Finland-Russia-Belarus-Russia-Finland in nine days - July 2004
Traveling were Vellu and Tuukka - shouters, Mikko - guitar, Lasse - bass, Jussi - drums and Andrea - a girl.
Day 1 - Töminä-club/Ilosaarirock
I woke up pretty early after almost no sleep at all, went to Mikkos place to meet everyone, then to the rehearsal space to get our stuff and then towards Joensuu. We were going to play on the opening club for Ilosaarirock, the second biggest festival in Finland. Our first show in two months, actually. The van didn't break down which was the biggest surprise of the eight hour trip to Joensuu. We arrived at the gigantic tent that we were playing in right before showtime. So we got our stuff onstage, did a linecheck of some sort and started to play on the enormous stage that was about five metres above the crowd that was behind a fence ten metres away from the stage. The show was filmed for some movie about the festival.
How did the show go? Depends who you ask. Personally I think it sucked shit. Actually a lot of people said it looked pretty weird on such a big stage and that the sound was so terrible that they couldn't hear a thing. They weren't alone, the stage sound was all a blur too. I missed the contact with the audience up there, it felt like playing in an aquarium. After the show I felt like hanging myself but opted to get drunk instead. It was a fun evening and I ran into lots of friends.
Eventually it dawned on me that we had a show the next day as well so I left for the place we were supposed to sleep in, got lost only once. It was pretty late but I fell asleep fast.
Day 2 - Vyborg, Russia
Woke up after a few hours of sleep wanting to kill the bastards who decided that its a good idea to start yelling and laughing at eight in the morning. Had some breakfast and walked back to the festival area. Before leaving we had to drive around town to find people to buy our artist passes which were good for the whole festival. Then we headed towards the Russian border. Our ex-bass player Tommi drove our van, and dropped us off, after which we were supposed to do the tour with public transportation.
It was ages since I had last visited Russia so I didn't really know what to expect. I was certain we would get into some trouble because we had our instruments with us and didn't look very much like a group of innocent tourists anyway. Problem one was getting a ride across the border, walking was not allowed and our driver didn't have a visa so we had to hitchhike from the Finnish side to the Russian side. That was easier than I thought, we just asked random people about getting a ride and everyone agreed immediately! The Russian border on the other hand took ages to get across. We went in separate groups, me and Jussi were the last to cross. In the steaming hot car, surrounded by military and border guards and wasps buzzing around my slight hangover was turning into a paranoid nightmare. I was certain the other guys hadn't got across and neither would we. When we finally got there it was very quick and easy and we found Vellu and Andrea sitting at the bus station, the others had already left for Vyborg. Vellu told us that the border guards almost couldn't stamp his passport because they were so amused by his appearance.
We skipped the bus and did the local thing which, as I was to discover a few times on this trip, meant just hailing a random car, negotiating a price and then getting a ride pretty much anywhere. This guy drove us to Vyborg in less than one hour. The venue already had some punks drinking outside so it was easy to spot. We actually arrived there before the others who had left earlier. We checked out the place and equipment and waited for the others. They finally arrived with a bunch of kids and this guy who was shrieking like a crow. The others didn't seem to find it very weird and it turned out that this was Szarapov, our local booking guy who had been just drinking a bit. Funny guy, for the first two hours I couldn't stop laughing watching the guy just bounce all over the place, scream and eventually go swimming in the river in his underwear. Took a walk around the town, got food at a gas station, went back to the venue.
We did the soundcheck, the guitar and bass equipment were ok, the drums were pretty crappy. The stage was insanely high but small so us players stood up there while the singers were running around on the floor. It was a decent size crowd and I think they were into it. We played first because we had to catch the last train to St.Petersburg, we didn't get to see the two local bands playing that night.
After the show we got our stuff packed up, waited for food and some beer. We kept asking if we should go already and the answer was always "Nah, theres still like 15 minutes", "still 5 minutes", "Oh just relax, there's still a good 34 seconds", and all of a sudden we reeeeaaally had to run for the last train. We crammed our stuff into a car that was going to the station and just ran across the city ourselves. We got on the train at pretty much the last minute! The train ride went nicely drinking beers, chatting and witnessing pretty weird stuff. A woman peeing out of a moving trains window. Messy. A drunken guy who didn't speak a word of English kept bothering us, eventually he followed us to a tram in St.Petersburg and we had to throw him out because he was getting a bit violent. Slept at Szarapovs place for like two hours.
