The Massgrav giglog. Click the images for more photos.
|Russia, part I - St Petersburg and Petrozavodsk - October 14 & 15, 2009
Ok, I could write something flourishing crap about Russia here, what peoples preconceptions about it are, yap on about historical implications and talk about poverty, mafia, hookers and communism but to cut to the fucking chase, a guy called Max emailed us, asking if maybe we’d like to come there and we said sure, why the fuck not? We started planning how and when and where to go. And we planned and planned and planned…
Now, travelling to Russia isn’t as easy as going to central Europe for yet another porn grind fest – there’s rules and laws and paperwork to be observed, especially paperwork! Getting a visa for Russia, especially when you’re not doing the usual tourist routine, is not all that easy and our first attempt failed miserably. A few more documents and official stamps and seals later, we got the papers we needed and we were all set to go. At least we thought so – we had no idea whether we’d actually be let into the country or if the border guards and customs people would pick up on the fact that we were no usual tourists, notice the discrepancies in our paperwork, find the band merch in our bags or start wondering why we’d need instruments on our vaction. Also, we had no clue about how we’d be able to register our passports in St Petersburg as we were obliged to do, when we were to spend so little time there. We were a little nervous when we finally left Stockholm for St Pete and that wasn’t eased one little bit by the extra complicated entry forms we were given on the plane (by flight attendants who stated right from the beginning they were completely unable to help with filling them out). U.S. entry forms, you laugh at all the stupid questions – the Russian ones are quite fearsome.
Anyway, you get the picture, we were nervous about getting into the country. Completely in vain, as it happened – they didn’t give a shit about is as we sailed through immigration and customs! So, that left only the cops, the night trains and frequent skinhead attacks on punks to worry about. Well, a few more things I guess, but what the hell. We met up with Max, who immediately brought us to the airport post office to register our visas. Since he speaks russian and had spent 2 hours preparing the forms, this only took 45 minutes. Yeah… There’s no way in hell we could have done this ourselves. Finally, we could take bus #13 out of Pulkovo airport and start exploring Russia. Since our train to Petrozavodsk wouldn’t leave until later that night, we went to the apartment of Nikita, the bass player of Zorka (with whom we’d be playing in St Pete) and his girlfriend Marina, where Max from Zorka and their friend, little Anton, also joined the party. Food, beer and youtube clips galore ensued, and a good time was had by all. Ove and Johan went to the supermarket to stock up on beer for the train ride and before you knew it, it was time to head for the train station. At this time, Max produced a snare drum for Ove to bring to Petrozavodsk. Since Ove A) has bad arms and doesn’t want to carry more than absolutely necessary and B) had spent ages emailing Max to sort out a solution where he’d borrow a different snare at each gig, Ove got pretty pissed off with Max and the mood turned rather sour for a while. After 10 minutes on the phone, the problem whas sorted and it was time to get on the night train to Petrozavodsk.
Some of you may not be familiar with Russian night trains, especially not the cheapest kind (there are at least five different levels of luxury, take a wild guess which one we used all the time). To begin with, there are no compartments, only a big room in each car, with maybe 50 beds to a car. And when I say bed, I mean sparesly padded benches, slightly too short even for little people like Ola. The windows can not be opened in any part of the car – which means the air gets hot and stale fast, and in the vestibules by the toilets, you’re allowed to smoke as many strong cigarettes as your heart desires. Speaking of toilets, these empty directly onto the track, which means they are locked as soon as you’re in a city. Let’s say you drink a few beers before you go to bed and wake up in the middle of the night. The last thing you need is a locked toilet and noone that can tell you when it will open again. To top this off, our car attendant (there’s one person working in each car, handing out sheets, selling tea, telling loud swedes to pipe down a bit) amused herself by turning the fluorescent lighting on and off all through the night. This night, we did not get much sleep. Luckily, we didn’t go to Russia to sleep.
Petrozavodsk is a pretty small town in Karelen. We got there at 6.00 am in the morning, it was pitch black and right around zero degrees celsius. We were picked up by two guys who didn’t seem to speak much English at all and taken to their battered van that was parked between a row of dumpsters and some burned out cars. We drove off into the night and ended up in a monstrosity of a 60s concrete housing estate that had for sure seen better days. Another Russian opened a steel door to let us in to one of the houses – our host for the day, Andrej. We never quite understood what had made Andrej agree to babysit us for the day as he didn’t like our style of music one bit – he was very much a death metal fan, but it was very nice of him to do so - thanks Andrej!. First of all, Andrej brought Ove and me to the local convenient store to pick up breakfast and more beer. After a slightly cofused meal of black Russian tea, toast, Kefir and Baileys, Ove and me crashed on a giant inflatable bed, while Norse talked to Andrej about metal and played youtube clips on his computer.
Once the sun came up, we decided to head into town to see the sights, not that there were many. A small park offered an exhibition of stuff related to the towns industrial history – mainly different guns, bombs and some railway tracks. The fucking gigantic closed-down tractor factory looked like it had been abandoned 15 years ago, but in reality it shut down 6 months ago. We browsed the local market, where cabbage, onions and potatoes were sold by the truckload, but we didn’t buy anything. The boardwalk down by the gigantic lake (which I’m sure a better person would remember the name of) was nice with it’s closed amusement park and many sculptures, but the wind was icy and we headed into town for pizza. Yeah, in some ways, Russia is like everywhere else and even though there was no McDonalds (only the local clone McDuck), they certainly had great pizza and cheap beer. After this, it was time to hop on the local mini bus service out to the burbs and head to the venue.
Since Andrejs apartment seemed to be located at the shitty end of the outskirts of nowhere, it was slightly surprising that to get to the venue, you just crossed his yard, walked up a mud track towards some industrial park and there, like something out of a Kusturica movie, was the Porshen club. Doubling as a live venue and rave club, this place was open until dawn in the weekends and we were given the ravers’ chill-out room as a backstage area. Nice, except for all the day-glo painted hippie stuff on the walls. We hung out, tried to sell some merch and managed to offload a whopping 2 shirts and 1 cd, listened to the first band – The Minc – that were surprisingly good and got our asses in gear. Now, when you play in some godforsaken spot in northern Russia on a weekday, you don’t expect a huge crowd.
To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would show up, so it was a nice to have a crowd of maybe 80 people turn up and an even nicer surprise to find it’s made up by lunatics that live to mosh. The place erupted when we started to play and things just got better and better. Tons of crowd surfing and circle pitting for sure, but some of our favorite moments were when the entire crowd threw themselves in a big pile on the floor and when they picked up all the monitors and danced around with them. Werid. But good. We gave it all we got and left the stage dripping with sweat, totally exhausted. While we sat around and waited to dry, the guy who set up the gig, Sasha, got out some sort of lentil casserole from his backpack and that was dinner. After that, we were whisked off in the van again, for anohter night train ride back to St Pete.
This time we’d learned our lesson and made sure we were drunk enough to fall asleep instantly, but had stopped drinking beer a while before getting on the train, so that the locked toilets wouldn’t be so much of a problem this time. Most probably, considering what we must have smelled like and considering how loud we probably were, we weren’t the best loved people on the train, but nobody complained and we dozed off rather rapidly, ready to face a day in St Petersburg, where Max had warned us the cops frequently raid punk gigs and where nazi skinheads frequently attack punks and punk gigs. But more about that in the next part, where we get stranded in the train station of St Pete and meat a bear.