Technically, Perfect Pussy is a classic hardcore punk band, but the Syracuse five-piece are not here to enshrine the past; they are here to erase it. Everything about their debut Say Yes to Love is immediate: Vocalist Meredith Graves might as well be yelling “now now now now now now” in every song.
Her time-trial delivery comes on with an energy that’s both confident and nervous, as if someone asked her to yell 10 minutes’ worth of her best secrets in just under three. And what secrets! “Soft skin and dead hair and these tired eyes/ And I want to fuck myself, and I want to eat myself/ Broad back and bad tits, yes, I know my kind/ Raw mouth, worn out, I’ve never felt so alive.” Even slower parts, like the first half of “Interference Fits” and “VII,” are quiet the way a bear trap is quiet.
Rawness like this only comes through commitment and idealism. (In an NME interview, Graves has said they play until their limbs are practically falling off.) Many of their tracks have long, near-silent outros, as if there weren’t anyone left to stop recording.
The band’s method of erasure-through-chaos isn’t entirely new. Perfect Pussy has a spiritual cousin in another group of politicized young artists obsessed with noise, dynamism and assault: the Italian Futurists.
F. T. Marinetti and his group of friends exploded onto the European art scene in 1909 with a manifesto printed on the front page of Parisian newspaper Le Figaro:
“We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts…We have been discussing right up to the limits of logic and scrawling the paper with demented writing.”
Marinetti continues with epigrammatic lines like: “We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.” “Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character.” “Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute…”
As their name implies, the Futurists sought a definite break with the past and with the stereotype of Italy as a rural, second-tier country. In other words, Italy was to Europe what Syracuse is to New York.
Futurist art could be almost anything. Painting, photography, sculpture, poetry, music; they attacked in every form they could master, thanks to multidisciplinary artists like Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero.
Marinetti combined theater, music, poetry and, well, just plain yelling into a chaotic live performance he called serate.
While recordings are scarce, it seems the serate was a cacophonous affair. Several artists crowded the stage, each acting or declaiming their pieces over one another. Imagine a high school talent show with every contestant performing simultaneously, some on instruments they invented just for the occasion. As you might expect, these shows provoked fistfights and arrests; the subsequent publicity led to bigger audiences. (And more fighting.)
I like to think of a Perfect Pussy show as the modern serate. Say Yes concludes with four live recordings, including an additional version of the studio-produced “Bells,” as if to say, “If you think this is visceral, you should see us in person.”
Beyond the performances, even the liner notes for Say Yes to Love echo Marinetti’s print experiments with new syntactic and metrical forms. Both Graves and Marinetti want to capture chaos on the page.
The Futurists possessed a Warholian talent for PR — can you name another manifesto printed on the front page of a major newspaper? — and Graves seems just as adept. In that NME interview she rejects the path of the buzzed-about bands of the moment, chastising their complacency and laziness: “That to me is like a singularly offensive act, to have space and you do nothing with it.” One surefire method for gaining notoriety? Calling bullshit on your peers. (Though to be fair, she is pretty polite about it.)
Graves has said the band first lays down a clean-sounding track while recording and then adds layers of feedback and noise. The final mix is all-consuming, a beautiful din not unlike the Futurists’ opera d’arte totale: for the work to succeed, the viewer should be placed completely inside the work. There’s no escape. But when the music is this good, why would you want to? As Marinetti writes, “Look at us! We are not out of breath, our hearts are not in the least tired.”