Day 3 - Pzskov, Russia
I vaguely remember carrying a shitload of stuff to a minibus full of people and getting to the bus station. We said goodbye to Szarapov and left for Pzskov. The busride was pretty uneventful, hot and took about 6-7 hours. We arrived in Pzskov and the first guy we met was some guy with a Jamaican hat saying something about Rastafari in Russian, later heard that he played in a band called Jah Division, clever. Eventually our hosts showed up and took us to the club TIR, which was one of the coolest I had ever seen. It was decorated with stuff that looked like it had been stolen from a construction site, metal fences and stuff. The stage was ridiculously high again but this time it was big enough for the entire band. On the way we saw some flyers that said we were hardcorepunk with Slayer inluences! We went to exchange some money and came back to the club to find our vegetarian meal which was actually a boiled sausage each. Well, there was bread, vegetables and some tea and coffee too. Then we did a pretty long soundcheck jamming on all kinds of stuff. The others left to see the city, I stayed at the club trying to sleep a bit, it was impossible but the rest was still very welcome.
The guys who put up the show had been a bit pessimistic about people showing up, it being Sunday and all but when I got out of the backstage there was a pretty good sized crowd in there. When the others came back it was almost time for Ankylym from St.Petersburg to play. And man were they awesome! They played really weird versions of stuff like the DK's Nazi punks fuck off, some Nirvana song and even Impaled Nazarenes Suomi Finland Perkele. The singer even used a painters ladder as an instrument at one point. Really weird, really funny.
We got on and the place just erupted. Obviously most of the people in attendance had never even heard of us but they were really into it. We played one of the longest sets we've ever done, I think we got called back three times. At one point Vellu fell off the stage which was really high but luckily was not hurt seriously and actually just missed one line before getting back up and charging into the crowd. Up until then it was definitely my best show with the band and the others seemed to rank it pretty high as well. After the show there was no sign left of my tiredness. The rest of the night was all about disco, beers and talking with the locals. All kinds of weird stuff happened, some of us slept for a couple of hours, some didn't get any sleep at all. Shows like these make trips like the next days worth it.
Day 4 - Minsk, Belarus
Someone woke me up after about an hour of sleep for the early morning bus. My body was all numb and I couldn't think clearly but I remember sitting in a taxi going really fast and lying on the asphalt at the bus station waiting for the bus. There was a military exercise going on nearby, so the hangover was spent listening to sounds of war. I think I caught about an hour of sleep while traveling which was definitely needed. Jussi had stayed up all night and slept for about six hours, lucky him! Vellu had the worst hangover since his last time in Minsk, I felt sorry for the guy until I had a severe allergic reaction to something and kept sneezing for about nine hours with one pitiful piece of paper to blow my nose on. Then when we were almost in Minsk I found out we had a whole roll with us.
There is no border check between Russia and Belarus but foreigners must actually have a visa to visit the country. But according to our original visas, that got us into Russia, we were supposed to be sightseeing in St.Petersburg or something so we didn't get any visas. Besides they are really expensive, not to mention for sissies! So that added an extra element of excitement to our trip to Belarus. Basically we were illegally sneaking into a country under dictatorship.
The ride took about twelve hours I think but finally we got to the Minsk station. The bus guy didn't want to give us our equipment without something called swzszkvzswd, but we didn't know what that was and eventually just took everything with him protesting. Some of us left to get some water, me and Mikko stayed guarding the equipment while Vellu was sitting in the shadow trying to cure his hangover. To no avail. Eventually the guys putting up the show showed up and crammed us into a minibus with an Austrian band called the Plague Mass who were also playing and Aga, their tour manager who was also friends with the rest of the guys from their previous tours.
The show was outside of Minsk at an abandoned pioneer center, the pioneers were like a soviet version of the boy scouts I guess. The show was only promoted within the scene through word of mouth, that was really out of necessity because the nazi problem in Belarus is huge. The nazi skins enjoy protection from the KGB (still alive and well in Belarus) and ruin lots of shows in central Minsk. This show was special for us because last year, before I was in the band, the guys had had to cancel a show there just hours before getting on stage because of a bomb threat. The dedication the Belarus punks have for keeping their scene going despite living in danger from both the nazis and cops is amazing and something I really admired.
