25 October, 2018

From Birmingham to Saint Petersburg – Day One, Krupskaya 2018 Siberia Tour

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It begins – three and a half weeks driving across over nine thousand miles of Siberian wildlands! Will we die? Will we suck? Will anyone show up? All these mysteries and more, will be answered!

10th August 2018

To Russia, with love

2am – I hate being awake AND sober at this hour

Anna drives me to Alex’s, we share a loving embrace and I tightly grab her buttocks. This is my last chance to make the most of their godly mass, before having to spend three and a half weeks trapped in a van with men I’m certainly not attracted to and generally struggle to tolerate.

They on the other hand, think I’m a really cool guy. This is going to be like a real holiday for them.

Matt arrives, picks us up and drives us to his Uncle Colin’s house. Uncle Colin’s actually his dad and I’m not sure why we’ve all elected to call him Uncle instead. We pick up Riley on the way. By nothing short of a miracle, he has remembered both his passport AND guitar.

He’s also smiling! More than anything else, I still can’t get over the fact that Krupskaya actually has a guitarist who isn’t permanently a miserable bastard. That he seems to want to be in the band isn’t something we’re all used to.

Early signs for this tour are uncharacteristically positive.

We arrive in Stafford where Uncle Col’ is waiting. He helps us to transfer all our luggage over and drives us to Birmingham airport. I’m sure he’s bemused as all hell as to why four ‘fully grown’ men insist on embarking upon such ear-drum melting adventures.

We’re grateful for his assistance, either way.

Birmingham airport – what a shit hole

Birmingham Airport sucks. Maybe it’s just me being irritable after three weeks of nonstop web development (incidentally, please do check the new Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics Academy websites) and no sleep in the last 24 hours, but it just seems proper, proper mental in its layout.

The people are miserable as all buggery too. They’re probably just feeling sorry for how tired I’m looking. Yeah, that’s definitely it.

We need to weigh our bags to make sure no last minute ‘feng-shuing’ of their content is required. The bloody scales are one pound a time, so I use my puppy dog eyes to get one of the check-in blokes to let us use his for free. He agrees, though I’m not sure how much the puppy dog eyes actually helped. He looked quite unnerved by the end of it.

Now it transpires that to plastic wrap our luggage, we’re going to be set back another twenty five or so quid – thanks Brexit! Obviously there’s no connection between Brexit and my immediate struggles, but everyone else in the country seems happy to blame it for theirs and I just want to fit in.

Oh yes, I am provocative.

Anyway, we finally get on the flight which passes swiftly, as does our stop-over in Brussels.

We board our second flight and I’m sat next to a lady with a fourteen month old cat, in a pet box between her feet. It’s mega cute, accepting of affection (two qualities my own cat seems quite insistent on embodying the polar-opposite of) and the highlight of my trip so far.

Will it turn out to be the highlight of the entire tour? Probably.

Krupskaya, St Petersburg

Denis (Gazelle of Death, driver and tour organiser), Alex (vocals), Matt (bass), Riley (guitar)

We arrive in Saint Petersburg, Denis meets us at the airport and we head for the car part. We somehow lose Matt and despite my protestations, Alex and Riley insist bass is integral to our sound. Plus, he’s got the bag with all my drum stuff in, so I go back to find him.

Because I’m a hero.

St Petersburg Airpot

We’re in Saint Petersburg and it’s bloody boiling

Behold, The Gazelle of Death!

It’s so good to once again see, The Gazelle of Death! This will be our home for the next three weeks, as it was for the ten days during our 2016 Ukraine and 2015 Russia/Ukraine tours. How it’s even in one piece (which I guess is debatable) I don’t know, but Denis is blatantly some sort of sorcerer. The legends born of this vehicle emminate from every scratch and mark of graffiti on its body.

Gazelle of Death

Gazelle of Death comic

Gazelle of death

The first thing I cannot help but notice, is how insanely bloody hot it is. I think it’s something like Thirty Five degrees? Whatever, all I can be sure of is that it’s painful to walk in, my skin feels like it’s about to peel off and the prospect of playing a single minute in this heat is not one I’m salivating over.

I voice my prior expectations of Russia and Siberia as only ever being cold. Matt informs me that this expectation is likely due to the sheer volume of propaganda throughout Western Culture, showcasing this part of the world and its collective mentality as cold, hostile and uncaring towards human life.

