Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova goes on a crypto party crawl

“I’m a super introvert,” said Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the founding members of Pussy Riot, as the elevator sped to the Rainbow Roo...


“I’m a super introvert,” said Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the founding members of Pussy Riot, as the elevator sped to the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center, where the NFT Now gala was in full swing. June. 21.

“But it’s a job. As an activist, you have to,” she said of the schmoozing. “You have to put your work there.”

The doors rang and slid open. Like Ms. Tolokonnikova, 32, headed for the entrance, the cacophony of hundreds of voices intensified. “But when I hear all that noise, my heart freezes a bit,” she said softly, switching to Russian.

She didn’t stop to collect herself. There was no time. Ms. Tolokonnikova, a musician, artist and activist known as Nadya, was in New York to mingle with the crypto crowd at a conference focused on NFT, or non-fungible tokens. His schedule was filled with talks, parties, panels and multiple performances.

Since being imprisoned for 21 months for playing a guerrilla-style piece titled “Punk Prayer” – who protested the government’s intimate relationship with the church – at a Moscow cathedral a decade ago, Ms Tolokonnikova was no more silent about her feelings for the Russian powers that be.

She was released from prison in 2013, and the following year she and Maria Alyokhina, another Pussy Riot member who served time in prison, founded Mediazone, an independent media outlet in Russia. In 2018 Ms. Tolokonnikova published a book, “Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism.”

In December, the Russian authorities tagged she a “foreign agent”, a category used to suppress opposition figures. (As a result, she does not disclose where she lives.) After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Ms Tolokonnikova led an effort to raise $7.1 million in cryptocurrency for medical aid in Ukraine. “Putin is a bloody dictator, a terrorist who must be stopped as soon as possible,” she said.

On August 5, Pussy Riot will release their first mixtape, “Matriarchy Now!” Ms. Tolokonnikova is the album’s lead musician, with Swedish singer Tove Lo serving as executive producer. Contributors include Salem Ilese, ILOVEMAKONNEN and Big Freedia.

Some of Pussy Riot’s other well-known members, like Ms. Alyokhina, who recently escaped from Moscow while wearing a delivery boy uniform, do not appear on the mixtape. Ms. Alyokhina and others, but not Ms. Tolokonnikova, perform as part of a multicity anti-war tour in Europe this summer. Ms. Tolokonnikova said Pussy Riot is a loose network with no hierarchy; there are no leaders and anyone can become a member and use the name in their protest efforts.

On that rainy Tuesday in June, however, Ms. Tolokonnikova’s presence in New York was not primarily about music. In March, Ms. Tolokonnikova and several partners created UnicornDAO, a fundraising and investment vehicle built on a blockchain whose goal is to order and buy NFTs made by women, non-binary people and members of the LGBTQ community. She had come to New York to raise awareness.

So far, UnicornDAO has purchased over 1,000 works by artists like Sofia Crespo, Claire Silver, and Olive Allen, and raised $4.5 million in financing. Musician Grimes, who is a member of the DAO (it stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization), has donated an NFT of her work to the DAO’s permanent collection, and singer Sia is an active member.

After a quick lunch of seafood spaghetti and a few sips of an Aperol spritz at the Roxy Hotel, where she met friend DJ Steve Aoki, Ms Tolokonnikova headed to nearby Spring Studios for sessions brainstorming organized by ConsenSys, a blockchain. software company.

During the cocktail hour that followed, a group formed around Ms. Tolokonnikova, with people asking her opinion on NFTs and fundraising, or simply expressing their admiration for her. She lingered for about 45 minutes, then made a quick exit.

On the way out, a fan asked for a selfie. When people ask her for a picture, she says, “They always say, ‘I never do that’.” She stopped, then smiled. “That’s what I said when I had a selfie with Bernie Sanders in Chicago,” she said.

Next stop was the gala, where the dress code was “inspired”. Ms. Tolokonnikova showed up in some sort of uniform: black fishnets, white platform shoes, a short skirt, a ruffled top and mittens.

She called the day’s outfit a “feminist superhero.” The origins of the look date back to Pussy Riot’s debut in 2011, when Ms Tolokonnikova was 21. save everyone,” she said.

For about an hour, Ms. Tolokonnikova sipped a glass of sparkling wine and chatted with guests including Joe Lubin, a founder of the Ethereum blockchain; the musician Miguel; and Michael Winkelmann, a digital artist who goes by the name of Beeple. Mr. Winkelmann celebrates sold an NFT of his works at Christie’s for $69 million last year and is a member of UnicornDAO.

In fact, she makes me lazy because every time I turn around, she started another DAO or charity that raised about $10 million,” Mr. Winkelmann, 41, said. “And it’s like, ‘What did you do?’ I drew a bunch of pictures of sausages or something.

Ms Tolokonnikova said she gets along easily with “crypto bros”. “The world of finance is super toxic and a total no for me,” she said. “Crypto is a little different. There are brothers. Many of them are nerds. I am a nerd myself. We have always spoken the same language.

Growing up in Norilsk, a town in Siberia, Ms Tolokonnikova said she was the one who helped other students with their homework, partly because it meant they wouldn’t be mean to her. Eventually, she studied philosophy at Moscow State University.

She said she realized the potential fundraising ability of the crypto world when she sold an NFT for a four-part Pussy Riot video illustration series made in collaboration with several other artists for 178 Ether, or about $356,000 at the time.

“It’s life-changing money,” she said. It was distributed to everyone who worked on the project and some went to a shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Russia, she said. (Today, after the crash, the dollar value of the Ether they earned is significantly lower: around $196,000.)

As an activist, she said she has always kept abreast of technological developments such as cryptocurrency, blockchain and NFTs, as she believes these are new tools that she could exploit as the rules regarding their use are still understood and established.

The last stop of the evening was Bowery Ballroom. When the car pulled up to the club, she rushed out and reappeared minutes later on stage performing Ms. Ilese’s “Crypto Boy”, a tongue-in-cheek song about a boy’s frustration over talking too much crypto.

In response to the Supreme Court’s leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Ms. Tolokonnikova’s UnicornDAO has created a crypto wallet that makes donating digital currency to a reproductive rights fund safer, anonymous, and easier. The funds UnicornDAO supports funneling money to seven reproductive rights organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Fund Texas Choice. So far, the fund has received over $87,000 in donations.

Independently, Ms. Tolokonnikova teamed up with Ms. Ilese to sell multiple NFTs of the song “Crypto Boy.” The money they raised, $170,000, went to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Ms. Tolokonnikova was not shocked by the Supreme Court’s decision, but she was deeply disappointed. With “Punk Prayer” in 2012, “we said loud and clear that government and religion have no right to interfere in our decisions about our bodies,” she said. “Years later, the country that calls itself the leader of the free world authorizes the prohibition of abortion. It’s really, really sad.

“Of course, it’s just a drop in the ocean,” she said of her fundraising efforts. “But I think if we all make those drops and come together in one big ocean, then there’s going to be a lot of things that we could change and influence.”

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