Our first full day in Siberia takes us on a journey to Omsk, the fabled city of idiots.
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Omskward, to glory!
Yay, fresh clothes!
Aaaaaaargh my fucking back!!!
I usually enjoy sleeping on floors as it irons out a lot of the aches and pains endured from spending so much time sat either behind a kit, my laptop or in the van.
But bloody hell does this hurt.
On the bright side, I no longer smell utterly offensive and am feeling relatively fresh. Today I get to put on fresh threads (one set per week!) and am tragically excited to do so. I daresay my band-mates are even more happy at this event than I.
Off go the clothes that are starting to harden with sweat! One brief shower later (lemon-fragrance shower gel for the win!) and I feel borderline human again. I get myself a delightful mug of coffee and decide to finalise some admin before we’re due to hit the road.
The cat has different ideas, attacking first my face, then my laptop.
Work can wait, I love this little guy.
Our host is once again working at his PC, so I take the opportunity to learn a bit more about what he’s doing. We share a short conversation about modelling in Rhino 3D, which he is using to work on a piece of three dimensional artwork intended for a new building in the local area.
I’d like to learn more about his work, but once again, the cat has different ideas.
Denis asks that we depart as we are in for another long, long drive today.
Which I’m thankful for. The prospect of driving for anything less than one billion hours just doesn’t appeal to me.
We share our goodbyes, a photograph by the Gazelle and begin our journey to Omsk.
We stop off for a belated breakfast in… I have absolutely no idea where we are.
We’re barely even into Siberia, but it does feel different. The air isn’t particularly humid, but there is a thickness to it and it’s discernibly colder than what we’ve been subjected to, thus far. I’m hoping this is the start of a continuing trend, some cooler weather would certainly make the gigs more tolerable.
The scenery though just as vast, is much flatter. There are still dense patches of trees, but they’re far more disparate and there’s nothing in the way of hills or elevation. It’s difficult to really capture in photographs given there’s so little in the foreground or background to give any great sense of scale or depth.
Suffice it to say, you certainly feel exposed.
There’s also greater diversity in the people, though I mean that based on a completely ‘2018’ interpretation of the word – ie; purely surface level. Oh yes, I can be topical
Cue slight aside, but it genuinely infuriates me how many people consider themselves ‘proponents of diversity’, when their actual definition of such breaks down into being little more than a question of skin tone and gender.
For all I know, these people could all be of the same general background, with the same daily concerns and share roughly the same views. How can I disscern that on the basis of skin tone or gender? Would doing so not be the very definition of prejudice? Assuming someone’s character and intellectual capacity based on surface level appearances?
The whole point of diversity from a cultural perspective, as I understand it, is that people of differing views, perspective and experiences have the opportunity to contribute society’s growth. Society can in turn improve and facilitate the needs of people from broader backgrounds. Which I think it absolutely should, but I don’t understand how all that can be distilled into a simple question of “What’s between your legs and what colour is it?”. That’s the kind of thing that the same groups would typically define as sexist and racist in any other context, but when the subject is pushing their own agenda of social equality – that’s totally fine.
Dear God, I’m having imaginary debates in my brain with Facebook activists, I must be hungry or having a stroke.
But back to my original point, this place is nice, even if no-one is especially friendly. We’re not in an area where I expect accommodating tourists is a massive concern, it just feels like I expect any normal day would, in an area of the world I never thought I’d see.
This is one of the strongest draws of travelling the world this way. You really do end up getting caught in the ‘everyday’ life of people, if only on a somewhat passive, voyeuristic basis. This specific place at this specific time, I don’t think I’d get to experience were it not for the band’s touring.
Plus – there’s a shit ton of fish on the menu.
Back in the van, away we go.
Wasp the fudge?!
I’m awoken by the sound of Riley going bananas. Apparently there’s a wasp in the van.
Now, I really like wasps. I think they’re stunning little creatures of incredible intricacy and beautiful colouration.
But, I don’t like wasp stings, so I am as alarmed by this discovery as he.
There’s a few moments of arms, legs and literature being flung through the air in an attempt to coherce said tiny deviant to vacate the vehicle. It eventually appears to do so and normality returns.
Ten or twenty minutes later, I notice they’re on my bag. I think it’s actually a bee. So many of my biologist friends (ie: both) are screaming at my ignorance right now.
