The word “siksa” is used in Polish as a pejorative term for an attractive young woman who is both naive and rebellious. A woman who has not yet begun to fear the world around her and who is not afraid to resist it. The word “siksa” is meant to humiliate and instill fear, because unafraid women are a threat to the patriarchy. Polish feminist punk duo Siksa also threaten conservative orders. “We’re glad Siksa is famous. That type of girl! That’s a word in the media. That you can be cheap, boring, and rude, and survive it all. That’s a hit for me,” songwriter and singer Alex Freiheit tells me excitedly when I ask the couple how they explain the interest the avant-garde punk band, whose singer shouts explicit rape lyrics to the public, has sparked in conservative Poland. “It’s more of a love-hate relationship, a lot of people on the militant left hate us. We’re too vulgar or primitive for them,” explains bassist Piotr “Buri” Buratyński.
Texts on misogyny and racism
The public started taking notice in 2017 after Siksa appeared on the front page of popular lifestyle weekly Wysokie Obcasy immediately after a provocative performance at the Polish OFF Festival. The couple shocked the audience not only with explicit lyrics about misogyny and racism, but also with expressive speech, when the singer angrily threw herself to the floor. Early last year, Siksa won the Paszporty Polityki Music Award for his album Revenge on the Enemy, on which Alex Freiheit sings about his own experiences of rape and domestic violence.
Of course, Poland is not Ukraine or Belarus. But when you do activism for a long time and you’re still on the front line, you fall apart.
However, the couple are far more likely than support and recognition to face opposition from conservatives who dislike their radical leftist and feminist agenda. Freiheit and Buratyński do not face any official bans, but sometimes they cancel their concert somewhere because they are too strong. One of the organizers who had invited them reportedly lost his job. “Since then, we’ve been trying to tell everyone what’s going to happen so they know what they’re getting into. We don’t want to cause anyone any trouble,” Freiheit says.
The heightened attitudes towards the group, as well as its popularity, correspond to the general mood of society and the escalation of clerical-fascist tendencies. “People have started to realize that they’re not hiding it before they have to start doing something,” Freiheit comments on the growing support for the women’s movement that Poland has seen in recent years. The 2016 anti-abortion bill raised a huge wave of protests at the time. Although the proposal of the Law and Justice party was not adopted at that time, Polish women managed to defend the right to decide about their own bodies, at least for a while. But the liberal part of society was well aware that it had not won. And as official rhetoric against women and the LGBTQ+ community has intensified over the past six years, resistance has grown. “Women, like the LGBTQ+ community, have learned to be creative in ways to resist and make politicians stupid. That’s why they fear us and try to control us,” Freiheit explains.
Siksa seems to be the authentic embodiment of this resistance. You’ll settle for musical minimalism, but you’ll rarely see anything quite so impressive. Freiheit can combine disarming vulnerability and challenge with empathy. And the performative talent of the punk musician, as well as the intense energy they create together with Buratyński, make their performances an unforgettable experience.
Vulnerability as a mirror
Siksa’s work was primarily a monologue – Freiheit recounted her own autobiographical experiences full of humiliation and violence to which women in Poland’s conservative patriarchal society are daily exposed. Freiheit wanted to share his experiences everywhere, especially in the smallest villages and in places where they are not talked about. “We did several concerts in the street, people were walking around and I sang about rape. “I knew that maybe it would help someone, that someone would understand that I knew what he was going through” , explains Frieheit his initial determination. Gradually, however, the need to regain control of his own story and to free himself fell into the background. The performances of the duo became more of a dialogue with society. “That changed in 2019 with The Taming of the Shrew. Siksa noticed me once and dragged me into the story. Before that, it was clearly Alex’s story, a woman’s story. And I was just a loud guy,” Buratyński explains, and Freiheit adds with a laugh. After a concert, someone asked Buri how he could live with this crazy bitch. So I included it in this performance. I carefully asked him what it was like to have so many terrible things happening to him. But he never answered me.”
