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N-TRIBE (Baltes, Grosskopf) in Moscow

Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 13:55 MEZ, Düsseldorf Airport, AEROFLOT FLIGHT SU 118.

The sun is shining brightly by lovely spring-like degrees. Last night, George Bush and Toni Blair have thrown off their first bombs and cruise missiles over Baghdad. We are shocked as well as the most of us, although Steve and I have certainly expected this whole madness and lack of reason for weeks.

Steve and I cannot believe it. We are flying to Moscow. Normally, a common use these days, but grown up as a child of cold war, my mind manipulated by the mass media is infiltrated with the ordinary prejudice such as chaos, poverty, mafia-fraud and unsafe technology of Aeroflot and something more for that country, which was heavy troubled by the Soviet at one time. Therefore, our trip into the cold could be the last adventure that is still offered by a glutted information-society.

Three weeks are merely gone from the very first contact up to the departure. During this time, plenty of e-mails were sent with questions and answers. We could collect our visas from the Consulate of the Russian Federation only two days ago. There is no way without any valid travel health insurance and only assurances listed are a possibility. Our invitation is subject to confirmation by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Moscow, and must be requested by the arranger. The documents will be furnished with an acceptance (or reference) and then sent to the embassy in Germany.

I ride to the embassy in Bonn - Bad Godesberg. Sixty or seventy simply dressed people wait in front of the embassy up to the street. That is my idea of Russia. Walking past, I hear a little bit of Russian conversation.
   “Let’s hope they don’t keep me waiting for hours,“ I think.
   Thank God, they let me pass the crowd immediately and I can line up to the next counter.
   „What do you want?“ I am asked.
   „I want to get my Business Visa,“ I answer kindly.
   „You must go to the counter with the number one!“ Zack!
  
All right. Again, I line up among the crowd in front of counter one and give in my papers with passport photographs and proofs of our health insurances. The Russian employee behind the desk is a ray of hope. He has noticed from my application form, that I am a musician who wants to perform at the club 16 TONS, so he start to grin and says:
   “Are you going to perform at the 16 TONS? Very well!“
   Then he checks on his computer my reference, which was mailed to me the day before by Pavel Kamakin, the manager of the 16 TONS.
   „There is nothing! Come again tomorrow!“
   „But…tomorrow we have Saturday,“ I reply.
   „Just Monday then!“
   My first attempt to get my visa has failed and I have to go away without having achieved anything.

In addition, I have to look after customs declaration. The German customs officers want a full check of our equipment. Before that, I go to my local Chamber of Commerce for customs application forms in triplicate, from the contents of which I have not had the least inkling until today.
   „Who invents such a bullshit?“ I ask myself, during my struggle with filling in the papers.
   A large list in triplicate with information about worth and weight of the equipment is finally typed and printed out.
   The customs officer is very unfriendly at first.
   „You are looking what’s going on here!“
   No, I am not, I am afraid. Of course, I did not fill in the documents correct at all, so I have to keep in again for a while. As he notices we are musicians his face light up. Suddenly, it will not take very long. We start talking about recording and headphone technology. He is an amateur musician. Just a few stamps, a couple of signatures and we are out again.

After three and a half hour of smooth flying, the Boing 737 by the Aeroflot is on the point of landing. It is still bright, when we are breaking through the clouds about 19:00 Moscow time. There is a heavy snowdrift below the cloud cover. Powerful turbulences start rattling at the plane.
   “If they have built these novel wind-warning systems in Moscow?” I ask myself with mingled feelings. Steve has closed his eyes, trying to give a peaceful impression. A German passenger, who is going to Siberia for vacation and sitting in a row with us, says he has seen touchdowns in Siberian winter that started much worse than this one.
   I can already see the free room close by the runway below, as the plane suddenly gives full stuff moving up steeply. It pulls and rattles at the plane. After a turn of twenty minutes, the second landing attempt. The German tourist sneers:
   „They will manage it. We’ll come down in any case!“
   „Bloody fool,“ I think.
   Steve has still closed his eyes and is obviously trying to control his fear.
   I reproach myself: „That will teach you! Anybody knows the Aeroflot Airline hasn’t got the vaguest notion of safety.“
   Strangely enough, you will never hear if their planes have more crashes than different airlines. Anyway, the turbulences, rattling at the machine once more, seem to be stronger than the times before.
   It is really just the same situation. Just before touchdown, the plane is giving full stuff rising up again. My heart beats quickly. More than three attempts I will not bear. After several moments, a Russian announcement sounds. Somehow, I understand St. Petersburg. In fact, we will detour there. After an hour, we end up fine in St. Petersburg.

It is cold and dark. The areas beside the runways are snow-covered. We are walking down the gangway to the shuttle bus. The airport building radiates the plain charm of the working class that I have known in the days of German Democratic Republic. A woman dressed in uniform eyes us severely when we enter the building. Nobody can tell us what is going on now.
   Our Siberia-tourist is afraid of missing his connecting flight and so he grumbles about the situation. Steve and I keep calm in view of the nearly happened crash. Because our visas are valid for Moscow only, we are unable to leave the transit room. We are hungry and thirsty. After about an hour the loudspeaker announces:
   „Beverages and Sandwiches will be served at the ground floor!“
   Immediately, we walk downstairs. In fact, there are a couple of pallets with red cherry cola beside one of the both escalators, guarded by a big mummy in uniform. The stuff tastes disgusting but my thirst is larger. I ask the big mom for one of the announced sandwiches.
   “San’wish? No, san’wish!” she grunts unmistakable in military tone.
   I try to get Pavel Kamakin on the cell phone that, Thank God, works without any problems. Russia has one of the best communication technologies of the world. Pavel was slightly panic-stricken because of our odyssey, and so he is glad about the fact we are on Russian territory at least. I ask him to send away the people who already wait for us at the airport until we know what is going on in St. Petersburg.

