Today we visit Yekaterinburg, an incredible city which further challenges any preconceptions I had about what Eastern Russia would be like.
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Ugh, why the hell does my mouth taste like cow shit?
I look around to see if there’s any cows. For a moment I think I can hear one, but it turns out to be Matt snoring.
Maybe I fell asleep with my mouth open, face down on the floor. These are my school years all over again.
It could also be that my mouth doesn’t actually taste like cow shit. Maybe I’m just worrying about something which has further tangled my already dehydrated, under-rested and generally semi-operational (at the best of times) brain.
Riley… where’s Riley? I remember a frantic exchanging of details among the group, so that we might find him in the morning.
But he’s not here and I expect we’re going to leave soon for Yekaterinburg.
Okay man, get your shit together before everyone else wakes up and turns this into a far more theatrical and overblown point of drama than is really necessary. Get your laptop out, connect to the WIFI, find your current GPS and send that to Riley. If Wifi goes down, there was a café I remember (for some reason) driving past last night that I can write from. If Riley doesn’t respond, I acquired the contact details of several people we met yesterday. I can write to them and find the details of where he stayed.
Nice one Batman, you’ve got this!
The door opens and closes.
I’m going back to sleep.
Woken up by the sound of footsteps circling my head and the ceasing of snore-induced ground vibrations, I conclude we must be leaving soon.
I can’t taste cow shit any more, either. I don’t know if I should take comfort or panic from the fact, that the sensation was all in my head… in my heeeeead, in my heeAAAaad, zombie, zombie, zomBAY-AY-AY. Bollocks, that’s going to be stuck in my head all day now… in my heeeead.
I go to take a photo of the view but my camera battery is almost dead. As Denis would like to depart sharpish, this is less than ideal timing. Nevermind, there’ll be plenty of endless fields and bleak skylines to get photos of yet.
We stumble outside and the sunlight tears at my skin like a swarm of razor-clad fleas. Once I climbatize, it’s actually a very pleasant day.
We share goodbyes with our host who asks for a picture with us. This chap has been great, so I compel just enough battery out of the camera to take one last shot for the day.
Another long drive
We’re looking at around seven trizillion hours on this one. Or four, if you want to be pedantic.
It’s not the longest drive we’ve had or are going to experience. It’ll be enough to give pause for thought and some opportunity to catch up on rest.
An hour or so in and we’re driving along a field that stretches endlessly into the horizon. I didn’t realise the horizon could go on quite so far. I’ve seen huge places, but there’s invariably something which diversifies and gives scale to those spaces.
A mountain, forest, building, a pervert chasing a sheep, even just a bloody hill. There’s none of that, at present. I see nothing but endless green and above it, a cloudless light blue. I forget whether this sense of isolation is something I’ve reflected on in a previous entry. Regardless, I expect this won’t be the last time.
The expanse is oddly theraputic. I muse upon the fact that such a relaxing bliss is the direct result of nearly fifteen years of (sporadic) chaos. In 2005, Krupskaya was a band born of desperation. Individuals whose musical pusuits to that point had lived up to neither their wildest dreams nor modest expectations. No surprise if you actually heard any of these pursuits.
Fundamentally, we were desperate to just do something.
From humble/crap beginnings
In 2006, a mere three or four months later, those individuals played their first ever show abroad in Munster, Germany. At the time, such a concept seemed prepostorous. I remember going into it with a greater degree of excitement and uncertainty than I have anything (musically) since.
The band has since toured twenty one countries, culminating in this very adventure. We’re playing shows across a region of the planet that I’d never even considered I would one day see. What was once an unimaginable concept has become comparatively mundane, a by-product of our constant push to raise the bar and ‘do more’. This is a unique, special opportunity which is only happening because of this ethos and the work we’ve invested for several hours a week, over more than a decade.
Every record, practice, show, song, broken stick, obliterated cymbal, bleeding finger and piece of artwork, good or bad, has contributed to us being able to do this. This, is a very special thing indeed.
It’s not something that’s always easy to describe or justify. Most people just stare dumbfounded when I explain what touring this way involves and the years of effort that’ve gone into it. More often than not the question is “Why, if you don’t make any money?”. The prospect that such experiences can (I repeat ‘can’. There are plenty of bands who do this and just spend the whole thing pissed out of their skills, which to me just seems moronic) so deeply richen your perspective on life and facilitate memories that will stay with you forever, is evidently one of ever-diminishing value. To some folk, at least.
But then, you don’t make any money from going on Holiday. You don’t get paid for enjoying a conversation with friends. There’s no monetary remuneration for experiencing something that is unique to your life and going to affect it as such. Suggest you’re going to do one of these things, not a single eyebrow is raised.
