Krupskaya Siberia Tour 2018:

The Big One, Lake Baikal – Krupskaya 2018 Siberia Tour, Day Sixteen

11 March, 2020

Today’s the big one, the motherfudging motherfudgeload.

No, we’re not signing with a record label, opening for Elton John or entering a sponsorship deal with Maxi Pads. While true success can only be measured by these metrics, relative success is a concept that welcomes far broader interpretation.

That’s just how delusion works.

As far as my delusion is concerned, I tend to measure Krupskaya’s success by where it takes us. Today, it is taking us to an area of exceptional natural beauty – Lake Baikal.

Be cynical over how ‘successful’ this is all you want, I was unlikely to ever get here playing indie covers on the pub circuit. Cover bands expect you to sound remotely like what’s on the record, for a start.

We’re not going to be playing there (sadly), as tonight we are hosted by the city of Ulan-Ude. As Lake Baikal sits along the route, it’d be rude not to pay its splendor a visit.

But not pee in it.

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Good breakfast and goodbyes

The young man whose exceptional kitchen talents were on display deep into last night, spoils us once again with a delightful morning spread.

I’m aware of the fact that I seem to say this every single morning. What can I say, I appreciate a good breakfast and we keep getting fed good breakfasts.

One of the group is joining us for the next stretch of the journey and we all pose for joyful group photos before leaving.

Endless green canopy

As we depart Irkutsk, its not long before our surroundings become distinctly greener than they have been at any point before now. The vast open planes have started to give way to dense forest areas which obscure the horizon stretching on behind them.

It’s consistent with what I’m used to seeing around lakes in general. Deep Hayes is a nearby country park back home which is likewise surrounded by woodland. Sure, not quite as much woodland, but I dare say there are some proportional similarities.

But it’s completely inconsistent with what I’m used to seeing of Siberia. We’ve driven through woodland (I’ve probably slept through a fair amount, too), but the height and claustrophobic density of this is completely at odds with the expectations the country has fostered in me.

At no point is this more apparent, than when the highway takes us much higher and we get a look at a mere fraction of just how huge the area is.

Yeah, not bad, as far as views go.

Yeah, not bad, as far as views go.

These trees just go on forever.

At this height and at such density, the area appears like a huge bush. Like if the Jolly Green giant turned his back on a career in porn. But it isn’t. I believe these trees are conifers and when reflecting on how large and imposing they appeared moments ago, the sheer scale really gets driven home.

This is only emphasised by how the area seems to stretch to the distant mountains when viewed out of my window.

Shit ton of trees yo.

I open said window and stand out of it to get a better view. You know when dogs stick their heads out of windows and their jowls start flapping all over the place as the wind hits them in the face? It looks a bit like that, only its my ears and hair that are doing all the flapping. I’d like to think I smell better.

It’s probably a slightly stupid thing to do, but its worth it.

Plus, Denis seems like a good driver, so it’s all good.

Soon enough, we pass through the area leading to Lake Baikal and it becomes apparent that as awesome at the views have been thus far, we aint seen jack shit yet.

Is that False Bay? No mate, Lake Baikal. Dickhead.

Lake Baikal – The Deepest Lake on the planet

Oooh, there’s a town!

That thing doesn’t look like a lake, it looks like the friggin’ ocean.

I’m not even being hyperbolic, there’s a striking resemblance to False Bay in South Africa as the horizon just fades into blue.

I can’t say I’ve seen an absolute ton of lakes in my time, but absolutely none have dwarfed their surrounding landscape. The mountains, hills, trees and clouds all look positively miniature compared to the lake itself.

Truck off.

The South Africa comparisons continue, as the winding road which leads us down to the lake evokes memories of St Lowry’s Pass.

This descent takes us to Slyudyanka (I think), a quaint wee village made exponentially more charming by the presence of the friggin’ massive lake it’s at upon.

Looking back towards the lake from within the town, it only looks even larger.

It’s difficult to really get a sense of scale when you’re viewing something from height. Sure, mountains, buildings and pylons give you some indication, but it doesn’t really hit home until you’re at ground level and surrounded by everyday objects, geography and buildings.

I’m perfectly aware that we might be enjoying the exceptionally good fortune, of catching the place in good weather. I’ve no idea what the climate is even like here, but both the immediate viccinity and distant landscape are a constant eruption of life and colour.

I almost forget that we’re even in Siberia at this point.

All the usual hallmarks that I’ve become so accustomed to are seemingly gone. Considering that despite the length of our journey we’re seeing but a fraction of what the place has to offer, it indicates a greater level of natural diversity than I would’ve ever assumed.

Nope – you’re still in Siberia, mate!

