Uuuuuuuugh, where the hell are we?!
Where the hell are we? What’s going on? I hear Denis advising we depart the van and capitalize on available sanitary facilities, before my eyes can even open. I manage to pull back the van door and stumble onto concrete, I think this is a gas station?
It’s impossible to tell so I take a photo so I can check after further sleep, should my vision refuse to return:
Fortunately, it does return. Not by much, but I see colours again. All three of them.
I’m starting to get a sense of just how large Russia is. We’re circled by a horizon that seems to stretch endlessly. Dense forests of countless trees merge into a lightly textured tapestry at this distance. It’s hard to really capture in photographs (if you’re a crap photographer, at least) but I haven’t felt this exposed and tiny since… ugh, let’s not go there.
It’s something that games struggle to capture as well. There are plenty of worlds and environments that feel ‘big’. Some I’d say comparable to places I’ve visited, but none to this extent. I wonder if it’s partially to do with fidelity, how when objects reach a certain distance they’re essentially rendered to the same resolution as those which are a bit closer.
Skyrim feels like a corridor shooter compared to this and it’s only Day Five.
Not a bad sight to wake up to, either way. Riley evidently feels the same.
My vision slowly begins to improve from blurry to somewhat mosaic-like. I manage to open the front door of whatever building I’ve stumbled towards. I need the toilet quite desperately. I hope there’s one in here.
The lady behind the counter advises Alex and I, that the toilet is outside, toward the back of the landmass this station occupies. We venture fourth only to be met with two outhouses, one of which is led to by a bridge of random wooden planks, the other padlocked shut with what appears to be hardened turd over top. I can only imagine the horrors that reside behind this door.
Alex opens that which has not been sealed for the good of mankind, only to learn that it too, really, really should’ve been.
I can’t bring myself to take a picture. There are some sights that are better left unshared. I fear a photograph of this alone would be enough to constitute germ warfare.
It’s one of those smells that clings onto your nostril hairs and hides in the back of your throat before truly revealing itself. You go from totally clean airways, to feeling like you’re choking on a smog of fecal matter within milliseconds.
I worry that such bleakness is but a hint of what awaits us in the toilets of Siberia. Denis heads towards another. I daren’t imagine what awaits him, but this guy’s seen some shit (literally, pretty soon), so I figure he knows what he’s doing.
I hope these stories don’t become the focus of this diary.
I take my laptop back inside for some internet therapy. My brain still isn’t fully functioning, so Anna’s messages about our Owls flying off, one turning out to be a boy and the results of our cat accidentally being locked away from his litter tray, alarm more than they do calm.
Three seconds later, I conclude that’s enough catching up for one day.
Racist by virtue
As we clamber back into the Gazelle of Death, Alex mentions that he and Denis had been discussing the presence of racism in the western hardcore/DIY music scene.
A hypothesis they were dissecting (I’m not sure if it’s one of theirs specifically, or just one they were discussing in general), is that the DIY music scene, or a section of it could be considered racist on the basis that it isn’t doing enough to help bands from impoverished countries, or countries where the cost of leaving is too high to be viable, get out and tour places such as the USA.
It was a passing observation and not one that was made in any great level of detail, but it’s one I considered as we begun our journey again, as it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.
I completely agree that it is the responsibility of any scene, to measurably contribute to the upholding of its core values and collective beliefs. It makes no difference to me whether said scene relates to DIY music, wildlife conservation (being the only two I’ve any affiliation with, albeit a remote one) or anything else. If you are part of group that wishes to see others embrace what you believe is a sustainable alternative to the norm, then that needs to be evident in your actions, as much as (if not moreso than) your words.
I tire as I know many do, of elitist, self-indulgent, virtue signalling narcissists who confuse appearances with actions. They wear all the right T-shirts, shout all the right slogans and demonstrate the right amount of outrage when there are reputational benefits to doing so. But ask what they actually do to contribute to the growth and evolution of their actual causes and you’ll find yourself wanting. I’m not convinced that many even know what they’re fighting about.
Such people do exist and I was one of them for a long time.
I was vocal and rigid in my stance over certain subjects, without really understanding the big picture beyond my immediate interests. That (I believe and hope) changed with time, experience and perspective.
While I think the extent to which these characteristics dominate a scene/culture/movement have been exacerbated in recent years by social media (where opinions are currency), I can’t really say if they’re the norm. While I also think you can make a valid argument for this behaviour being grossly hypocritical and counter-productive, suggesting it’s a form of racism is a bit of a stretch.
If we accept that it is, must we not therefore also accept that addressing this issue would be a form of racism, in and of itself? By actively deciding “We are going to help this demographic”, then we are making a conscious, targeted effort to help one instead of another.
