Today marks our venturing into Tyumen and with it, our official entrance into Siberia itself.
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Good morning Yekaterinburg
I awaken in a state I’m frustratingly well accustomed to – having no idea where the hell I am.
It doesn’t happen all that frequently and I usually figure everything out in a few seconds. This is one of those occasions where I seem to be sat there for hours just thinking “Well… it’s a building, I know that much… but why am I here?”.
Then the ground shakes with one of Matt’s snores and within an instant – all is remembered.
I spend an hour or so firing out emails and playing The Witcher 3 before everyone else begins regaining consciousness.
Ciri is such a bad ass.
It’s a shame that Eredin and the rest of The Wlld Hunt weren’t treated to a bit more in the way of characterisation. I think their visual design and the way they’re described by other characters helps to compensate for some of this. I understand they’re a destructive force, but there isn’t much to justify or explain why beyond the odd cutscene, here and there.
You could argue they don’t need it, in much the same way the Joker doesn’t in The Dark Knight. But he was an element of chaos, these guys are a directed force. I think such things benefit from greater empathy.
How the hell did this become a dissection of The Witcher 3?! Moving on.
We need coal and sunlight
We need to drop off the key and get moving quite sharply. We’ve another fairly long drive, need breakfast, would like to see some more of the city and it sounds like Riley probably needs medicine. He’s complaining about an uncomfortable stomach, which I find myself pitying. If only because this isn’t my first rodeo and experience has taught me that an uncomfortable stomach can often lead to situations far more explosive.
Venturing into the sunlight, Alex decides to get dressed at the van.
Why? Why does he subject me to this? As if it isn’t bad enough I have to spend such a prolonged period of time near a ginger person, now it insists on exposing it’s various ethereal body parts to me.
Riley brushes his teeth, which wouldn’t be much of a story in and of itself (sorry Riley), but the expression on his face which I expect is a result of the upset stomach, tells me everything.
This is a man in pain.
I would also like to get some drum sticks.
Yekaterinburg is massive and boss
Yekaterinburg is an amazing city and very, very clean.
The fourth largest city in all of Russia, though not technically part of Siberia itself. It’s also five hours ahead of Universal Standard Time and two hours ahead of Moscow. I don’t know how many timezones we’ve crossed already, I think we’re destined to pass through eight in total?
The architecture is fairly standard for what you’d expect of a large European populace. Office blocks tower above buildings of historical/cultural significance. Sharp bursts of colour and brightly illustrated billboards break up the oppressive grays.
It’s familiar, but not without its own charm, though I can’t quite put my finger on what is it that makes the place unique. I usually get a distinct idea of whether or not I’m going to like a city as soon as I step foot in it, along with some vague idea as to why. I’m missing the latter on this occasion, but whatever.
I’m here now, the place is stunning, the world feels open and clean so I’m not going to waste time wondering why I’m finding it especially appealing, at this current moment in time.
That being said, I wouldn’t say there’s anything about Yekaterinburg (from what I’ve seen) that feels distinctly Russian, but for buildings such as ‘Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land’.
Because ‘Church on Blood’ wasn’t quite death metal enough.
This place looks mad good, not entirely sure I’ve seen anything like it before. The design of the building is imposing and bold, with curves and intricacies not present on many others in the surrounding area. We’ve seen similar across our Russian travels before, but something about this just feels slightly more modern.
The interior is no less stunning, with architecture and artwork that give it maze-like characteristics.
I learn that it was built upon the execution spot of the last Tsar, Nicholas Alexandrovich and his family. The church itself didn’t begin construction until 2000, concluding three years later which perhaps explains the more modern feel.
That contemporary design philosophy is present through both the road layouts and the buildings themselves. I really like it here, not what I was expecting.
After soaking up as much of the city as we can in just a couple of hours, we eventually secure ourselves some coal, drop off the keys and begin our next epic journey.
Yekaterinburg – you have been boss! We set sail for Tyumen, across an ocean of leaves, grass and deep blue skies.
Just keep driving, just keep driving
You’d think it possible to get bored of landscapes which despite being enormous, consist largely of forests alone.
But it coninues to be oddly therapeutic. You can look out of the window, see a forest and then fall asleep, only to find yourself driving past that same forest when you awaken several hours later.
I experience a similar phenomenon when Anna drives the ten-minute journey to the town next to where we live.
I’ve been in huge environments before, but there’s typically much more in the way of biodiversity.
South Africa, for example. Whether I’ve been taking a relatively short drive from Mossel Bay to Cape Town or a solid day’s travel up the Eastern Cape, you can’t blink without the environment around you changing.
It’s huge, but its varied and I feel like in some respects, that almost makes it feel smaller than it is. The space is big, but there’s a lot in it so you don’t feel quite so isolated.