I don’t bother telling Riley, just take a picture and use a piece of paper to carefully transfer them to the outer world.
So long my tiny friend!
That’s what she said – wheeeey!
Ugh. I need to sleep.
We pull into a garage, for fuel the Gazelle does need.
It seems as good a time as any for a piss stop and to stock up on some essentially supplies.
Ie: ice cream.
This place looks like dust
We are in Omsk.
I forget whether it was by Denis or the Blackburn Rovers fan we met back in Perm, but I do remember being advised that the people here are idiots.
Which seems a little harsh and given I’m from Stoke-on-Trent, I’m certainly not going to rush toward making any judgments.
So I’m going to give the people of Omsk the benefit of the doubt. I look forward to meeting them.
This is taking forever.
The difficulties Alex is enduring with Google Maps is at least granting us a varied tour of the city itself. We pass through dust-ridden suburbs, comprising dilapidated buildings and wooden workshops, before crossing the river into what appears to be a wealthier neighbourhood.
There’s character to it, for sure.
The promoter calls Denis and advises that since the show must end by 22:00, we need to get a shifty on.
We finally arrive at the venue, outside which there’s a fairly large group of people who hurry to welcome us and assist with transporting our gear inside.
As I leave the van, there is a young lady in attire that’s technically closer to a strip of red gaffer tape than an actual dress, somehow managing to do the splits up the side of the Gazelle.
Her friend takes a photograph and they excitedly attempt communication, gesturing with limbs and voices as one might expect a person might, when in the midst of several drunken fits.
I walk off. There may have been an eyeroll in there.
The preceding band are on their final song as we enter. I’m quite gutted to have missed these, as while their sound is distinctly stoner doom, the drummer is fantastic. Some really nice, well timed rolls which are delightfully concise in their timing and convey a subtle groove that I often feel such music struggles to get just right.
Now it’s our turn to ruin things.
On we go.
We play a decent set, even if Matt’s impromptu string breaking during the first song does lead to a ten minute melodic improv by myself and Riley.
I’m not complaining, we sound well good. Riley ‘gets’ melody and I enjoy playing something which isn’t gravity rolls and double bass semi-quavers at 300bpm. Members of the crowd are likewise getting into the groove.
If Krupskaya did Trip Hop. Fucking hell I’d be happy just doing this shit.
Then Matt returns and faces are once again removed.
I notice part way through that the crazy girl in red who earlier tried to ingest the Gazelle via less than conventional methods, is going absolutely berserk. Infact, pretty much everyone is. Although such a response has been common on this tour, my brain is still used to shows in the UK, where the typical response is a raised eyebrow and an enthusiastic clap at best, an exiting of the room at worst.
We reach the end of the set, only to have three encores demanded of us.
I forget which songs we replay, my brain’s in pieces. Days like this are just brutal on your mind and body. To spend almost twelve hours trapped in a van, slowly making your way through vast landscapes only to blast through a set of physically demanding brutality in barely half an hour, you’re never really sure if you’re coming or going.
But whatever, we played fairly tight, the crowd loved it and we ‘re now shifting a ton of merch.
A load of blind people start coming into the club. I expect it must be the local rock night. Thank god they didn’t get here any sooner, or they’d probably be wishing for deafness, too.
It’s during the after show festivities, that I start to gain some perspective on why the previous description of Omsk being ‘the city of idiots’ may have stuck.
Things start calmly enough. Members from the previous band express a real interest in what we’re doing creatively, tonight’s photographer thanks me for being so animated behind the kit and the sound man, with a look of absolute distress on his face slowly walks over to me, simply to say “That was fast… that was so… so fast”.
First time I’ve heard these words expressed without an air of disappointment – whey!
Then, some crazy red headed woman starts accosting Matt. I’ve no idea what she’s on about, I can’t decide if she’s mental or pissed. But I don’t care. So I leave.
Things are no safer outside. Red Tape Girl is… I don’t know what she’s doing… but she’s flexible, enthusiastic and walking in Riley’s direction. I don’t know whether to rescue him or observe the carnage from a safe distance. This young lady is a 2:00am wake up with a knife at your throat waiting to happen. Well, I assume. Waking up to Anna spilling coffee over my face is as close as I’ve ever gotten and seems comparatively tame.