I don’t think it’s racist in either case, just like I don’t think 99% of what gets called ‘racist’ these days actually is. Generally speaking, I feel that terms such as racist, sexist, misogynist, sizeist, fascist, are all thrown around far too easily by people without the confidence of thought (loudness isn’t confidence), intellectual capacity or broadness of perspective to engage in a constructive discussion.
These terms have become the primary weapon of choice for people who might be displeased by what you’re saying, but don’t feel they should have to (or simply can’t) prove you wrong, or demonstrate an informed alternative. They just need to call you one of the above and the argument is over. You are wrong, end of story.
These phrases are like nuclear bombs on the battlefield of constructive discourse. They annihilate any progress that might be made through the conflict and most sickeningly of all, they actively trivialise instances where they are actually, painfully accurate. Throwing them around in situations where they aren’t relevant only cheapens their meaning and undermines the instances where they are.
But for some, that’s preferable to making an objective contribution. It’s better to look a hero in public than act like one out of sight, I suppose.
Where the hell am I even going with this? Didn’t this start with music? I tend to go on tangents when I’m tired and my brain starts following threads rather than points. Like I say, I only caught part of what they were talking about and I could’ve got completely the wrong end of the stick.
I would like to try and stay awake to listen to some of Denis’s views and stories, as he’s a far more insightful and interesting individual than the state of his van would have you believe.
But for now, I’m tired and my nose is itchy.
An evening of noise, Rock Band, booze and friendship
Welcome to Perm
I awake as we cross a river, into the city of Perm.
Monoliths of stained concrete roll into the distance, interspersed sporadically by striped chimneys, steel cranes and random tufts of desaturated green shrubbery.
It looks like the alpha screenshots of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
I suspect the weather and general overcast nature of the lighting are making it appear bleaker than it usually is. In many ways it feels very much inline with what I’d have expected from a far Eastern European city before I actually visited any.
That being said, there’s something about the place I dig. Not sure what, perhaps that’ll come clearer as the night moves on.
Practice room grindcore
We find the general area we’re supposed to be in, although parking quickly becomes a nightmare.
Denis is forced to drive the van up and down several very narrow roads, missing cars and pedestrians with millimetres to spare.
The guy doesn’t even break a sweat.
We eventually circle back on ourselves and pull up before a block of flats. My attention is immediately grabbed by a very old-school, communist looking building which is divided in two by something architecturally consistent (for the most part), but aesthetically diametrically opposed.
This is what always gets me about places like Russia and other Eastern European countries; how things can be so abruptly mashed together but still feel relatively seamless.
A smart man would perhaps muse about how this is a reflection of the country’s many layers of social complexity. That while at their foundation they are equal and unified, they are in execution opposite sides of the same coin.
Thankfully, I’m not an especially smart man.
So I instead, wonder where one of the young gentlemen has come to meet us, purchased his lovely hat from.
We’re walked down to the venue, a practice room which has been very nicely kitted out. The walls are well sound proofed, the drum kit has three toms and the floor is a lovely, rich shade of green.
They even make us take our shoes off before going inside the room itself – I love this place!
Alex and I’s bodies however, seem to feel otherwise. Both of us I think are having violent internal reactions to our dietary fluctuations so far and make for the toilet.
The floor is soaking wet, there’s no lock or toilet roll.
Goddammit – they lulled me into a false sense of security with their warm hospitality and good manners!
We each agree to watch the door while the other one does their business.
We’ve been here before. I refused to talk about it any further then, the same is true of now.
We spend an hour or so before the show getting to know the locals – they’re mega. Mostly young, I’d say late teens to early twenties for the most part. Regardless of whether they’re all into grindcore, they’re nevertheless all excited to have a band from so far away come and play their town.
Which is boss. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll likely mention it several times again in future, but being accepted into people’s homes and lives this way is nothing to turn your nose up at.
There’s an openness and mutual appreciation from both sides that immediately transcends even my level of initial social awkwardness. And believe me, social awkwardness is quite my speciality.
You speak to people in different languages, having met them for the first time and seem to connect better than you do the person you see on the bus every morning.
In fairness, they’re always frowning and smell faintly of wafer biscuits.
I didn’t even know wafer biscuits could smell.
Punk Rock Kids
Only one other band is playing tonight, a young three piece of straight up punk rock. Maybe a bit grungey?
They’ve got a sort of Green Day/Nirvana vibe going on. I expect I wouldn’t enjoy this if I listened on CD, but their performance is great. They just throw themselves into it, giving it all they’ve got despite the fact that they do seem somewhat nervous. I expect this is one of their first gigs?