Here on the other hand, is by and large quite empty. There are instances when we’re tunnelled into denser areas of forestry, but again even with these there’s very little variation.
Everything currently feels very binary, there’s no gradient between our different types of surrounding just like there’s no real variation of the details within.
But it’s nevertheless stunning. The greens are vibrant and almost glowing against the oddly warm blue sky. The colour of the grass erupts against the bland, grey concrete and the clouds over head further emphasise just how tiny we are in all of this.
I may bemoan the lengths of our drives at times, because I’m a miserable git.
Even so, I can’t imagine I’ll ever actually get bored of where they take us.
I enjoy an hour or so’s sleep before we pull into a fuel station for a fill up and a poop stop.
I clamber out of the van and am immediately struck by how incredible the sky looks.
High above us, feint stretches of cloud are brushed across the deep blue canopy. Sporadic masses of white sit between they and the bright green grass of the world beneath our feet.
It’s a bloody petrol station but it looks amazing. I can’t remember the last time I took a dump in such calm, tranquil surroundings. Probably Mozambique, but then I also got a box jellyfish wrapped round my leg and thought my heart was going to explode.
Proof at least, that I do have a heart.
Pros and cons.
Alex and I venture toward a local field in the hopes of finding a secluded place to urinate.
It’s absolutely impossible. You can’t take a single step off the beaten track without immediately placing your foot in human excrement. You know those horror films where someone walks into a dark room, picks something up to realise it’s a ‘human head’, so they jolt back only to find more ‘human heads’ before the camera eventually pulls backward to reveal it’s actually a room full of ‘human heads’.
This is like that, but we’re outside and the human heads are human shit.
I don’t mean they’re not very good, I mean they’re literally mounds of shit.
Even the plant-life looks depressed. It’s like driving through Sheffield and not being allowed to keep your head down.
I don’t even know how this is mathematically possible. This is the biggest country on the planet and yet everyone seems hell bent on consolidating their faecal matter into the same, three metre squared patch.
I just want to do a wee!
We eventually succeed, agreeing that this is YET another one of those occasions where discussing again in future probably isn’t necessary.
I’m going to sleep.
We are officially in Siberia
We arrive at around 19.00 and Denis informs us that we are now, officially in Siberia.
Well, I guess we can go home now? That two and a half weeks of even bigger drives in more dangerous places isn’t really that important anymore. Right?
There’s a fair few people outside the venue, all of whom it turns out are actually here to see us, which makes a nice change.
I venture downstairs to discover that the outside was not even close to being a fair indication as to what awaited us within. It’s a bar, no doubt, but a bloody boss looking bar!
I share conversations with a few of the locals, all incredibly friendly and awfully happy that we’ve come so far to play their town. I always worry when people express such gratitude, as to whether they’ve actually heard our music and aren’t just in for a terrible shock. You can’t imagine that in a world with any level of justice, that our music is something people WANT to hear.
The same goes for my face. But again, this is Russia. The normal rules of logic do not apply and I friggin’ love the place for it.
I’m then informed that we’re the only band playing tonight. It’s a shame because I do like to hear/see the local acts, but I’m not going to have a massive diva-fit. I’m saving that for a very, very special day.
We do a sound check and honestly, from the stage at least it sounds friggin’ great. The chap behind the mixing desk seems proper ‘on the ball’ and I’m very much looking forward to beating the skins this evening.
This is going to be great.
Our performance begins and is an immediate disaster.
‘Neoplatonic Age’ is the first song, opening with a powerful, constant battering of both my high and floor toms, with the kick on the offbeat.
But there’s an issue with one of the legs of the floor tom and it immediately comes crashing into my right knee. It bounces with every lift of my leg which, becomes sore as buggery within about three seconds.
I try to resolve the issue during a segment towards the midway point where very little is going on, but of course, the clamps are all ridiculously tight so fixing the issue isn’t really an option. Alex, thankfully helps and the song is able to resume.
Gingers have a use, after all.
It is at this point however, that I realise there’s more to this particular drum’s problems than initially meets the eye. The dam thing just won’t stay in one place. The legs are rotated and positioned properly, I even manage to sneak one inside the leg of one of the cymbal stands for some added support, but now the drum just rotates around this one leg.
I adapt my playing to feature more left foot leading, so my right foot can be used to grab the leg of the floor tom as it spins away and pull back into place. Finally, playing barefoot and having toes like monkey hands has a benefit.
Our second song, ‘Let the fields of carnuntum burn’ reveals the second thorn destined to spend much of its time in my side, this evening. The back of the stage? Yeah, it doesn’t really ‘exist’, in the literal sense of the word.