I suggest Joseph Stalin’s behaviour during the second World War may have been a significant factor in any such perception, moreso than Ed Harris’ performance in Red Heat. The conversation proceeds no further. I don’t understand why every informal comment must conclude with a political discussion, rather than one about halloumi. I do love halloumi. It sounds like you’re greeting yourself too, when you say it outloud:

“Hello me”

Whatever the reasons, neither my expectations nor the aforementioned perception of Russia are at present, being proven correct. It’s bloody hot and the people have all been mega friendly. Such things do not typically go hand in hand.

Matt

Hello Saint Petersburg

We arrive in the city itself and park up – we need food.

The last time we were in Saint Petersburg, we didn’t get to see much of the city and what we did, was all at night. It’s nice to spend a bit more time on its streets and I appreciate getting a better understanding of its scale and layout.

Speaking of which, here’s a snippet from the last time we were here:

Saint Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city and was named both Petrograd and Leningrad during different historical periods. The county’s cultural capital, the city boasts a plethora of museums and the (in-construction) tallest building in Europe, the Lakhta Center.

There are some really cool structures and architecture throughout the city. Most of which I forget to photograph because the quality of my brain activity tends to operate on a somewhat transient basis.

Narva Triumphal Arch

Narva Triumphal Arch

An exception to this rule, is the Narva Triumphal Arch, which commemorates Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Its deep green colourisation stands in contrast to the pale yellows, browns and greys of the surrounding concrete. If this was a videogame, this would likely be the designer’s attempt at flag poling a point of interest through environmental storytelling, rather than dialogue.

You can have that one for free.

Vegetables, The Terminator and a Gerbil

A night among the wolves

We arrive at the venue. It is called SVORA which means Pack of Dogs.

It’s a cool little squat with a decent sized room and an intimate stage. The toilet doors have both The Terminator and Rambo printed on them.

This is my kind of place. I cannot choose between the two, so spread my expulsionary needs between them both. Desecrate one, lightly douse the other.

My appreciation for the venue increases exponentially, when I venture upstairs for food and find a Gerbil. Not for dinner, but rather a friendly little bugger sat in a cage nearby, very welcoming of guests.

The young lady who I assume to be its adopted mother (whom also prepared the awesome food for us) informs me that their name is Marvin. Or Muffin. Or Mervin. I’m honestly not sure, but I don’t like asking people to repeat themselves when it’s painfully obvious I lack the fundamental brain capacity required to understand what they’re saying, regardless of much many times its repeated.

I smile and nod, she sighs and leaves.

Story of my life.

Noise, Gore-Grind, Punk

Potec

Tonight’s first act is a noise artist called potec. He’s got more pedals on stage than in the warehouse of a company that deals exclusively in the production of pedals and pedal-related pariphanlia.

I enjoy noise as a general rule of thumb, certainly when it’s played live. It’s the closest I’ve experienced a musical artform come, to the experience of hearing and feeling ocean waves crash around you, or the wind howling through trees. Not so much in the sound specifically, but in the sense that you’ve got so many layers of organic texture swaying and merging with one another, with no real predetermined sense of conclusion, beyond that to which nature takes it.

I wouldn’t say there was the greatest sense of depth in the sound itself, but the artist compensates by moving between shapes and moods with reasonable regularity, while never breaking off from a central mood. I quite enjoyed.

Video by Alexander Volkov

Profane existence

Next up are Profane Existence, who play fairly dirty sounding gore grind. Not my cup of tea by and large, these guys were never going to risk changing my perception of what’s possible within the sub-genre in general, but I really enjoyed them. I think it was down to the drumming more than anything else.

The young lady behind the kit is ACTUALLY hitting the drums like she means it, the volume of her blast beats is consistent (which mine aren’t) and she knows when to sit back and let the other instruments come forward – a principle I myself, remain at odds with.

She also throws some surprisingly creative/left-field beats into segments which similar bands would just revert to the same old generic rythmns for. Such attempts at diverting expectation (conscious or otherwise) can often have disastrous consequences (which again, I continue to demonstrate), but she nailed them. The overall sound benefits for it. What impresses me further, is when I learn this is only her second performance.

Props. If you’re interested, you can check out the Profane Existence Bandcamp profile.

Miroed

Miroed follow, who I guess are sort of punk/d-beat with a bit of grind and even some indie vibes? I don’t know, that description doesn’t really describe the sound too well, accurate as it might be in some of its elements, but I’m too tired (and bloody hot) to attempt a better description.

