Tonight we play in a forest in Moscow and the only directions we have are – when you find this tree, turn left. I admire Russia’s simplicity, I must say.
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11th August 2018
It’s bloody hot
Wake up! Babababa-put on a little makeup!
I awake from my slumber, unknowing as to how many hours of travel have passed, nor how many remain before us. All I can be sure of, is that sleeping with your neck at a ninety-degree angle is conducive to neither a positive mood, nor a pain-free body.
Furthermore – it’s still ridiculously hot. I should’ve perhaps thought twice before lying my face up against one of the Gazelle’s windows. I’m starting to resemble Harvey Dent (post brutal shit going down), albeit through strands of snot stretched across my skin, moreso than exposed facial muscles.
Suffice it to say, the sun is burning and I hate it.
We pull into a gas station whose colourful signage stands in stark contrast to the endless, desaturated bleak landscape surrounding it. It reminds me of Blackpool, except I’m not worried about getting fingered.
That might just be ignorance talking, since I’ve never been here before.
I attempt connecting to the internet via a public Wifi hotspot and am informed I cannot without a Russian cell phone. I try instead via the ‘private’ gas station to immediate success. Russia’s approach to security and public empowerment encapsulated in a single mouse click.
As my genetics have programmed, I immediately log onto Facebook. I send Anna a message to inform her I’m not yet dead and what a rousing success the previous night was. I email my parents to do the same.
Alex, a colleague from Staffordshire University has messaged me in utter glee that against our own, perhaps cynical expectations – Manchester United actually won their opening game of the season! This is an uncharacteristically positive start to my morning, particularly since I forgot United were even playing.
I also receive a “You’re alive!!!!” message from Jax, a friend and whale guide in South Africa. I cannot tell if she’s relieved or just shocked and she disappears before I’m able to clarify.
This is how most of my interactions with denizens of the human race (even the more sane ones), typically unfold.
Following this, I remember that footage from the new Doom: Eternal and Rage 2 videogames should be online. They are and both look absolutely fantastic! As far as publishing goes, Bethesda has been knocking single player action games out of the park for a good while now. That they’re maintaining such consistency with IPs so close to my heart is to me, as impressive as it is assuring.
This is why I’ll continue to give them my money. Take note, Ubisoft (who are definitely reading this).
Anyway, the pain in my neck has gone (while the more long term one, named ‘Alex’ is still here), the light of the sun no longer burns, instead massaging my skin with glowing radiance and my entire outlook is one of positivity and hope.
This is going to be a good day.
I don’t want your fucking soup.
Russia can be so odd
Well that didn’t last long.
What is about to unfold, all starts when we pull into a café which we’ve visited twice before, during our 2015 tour of Russia and Ukraine.
I order fried eggs, potatoes and black coffee, assured that addressing my appetite with such steadfast and trustworthy deliceces, will fortify the positive mood established by morning’s internet browsing and short-lived human interaction.
Riley orders the same, while Matt and Alex get pancakes and porridge. I hate porridge, it can bog off.
We find a nice, quiet table to sit at and Denis departs to enjoy a few minutes of well earned, much needed sleep.
The second he leaves, some gentleman in his fifties stumbles in our direction, eyes pointing in opposite directions, pants drenched in what I assume is his own urine (I certainly hope it’s his own, can’t be mine, at least) and a palpable, in-exhaustive insistence upon becoming our new best friend.
I think he might be drunk. It’s the latter part of his character that gives this away – no one sober wants to be my friend.
He talks in our general direction, so Alex informs him in Russian and quite politely, that ‘We don’t understand, we don’t speak Russian, sorry’.
The gentleman’s response is consistent with that of Anna’s when she’s had too much to drink (ie: one glass) and insists upon my engaging her in conversation. The more nicely we try to say “I have no fucking idea what the living shit you’re trying to say you dopey, drunk amorphous blob of a human being”, the more they seem to insist that by simply repeating the same thing at a greater volume and intensity, the greater the chances of us reaching a mutual understanding are.
Alex, by virtue of being a rationale human being (a rare compliment) seems hell bent on perpetuating this cycle of breakfast ruining nonsense, by repeatedly informing the gentlemen in question in an ever-softening, consistently polite tone “Sorry, I don’t speak Russian”.
In fairness, this is one of those situations which through no direct fault of our own, could easily turn nasty. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, refusing someone’s hospitality, be it in the form of a prepared meal or attempted conversation, is both rude and likely to make the other party quite irritable. That’s not what we’re doing here, we’d genuinely like to be able to speak to the guy (for my part, so we can get rid of him), but it’s reasonable to consider his own judgment of the situation as being ever so slightly impaired, on account of having drunk himself into a state of self-pissing.