The drums are quite close to the back wall, but the floor isn’t entirely secure, so unless I’m sat with my knee practically pressed against the bass drum, I start to tip over backwards as there’s nothing supporting me from behind.
Not entirely sure how I managed to miss this before now.
I choose to look on the bright side – this is great, I have a lovely view of the ceiling.
Behaving like some sort of mad octopus, desperately trying to stay on the stage while keeping as much of the hardware within clobbering distance as possible means I’ve not really paid much attention to whether we actually sound any good.
The ungodly roar that awaits us at the conclusion of Grasping in the Decay and Detritus of hope suggests that yes, they’re keen. I manage to keep my head up during a few of the following songs and there’s barely a static arse in the room. There’re men, women, kids and a fair few older folks than I’m used to seeing at shows, all absolutely losing their minds.
It’s at this point that I consider the differences between the crowds here and what we experienced in Europe, earlier this year. It might seem an odd time for reflection, but since the drum kit seems hell bent on making my job as difficult as possible, I figure I might as well get something out of the evening.
Overall, I’d say the responses have been significantly more ‘vocally’ positive here than in Western Europe. Don’t get me wrong, we had great shows, Berlin was especially brutal, many people enjoyed the music and eager to express so to us directly. But there wasn’t nearly the same primal, raw a response across the whole crowd, as those we’re enjoying here.
If I had to put my finger on why, I’d say it largely comes down to a question of expectation.
People who listen to or watch us with a pre-existing idea of what grindcore is, tend to come away disappointed or just bored. Case and point, those guys in Yekaterinburg last night.
Those who come with no expectations and just want to see/hear/experience something intense, tend to be a little more open to what we’re doing. Even if it annoys the living shit out of them personally. Which it probably does. I know it does me.
I’d like to consider this point in greater detail, but I’ve somehow got my toe trapped in one of the stands. This is incredibly painful and what I get for allowing my mind to wander mid-set. Riley is having equal frustrations with his guitar sound. I’m about one more ‘minor niggle’ away from having a full on hissy fit, but bollocks to it – we’re in Tyumen and folks are loving it.
We reach the end of the set. That was bloody difficult but truth be told, I think we were fairly on it. We’re forced (politely) to play two encores. These people are the shit.
We finish, I converse with several folks, pose for photos and eventually find myself a quiet spot to just kick back. I’ll only be in Siberia ‘for the first time’ once, so I want to take a few moments to let that really sink in.
An hour or so of calm passes before Denis advises we depart to tonight’s accommodation.
If you go down to the woods today
The streets are dark so there’s precious little hope of me offering any sort of reflection on the city itself.
We’re not driving long before we find ourselves in a slightly more wooden area, comprising several small buildings which are blatantly homes and/or small flat complexes, but differ in architectural design greatly. Some are distinctly rudimentary and ‘cost-minded’ in their construction, whereas others seem much older, boasting slightly more artistry in their construction.
It’s both odd and charming. These aren’t the sorts of places you’d otherwise get chance to see.
Unless perhaps, you’re someone’s victim??
Cats, beer and Nazi flags
We eventually arrive at the abode of tonight’s host (whose name I keep forgetting, apologies if you’re reading this, sir!), splitting our sleeping bags between the main bedroom and his dining/kitchen area.
I love staying in spots like this. It’s the most literal example of being invited into someone’s home and though these flats tend to be small, the residents always seem to make effective use of the space available. The more we learn about the people we stay with, the more you see their home’s as reflections of who they are and it gives you a unique appreciation for everything you see.
I see some 3D renderings (I think in Rhino) on our host’s PC and ask him about them. It turns out he’s creating some 3D artwork, which needs to be designed and rendered to a reasonable level of architectural visualisation, before being submitted. I may have missed some key details there, my brain isn’t really working (a running theme) but I love this stuff and just enjoy a few moments to talk about 3D in general.
There’s also the CUTEST little kitten I’ve seen… well, all tour at least. Grey all over and delightfully playful, I spend a few moments taking his/her/their/zis/its photograph before realising the time has come to spit upon the good company our host has thus far provided.
Yep, I need the toilet.
Upon exiting, I am advised by Alex to turn around, close the door and observe what adorns it.
It’s a massive Nazi flag.
I don’t mean it’s a flag with a massive Nazi on it. I mean it’s a Nazi flag and it’s fucking massive.
I can already imagine of the legion of Facebook-activists for whom this would be enough to justify closing my journal immediately and crucifying me for being a Nazi sympathiser myself.
Because it really doesnt’ take miuch to qualify as a Nazi these days, apparently. I was once indirectly compared to one for suggesting that “Salary” and “Take home” were actually two different things, in regards to equal pay. Yep, progressivism in 2018, folks.