But yeah, they really go for it. Energy is more important to me than execution, so long as it doesn’t come at the cost of execution.
They do well.
I’m not expecting too much from this. There’s not a whole lot of people here, it’s a bit of an odd place to be playing and I’m just not really in the mood. Don’t get me wrong, the people are awesome and they’re demonstrably excited, I think my brain is just a bit frazzled from so much sleeping in the van.
I’m feeling almost lucid, but that might be more down to the bathroom visit.
So we start playing, they instantly go fucking crazy and everything changes. I can see this becoming a bit of a theme out here: turn up knackered, stumble onto the stage with very little enthusiasm, suddenly become energised by the absolute fury with which the locals embrace our noise.
It’s another really mega show. There’s not really much else to say, although I do particularly enjoy looking up at one point to see a gentlemen sat in a big leather armchair, hoisted above the crowds head as they throw him from one side of the room to the other.
The coordination is quite extraordinary.
Boss gig, boss band, boss people – happy days.
Nuclear grade pissing
As we load up the gear, one guy (the promoter, I believe) informs us that we are to visit the Best Bar in Perm. Given how much he evidently enjoyed our performance, I’m sceptical over his judgement when it comes to pretty much anything. He thought we were great… such men are not to be trusted.
While explaining the details, he departs for a quick pee against a wall. The sound that follows is akin to that of an avalanche and tidal wave of at the same time.
It’s genuinely incredible, none of us can quite the believe the wall has remained standing. Another member of the audience arrives to infom us that it was this guy who tore down the Berlin wall after just a couple of pints. I can absolutely believe it.
He finishes, we all converse with the locals a little bit more and are eventually allowed to find this aforementioned bar.
Butchering classics and the art of twerking
Okay, so my judgement of the promoter’s judgement was harsh and highly presumptuous – this place is cool, seriously cool. It’s very small, but there’s an illustration of a shark on the wall, there’s some cool music being played, all the drinks are locally sourced/brewed and there’s an Xbox 360.
One of the chaps who attended our performance explains that he is a Blackburn Rovers fan, so I take a moment to discuss football with someone. It doesn’t last long. We disagree quite vehermently over who was responsible for Stoke City’s expulsion from the Premier League last season (he insists Paul Lambert, while I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the board when it was clear after several seasons – fit for management Mark Hughes is not), but then he explains how much he enjoyed my drumming and I forgive all.
I am very, very egotistical.
He asks if we want to play Rock Band. I say no, but that Alex will. He’s had a beer after all which means he’ll do anything.
He absolutely ruins whichever band goes on first, before doing a surprisingly decent rendition of Danzig’s ‘Mother’. Our Blackburn supporting friend then nails the living shit out of Franz Ferdinand’s Take me out.
Festivities are enjoyed by all, until Matt twerks. No warning, no drum roll, I just see a lot of shocked faces looking behind me and turn around to find Matt doing his best impression of a grossly out of shape Miley Cyrus.
He totally wastes her when it comes to natural curves, in fairness. The guy’s positively spherical.
Then he does what I’m informed is a ‘slut drop’. Riley and I are disgusted, so we move turn back to the bar.
My input would only disrupt things, so I choose not to offer any. Excusing yourself from responsibility is one of few benefits to being genetically wired toward cocking things up.
I need to sleep
Anyway, festivities continue well into the night. Someone asks Alex if I’m good marriage material, to which he regurgitates his current drink and almost dies from laughter. This is not a response I’d have any merit in arguing against.
Yulia, one of the bar patrons explains that she’s studying logistics surrounding oil transportation across continents. I love hearing about shit like this (even if I do forget it, more often than not), but my brain is in no state to retain information.
Everything becomes slightly blurry after a while, with the only thing I truly remember being a sense of forboding and dread at the prospect of checking my bank statement, when we return home.
Meh, bollocks to it – it’s been worth it. Tonight’s hosts have been incredibly friendly, especially accommodating, fantastic company and genuinely made tonight’s gig, my own highlight of the tour so far.
A group of us make it back to our hosts flat at around 05:00, I think. One insists on doing all his dishes, I speak to another about tuning guitars (riveting – the conversation, not the process), at which point I think we all agree that sleep is probably the best idea.
The sun slowly begins to rise as my eyelids become heavy. Its warm rays stroke my face, relaxing my muscles and offering a familiar comfort in a land bizarre and alien. This would be really nice, were it not for Matt bellowing down my ear with a snore that could demolish a mountain.
I’ll let him off this once. He’s been twerking, after all.
And slut dropping.
Perm, that was the shit.
Today we visit Yekaterinburg, an incredible city which further challenges any preconceptions I had about what Eastern Russia would be like.Read now