I don’t say that in judgement – we’ve all been here… haven’t we?
Alex goes to get Denis to save us from this escalating situation, concerned as he is that the first time Denis leaves us alone for ten minutes – we die. The second he leaves, so does the guy. I’ve always said Gingers are the root cause of all problems and now I have my proof.
Denis nevertheless elects to sit with us, puts his head on the table and goes to sleep. Seconds later, this bloke (who I will now refer to as Keith) returns , continuing to talk though now, with the added communicative method of waving hands.
Because that’s definitely going to help.
Denis explains that we don’t understand what he’s saying and the aforementioned cycle of events continues. After several minutes engaging with Keith on topics I expect comprise “They don’t speak Russian”, “They’re English and really don’t speak Russian” and “Sorry, I may not have mentioned – they don’t speak Russian, because they’re English”, Denis eventually is able to inform us “He wants to buy you soup”.
We don’t want any fucking soup, we’ve just had a metric shit ton of breakfast and forgive me for appearing cynical if I’m not overly enthused at the prospect of consuming anything that Keith has been involved with. Look, I’m grateful for extensions of kindness in any form, it’s just there’s only so appreciative you can be when this particular form is a load of food you don’t want and can’t eat, from a man covered in piss who you can’t understand.
This is not Western snobbery, this is a bloody sitcom with no budget that everyone involved had lost interest in writing a decent conclusion for, before they began filming.
Denis informs Keith that we don’t speak Russian, we don’t want soup (thank you) and we don’t eat meat.
Seconds later, two bowls of meaty soup, courtesy of Keith arrive.
Riley thinks the meat in question might be salmon. I question where such a fish is likely to have been procured from in such a remote area of the world. Riley concludes it’s not salmon.
Unfortunately for him, he’s the only one who eats (non fishy) meat and since we don’t want Keith to stab us – he needs to finish both bowls, pronto.
Three more bowls arrive.
I can’t be dealing with this shit, I’m either going to die of boredom or stab wounds from continuously rejecting Kieth’s advances, so I go for a poo. I figure even a poorly-maintained bathroom in a remote Russian café where all the attendees look angry as hell to be awake, at least has to be a more positive experienced than this one.
I am wrong.
It’s one of those where you have to squat and drop your package into a hole, dam-busters style but without the aid of spotlights, which I’d really appreciate at this point. My wonky neck has compromised my accuracy.
Against all the odds – bullseye! Happy days!
I hit the flush button and evidently break it in the process. It gets stuck and water won’t stop coming out. It’s at some speed too, almost as if the plumbing system has decided to embody Keith’s potential rage at our refusal to share his soup. I don’t fancy having to explain this to anyone, or have Keith try to comfort me through the offering of a Sunday Roast, so opt for a quick wipe, hoping vital surface coverage has been addressed and rush to meet the others back at the van.
Positive mood destroyed. That’s more like it.
Onward to Moscow. Back to sleep.
Russia is stunning, but we don’t know where we’re going
Nature is boss
I wake up a few times and am happy for doing so, given how delightful the scenery we’re currently driving through is. The hills roll on and on forever, as do the dark green trees. I know this will pale in comparison to what we experience when we actually reach Siberia, but nevertheless, the sense of of both natural beauty and remote isolation is palpable.
Visually, it’s a far cry from how such scenery appeared in June 2015, with much of the bleak, brown landscape of then, now alive with green foliage and beautiful, deep blue lakes and rivers.
My photographs don’t really capture this as well as I’d like. A green field shot from a moving vehicle tends to look the same, whatever country you’re in. That being said, I do think it’s worth noting just how vibrant the country’s scenery is at this time of year.
Whatever. I’m still tired, so back to sleep for me.
Fairly deep into Moscow city, we find Anna, one of very few people on the planet brave enough to admit to being a Krupskaya fan. Alex first met her some years back, when he toured Russia with Active Minds. We were then introduced during Krupskaya’s 2015 tour, as she treated us to a somewhat spontaneous guided experience of St Petersburg.
I know it’s only been three years, but whereas my physicality has noticeably withered under the weight of a meaningless existence, she’s not changed a bit! Youthful exuberance and enthusiasm abound now with no less the amount of verve as they did then.
Russian women, I swear they’re made of something not of this earth.
But that’s a point generally best not dwelled upon if I wish my own Anna to leave my genitals unremoved from their birthplace.
We pile into the van, Anna take’s a band photo – I look great, obviously.
Onward to… actually, where the hell are we going?!
A night of grinding in the woods
Finding our way out of Moscow
We’re going to spend a bit of time in Moscow tomorrow, so now is not the time for sight seeing.
Nevertheless, along the way I do manage to take a few photos of the city itself.
