Russia - fall 2003
In 2000 we did three gigs in Russia, played in an ice hockey hall on a stage between two motorcycles, rode to Moscow on a luggage rack, ate the best 'kapusta' (sauerkraut) in the world and got drunk with 22 year old lawyer. Ever since we had talked about going back. Now we had tape release over there and we were also invited to play in Belarus.
To go to Russia you need visas. It's expensive and takes a week. Some touring bands, especially from US, don't seem to understand this, and thus never make it to Russia. You can get it on the border, but it costs even more. The same goes with Belarus. There's no passport check between Russia and Belarus, so it's basically possible to sneak in and back without the visa. The locals do it all the time I guess, but we needed them 'cos after Belarus we were going to Lithuania. And the closest Belarussian embassy is in Tallin, Estonia.
Szarapow, our Russian manager in St. Petersburg insisted us to send our passports to him, so that he can pick the Belarus visas for us from the embassy in St. Petersburg. We had our doubts, big ones, but we had no other option (any of that we were aware of anyway). But like with most of the stuff in Russia it wasn't so simple. Szarapow couldn't get the visas without our signatures, but he was assured that we could get them in one day once we get there. It would just cost more. We were supposed to leave in three days and our passports were still in St. Petersburg. The day before they had still not arrived. An hour before our buss to St. Petersburg Jussi picked up them from Tommi's post box. Tommi had to work and was supposed to take a train the next morning. Going to Russia involves a lot of maybe's and supposed to'sOthers starring were Mikko, Tuukka and Vellu (that's me).
None of us speak Russian, but Sergei, our Russian dealer in Finland told the driver where to drop us. Everything was under control, after the first traffic lights when entering St. Petersburg. The bus was full of Russian tourists eating fish sandwiches. The driver started the engine, while we were still waiting for Jussi and the passports. Finally he came, running and cursing, and off we went. The ride took about five hours and was pretty boring.
The city greeted us with huge apartment buildings spreading across the seaside as far as you could see. Before we knew what was going on the driver and some passengers were engaged in an argument, apparently about where to drop us. A moment after we waved the bus goodbye and started waiting. After an hour wait we got few mysterious phone calls from somebody who had seen us, telling us to stay put and wait for Szarapow. The cold kept creeping into our bones, but like true cosmopolitans we kept ourselves warm with politically correct jokes about locals and their ways. The noises of traffic were loud and sharp and I started to taste the lead in my mouth. It turned out that the bus driver couldn't tell the first traffic lights from the second nor the third ones, so he just led us out somewhere, but after getting into Szarapow's warm apartment where stereos blasted Belarussian reggae we couldn't be bothered. We were fed and after a little chat it was time to go to bed. To the floor I mean.
Next morning when we headed to the Belarussian embassy to get the visas, we got an SMS from Tommi saying that the train to St. Petersburg had been cancelled. He was supposed to get the visa straight after arriving to St. Petersburg, but now it wasn't sure if he would even make it to that evening's gig. So we decided to do that in Moscow with Tommi, although it wasn't sure if it was even possible We took all of our stuff to a flat near the club Moloko and spent the day walking around the city, eating and drinking, and buying cheap records. To get the train tickets to Moscow you need a passport, "because this is fucked up place" according to one local. And since we didn't have Tommi's, we were unaware if he could fit into the same train, but we bought ours anyway.
Inside Moloko the atmosphere was relaxed. The venue can hold up to 200-300 persons and seemed to have good vibe in it. It wasn't just an ordinary commercial club. The place kept filling up. We enjoyed beverages and people seemed to have a good time. Tommi phoned, he was in Vyborg, the bus he took from Helsinki had broken down and there was a big racket going on. He could just guess what it was all about. Among the Finns the atmosphere wasn't relaxed anymore, but for the locals it sounded like an everyday scenario. We did some kind of a soundcheck, watched the first band play, got an SMS that he got a new bus, watched the second band play and set our equipment ready Tommi came running and cursing, but right on time and we started to play immediately. It was a blast, the place was packed and kids went nuts, punk rock a la Russia. Hardly any foreign bands play there and these people show their appreciation. After the show I was introduced to a bunch of people whose names and bands they played in I hardly heard from all that adrenaline and serotonine rushing in me.