When carrying our stuff into the big room where we played both me and Mikko started coughing a lot. We asked about it and were told it was just traces of tear gas. Oh. At this point we were tired as fuck and were taken into a cabin with broken windows and a few beds. I checked out the other bands for a while, ate some and went to sleep. I was actually totally asleep when it was our turn to play, most of us were. The show was running really late because the first soundcheck took ages. I had a feeling the show was going to be intense, because I had trouble already while figuring out the ancient bass amp I was using, since people kept falling on me dancing to the hardcore technomusic the dj was blasting out at an insane volume. We checked the sound pretty quickly and went into it. The show was floorlevel and unbelievably chaotic, hot and intense. Maybe even better than the previous one, hard to tell. The singers were crowd surfing most of the time and the rest of us just played our asses off, it was like playing right in the pit. As far as I know, we were the first western punk bands to ever play in Belarus, along with Plague Mass of course.
Afterwards I wasn't feeling sleepy at all but after talking with people for a while I decided it would be best to just try and get some sleep for once. No such luck. People kept running in and out of the room we were trying to sleep in. Well, Tuukka and Jussi were sleeping but I was sleeping next to a broken window in a swarm of mosquitoes. I eventually did sleep for a few hours in the morning.
Day 5 - Groddna, Belarus
I woke up to Jussi yelling and cursing. His phone and some other stuff was missing. Vellu had also lost his wallet and passport but we found those eventually next to a pile of turd he took in the woods in the middle of the night. Jussi's stuff on the other hand had actually been stolen. The local organizers were obviously very sorry about this and Jussi calmed down as well after hearing two words: I'm not saying what they are but they start with an I and an F and rhyme with assurance and broad.
We had to walk to the train station and we had lots of locals help us carry our stuff, a common occurence here it seemed. The train was really crowded but it was just about a half an hours trip back to Minsk where we had to wait, wait and wait for our minibus ride to the next town. I was getting a bit worried sitting there because there was a huge crowd of us sitting in the centrum of Minsk and getting a lot of attention. People in the passing busses actually pointed at us and laughed, which was pretty amusing. But with a lot of cops around (we were sitting in front of a bank) the fact that we were in the country illegally sprung into my mind more than once.
After about four-five hours of waiting our ride eventually showed up and soon we were packed tight in the van with the Austrians again. The ride took four hours and in that time I believe Jussi came up with a solution to every problem in the world with the Austrians. So it was a pretty pleasant trip actually.
We came to the venue and did a soundcheck immediately, we also played first so after the check it was straight to the show. It was ok, the thing that bothered me a bit was that the mixing board was up front and the crowd was behind it. Also the lights guy seemed to be into strobe lights, I am NOT. Well, it didn’t bother us too long as Vellu just flipped them over so they pointed at the soundmen and the crowd for most of the set. The stage was pretty big and it was by no means a bad show, it just couldn't compare to the two previous ones! Then it was time to run again. This time to the organizers home to eat and shower, so we could get back to Minsk in time for the night train to Moscow.
While we were eating we heard that last night in Minsk while we were playing the nazis had somehow found out that there was supposed to be a punk show, they had been looking for it and actually attacked a wrong show (some alternative stuff, I heard) beating and stabbing people. Five people had ended up in a hospital. Holy shit!
We ate quickly and went back to the venue to get the rest of our stuff. Said hi to everyone and headed back to Minsk. With us was Ivan, our driver and six other locals. The ride back was pretty relaxed until we got stopped by the police. Ivan said "Mein Gott!", and we knew there could be trouble. Ivan was smart enough to drive way past the cop, and then run back to him with his papers, apologizing for noticing him too late or something, so we got away. But if the cop had seen us in the car...
We got to Minsk about 20 minutes before the train was going to leave, got the tickets, got food and said bye to the kids who had been traveling with us before stepping on the train. They stressed that we absolutely couldn't speak to anyone when boarding the train or showing our tickets, so the conductors don't find out we weren't locals. The train had beds, so I got my first decent sleep in a week.
Day 6 - Day off in Moscow
I woke up at about the same time with Mikko and we went for coffee in the restaurant car while the others were still sleeping. We were talking about what we had just done, going into the last dictatorship in Europe illegally and playing a bunch of shows. We didn't really think about it that much while there but now we had time to think about the could have happeneds. We also agreed that the tour was ending too quickly and next year we should do a longer one and try to go to more of the former Soviet states. The rest of the train ride was spent researching the different aspects of Belarusian potato chips and drinking more coffee.