Into the forest
Denis pulls off from the main road onto a dirt track, the likes of which the Gazelle of Death I can’t imagine was really built for.
The ride is bumpy, but colourful. The far-reaching trees and long green grass compensating for the repeated pummelling my rear end is being subjected to. My idea of the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle, this most certainly is not.
A semi-naked lad and a young lady appear from one of the bushes, faces painted in large, cheeky smiles.
We’re in the right place. He definitely is.
Eventually, we start to see people, tents, fire and there’s a din coming from one direction in particular.
We pull up – this place is the shit!
As soon as I stumble out of the van I am faced with a young couple, the lady wearing a Krupskaya T-shirt. I insist upon taking a photograph as proof that not only have people outside the actual band members heard of us, but that some of those people also have the normal amount of eyes, fingers and heads, too!
We’re greeted by several people we’ve met before. Valentino from Ukraine (I hope I remember that name correctly, we’ve played several shows with his acts before), Pavel whose label released our newest record (which we’re likewise here to pick up and they look boss), a dude from Macedonia who organised a show for us back in 2008 and numerous others who attended the Moscow gig in 2015.
I genuinely can’t believe we’re about to play to a forest full of people on the outskirts of Moscow. This is as surreal and illogical as it is peaceful and life-affirming.
There is a stand selling alcohol. The sign literally just says Ethanol. Hello Russia.
Several bands play before us, though I struggle to take down their names. Each entertains, performing genres generally spanning crust, punk, metal and a bit of sludge thrown in for good measure. Even if I wasn’t interested in any of this music, it’s impossible not to enjoy every act when the vibe is like this.
The crowd evidently feels the same. A tornado of dust, leaves and tree bark erupts in the wake of a circle pit mere feet before the stage. There is so much love in this forest, which even as I write I can’t help but notice is oddly accurate and just plain odd, as observations go. These guys have been at it since the early hours of this morning and since bands are due to continue (I believe) until 05:00 tomorrow, they show no signs of letting fatigue interrupt this collective celebration of noise and hedonism.
There’s a guy asleep in a hole.
I go to get myself a vegetable wrap from a guy in a soldier’s helmet and spiked, denim biker jacket. I enjoy but a single bit before hearing the words “Next, Krupskaya” and an unnervingly bloodcurdling scream immediately after.
This is going to be fun.
Before I’ve even finished setting up the kit, the audience has doubled in size and a significant proportion seems to know what’s coming. Riley lets a bit of feedback emanate, this alone is enough to get them punching the floor and demanding our swift commencement.
Now, I like to invest a fair degree of physicality into my playing. I’ve tried to temper this over the years to allow for greater consistency over the course of a set, rather than having the intensity and violence dissipate with each passing song.
I tell myself “I know you’re excited, but don’t cock this up by being overly enthusiastic. Just breathe, take it steady and have a good show”.
Then I see a bloke in a great white shark T-shirt and my inner child wins.
We start playing and everything is just on… at least as far as second gigs o the tour go. Speed, tightness, intensity, it’s all there and whenever I take a moment to look up, there’s not a single gap in the wall of people surrounding the stage. All I can see are limbs flailing in the dust, random people find themselves onstage to swiftly depart again, Matt suddenly shrinks three feet and begins bleeding everywhere when his foot goes through the stage, the kit won’t stay in one place for more than three seconds.
I cock up timing on a few tracks. Getting gravity rolls to the end of their respective bars before reaching a stop I still struggle with and volume remains a problem on faster segments. An alternative snare might be a good idea, but I like the range and piercing crack I get out of the Black Panther.
Matt puts his foot through the stage – talk about breaking a leg. He’s bleeding. I don’t care.
Grasping in the Decay and Detritus of Hope, Dead Contaminated Atmosphere and Order of the New Templars go down especially well. Communion of Total Manipulation (which I usually dread, it coming right at the end of the set and comprising straight semi-quavers on the kick for the opening half an hour of its total length) absolutely removes any faces which may have still been attached to people’s skulls by the time it rolls round. We’re forced to replay a couple of songs right at the end, Weaponized Incubators on the Civilian Battlefield and Airborn Dissipation of Variant U being our reluctant ‘goodbye’ to Moscow.
One of my favourite shows we’ve ever played, moreso due to the atmosphere and location. As far as mood/intensity goes, I’m not sure we’ll ever experience this again. It’s not quite Zilina, Slovakia circa 2007, but it’s good.
A second to breathe
Metal, grind, punk
A ton of bands are yet to play and the night is young. Even if it wasn’t, it seems highly unlikely that anyone’s going to be getting any sleep tonight.