Sure enough, its not long before some of those familiar sights are before us once again.

There’s several dilapidated buildings surround us, many that do stand, look frankly knackered and patches of overgrown shrubbery are difficult to keep count of. Like our garden.

But by no means are these representative of the area on the whole and overall, it’s tidy. While it’s still got that Siberia feel to it, pretty much all Eastern European vibes have been left behind.

Then I see a trio of stray dogs chilling out under a boiling hot sun. There’s that Eastern European aesthetic I’ve been missing.

No matter how far east you go, you’re never far from a stray dog. I hear Hanley is similar on a Friday night.

Traffic grinds to a halt. On drives upwards of twelve hours, such delays can be infuriating. But when you’re surrounded by sights and sounds like this, it’s easy to just get lost in the peace of it all.

Speaking of sound, there really isn’t any. I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this. Siberia’s generally been very quiet. Maybe it’s just that we’ve never really been still for long enough to notice.

There are some winged creatures of doom flying overhead so I grab a quick photo. I’m once again incapable of identifying the species and fear a chastising awaits me.

Looks bad ass either way.

So cool.

We don’t appear to be going anywhere soon. The silence of the world beyond the Gazelle of Death seems to have bled inside, too. Everyone’s at peace, with little desire to infect the serenity of the moment with our neolithic grasp of the English language.

I haven’t even called Alex a ginger bastard once in the last five minutes.

I promptly correct this. I’m pretty sure he’s grateful.

Traffic’s the same in every bloody country.

The traffic eventually eases off and we’re able to once again proceed through the town.

There’s a big banner advertising (I assume) the local fire service. There’s ladies featured in uniform and protective clothing. It’s good to see Russia so supportive of diversity, it’s just a shame they’re Caucasian. And probably straight, too. Goddamn you Siberia, you were so close.

Once through, we begin proceeding to higher ground. It’s initially difficult to get a real appreciation of the lake, obscured as it is by a wall of trees. I climb out of the window, but this only grants me another foot or so and I think Denis might be worrying that I’ll get killed.

I mean, I can’t control his driving, so…

The woodland eventually breaks up and I’m one again awe struck by how large Lake Baikal is.

Everything’s so vast and thick that it ends up being difficult to get a sense of scale. There are no trees, just a blanket of green. There is no lake, just a blue slate. There is no horizon, just a faded line in the distance.

Clearly not everyone is as amazed by this site as we are. The dude driving alongside us appears to be flipping the lake off. Maybe they support different football teams?

Look at this clown, swearing at a lake. Prick.

As the road winds around the landscape, I’m once again reminded of False Bay.

Comparisons to the ocean are obvious, because Lake Baikal looks like one.

But the land itself bares a striking resembelance to that stretching round to Cape Point.

Thinking about it, I haven’t really been to that many places of such raw natural beauty. South Africa’s an obvious exception. I can’t imagine this area boasts anything close to South Africa’s, but it’s certainly competing from a purely “Look how ‘wow’ this shit is!” perspective.

Lots of natural stuff

I wonder if this whole area is going to end up being some sort of a turning point for the environment across Siberia. Whether this marks the end of endlessly stretching horizons in favour of the greener, more varied mountain ranges and hillscapes (new term, henceforth trademarked).

We’ve likely experienced the equivalent of all the environmental diversity of the journey so far, in just the few hours we’ve been awake today.

It sort of resembles how if you’ve ever heard a window break, you’ve experienced all the creative diversity of Krupskaya’s entire discography.

Self deprecation numbs the pain.

Denis would like to rest and I think we’re all pretty starving.

Lenny Henry won’t be doing us a dance anytime soon, but a couple of bites to eat wouldn’t go unappreciated.

Siberian cuisine has been a mixed bag for us, so far. The meals we’ve enjoyed in the cities or have been prepared for us by our hosts has been consistently awesome. The random stop offs along the way? Hmmmmnot so much.

Lucky for us, Lake Baikal’s natural splendor has bled into its forgiving nature in respect of amenities. This looks like a proper garage with proper toilets and quite possibly (though I won’t allow myself to get too excited), something other than porridge, eggs on the menu or ‘neither’.

The daily Matt in a hat at a Garage shot.

They do! They have chips! From what I’ve seen on other people’s plates, they look like actual chips (or rather, French Fries) rather than potatoes dipped in grease and asked to look as chip-like as possible.

I order a metric shit ton and some other stuff.

Oh carbs, I may avoid you with the same desperation and hatred that I do Liverpool fans (except Oli), but right now, in this moment and with these incredible views, you were exactly what I was hoping for.