In Moscow we met with our hosts and were taken to Kirils apartment where we were staying. The others went to the market at the metro station. Me, Jussi and Tuukka stayed to guard our stuff. We noticed again another weird thing about Russia: even in a huge city like Moscow total strangers just come and start actual conversations with you. We hadn't been sitting at the station for more than a few minutes when a bunch of guys and a girl came over and started asking about what we were doing and where we are playing, seeming genuinely interested in a bunch of smelly foreign losers with a bunch of instruments and bags full of dirty clothes. And they actually came to the show the next day. This happened many more times on our short trip!
After that we went to the apartment which was a very nice place, made some food and got some well deserved rest. I felt stupid: here I am in Moscow, a city I've always wanted to visit and all I could do was lie on a couch, drink beer and watch Slayer and Motöhead dvd's. Am I an idiot? Yes. Yes I am. But I think everyone had a nice evening and the rest was welcome. We stayed up pretty late before hitting bed again.
Day 7 - Moscow, Russia
We left in the morning to do tourist stuff, like seeing the Red Square, and finding out that the mausoleum where they keep Lenin's corpse on display was closed. We ate and visited a huge marketplace where they sold cheap pirate dvd's, before heading back to the apartment and then to the club. The club was the biggest one so far and the parking lot was already filled with kids when we got there. Three bands played before us, the place was already steaming hot when we got on. There were about 400 people at the club going completely berserk, stage diving and doing circlepits. It was so hot on stage that I was about as wet as I would be after jumping into a
pool, only this was from sweat! Jussi looked at times like he was dying behind his kit, really he was just pissing his pants though. For real. Playing the show was such a rush that I don't remember many specific things, just chaos. Afterwards I was just speechless, I sat there alone sipping a beer just completely happy while the others were doing something backstage.
Again, a lot of kids volunteered to carry our stuff and there were a lot of people from the show hanging out at the metro station. We stayed there for a while chatting with people before leaving again to catch the night train to St.Petersburg.
The only downside to touring Russia that I can think of was that the distances were so long that we almost always had to leave after the shows and couldn't hang out with the locals more. But this time a bunch of people who wanted to see the next days show traveled with us, we also met some others at the station sitting outside of the train. We were pretty loud and in good moods by this point, for some reason the car we were in got empty pretty quick, except for us. I stayed up for a while with Jussi and Tuukka sharing meaningful anecdotes on human sexuality.
Day 8 - St.Petersburg, Russia
We met with Szarapov again at the train station, he had the Russian c-cassette edition of our new record with him. We took a look at them and then headed for the apartment where we were going to leave all our stuff. It was a five minute-walk away which meant about half an hour. After that we went to some pancake place and then split up to explore the city, I went with Tuukka. Again we met lots of very talkative total strangers and had a nice day.
We got back to the meeting place, got our stuff and got a ride to the club, Moloko. It was smaller than last night, I'd estimate it held about 300 people. We had to play first again because we had to catch a bus to Finland. The place was packed pretty tight and it was a fun show. The band we played with in Pzskov, Ankylym played after us and Vellu and Jussi played drums and bass for them on one or two songs. After that we talked with the locals outside and left for the bus. The bus was full of people and crossing the border took ages, both sides had a bad day and were really anal about everything. On the russian side I think they checked our passports a total five times! On the finnish side the whole bus had to be emptied and they checked every little corner of it with flashlights. Everyone was pretty pissed off but we got to Finland ok and I woke up in Helsinki at seven am when the bus was there.
Day 9 - Lempäälä, Finland: Puntalarock
We had to leave at noon because I had a show with my other band at four pm on the festival we were also playing at. Puntalarock is the biggest punkfestival in Finland, and has been going on for years. It's always two days and has a shitload of Finnish bands as well as some foreign ones. This years biggest name was the Subhumans.
We got there about 15 minutes before I played with my other band, and then started to wait for our show a few hours from then, checking out bands and catching up with loads of friends. It was also going to be our singer Tuukkas last show with the band.
Before the show I once again put on the shirt I had worn for every show on the tour. It smelled so bad that I almost puked. We started playing to an empty field while some other band was still going on the second stage, people started rolling in. Although we would have preferred to play on the small stage it was really cool and after the set Tuukkas pants got torn off by Vellu. There was some wrestling and beer fighting between us and Valse Triste. The rest of the night was spent walking aimlessly around the festival and running into friends. I saw Rytmihäiriö and Subhumans, really liked both. The last thing I remember was my friend Riku trying to explain the deepest essence of heavy metal, but he couldn't form one understandable word, and he was puking too. Which, after all, is pretty much the deepest essence of heavy metal. Eventually I woke up in the morning in a car, not ours by the way, that was luckily moving towards Helsinki.
Written by Lasse