Of course, we’ve had help in doing all of this. Every label that helped to put out a record, everyone who has promoted us in their town, every nut job that bought one of our records. I think we each acknowledge that, but at no point have we compromised our vision of what Krupskaya is and could be. A miniscule percentage of people are aware we exist, even within the context of the musical scene we operate in.
But those few people and their response to what we’ve done, is why we’re here.
This shit’s good.
We’re not the first band to do this and certainly won’t be the last. Where we’ll even be in the next eighteen months, I cannot say. But right now I don’t think I really care, either. I don’t want to stop having experiences like this any more than I wish to stop playing drums, but I also don’t want to simply repeat. For me, stagnation and the endless indulgence of the familiar are worse cycles to fall into than ones of regression. But that’s neither here nor there right now.
At this moment in time, I recognise I’ve already exceeded any reasonable expectations I might have had for where music could physically take me. I’m happy to acknowledge that fact, if only for the duration of this tour, before worrying about what’s to come next.
This period of genuine peace has been earned.
A more articulate person could doubtlessly give such a serene moment of reflection the concision and grace it deserves. I rarely struggle to consolidate the myriad of client needs and desires as such, but internal perspectives are always more of a challenge.
Maybe in another fifteen years, I’ll look back on this with a greater sense of clarity about what it meant and what I was trying to express.
For now, I’m quite comfortable with the ambiguity. I’m happy to be here and grateful to our younger selves for their pursuit of a creative output that most would have had the good sense to turn away from.
Without our stupidity, this wouldn’t have been possible.
This is getting awfully self indulgent. Long story short – fun times.
Arrive in Yekaterinburg
A quick drive around
I’m pretty shocked by Yekaterinburg. The place is stunning.
I avoided looking into a lot of the cities and areas we’re playing before coming on tour, because I really wanted to be surprised. I wanted to have the most authentic first impression possible. This, coupled with my general geographical ignorance has led to me being especially taken back by what this city is like.
Some 360km east of yesterday’s city (Perm), Yekaterinburg is the fourth largest in Russia. Heavy engineering and associated products are among the primary industries of a city which sits just east of the border between Europe and Asia.
I believed this would be enough to qualify the city as being in Siberia, but a wee bit of reading (lest I wish to insult someone and get myself stabbed) reveals that we’re actually in the Urals. This wasn’t a name I thought I was familiar with, until learning that it’s (generally) where that meteorite hit Russia back in 2013.
The region largely consists of the Ural Mountains and surrouding areas, so I’m not sure if this means that technically, Perm sits within this region too? I’ll need to read up on that when I get back. Either way, though I generally struggle to retain information, I enjoy learning about all the geographical and cultural intricacies of such places.
As for the city itself, every street boasts bold architecture, clean pavements and a diverse variety of colour. I’m more annoyed at my dead camera battery now than I was expecting to be.
Thankfully, I think we’ll have some time here tomorrow morning, so I’ll be sure to charge it over night and snap some shots before we leave.
We find ourselves at the venue. A chap arrives to let us inside, leading us down a small stairway to an underground bar, which truth be told – is disconcertingly normal.
Don’t get me wrong, if your days typically comprise a morning’s hunt, followed by afternoon tea and an evening’s lynching in between opinion submissions to the Daily Mail, this place would probably seem quite ‘out there’ and in need of immediate closure.
Likewise, if you’re the kind of goatee wearing hipster who simply cannot abide the capitilasm-induced abuse of the indigenous peoples of ‘INSERT WHATEVER COUNTRY IT’S POPULAR TO FEEL SORRY FOR HERE’, you may well find such a place lacking the rustic charm to be considered truly authentic.
I’m just some prick with a drum kit who so far on this tour, has played in a squat, a forest, a Gulag and a practice room. I gave up on expectations a long time ago.
Now I know how my parents feel.
But it’s a bar – with a large open area, some comfortable looking seats, a fairly large stage in the corner and – as my jaw hits the ground – a backstage area!!
It’s official – we’ve sold out.
We’re all pretty hungry and so venture into the city to find some food. Walking across the streets and through the underground, the air is cold and sharp. The sun illuinates every square inch of concrete and flesh in beautifully vibrant colour.
I remember that we’re not even a third of the way into the tour yet. The future stretches endlessly in my mind like the fields we drove past earlier. It’s daunting. No matter where I go or for what purpose, I can never totally shake off thoughts about the things I *should* be doing and the inherent obstruction these adventures impose on such things.
But I shake it off. If you don’t take your head out of those fixed responsibilities and just enjoy the opportunities they enable, you’ll forever be a slave to routine. Life is a flat circle. You should at least try to introduce a few bumps.