Soon after leaving, the stunning natural views that I’ve become so accustomed to (since around three hours ago) continue to spoil us.

The whole area reminds me of a mix between the Garden Route and Croatia.

It’s got the Garden Route’s scales and sense of there always being ‘something else’ around the next corner, whereas the general colour palette and range of flora has a distinctly Eastern European feel.

I’m going to shut up and just enjoy it for a little bit.

Swimming in Lake Baikal

Denis eventually takes us off road and we drive under a bridge with a rusty ol’ train ontop of it.

Apparently this is a spot of distinct natural beauty. Yeah, because the rest of it has been lifted straight from the pages of “The blind man’s guide to Stoke-on-Trents must dirge-ridden shit holes”.

In fairness, it’s stunning. Even by the high standards set by today’s journey, this is an exceptionally gorgeous little spot.

Viewed independent of the rest of the gallery, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was anywhere other than Russia. The clear water, blue skys, green surroundings and a palpable sense of serenity probably to spring to mind quite as quickly as gulags, vodka and an extremely bleak history, when folks think of the place.

What continues to baffle me, is the lack of a distinct horizon. From this angle, the mountains on the other side of the lake are so far away as to be unseeable.

Like people’s hopes and dreams once they hit 24.

Siberia? Hawaii? Defo not Stoke-on-Trent, either way.

I’ve done enough babbling, I want to get wet… phrasing.

Alex is already in and Riley is carefully, thoughtfully entering the water at a considered pace. This is a man who thinks about what he’s doing.

Consideration isn’t something I’m particularly big on and I’m quite eager to get in. Ergo, my method of entry is more akin to that of a mad mongrel. My drum performances have often been described in similar terms.

According to Matt, the family sat watching from the rocks are quite alarmed by this.

Subtlety? No ta.

It turns out the water is fudging freezing.

The breath I take before descending below the water’s surface filled my lungs, but lasts me barely a second when the shock of just how cold it is kicks in.

The fresh water is still and clear. I pull myself down to the rocks below and am stunned by how much I can actually see. It’s still an absolute mission to get any level of depth, though I expect this has more to do with my horrendous physique than the temperature of the water.

There is peace in the water. Even without sharks.

I venture a little further away from the shore and an almighty drop off comes out of nowhere. I knew this was the deepest lake in the world, but I didn’t expect that to be showcased with quite such immediacy.

We continue swimming for half an hour or so and my brain once again wanders to consideration of what’s bought us here. Twelve or whatever it is years of writing, recording, releasing, good reviews, bad reviews, multiple practices per week, playing to noone, playing to people who’ve travelled four hours to see you, etc.

Was all that worth this second alone? Yes.

The time to leave eventually arrives and we pose for one last photograph of the area, a the prime physical specimens of male perfection that we truly are.

Matt doesn’t seem to share my view on this.

Men. By the loosest possible definition.

Driving through… somewhere

As we depart, my mind returns to the actual reason we’re here – to play shows. We have one tonight and are still a good few hours away from the hosting city. Following several hours of incredible scenery and peace, I’m not sure my headspace is agreeable to an evening of face removing grindcore.

As the sun gradually begins to set, the rich blue sky becomes a wash with strokes of cloud. Waves clash and intersect with blemishes to create an overhead canvas of chaos and grace.

We drive alongside a set of houses that look considerably more rustic than what we’ve seen here so far.

It’s at this point that the comparisons to South Africa are at their highest. Areas of poverty amid the most incredible scenery.

I don’t mean to make light of what the living conditions here might be like, nor suggest it’s something that I, being who and what I am not could survive particiularly well in, but I’m nevertheless envious.

To wake up with such an environment on your very doorstep. But then, coming from someone else’s time and background, the same could very well be said of where I live.

I guess all such things are a matter of perspective.

We’re eventually bought alongside a river, with many a house on its bank spoiled by the forest mountain view across from them. I haven’t done any reading/prep on this area so I don’t know what the river is called, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was of some geographical or historical significance. It’s just got one of those ‘I’m a river of geographical and historical signifiance’ vibes.

There’s just so much going on between the hard geometric lines of the buildings, flat, almost glacier like form of the river and hills which roll into the distance beneath the clear blue sky. It’s the kind of thing that were it put in a videogame, people would call bullshit because “There’s nowhere that actually looks like that”.

Nothing surpasses expectations quite like mother nature.

And governmental corruption.

And cheese addiction.

Peace.

Arriving at Ulan-Ude

This place is fudging nuts

By the time we reach Ulan-Ude, the camera battery is completely empty and the memory card is swelling with the sheer volume of photographs I’ve taken. The likelihood of me ever returning to Lake Baikal is incredibly small and I can definitely see some of this imagery finding its way into a future project. Much as I’m disappointed that it’s left me unable to capture our first impressions of Ulan-Ude, ‘t was most defo worth it.