Last time we had to bribe the conductor to let us into an already full car on the train to Moscow, but this time it went smooth. Every car has its own conductor. Locals called her the master of the car or something. They give you a blanket and a mattress for free, but to use them you need sheets, your own or ones you get from the master with a little fee. He / she also makes tea and coffee, and on our first tour the guy seemed to have unlimited resources of alcohol too and it was the cheapest class.
We arrived to Moscow in the morning, met Ilia and Ola, left our stuff at Ilias place and headed to the Belarussian embassy. It turned out we needed copies of our passports. We could see the copy machine through the window, right under their noses, but there was no way they'd help us. Ola copied them somewhere, dollars (yes, use dollars if you want something to happen in Russia!) were exchanged and everyone was happy. After a delicious lunch at Ilia's place I let my already aching body rest on a couch in a friendly atmosphere and enjoyed the silence inside the
Moscow is a big fucking place. All we saw was heavy traffic, dirt, grey, apartment buildings, grey and more grey. The fall had started and it was chilly and raining, but down in metro tunnels the air was hot, dry and thick of stench of used engine, oil and burning rubber. I could feel the noises scattering through my ear drums every time a metro hit the breaks. I would need a gas mask and double ear plugs to live in a place like that. The gig was held in R-Club, a pretty big venue with a lot of ugly paintings and artwork that looked more funny than scary. Since we had to catch the 11.00 p.m. train we would play second. We did an interview for Radio Arsenal which I hope made some sense. The first band was from Belarus playing screamoish stuff with few poppy parts. There was about 400 kids, and the place was full of cigarette smoke. Without hearing people speak russian it would have been impossible to tell where you are, so much has the West influenced these kids. So much we looked the same. We played next and the crowd went apeshit. And berserk. Mikko was in trouble keeping the kids off from jumping on his distortion pedal, Tuukka was in trouble with the cute ladies in the crowd that I dived on and the rhythm section was just in touble with keeping it all together... We checked out some of the next band and then we had to leave.
It rained heavily and we were in a hurry. We stopped on the sidewalk, waved our hands few times, a car stopped, we told where we wanted to, bargained the price, stepped into the stranger's car and hoped he knew where to take us. With a little money every car turns into a taxi After a late supper in the train I laid on a russki train futon, waiting to fall asleep, listening to the rolling sounds of the train. I felt a burning spot in the right side of my chest. Somebody had bit me in the ribs.
Before arriving to Minsk we had a chat with a fellow passenger with international sign language. According to him Minsk was a lot more relaxed and safe than Moscow. Actually he made Minsk sound like a safe haven compared to Moscow. Everyone in Moscow on the other hand wished good luck for us.
The guys we met at the Minsk train station: Jabba, Fox, Dragga, Zhenia and a bunch of others, were a bit nervous. Everyone kept looking over their shoulders all the time. All except Jabba. He took our passports and most of our money and bought us train tickets to Lithuania. Later I thought about the whole scenario where you are in a country the language you don't speak nor read the alphabet, in a country which is known in Amnesty's annual reports from election scams to numerous violations against the principle human rights, or for what concerned us the most: where nazis work with the cops, you just hand you passport and money to the first person who asks for them. This made me fall even deeper in love with our little international community of punks, activist and fuck-ups.
We didn't see much of the city as the locals were in a hurry to get us safe. There was to be a big soccer game the next day and since nazis like soccer, beer and fighting with punks, there might be trouble ahead. A huge meal was cooked and the finns were satisfied. In the last minute the venue we were supposed to play had called the whole thing off and the kids were forced to rent another venue, fancier and more expensive, with their own money. With no guarantee of getting it back. We started to realize how much effort these fellows had put for this single gig to happen. They wanted to show people that it's possible, and they wanted us to play.
