is to chronicle that phenomenon and to show people who didn’t really live at that time that there was something really interesting and unusual happening in that music scene, and especially because it was happening in Siberia," Kozlov said. "At that time, Siberia was, sort of, a center of underground and punk culture.”

Now, the Russian government is putting up a plaque to commemorate Dyagileva's life in her hometown of Novosibirsk.

"The plaque is going up on the side of the house where Yanka was born and where she was living at the time of her death in 1991," Simone said. "[The initiative] was put forward by fans in the summer of 2013. It was actually defeated — the commission felt that she was a promising artist, an emerging artist, but she died too young and she wasn't well-known enough to merit a plaque. This year, the fans that put forward the initiative said that they would independently raise the money for the plaque."

Still, Dyagileva's music remains fairly unknown both inside and outside Russia.

"[Her music] was made on very rudimentary equipment using pretty rudimentary instruments," Simone said. "She never [had] the benefit of lavish studio treatment - and in that sense her recordings remain a little bit inaccessible."

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