The city itself, awash with a thin haze of dust in the air is an odd mix of heavy industry. It reminds me, quite strangley of both Dunwall and Karnacca from the Dishonored game series.

There’s also a much sense of being in Asia here, which I figured might be the case given how far east we now are and our proximity to both Monoglia and China. By ‘sense’, I don’t mean a few more Asian food shops or districts scattered about the place, so much as part of the intrinsic culture, people and aesthetic.

The contrast to earlier today is baffling. To go from city to country and back to city, with such huge aesthetic variations in each leaves me feeling like we’ve been travelling for months.

It’s been a single, bloody day.

Children of chaos, your grand overlords have arrived!!

When we finally arrive, it’s to eruptious applause and excitement. I completely forgot we were playing a gig tonight – again. It almost feels anti-climatic after what’s been experienced today.

That’s not to take a dump on the show at all. I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s just strange to experience today’s completely unique variety of sights and sounds, and for them to conclude with something that we’ve been doing every day. I guess this is what being spoiled looks like.

Our host meets us, a terribly polite chap who seems to have things organised very well. I like his jumper.

You can generally trust a man in a jumper, unless he’s wearing it as a ruse.

The venue itself I think is a garage? The toilet is a bit of a state. I’m not sure there’s a lock on it. Alex goes in to take a dump and moments later, a poor young lady goes to open the door, not knowing he’s in there and gets the fright of her life. I think the same could be said for Alex.

Just for the record, I could’ve completely stopped that situation from happening. It’s through personal choice that I didn’t. Don’t judge.

Folks are surrounding us for our signatures before we’re able to get anywhere near the actual stage. You know shit’s abnormal when people want the Drummer’s signature. Maybe they don’t know I’m the drummer.

The stage itself is quite long and thin… whey! The drums are shoved right up in one corner, with a huge speaker dangling above and what appears to be very little room to move. Being the consummate professional that I am, I don’t expect this to cause me any trouble. Still, my elbows look on, nervously.

Let the noise begin

Honestly, things get a bit blurry from this point. I don’t always have my laptop on me, but I keep a pen and notepad to hand to jot things down as they happen, with a view to elaborating on later.

I end up misplacing said pen and paper, so my memories of everything between now and sleep are largely an abstract mix of colours and noise.

I know I enjoyed the bands. Two play before us and they’re just raw as hell. Not especially fast or heavy, but raw and energetic. Like an angry Duracell Bunny just has no shits left to give. The sound is also great, which I wasn’t expecting given the environment we’re in.

I think our performance goes well? I clatter my elbows on the wall several times and drop a couple of sticks when reaching up above my head and hit the speaker. It doesn’t take too long to accommodate this and we seem pretty tight throughout. Again, the sound seems great from the stage and the audience response is absolutely manic. This might well be the best response we’ve had so far.

Once we’re done, we head to a backstage type of area to do a quick interview and give our thoughts on some local bands.

None are really my sort of thing, but one is an absolute revelation – Orgazm Nostradamusa.

I’m not even going to bother trying to put them into words. Just watch the below video. How you go from Lake Baikal to this in a single day is beyond me. I love this country.

Orgazm Nostradamusa. Like if Father Ted was shot in Stoke-on-Trent.

Retirement

Leaving becomes problematic as the crowd engulfs the van, banging the doors and windows while screaming KRUP-SKAY-AAAAAARRRRGGHHH!

I’m touched, but also knackered and hungry. Thankfully, we eventually leave after several rounds of hugs and shared appreciation and stop off to pick up Ravioli.

I manage to stay awake just long enough to eat, lose my plug adapter and learn a little more about our hosts. As knackering as days such as these are, they do have a nice rhythm. Seemingly endless, peaceful travel abruptly interrupted by a couple hours worth of physically demanding, violent noise. To wrap things up with time spent conversing with and learning about the lives of the people responsible for bringing us here (remember – no shows, no travel) feels both appropriate and oddly meditative.

It’s like you don’t really get chance to consciously recognise everything you’re absorbing while it’s going on. Your mind and body are travelling at a higher speed to what you’re generally used to and when the breaks suddenly kick in, there’s a feeling of whiplash as it all comes crashing down at once.

It’s good. I’m grateful to the band I work with for cultivating this opportunity, the people who want us to share our craft (a term I use in the loosest of terms) and Denis for facilitating the meeting of the two.

I’m also fudging knackered, so thank you – and goodnight.

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