Consciousness. Instigated today by a lovely breeze. What a stark contrast to yesterday when it was a broken neck. I wonder which Anna would prefer?
We arrived late last night and were greeted by the promoter of today’s show. I think that’s what happened. I don’t really remember, so apologies to all involved if I’ve gotten this incorrect.
The sun is rising on the day itself, but by no means is the rest of the world even remotely awake. The same goes for Krupskaya, a chorus of snores bounces off painted walls and directly into my face.
In fairness, it’s not intolerable. I don’t know if Matt has lost weight or been subject to some miracle tonic, but his slumberous mumbles in particular are considerably softened compared to the previous year’s.
I take in the view of today’s city, Blagoveschensk. I’m aware that there is a river passing through this city which separates it from China. That’s right, we’re basically a stone’s through away from China. That’s mental.
I spend a couple of hours working and playing Doom while everyone else wakes up. Nightmare mode is killing me, which I understand to be the point of the experience, but it’s making feel disappointed in myself in a way my parents would’ve hoped my school reports would have. Joke’s on you mum and dad – chainsawing my way through hordes of zombies and plasma blasting demons whose sole purpose is the destruction of all sentient life, has prepared me for a vocation in Academia far better than memorising ‘which prick did what to upset whom’ a hundred years ago.
I’m joking, of course – I’ve never been particularly well prepared for anything.
Regardless, since I don’t wish to get this day off to a rubbish start, I decide to go for a shower.
When I get out of the shower (engulfed in the scent of fresh lemon and wild berries – thanks Boots), there’s a young lady addressing our group, evidently losing her shit and I get the distinct impression we might have had something to do with that.
So, rubbish start it is.
Story continues below...
Hello Ms Shouty
Things eventually calm down. And by calm down, I mean we decide to leave before this lass gifts us the verbal equivalent of a napalm enema.
I’m not entirely sure what we’ve done wrong, but this isn’t exactly unusual. At this moment, I’ve been a son for thirty four years and a boyfriend for over fifteen. Throughout that time and within these contexts alone, women being furious with me or passive aggressively dismissive – often for reasons I was as oblivious to then as I am now – is an experience I am well familiar with.
For example, Anna once gave me the cold shoulder for an entire day on the basis of something I said to her in a dream – her dream, I might add.
There are a few reasons why I hope any reasonable person would agree that this is ridiculous. For me, I felt it was especially rich considering she doesn’t bloody take notice of a single thing I say in actual, real life. The one time she chooses to acknowledge something I’ve said is to use it against me, which I would probably have some degree of sympathy for – if I had ever said it! But I didn’t! Some subconscious, abstract concept she was trying to process taking manifestation in my form and me – are two completely different things. I’m fairly sure she couldn’t even bloody remember what I… sorry, IT had said, just that it wasn’t nice.
Given that I’ve only known this particular lady a matter of minutes, I think it’s probably safe to say that I am not the cause of her ire. By no means is this conclusive, you’d be surprised by just how quickly I’ve managed to upset people (usually hippies) in the past. Nevertheless, I think something else is the cause.
Ah, I know… it’s the ginger person, right?
Yeah, that’s got to be it. She’s upset because we bought a day walker into her home.
We’re eventually ushered out by our guides for the day. I figure it only reasonable to thank the young lady as we leave, triggering a slight smile. I can’t tell if that smile means “It’s cool, you’re not the one I’m upset with you incredible stud” or “Yeah, whatever gets you out of my flat sooner you stinkie, big eared, noise-polluting, bargain-bin shire troll”.
My inability to distinguish the subtle facial expressions indicating whether a lady’s feelings toward me are agreeable or rancorous is not a new phenomenon.
Nor do I expect it to be one that ends today.
We head into the city for some sight-seeing and to catch up with the rest of the team who are putting on the show. Our adventure leads us to a spot that grants a fairly broad, expansive view of the city itself.
It looks like a city in Siberia. I think I recall having a similar response to another city earlier in the tour, where unlike Yeketerinburg whose towering buildings and seemingly endless sharp edges made an immediate impression, that which makes this place visually unique isn’t immediately discernable.
I hasten to add that this is not meant in a positive or negative context. It’s just a fact of traveling that some places (for whatever reason) immediately solidify themselves in your subconscious, perhaps through a landmark, event or sound while others, they’re more of a slow burn.
That being said, I wonder if I would feel the same if we’d done this tour the other way round? If I had seen Blagoveschensk weeks before Yeketerinburg, would the speed with which their impressions were made be reversed?