Anyway, such self-defeating idiocy is given more than enough coverage on the internet as it is. Alex and I share a curious if slightly bemused, possibly even nervous giggle and I wonder if Matt’s already dying of a heart attack somewhere.
Based on our chat so far, some of the literature on his bookshelves and work I’ve seen of his, there’s little to suggest our host is a fool or incapable of informed, rational thought. With that in mind, I’m interested to learn as whether this item actually reflects his political and social alignment. I’m also conscious that doing so could conclude with us spending a night in the van.
It’s cold, fudge that noise.
Alex raises the subject, pointing to the flag while asking with genuine intrigue “What is this?”. Our host looks confused for a second, but then smiles with a bit of a relaxed chuckle. I get the distinct impression he wasn’t entirely sure why this would cause confusion.
He explains that the flag and symbolism doesn’t have quite the same meaning here, as he understands it does in the rest of the world. Here, it’s seen purely as an act of rebellion and possibly the strongest expression of dissent towards the government. Displaying it doesn’t mean advocacy for the belief system the Nazis represent(ed), so much as it is an out-right condemnation of the government – full stop.
Which is consistent with some of the artwork and literature the man owns in general. Dotted across the entire flat are pieces of art, band imagery, music and books which you could consider disconnected, but for anti-governmental themes. There’s nothing I can see about Nazism or far right politics.
The difference between those all those items and this one, is I have a pre-existing association of the Nazi flag which incudes a very primal, uncomfortale response. It’d be pretty hypocritical to get all high and mighty about this particular item, when there’s other things I could just as easily be ‘offended’ by if I wasn’t so ignorant.
I’ve also no reason to doubt the guy’s explanation. Nevertheless, on face value I’m not sure if his rationale makes total sense to me. I don’t know how one can showcase something like this without in some way, advocating or supporting the ideals it symbolises.
But that’s me. That’s a perspective I’ve arrived at which is informed by thirty-three years living and breathing my life, cultivating my own understanding and my preconceptions on my own experiences, in an entirely different part of the world.
While I might struggle to completely understand this, to someone of a different life, understanding, preconceptions and experiences, it could make total sense. We can only be assessed as right or wrong against our own judgement and it’s not for one to suggest that the other’s judgement is wrong, simply because it doesn’t conform to their own worldview. I’m pretty sure that mentality itself is what the Nazis were actually about.
This is a place, culture and time, with a history that exceeds my comprehension. However comforted and righteous I might feel by the beliefs I’ve arrived at while living in my own, I am a guest in this man’s world. It serves no one to fully embrace or dismiss his worldview on the basis that it doesn’t fully conform to, or potentially conflicts with my own, however uncomfortable it might make me.
But by the same token, there are plenty of bands, philosophers, political and public figures with whom I’ve agreed on some things and not on others. Now that I think about it in a bit more detail, the concept of embracing a figure or group ‘absolutely’ is one I’ve long opposed. I think it’s dangerously naive to assume any one person or group to be completely in the right. Even more so to construct your own views around such a rigid philosophy.
It’d be mightly hypocritical of me to change this perspective now, simply because I’m faced with something I’ve a strong negative response to.
It actually makes me think about some of the conversations I’ve had with Black south africans, about how one might embrace (to an extent) an ideology not because you necessarily agree with it, but because it’s an effective tool of protest. It’s not exactly a case of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, so much as “My enemy really, really hates this other dude. I’m going to reappropriate that as a tool of dissent”.
He could be bullshitting, but I don’t think so. Denis wouldn’t bring us here otherwise and the guy’s explanation is consistent with everything else I’ve come to learn of his character. If he was a genuine white supremacist, spouting misinformed, racist propaganda then I’d feel quite differently. But I don’t think this is the case.
Nevertheless, it’s given me pause for thought. I don’t like Nazis, I don’t like big Government and I don’t like people making swooping judgements against others based purely on their own worldview. I am caught in a moment where these three things are at odds with each-other. This instance has introduced some small internal conflict, which I need to process.
Possibly by taking another dump.
This is why I travel. Not to take a dump, but to be faced with things that force internal reflection. Theory can only get you so far, sometimes you can only develop so much perspective without needing to be confronted with things outside your comfort zone.
In conclusion, I can safely say I did ‘Notsee’ any of this coming.
I clamber into my sleeping bag and the cat comes over to say hello.
He spends ten minutes dancing with me and taunting the camera before my eyelids begin weighing heavy.
It’s been another fun (or at least, challenging) show in another interesting place, hosted by very friendly, accommodating people.
Tomorrow, we travel to ‘The City of Idiots’.
Evidently, there’s two Stoke-on-Trents in the world.