I leave her to Riley (who looks worried and in need of a friend at his side -hahahaha) and converse with a couple of locals who enjoyed the show.
They’re mental too. I’m not even going to repeat some of the stuff they were saying, as I’d like to come back to Russia one day and don’t really want my journal banning in all countries on the basis of offensive material.
It sounds headache inducing and maybe it is, but it’s all thoroughly entertaining and positive. The closest metaphor I can think of, is that someone cast a glass vase out of pure happiness and joy, only to drop it on the floor of a warehouse. Everything is dusty, broken and you’re unsure as to whether it could ever work as a whole. But it’s happy, really happy.
Beneath all of the rambling, bizarreness and noise, there’s a genuine sense of joy. Not just drunken nihilism, actual joy.
Or maybe exhaustion is starting to get to me.
Whatever, this is great.
The bizarreness continues, until we’re eventually advised it’s time to leave and get food. We share hugs, hand shakes and of course – hopes that we’ll all meet again.
Several floors up in the city of Omsk
We arrive at our host’s flat, are treated to fairly large bottles of good beer and some fantastic vegan pizza. Really, really fantastic pizza. I don’t care what anyone says, when Vegan food is done properly – it’s the absolute shit.
And what’s this, dessert?! The promoter hands Alex a box. Inside are some cool little cake/biscuit things, which I believe the promoter’s wife prepared in advance of our arrival. They taste great and I once again find myself thankful for playing such terrible music. It’s bought us here and here is boss.
I go onto the balcony area to hang my gig clothes up, which are absolutely drenched in sweat and shame. There’s even a slight scent of disdain on them.
Matt informs me that the bar lady at the venue had found them in a heap on the floor. When she bought them to him, he described her facial expressed as being one of loss, horror and desperation.
That would explain the scent of disdain.
Again, story of my life.
I retire to the balcony to enjoy some relative silence, fresh air and to soak in the view of the city before me.
It’s not long before a couple of our new friends join me on the balcony and we discuss perceptions we each might have about each other’s cultures. I’m the first English person either has spoken to (god help them) so they’re interested in learning more of my expectations of Russia and how the reality has compared.
We eventually move onto their own perception of Russia. It’s clear that they’re not happy with the state of political affairs, though their views differ greatly on whether their current standard of living could be considered an improvement upon what it will have been under the USSR.
One believes that while they are now ‘technically’ free, opportunities are so rare that such freedom is useless and may as well not exist. Conversely, the other feels that transitioning from one cultural structure to another is a slow one and that while frustrating, a flawed, preliminary version of a ‘free society’ is better from a long-term perspective. He nevertheless shares his friend’s frustrations, particularly that travel within their own country is so expensive.
I understand each view, though I find myself more inclined towards the latter. It’s likely easier for me to say than it would be if I were living in such a situation myself, but I do feel that while a free society can take longer to truly develop to the benefits of everyone therein, this is preferable to a society who’s values and growth are dictated by the whims of a large, centralised government.
It’s obviously not just that simple. There’s a lot to un pack in that and it’s not something I’ve any great desire to get into with these guys now, because I’m tired and enjoy hearing their views on the world moreso than repeating my own.
What strikes me above all else though, is how many times I’ve shared these conversations in almost every country I’ve been to. Russia, Iceland, South Africa, Mozambique, where ever I have been and had chance to discuss such matters with people who’ve grown in those countries, there is a shared distrust for their government and tendency to speak disparagingly about the culture of the countries themselves.
I am no different in this. I’ve always struggled to talk about the UK in a positive light. I’m not ignorant to its benefits, to comparisons with other countries and I’m self aware enough to identify that most of my criticisms, are in some form or other frustrations with myself, deflected onto the place I’ve grown up.
I love England as a place. We have some incredible countryside and a long stretching history that bleeds into it. But nevertheless, it’s never felt like ‘home’ and the beauty becomes so commonplace, for me at least, that it’s difficult not to become used to it and only consciously feedback on the negatives.
Im digressing, but the idea of a place ‘feeling like home’ is a difficult one. South Africa is the only place I’ve visited that felt like home and that’s inspite of the myriad of issues within the country. You have some degree of control over where you go or would like to go, but you have absolutely none over where just feels right.
Anyway, the conversation continues for several more hours, before everyone decides to sleep.
Thanks Omsk, that was boss.