So 2012 will go down as, incredibly, the year when punk became a truly insurrectionary force once more; perhaps greater than it has ever been. After a decade of being devalued as the cultural commodity of choice for snarky rich white kids with a beef against mom, pop and the pretty, popular girls at school, the likelihood of punk's original, incendiary fire ever reigniting seemed ridiculously remote in our slick, ironic, hyper-consumerist world. But the Taqwacore movement, the Indonesian punk scene and, most explosively, Russia's Pussy Riot have knocked it all into context.
We in the UK and US might be done with punk but these guys are not. They are angry and have genuine reasons to be so. They spend their lives kicking against injustice, inequality and prejudice, risking their freedom for what they believe in, and they need a noise big enough to express their rage, pain and righteousness. Do they turn to chillwave? Do they fuck.
The background to this song barely needs repeating. If you have any interest in music, politics, beauty and art then Pussy Riot's story, played out in rolling news footage of three young women shut in a perspex cage in a Russian courtroom, must have captured your full attention. Now three of the collective's members - Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova - have been sentenced to two years' hard labour on a charge of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for their 40-second performance of the 'punk prayer' 'Our Lady, Chase Putin Out' in a Russian Orthodox church.
International protests and calls for their release by such high-profile stars as Madonna, Bjork and Yoko Ono fell on deaf ears, or perhaps more likely, frightened, closed minds, which seek only to curtail in the most swift and stern way the wave of unrest which has swept over Russia since Putin announced last year his intention to run for a third term as president.
To be a cynical journo for a moment: the sentence is clearly a brutal, horrifying personal tragedy for the three women and their loved ones, but one can't help thinking it might ultimately work to the advantage of the protest movement which has come to focus around them. An aquittal or more lenient sentence such as community service would surely have been just a sop to international pressure. The Kremlin's planned crackdowns on dissidents both online and on the streets would then have gone ahead which perhaps less interest from the worldwide media.
One can't help but see this as something of an own goal for Putin's regime, which seems unable to grasp the potency of Pussy Riot's iconography - young women hidden beneath brightly coloured balaclavas, delivering short, sharp shocks of political punk in public spaces - and have now added martyrdom to an already explosive mix. Thus Pussy Riot are well on their way to becoming folk heroes, something this single, with its dead-certain celebration of the revolution to come, seems joyously aware of.
So now we've dealt with the context, what to say about 'Putin Lights Up the Fires' itself? Well, first thought: Fuck, this rocks! It's powerful, fuzzed-out, splenetic, uncontrollable yet tightly focussed, all the things great punk should be. Its drop-kick impact is as great as 'Anarchy in the UK' even if you can't understand the howled, yelped, screamed and hollared lyrics.
I found a very crude translation on Collapse Board and here's a killer line: "The country is, the country is a wedge of feminist/ And Putin is Putin goes, leave cattle." Pretty garbled, but you get what their saying. God, how thrilling is this? In one stroke, this song restores the kind of wildly idealistic belief in music one has as a kid. That it can change the world, bring down empires, make things better.
'Putin Lights Up the Fires' is all about how Putin is bringing the revolution down on himself. Released on the day the sentence was handed out, it's the latest master-stroke in a peerless PR campaign, and in saying that, I am in no way being a cynical journo. These ladies have a grasp of the media which Putin's boys cannot fathom, only fear. What happens next? How the Hell should I know? But this much is certain: If you give one single fuck about music in 2012, you cannot help but love Pussy Riot.