As long as they performed mainly in Poland, the focus of their performances was on the lyrics. “In Poland, people listen to us sitting down, but when we play outside, people don’t understand us and even dance at concerts. It was strange to see what this encourages people to do,” Buratyński recalls. he foreign experience motivated the couple to think better about the dynamics of dramaturgy. The visual side of the performances, combined with the way Freiheit is able to express the meaning of diction (whether shouting angrily , to whisper, to laugh amused or to shout), makes it possible to understand the stories without knowledge of Polish.
The interaction with the public is also intense. “Often – and not only in Poland – we annoy people both in terms of texts and presentations. People often think that when Alex crosses the border, they too can do whatever they want,” says Buratyński. He often happens that people in the audience try to silence Freiheit, reach for him or push him in, for example, someone defends him against aggressive spectators and there are fights. “Sometimes I have l feel like nobody wants to listen to me and I want to experience what I’m talking about. That I’m a girl who destroys people with a good night of ugly stories. For me, trying to pick up a microphone is always a reminder of the world we live in,” says Freiheit. It is said that she tries to deal with unpleasant experiences by focusing on those who are afraid of her and want to defend her.
Some visitors also interpret the worsening of situations at concerts as a hired extra. “It’s completely absurd to pay someone to insult us,” Buratyński said, shaking his head in disbelief as we recall the performance at last year’s Okolojeles festival in Náramč near Třebíč. “Most of the time when something really stupid was happening on stage, I didn’t do anything because I didn’t want to be the guy with the instrument defending the singer. But that’s an ideology – that’s often very difficult not to hit, although I know it will hold,” says Piotr looking at Alex lovingly.
Feel that I can
However, the couple tries not to overemphasize the romantic side of their relationship. “A lot of people see Siksa as a love story. We don’t talk about it much, we don’t want to fuel the narrative that ‘love will save you’, and not just because it’s pathetic and not always true, but also because our government likes to twist it,” says Buratyński. The couple reunited shortly after Freiheit managed to break off an abusive relationship. With Buratyński, she suddenly felt strong after horrible experiences.” Of course I was in love, but I’m also very angry. I wanted to talk about domestic violence and rape, about a girl who lives in this country and is upset about a lot of things. And suddenly I felt I could,” says Freiheit, whose civil-to-shy speech contrasts sharply with the outlandish superhero stage persona she created so she could talk openly about the horrors she’s had. lived.
But it took her years to leave a relationship fraught with domestic violence. She had to overcome the feeling that she was worthless and that a relationship with a financially promising, even abusive, lawyer was the best thing that could happen to her. After all, she was confirmed by her family. She then ended the relationship overnight. Motivated by the experience of Turkey, where she spent several months documenting local protests, she then decided to actively resist the systematic silence of women and the ridicule of their daily reality. “The girls at the protests were the first women I met after fleeing the relationship. They were extremely brave, fighting not only for themselves but also to be seen and heard. They were heroines. J learned from them how to organize and live in a militant regime.”
The fatigue of activism
“It’s easier to change the mindset of people you’ve known your whole life,” Freiheit thinks, telling me about the local version of Pride, the performance art and events they put on year-round. in Gniezno, where the couple lives. However, activism has taken its toll in the deterioration of the social climate. “We’re exhausted. We’re still protesting, and it’s not going anywhere,” Freiheit describes the circumstances of the creation of the latest album The Uses of Enchantment, which will be presented at the Prague Meetfactory on April 4. “After a demonstration, my friends and I all cried and we were like, ‘Damn, we don’t have a life here anymore.’ Of course, Poland is not Ukraine or Belarus. But if you do activism for a long time and you are always on the front line, you will just crumble,” Buratyński says.
Freiheit fled to Polish and Russian folk tales before burnout, and although the pair tried to work on new material, talking politics seemed impossible. One day, Buratyński thought that a mouse, for example, could talk about the difficulties instead of Alex. From there was born the magical concept of the album Les usages de l’enchantement, on which Freiheit, as a pagan goddess of anger, tells the stories of several animal characters. The pair deliberately departed from the character of the previous work. This time they wanted to give audiences some hope through the fantasy world.
“The world is upside down: Siksa is making a fairy tale, the Polish government has banned abortion. Before it was Siksa who opposed good morals, now it’s the government. It still surprises me that ‘they are crossing more and more borders,’ Buratyński shakes his head wearily.
The author is a music journalist.