From Russia with Love, Rockets, Riffs & Bomb Threats
So, other than my job of helping bring music to the masses, I have a hobby of bringing music to the masses. Part of that sacred yet somewhat bent chalice is time spent managing (kind of) metal band Karnivool, who have a small but dedicated fan base around the world. Playing the sort of technical rifferama that the band deals out means that they do quite well in some unusual parts of the world, and I was just lucky enough to tag along for part of a tour where they played festivals and gigs in Germany, Finland, Austria, the UK, Romania, Bratislava, Turkey and amongst other places…. Russia. That’s right, Russia.
Now when we got the Russian offer we were pretty stoked and it actually made logistical sense – the band were playing in Finland beforehand, so it was a drive over the top of Finland and down through St Petersburg to Moscow. We even picked up offers of some small Arena shows in southern Russia on the way into their next play in Hungary, so it was all looking good. Then shit got real, Putin got possessive and our bus company decided that driving through Crimea or eastern Ukraine was a bad idea, particularly when rebels were taking over airports and blockading roads. A quick lesson on geography and Google maps confirmed that totally screwed our routing (Ukraine is a big place, who knew!) so we lost some shows and booked some flights to make it happen.
I’m going to skim over the ins and outs of our travels, other than saying that my personal journey involved being held aside in a room by Russian customs for some time (along with a Russian woman with 2 children and 3 gold teeth who wanted to use my phone!) due to a visa typo, as well as being hassled by the most aggressive touts I’ve ever seen while waiting an hour and a half in order to share a cab with a Russian family. Lots more to add to that – but let’s keep to the gig.
It was a 3 day festival held in a park built by Stalin to celebrate all things that are good and Russian and revolutionary, so the site was a trip. More on that later. The festival also starred such artists as Marilyn Manson, The Prodigy, Die Antwoord and on the day my kids were playing Mastodon and The Deftones. So you know, pretty easy listening. It would take me a very long time to tell the story of the whole trip – but I’m going to dwell on lets say, 3 things that happened at this festival that I have never experienced anywhere in the world, and believe me I’ve seen some festivals!
Lets get the first and most noticeable one out of the way. It had a frickin rocket. With a bar under it. Most festivals have some sort of dodgem cars or shitty fairground ride. Not this. The park had a life sized, take me to the moon, Soyuz number whatever rocket, out just to the left of front of house, complete with launching platform. Hard to miss when you walk out onto the stage, and somewhat disconcerting when nobody has mentioned it. It really dwarfed the passenger jet in full revolutionary regalia that was next to it, some of the band didn’t even notice that! Not to leave the rocket underutilised the promoters had built a grandstand under it with the VIP bar and viewing area – so we went there, had shots of Vodka (believe it or not, Russian Standard Vodka does indeed seem to be the Russian standard…) under the stage 1 engines and watched Mastodon and all was well with the world.
Second – also a first for myself and the band– it had bomb threats. Yes, real ones, well real enough for the police to roll in on Friday, close down the show and search the site – causing not a little carnage and from photos I saw a near riot. Why the bomb threats you ask? Well the answer of course is that Marilyn Manson was playing on Friday, and as much as the rest of the world stop caring about the “shocking” antics of Brian a long time ago the Russian religious extremists viewed him as a threat to public well being. Of course the way I found out about this was waking up hungover in a Moscow hotel room and jumping online and seeing the story linked by a bunch of Australian websites. Took me a minute to work out the festival talked about in the story was actually the one my lads were playing. Oh well, off to see Red Square then….
Bomb threats have cancelled our show in Moscow, just as we were about to perform. pic.twitter.com/qPBNJh3bUW
— Marilyn Manson (@marilynmanson)
June 27, 2014
note the missed opportunity for a rocket in shot!
The thing that really confused me about this whole exercise was – had none of the aforementioned extremists bothered Googling Die Antwoord? Cause if they found our mate Brian upsetting then trawling through some of our South Africans friends content on YouTube would have made them shit the bed.
Following on from that – lets talk about security. Not just avoiding bombs, but crowd control, and the task of keeping those nasty Manson fans under control. We are all used to fluro shirted burly blokes controlling the pit, and occasionally delivering a clip under the ear to those that need a little more convincing. Well, in Moscow, there seemed to be three levels of security. Firstly, dudes in full uniform and massive peaked caps that looked incredibly formal and seemed to have no idea about anything they were asked, in Russian, English or anything else. Then – there were the footsoldiers, who manned the pit and every entrance as well as backstage security. Refreshingly, all of the regular security were dressed in what seemed to be standard issue drab brown suits complete with earpiece. They were also all about 7 foot tall with piercing blue eyes and lets be honest – they scared the shit out of me. They all looked like they could snap me in two and they have killed before and they will again, but damn they looked good dealing with crowdsurfers in those suits haha.
The last line of defense seemed to be – and I am drawing a long bow here – special forces troops. All through the crowd and backstage were large gentleman in blue camouflage outfits who looked like they could perhaps sort out our brown suited friends, no problem.
They were a bit disconcerting to be honest, I’m not used to a military presence at festivals (and I’m from Perth haha!) but perhaps given the bomb threats and the general feeling that if shit goes wrong in Russia – it really goes fucking wrong, it wasn’t bad to have them there. Plus the band attempted to ply them with beer post show and said they seemed to be good blokes, although thankfully I had left by then as I am sure the site of some good meaning Aussie dudes trying to get Spetnaz troops drunk on free Heineken would have given me a coronary. Anyway – there’s a small taste of our Russian adventure. Actually there was one more thing that a Russian Festival had that we haven’t seen at a festival here in a long time. Wolfmother.
A footnote as well if I may. We met so many people in Moscow who were so awesome, and we were so excited to be there, and the crowd was amazing and sang along in their thousands and waited for hours to get things signed and it was a truly amazing experience. Then we got up the next morning hungover as all hell (or still drunk for some!) and got on a budget airline and flew to Hungary. Over the Ukraine. Which looks like a bit of a silly decision now. But be that as it may – people all over the world are good people, and music brings them together, and can we please all stop doing horrible shit to each other? It’s a total bummer – no matter where and how it happens in the world.