I snap out of this line of thinking when we’re asked to shoot a video promo for tonight’s show. Alex upholds his duties as the group’s front man with sincere gusto. On the strength of this performance alone, I am confident that at least three, maybe even as many as five people will attend this evening.
Whether they stick around to listen to our set is an entirely different question.
The city of Blagoveshchensk sits on the Amur river which separates it from China. If I remember correctly, the Chinese city which sits on the other side of said river is Heihe. I don’t know if that’s pronounced “Hi, he” or “Hey, he”. Probably neither. It certainly doesn’t seem likely that it would be called ‘She He’. I can’t imagine a country with such a historical penchant for female infanticide would be so eager to reference the fairer sex in the name of a city.
Oh yes, I am provocative.
As we wind our way through streets, between buildings and vehicles my mind turns to the previous observation of it not making an impression as immediately as other cities have. While that is yet to change, there is something ‘different’ in the air, which I’m going to ascribe to the aforementioned river. I don’t know if it’s something I’ve imagined, but I often feel like cities near or on large bodies of water have less thickness in the air. I’m not sure that smog is the right word. It’s almost like most cities look like you’re watching them on a DVD, whereas cities by the water look like they’re being watched on Blu-Ray. They’re not as sharp as the jump from VHS to DVD, but there is a distinct clarity to the surrounding light and shadow.
It seems I have almost entirely lost my initial train of thought. I must be hungry. This needs to be addressed.
When the intolerable noise is coming from your stomach, instead of your instruments
Finding food takes us a long time. I don’t know why, but we seem to be perusing many a potential vendor, swiftly concluding a lack of suitability and then moving onto the next.
It’s like shopping with Anna, except literally none of it’s swift.
I’m not complaining, I’m quite happy seeing the city but honestly – my stomach feels quite the opposite. It sounds like it’s trying to compete with Matt for the position of bass player in the band, given the depth, frequency and sheer caustic nature of its tone.
We eventually find a Chinese place and head upstairs.
I’m in a Chinese restaurant not in China, though I’m probably as close to China as I could be and maybe will ever be. I don’t know why this is giving me pause for thought. Is this literally the closest Chinese restaurant to China in the world? Probably not, since China is a rather big place and its border sits between numerous other countries. Again, I don’t know why this is giving me pause for thought.
Also, is it racist to assume that a restaurant is Chinese because it serves Chinese food, the decorations are consistent with those I’ve experienced in other restaurants that have called themselves Chinese, and the text on the signs appears to be in Chinese? I don’t think it is, but I saw an article on Medium quite recently that suggested assuming anything is anything is potentially offensive to those who have a connection to either of said anythings. ‘Assumption is an act of bigotry’ I think it read. We’ve slipped into an era where satire, idiocy and ideology have become impossible to distinguish. I honestly don’t know what the rules are any more.
You see this nonesense? These mental digressions wherein I ponder the value of utterly vapid dross spewed onto the internet is what happens when I get hungry.
Our guides leave the table and appear to be busy dealing with something else. He’s addressing a lady who works here and so based on this morning’s exchange, I fully expect we’ll be executed before the starters have arrived.
None of us whom remain understand the menu, so it is of course left to Denis to translate. The content appears to come as somewhat of a shock to him, not because he doesn’t speak Russian (he does, since he’s Russian), but because he’s reading a menu with more options than “Eggs, Macroni and cheese and… out of stock”.
It’s pretty pricey too. Not even strictly by touring standards, either. Everything feels expensive when you’re trying to squeeze the value out of every single penny. But I’d probably squint a bit and consider how vital a starter is (spoilers: always and very) if Anna and I had visited this place back home. I mean to be honest, if I was eating anywhere with Anna I would probably asked her to settle for a cornershop meal deal.
Again, this is not a complaint so much as a surprise given how comparatively cheap all the other meals we’ve paid for along the way have been.
In fairness, I’m a ‘value over cost’ kind of guy and in this respect, it’s most certainly worth every penny. A variety of vegetables and sweet looking things are bought to us and I load up on carbs like… well, always.
We wolf it down and still have a few hours to spare before sound check. Time to do a little bit more sight seeing.
Some more things happen, but I can’t be bothered to keep notes and I am unable to recall from memory alone. I’m sure it was all great and I consistently looked clever while doing it. There was definiltey a parade in my honour.
We soon find ourselves on the aforementioned river separating Blagoveschensk from China.