As I stumble from the stage, I am greeted by a young man and lady very enthusiastic about what they just witnessed. Sergei and…. Bollocks, I forget her name, but she’s bouncing like a radioactive pogostick and desperate for a photograph. Sergey and I discuss Gabba for a while, but I must insist on departing so I can pack away my gear, promising to find them later.
I totally forget where they tell me to head.
Instead, I grab a bear, find a nice secluded spot all to myself and take a moment to just absorb the experience.
The sound of the doom metal band currently playing sits softly beneath the aching sway of the trees and leaves dancing in the wind. Insects chirp in the undergrowth, bright orange camp fires crack sporadically and there is not a single direction from which laughter and shared stories cannot be heard.
Though the temperature remains warm, the night air is cool, soothing ligaments and muscles as they ease from our earlier proceedings. The smell of grass cross pollinates with that of the beer in the glass bottle I’m drinking from. As I tilt my head back, I notice how clear the night sky is, the surrounding trees seemingly stretching infinitely to the stars above.
My lungs are full, body relaxed, mind at ease and any internalised concerns have dissipated.
Damn. How I miss being in the office.
Making new friends in the Russian woods
Talking to people – not my strong suit
I figure it’s time to socialise. I shake hands with a few people who enjoyed the set while venturing from tree to tree. Smiling and nodding is pretty much the extent of my Russian language capabilities.
Some absolute nut job hands me a beer, thanking us for returning (apparently he saw us in Moscow in 2015) and expressing which songs he enjoys in particular. I can’t believe he knows their names, since Alex rarely remembers when he’s announcing them on stage.
Speaking of which, Alex and Matt are here too. They quickly capture this guy’s attention and as I turn to leave, I run into Sergei and his friend again. She runs off to find medicine to address Matt’s wound (her trainers have multicoloured lights on their soles… I’m not sure it’s wise to trust her medical judgement) while Sergei, myself and his other friend discuss music.
They struggle to wrap their heads around the fact that I don’t really listen to grindcore. I explain that my interest in the music we produce is more based around the pursuit of a creative ambition, which just so happens to be entrenched in violence, extremity and harsh bleakness, than the desire to execute the tried and tested tropes of any particular genre.
Nevertheless, Sergei and I find common ground with Hans Zimmer, The Berzerker and Deftones. I like this man.
Glowing foot girl returns and pours a load of dark green shit over Matt’s gaping wound. He screams. I giggle.
I follow this ragtag crew back to their camp where some dude is taking his fire building skills to the extreme. There’s an entire bloody tree on this thing. I trust they know what they’re doing, perhaps foolishly.
Conversation spans sharks, IT, the perception of Russia held by Westerners and his friends glowing feet, which I continue to be perplexed by.
We eventually return to the main stage area, where another band has just finished setting up and begun unleashing their vile, corrosive take on doom metal upon a grateful crowd.
My back is aching and Sergei wants alcohol, so we find our way to one of two bars close to the main stage so I can lean and he can drink.
This results in my introduction to Irina, a young lady with no interest in grindcore, but is nevertheless being subjected to it on account of wanting to help her friend sell their booze. She’s evidently doing a fine job, I need to be careful about my budget.
She’s one of very few able to speak fluent English (many seem to be more than capable, were it not for the quantities of alcohol coursing through their veins), so I make a rare attempt at engaging someone in conversation. It transpires she actually lives in China where she studies Archery and teaches children English. Her dream is to one day move to Amsterdam, though she admits the likelihood of her ever being able to do so.
I summarise my own path from designing fancy dress websites in Stoke-on-Trent to assisting in shark research while living in South Africa, advising that if I managed that, then she’s really no excuse. These words result in a positive response, so I award myself a pat on the back for successfully engaging in conversation with another human being.
Riley joins the conversation, though the aformentioned booze starts to take effect at this point and I’ve precious little recollection as to the topics covered. Behind us, a bloke is asleep in a hole so we have our picture taken with him, since he seems in no state to argue. Someone trips over him and immediately goes to check for a pulse.
I don’t know if I’m alarmed that such a reaction was so instinctive, or impressed at such a natural compassion.
Either way, these interactions with people are the sort I’m not sure I’d be treated to were it not for touring. Under no other circumstances would a personal trainer and shark-addicted designer from the sphincter of the United Kingdom, find themselves in a forest on the outskirts of Moscow, talking to someone who lives in China where they specialise in bows and arrows and watching drunk people get checked for vital signs.
The power of grindcore. Musos can look down their noses at such festivities all they want. This is living.
I’ve not slept, but it’s now daylight and I’ve precious little recollection of what else has happened.
Denis returns (he was only supposed to be an hour), advising that the day ahead of us is going to involve a lot of driving.
Essentially, two entire days of none stop driving.
We elect to draw this incredible day to a close.
Thank you Moscow, that was the absolute shit.