The unapologetic rainbow-balaclava-chic politics behind Pussy Riot’s fame are unlike any group in recent memory.

And beneath a cloudy, yet far less toxic sky than the one frontwoman Nadya Tolokno grew up under, Pussy Riot brought their politics to the Canadian capital on Saturday July 13.

Often when you tell someone you’re a Pussy Riot fan, you’ll be met with something like: “oh, yeah – I’ve heard of them, but I don’t really know their music? Are they the ones with the masks from Spring breakers?”

Their band name obviously draws a visceral reaction—a deliberate semantic shock tactic not unlike those used in the past by other feminist activists (ie. the Dyke March, Slut Walk, or Bitch magazine).

As Russian cultural observer and academic Kevin M.F. Platt has said: “feminism in Russia is extraordinarily contested. It’s not as though a standard anti-regime person is necessarily going to think at all about feminism, or if asked, identify herself as a feminist or a feminist sympathizer. Feminism represents a peculiarly marginalized set of political concerns in Russia.”

Many catch wind of Pussy Riot’s fiery activism – which has taken many forms over the years – long before getting into their music. Prolific front woman Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova (to her fans: Nadya Tolokno) has gained international notoriety for her headstrong willingness to take on all levels of an oppressive government regime—even from from behind bars. No wonder those rad Free Pussy Riot shirts are still a thing.

The crowd at Ottawa’s July 13 Bluesfest show was disappointingly small, and a bit less radical than one might have expected. Likely symptomatic of the side stage Pussy Riot were perplexingly relegated to, or of course, the fact that we’re in a national capital in an election year. But the few fans who did turn out were high energy, danced hard and definitely hungry for more long after the band and dancers left the stage.

Ironically Snoop Dogg’s sexist guilty pleasure of a performance fell immediately after Pussy Riot’s show on the same night, which would also explain the relatively small crowd.

It is clear by her work that Nadya Tolokno puts deep thought, compassion and a healthy dose of rage into every piece of art she produces. Arguably everything she and her bandmates have done over the years has been some form of interpretive art prompted by a contemporary political event worth protesting. Listen closely for the subtle subliminal messages and whispering voices behind their lyrics; striving to move the dial on whatever the social justice issue of the day may be.

From fighting for reproductive justice, speaking out against the Global climate crisis, to rallying support for their release from an actual Russian labour camp, it has become practically impossible to miss the fearless activism of these young women.

At the end of their show while fans cheered for more, Pussy Riot threw a few of their bad ass masks into the crowd. This writer will forever be pissed she didn’t catch one.

Check out our photographer Els Durnford’s photos below of Wu Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Pussy Riot, and more, .

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