It’s actually a pretty cool spot. The bank we’re stood on is all cold, flat, concrete while the opposite side over in China is lined with trees.
It forces me to briefly consider the notion of borders, in both the literal and more philosophical sense.
The river is a physical divide between the two nations. But were it not to exist, or were it to be dried down to the mud beneath the water’s surface, no lesser a divide would continue to exist between the cultures. Were the water gone and the two cities part of a single geographical whole, that cultural distinction would still exist. Or would it? Is this river contributing to the cultural divide, or would it exist regardless and the river just provides a rather convenient visual representation?
Across from us exists a culture that to the best of my knowledge, is considerably different to my own and to the one I’m currently walking the ground of. But I only know that to be the case because I was aware of it before we arrived. Without this fore knowledge, I might not look at the city across from us any differently, or with any greater a level of consideration as I would any of those I’ve paid a glance on this trip.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting at. On the one hand, I think the geographical divide provided by the river is emphasising that the place across from me is ‘other’. Afterall, I’ve stood on plenty of country borders before and thought very little of it. On the other hand, I’ve experienced nought of China myself, or Asia for that matter, so now that I’m this close I find myself naturally inclined to ruminate. In short, I’m considering to what extent that which distinguishes me from X is a question of my own perspective and interpretation, as opposed to objective, tangible differences.
Bloody hell, slow day or what?
Reflections, incuring reflections
If nothing else, it’s a timely reminder of how far we’ve come.
Physically, but also as a band. I again think back to when the prospect of playing a single gig outside of Stoke-on-Trent represented the extent of my musical ambition. A cool breeze in a distant city where we’re about to play a show always instigates these sorts of moments. I forget how many times I’ve mused upon this while we’ve been on tour. I also forget how many people said that liking this sort of music would get me nowhere and I’d certainly not play a gig outside of my home town.
We’re now at the far end of a 9,000km tour and it almost feels routine. I think those naysayers would most likely ascribe this to luck, or a something similarly non-existent. They’re probably also still doing now whatever they were then. If that’s what makes them happy, more power to them – but I’ve consistently observed an inverse connection between people’s happiness and ease with which they’ll undermine the goals, prospects of approaches of those in pursuit of their own.
A happy, secure mind does not so readily dismiss difference. It is not so desperate to repel challenge that it will not so much as entertain the prospect that it’s own conclusions are infallible. That’s a mechanism of defence and in my view, happiness and inner peace are the product of offense. They’re to be fought for, carved out of rock and protected with the warhammer built from its precious minerals (I assume that’s how you make warhammers). It sure as hell doesn’t come from whatever pathetic scraps of joy you might feel from trivialising someone’s attempts at attaining their own.
It’s not something I generally lose much sleep over – people’s opinions. Or to be more specific, opinions which are little more than superficial, second-hand observations.
Growing up, I saw a significant disconnect between many of the authorities I was told to look up to – teachers, politicians, cool kids, ‘your elders’ – and the integrity of their perspective. As if the confidence or enthusiasm with which a perspective is expressed somehow constitutes a guarantee of accuracy. It’s a dangerous game, putting stock into the perspectives of people who potentially see no further than the end of their nose. It ends up festering on your paranoia, infecting how you see yourself and ultimately engulfing every decision you make with an inherent degree of unsolicited self-doubt.
“What would this person think?” is such a ridiculous notion by which to make a decision, without first establishing whether that person is even capable of thinking. How do you determine whether what they’re telling you is in your best interests or their’s? What have they experienced to reach that perspective? Ask yourself that, first. Ask yourself “When has this person’s views ever been challenged? In what ways is their philosophy evident in their actions? How much of what they’re saying might not be to convince me, but to convince themselves?”.
I’m perhaps being unfair and I don’t mean to imply that ignoring anything outside of the echo chamber is a good move. Fundamentally, I’m arguing that by evaluating yourself by another person’s insecurities is a surefire way to make sure your’s never – ever – get resolved. So when someone offers you an opinion, consider where it’s coming from before absorbing it wholesale.
I always end up thinking about this principle in moments like these. Wwhat I should probably be doing is focusing moreso on the people who did help, whose opinions have been invaluable. They’re ultimately more responsible for where I am than those I am complaining about, so it makes little sense that I tend to overlook them. But I suppose the negatives are what we fight against and the positives are what we take for granted. Something to continue working on, I suppose.
Oh, apparently we’re now taking a boat trip. I’m game. I’m fairly sure there are no sharks in here, but water is water and I’d sooner be on it than not.