All in all though, these guys were probably the highlight of the evening, as far as being a ‘complete package’ goes. Their sound is raw, violent, kinetic but also varied, swaying in and out of segments at thematic odds with those on their borders. As with the gore-grind act, this sort of thing isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but this is one of those occasions where you hear/see a band playing a particular genre and not only do you understand why people do like it, but you can see the elements which you could find yourself getting addicted to.

Mega nice chaps, too. Do check Miroed on Bandcamp.


Video by Alexander Volkov

Krupskaya

We take the stage, setup quickly but then start having trouble with Riley’s guitar sound.

I don’t know what the problem is, it has nothing to do with me and thus, I don’t care. I put my feet up on the bass drum and have a snooze.

The sound is eventually fixed to a standard the other three deem acceptable. I awaken, we play through a quick warmup and then – boom… the power goes out.

Lights, PA, literally everything is gone. We expect this to be our fault, but an inspection of the local district reveals that this outage covers an area of not insignificant distance, so acquiring the electricity required to play is likely beyond our control.

Within perhaps half an hour, the crew have rigged up a generator and there’s a veritable spider’s web of cables, power adapters and plugs stretched across the venue – not a single problem occurring from which, can I imagine.

We start playing and I’m quickly reminded as to why this is such an awesome country to play:

The place fucking erupts.

I’ve no idea whether we sound any good, but I’m keeping the beats tight and audience’s response suggests that good or bad, this is the carnage they came for. No-one is getting out of here alive.

Then, approximately fifteen seconds into our performance of Grasping in the decay and detritus of hope, the power once again cuts. It’s not for another ten seconds that I notice, realising that I’m the only person playing. Yet, this only seems to have made the audience even more violent and embracing of the chaos before them, so I continue.

The other three continue to play along, albeit in deafly silence in the case of Matt and Riley, in the hopes that should the power magically return – we’ll at least be in coordination with each other.

Even with just drums and vocals on the go, the energy in the room is so intense. For me, this is effectively answering the age old question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object: the immovable object gets destroyed.

The power doesn’t return and as we reach the song’s conclusion, I am desperately thankful for it. The heat is unbearable. This is the hottest I’ve ever played in, I’m throwing back water as quickly as the bottles hit the stage. My body is having none of it and I’m wrestling with my gut not to vomit. I’m confident I’ll adapt my playing/physical output after a couple of shows and that as we venture across the East, the heat will decrease. But for now, I am dying on my arse and unfortunate as it is that we’ll have to cut the show short, am eternally grateful for doing so.

The power comes back on. Bollocks.

We charge through the rest of the set and it goes down a treat. I sit back a little to take stock and get an idea of the standard we’re playing at, made difficult by the sound quality. While I’m happy for the most part that we’re ‘on it’, a few stops and segments fall short of what we’re capable of, in terms of overall tightness and I’m being far sloppier than I should be.

That said, the crowd is nevertheless embracing every second of violence we throw at them, the intensity of our collective energy is undeniable and as far as ‘first shows of a tour’ go, I’ve endured much, much worse.

The set ends.

I am drenched in sweat.

My heart feels like its going to burst.

I want to die.

Love it.


Video by Alexander Volkov

Making friends with Dogs and Punks in Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg family

We finish, dismantle the gear, sell some merch and are treated to more handshakes, hugs and expressed thanks than I’m comfortable accepting. I tend to just find a nice quiet corner to myself when we finish playing, but a fair few audience members hunt me down with the express purpose of letting me know just how much they enjoyed the show.

I’m obviously alarmed by the mental state of anyone who feels as such about the physical abuse our music borders on being. I am also an inherently selfish individual, generally quite disinterested in the opinions of others. But moments like these, where people are genuinely grateful and appreciative of the effort you’ve made to share your craft with them, come as close to lighting a candle in the void of my soul outside of playing with dogs.

Speaking of which – there’s a dog here! I don’t know what breed he is, but he is mega friendly and we enjoy a good few minutes in each other’s company.

I want a dog.

The first of many long drives awaits us

Denis advises that we don’t hang around (Alex’s insistence on having the same four hour conversation with every single person in the room, one by one, notwithstanding), given that our drive to Moscow will border on fourteen hours and he’s not entirely sure where the festival we’re playing is located.

The directions he’s been given, literally include a photograph of a tree, captioned “When you see this tree, turn left”.

This feels like its going to turn into one of those situations that only we as a band are capable of getting ourselves into. I elect to go to sleep and save as much energy to deal with the bullshit ahead of us as possible.

Thank you, Saint Petersburg, for the warmest ‘Tour Day One’ welcome we’ve ever had.

To Moscow!

Posted 25 October, 2018

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