We find somewhere that does food and get into the queue. It takes a while but the food at least looks and smells good.
My conduct in such places is often somewhat cavemanic. I’m terrible at pronouncing words (English ones included) which tends to combine with with my near-constant glee at the prospect of eating. The result is a lot of vague pointing at what I would like and gutteral grunts.
You can get away with that shit when you’re in Stoke-on-Trent, as people just end up thinking you’re really posh and well-educated. Here, I find myself compelled to at least pretend like I’m a normal human being.
We return to the table and everyone looks much happier. Denis especially. He thinks Matt has unwittingly acquired some meat-based foodage. I predict some almighty flapping to follow this revelation and am not dissapointed.
Everything settles down, we enjoy our food and head back towards the venue.
We’ve not long to wait until the first band goes on and a headache kicks in.
Balls, I think to myself. Our music is intolerable and a pain in the arse to enjoy at the best of times. Headaches being thrown into the mix has not often turned out well, for me.
I get myself a glass of water and head to the backstage area. It’s dark, slightly claustrophobic and one of the bands is in there chatting. We share a handshake and some awkward attempts at conversation. Awkward because of me, I’ll add.
Even if I could speak the language, unless the topic is design, movies, batman, sharks, existential crises or videogames, I pretty much have nothing to offer. Music tends to be the immediate ‘go to’ subject because… well… obviously that’s why both we and the people who attend these shows are here.
But I don’t listen to this stuff. I love me some Napalm Death, but I couldn’t tell you which limited release of which record from which century is best. I tend to just smile, nod and say “I really like blast beats”.
It’s a total lie but at least we connect now. Gravity rolls are cool.
Band Number One
I miss this band’s name and forget to check afterwards, which is a bit lame because they’re fun. Straight up powerviolence, intense enough to get a pulse racing but not to much that I can’t close my eyes and give this headache chance to bugger off.
Cyanide Grenade are up next, they play thrash metal which is one of my least favourite genres, but they’re fudging great.
They’ve got energy, they’re tight and they don’t just sound like all other bands in this genre, which I believe thrash to be especially suseptible towards.
My headache slowly lets up a little, just in time to give one to everyone else in the room.
We take to the stage and it’s pretty solid.
So far, there’s been at least one oddity or eyebrow-raise-inducing moment at each of our shows, but this is probably the closest we’ve come to ‘normal’. No musical parts strike me as severely out of sync, crowd response has been fairly ruptuous and everything seems reasonably on point.
After the show, Alex explains that a pair of gentlemen chose to voice their displeasure at what we were playing to Denis. Apparently they felt insulted that he’d bought this music to their town.
They felt insulted. I’ve never felt such pride.
“This isn’t real grindcore” I think was the term they used, which I personally took as a massive compliment. I mean sure, I’m sorry for not shoehorning our creative efforts to abide the tropes of a genre that despite being founded on and characteristed by an unparalleled physical aggression and refusal to conform to conventual expectation, has fallen ill to the same predictable, conservative conventions as the genres against which it was born as a rebellion.
But in fairness – Google exists. If you’re daft enough to spend money on something you’ve not looked into, you don’t get to then bitch and moan at the people who made it.
It’s a simple phrase – Buyer beware. But maybe that’s a concept that by virture of its association with capitalism, can be dismissed out of hand by folks who are more spiritually enlightened? Heaven forbid anyone be reponsible for what they choose to spend money on.
Reading this back, I sound like I’m far more butthurt by the situation than I should be, but I do like to jump on any opportunity to vexate about hypocritical nonsense. You can’t please everyone, clearly we stirred something to evoke so expressive a response, I just think it’s a bit lacking in character to get on Denis’s back about it.
Regardless of whether you personally like the music, this guy works his friggin nuts off bringing bands from across the globe to these places. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but you can express that opinion while still showing some degree of respect.
Everyone else in the room seems to have had a great time. The other bands hang out with us a bit with many a hug and laugh being shared before food is dispensed. Matt looks far less depressed with this offering. I’m gutted, as no small part of my time on tour is spent in anticipation of when Matt’s finally just going to lose his shit with all of us and go postal.
I’m not a social creature by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love these moments. People are just happy to be in eachother’s company. The truth can’t be said for most families. You should ask some of mine, they’d be more likely to respond to you.
As festivities die down I figure I’ll get some work done. I head to the backstage area, jump on the ol’ Book Of Faces, catchup on the absolute nothing that’s been going on at home (but of course, I sound really interested to hear about it) and blast through some HTML.
Tomorrow, I’ll aim to actually capture some photographs of Yekaterinburg before we bugger off.
Decent city. Decent show. Decent people.
…in my heeeeAAAAAddd.