Chatting up birds
Sitting by the water’s edge as we wait for the next boat trip, a couple of birds catch my eye.
By ‘birds’, I mean the feral kind that shit everywhere, not women. Referring to women as birds is reductive and offensive, so shame on you for requiring that I make this distinction.
Although if you were wandering certain streets in Stoke-on-Trent, you’d genuinely struggle to tell one from the other based on these definitions alone.
In this moment, Blagoveshchensk suddenly secures that sense of identity I felt was missing when we first arrived.
The wide open sky and the two cities standing face to face, reflected in the water below – this is what I’ll picture when I remember Blagoveshchensk. There’s a certain quietness to this place which I’m also finding unique in Siberia. It’s a shame we’ll be ruining that later this evening.
We get on the boat and – it’s great. I’m not sure what else to say about it. We travel up and back down the river, enjoying some interesting scenery as we do. Upon leaving the boat, our sightseeing culminates with a visit to a badass war vessel looking thing, before returning to the venue.
Ah, sound checks. Always a good time.
We enter the venue – which is an actual venue. I don’t know if the theme is biker bar? It looks like a bar that would be quite comfortable housing bikers, to say the least. The kit looks pretty sturdy, there are no walls restricting my arm movement and likewise – the floor exists. Not one of these things is a gurantee before we turn up at a show and so to be gifted with all three luxuries at once – I take this as quite the positive sign.
Said positivity becomes short-lived once sound check begins.
The sound guy asks me to hit the snare drum, as is standard procedure for ensuring it is setup properly. What isn’t standard procedure, is for the process to go on for a seemingly infinite amount of time.
I give Alex a glance because as a sound man, he’ll have an idea of whether there’s any problems. If he’s looking at me with an expression of “Ed, wtf are you doing?” then at least I’ll have some direction of what needs to be fixed. Perhaps the old man has flopped out and people are hoping that I’ll eventually look down and realise my mistake.
But no, Alex looks just as bewildered as I do. Nothing seems to be changing either, I’m just beating the snare and the sound man is twiddling knobs.
Look, I suffer no delusions regarding my competency in percussion. I can keep a simple beat steady if I don’t think too much about what I’m doing, I’ve enough musical interests to ensure I’m able to offer reasonably creative beats and I can belt the shit out of a kit when the mood of the event requires. It’s not unreasonable to say that these qualities represent the extent of my musical talent.
Nevertheless, I’m fairly sure that I’m hitting this snare correctly.
Evidently not, as the sound man asks me to move to one side so his mate can hit the snare instead. The process repeats for a further 8.5 million years.
Alex goes over to see what the problem is, but steps away shortly afterwards. I’m not kidding when I say the whole process takes over half an hour and by the end of it – nothing sounds any different. I enter a bit of a haze and mentally switch off until it’s time to play.
Once it finally happens, the show itself is generally worth the wait. We play a decent set and for all the faff that went on with the sound check earlier, the audiences faces seem to be suitably removed. We’re playing really tightly at the moment, the sudden stops that have come to characterise our sound are sharp as hell. I really need to work on how quickly I’m able to move between a gravity roll and a cymbal grab. Even if I get it down to less than a second, that’s a relatively large margin in the context of these tracks. Something else to work on.
The other bands are cool, some more of the noisy metal/hardcore we’ve become accoustomed to. I do little in the way of socialising, sitting at the back of the room and trying to actively empty my head. Soak some more of the ambience up, stop my brain from getting in its way.
Time to reflect
The evening draws to a close as we make our way into the van.
We have three days left on the tour, comprising two shows and a day of travel.
I’m considering ditching further updates in my journal. On the one hand, I feel I’m making precious few observations that are worth documenting that wouldn’t be better encapsulated via photographs anyway. On the other, the last few updates have felt quite diluted, leading to more wishy washy ruminations than actual insight into what I’m experiencing. I don’t feel any less engaged with the experience than I have at any other point, but I’m clearly becoming more subconsciouly pre-occupied with the return to normality that our impending flight back to the UK will bring.
As such, I really want to spend the last few days soaking in everything I can instead of constantly reminding myself to make notes, scribble observations and find time to expand on my responses to things.
I therefore decide that as of tomorrow, I’m going to spend more time taking photographs than worrying about noting every tiny thought down. Since most of my thoughts are tiny, this should free up considerable room to better log the experience.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that anyone reading this having gone through my entire journal to date will be very, very relieved by this revelation.
See you on the other side!