Tommi's pants looked more like a torn up skirt. He wanted to get a pair of new ones from a thrift store while the others just wanted to see a bit of the city. After a little argument by the locals, kind of like we aroused in the bus, we left for a pants hunt armed with a small fire extinguisher and clubs. Zhenia, who was actually not from Minsk was more nervous while Dragga and Fox were calm, but looking over their shoulders nevertheless. We didn't find any pants, but we ended up in an apartment of a punk couple. They gave Tommi a pair of pants and tea and biscuits for everyone. We enjoyed them with Czech animations and the finns were satisfied again.
The nazis in Belarus, like in parts of Poland, are very organized. There's a lot of spying, even infiltration, and violence of course. Punks hardly have a gig without trouble. When we saw one bonehead as we walked to the club they first called the club if it was safe to come, and apparently they called someone to go after the guy.
The club was called Safari. The stage was big and full of fancy equipment. Everyone kept telling us to relax. Nice and easy. Some started to put up distros or just drink beer. After the soundcheck somebody told us nazis had called a bomb threat to the club. Everyone had to go outside. The cops looked like assholes. Never have I seen an asshole so full of authority in my life. We didn't know what to expect, but when they let us in to pick up our gear we started to realize. I asked from Dragga if he thought we couldn't play. "I don't think so, I know so" he replied and nobody argued. It looked like it was nothing new, that this was actually pretty normal. I felt like a tourist. Everyone in the band agreed to come back someday whatever it takes.
Back in the apartment we heard more violent stories of Belarussian reality as it is for punks. We started drinking beer and eventually ended up having vodka in an open hut on the lawn of the apartment. I got very drunk. Suddenly somebody shouted "Cops" and everybody started to run back to the flat. It took a few more seconds for me to realize that I should be running up the stairs too, but they got me convinced pretty fast. We turned off the lights and waited for a moment, but when I found out that somebody had actually thrown the vodka bottle somewhere, "Something no man would do in Finland!!!", me and the Zhenia "the trouble maker" decided to go buy another one. I was very very drunk. I remember getting chatting with somebody outside the store that turning into pushing and showing, me running away- blackout.
When I woke up I instantly knew my band mates were already heading to Lithuania. I had a big bleeding wound in my palm, it hurt to bend my right knee and vomit had made spikes out of half of my hair. I went to puke some more, heard that I'm taking a bus to Vilnus in afternoon and that we had had "a good party". I went back to sleep. Much later I found out that we'd been chased with cops carrying machine guns, kept everybody awake giggling about it and passed out into a bathtub. I've had started puking all over the place and resisted firmly when my buddies tried to dress me up for the train. "Voi rytyn rytty! What have I ever done to you Tuukka?".
It was hard to convince my cute and helpful friends from Belarus that I'm ok. That it's just a hang-over. When the bus driver didn't let me into the buss 'cos I kept puking into a plastic bag in front of him, my straight edge nurses brought me coal pills and a small bottle of something, that later turned out to be stronger than anything I had drank the night before, to ease my hang-over. They looked worried, not angry, and went to find out the next vehicle to Vilnus.
The train ride was horrible and it was running late, but the people at Green Club were nice enough to wait. It was a secret gig due the problems the squat the club was in had with the authorities. There were just us playing and a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. We played as sharp as we have ever played, people enjoyed and I tried to keep the apple I had eaten not coming back up. After the gig we passed a hat aroud for voluntary payment and got one Polish girl angry. "Guys from a rich country come here to ask money even though there's people in the world that have no money to eat." Everyone else who stayed had good time.
We couldn't all fit into the bus we were supposed to take next morning, so me and Jussi stayed in Vilnus for another day and took a buss to Estonia late in the evening. The day was lazy. We hung around in Vilnus with locals doing absolutely nothing. The city is beautiful and I've had some best of times there. My cap was still in vomit, the knee started to hurt more and more making it hard to walk, there was still sand in the wound and I must have smelled like a rotten ass, but I was just happy to be able to eat and lucky to have escaped the pigs in Minsk.
We arrived in Tallin, Estonia, in the morning and took a ferry to Helsinki. Once back home I felt like taking a shower.