We hang around about three hours trying to get rid of that German Siberia-tourist who is still grumbling about the situation. A young couple from Hungary is sitting on the bench beside me. Obviously, they are only passing through. She is dressed in a post hippie style reading a guidebook for India. India travels! That is my favourite theme!
   „Are you going to India?“ I ask. The dull sitting around has an end.
   „You must go to Keerala!” I suggest, after telling her my own eventful stories from India.
   “The backwater ride from Alleppey to Quilon is the most beautiful experience I have ever made!”
   Suddenly, a croaking announcement interrupts our talk: „Aeroflot Flight SU118 to Moscow now boarding!“ Before take off with direction to Moscow, we are still sitting almost an hour in the plane.

The weather is obviously getting better. At 24:00 o’clock, when the plane is pushing through the cloud cover, we get the same turbulences just like the times before. My heart is in my mouth. Steve is going to be very quiet closing his eyes again. However, there is no way back. Just before touchdown, powerful airstreams let the plane tilt to the left repeatedly. I continuously imagine horror scenes. Finally, touch down.

When the plane slows down, Steve and I are taking us by our wet cold hands. Spontaneously, we get some kind of “we stay alive” feeling that keep us in a good temper all night. We pass the customs examination and passport control quickly and meet Anna Moisenkova and her boyfriend. A soft toy animal is given as a present to each of us.

As mentioned above, I had exchanged countless e-mails with Anna Moisenkova, who was entrusted with the organization of the festival in 16 TONS by the sponsor AHMAD TEA, in advance. She is happy that we are finally arrived, apologizing for the trouble we had. We are relieved to get unhurt over the touchdown. Apart from that, we have to spend no additional nights in the transit area of St. Petersburg’s airport.

The heating of the AUDI is broken. The windows are opaque except a few stripes. Our good temper cannot be destroyed by such a trifle. Vladimir, our driver the next days, takes us to the hotel Ukraina. He has been a musician und speaks English very well.

The hotel Ukraina is just about the limit. It is one of those skyscrapers built in the late Thirtieth by Stalin showing the world that socialism would be a match for the economic output and culture of the United States. Since then 10 or 15 spacious, beautiful, kitschy buildings decorate the city of Moscow.

We walk through a huge door of oak as well as a heavy folding door, which can be opened only with a colossal effort by myself, into the foyer guarded by numerous, strong, dark looking men in black. We are already expected by Pavel Kamakin. He welcomes and conducts us to the reception. Anna and her boyfriend say goodbye to us.

The rooms are tall, spacious, and heated very well. All seems a little bit worn out, but clean. There is a charm of socialist luxury everywhere. We are enthusiastic about the atmosphere. Pavel tells us later the KGB used the upper floors at one time. In the days of USSR, there were radar and anti-missile defeat systems in these skyscrapers. Allegedly, the rooms are still in use by the successor of the KGB. Mobile phones are supposed to give up above the ninth floor. Pavel asks us if we were hungry. Actually, we are hungry. He invites us for dinner at the restaurant of his club.

If you want to get around in Moscow, just stop the next car, haggle about the price and you will be shipped. No matter if during the day or at night, you have to wait no longer than a moment. You pay for a ride one hundred rouble that is just about three Euros. I keep in mind: „Sto (one hundred) rouble? Da?“ It works frictionless at any time. This way we go by different exotic vehicles (Volga, Moskvitsch, Lada) with friendly drivers round the wintry metropolis.

Pavel’s club 16 TONS is a perfect, two-storied imitation of an English pub. He is leading us on the upper floor. A large bar divides the room. There are a dance floor with professional light and audio plant, stage, and DJ desk. Tables and stools are at the sides. Pavel has installed some of these crazy monitors in style of Monty Pythons “Brazil“ on the walls above the tables. Pub and restaurant are downstairs.

The meal is delicious. They brew a good beer. Pavel Kamakin is a young man, open and always up to date. He is also an electronic musician, and knows the entire pro and cons of old cult synthies. The line up of western musicians who performed at the 16 TONS the last years is worth seeing. We have a good time until 4:00 AM. Pavel takes us back to the hotel just in the way described above. I turn on the TV watching news about the war on Iraq broadcasted non-stop by the BBC, however I feel a sensation of being uninformed at all.

Because of the time lag of two hours, I spontaneous decide to have no breakfast the next morning. I walk into the foyer and take pictures. There is a flat, lighted dome at the ceiling in the middle of the room with a large painting showing the paradise of a heroic working class liberated from the exploitation of the capitalism in a kitschy way including proud carrier of a red banner decorated with hammer and sickle.

At 13:00 o’clock sharp, Vladimir is coming into the foyer in order to take us to the club. The AUDI has no license plate, so we are stopped even two times by the cops. Vladimir pays the usual kickback. About 15 minutes later, we stop in front of the „16 Tons“ (www.16tons.ru). The club is named by a Merle Travis song dedicated to hard working miners. The song was written in 1946, but it was a hit only in 1955, when Tennessee Ernie Ford began singing it. This song is played before each concert. In former times, 16 tons weights were used as ballast for pontoon bridges. The British comedians Monty Python had often dropped 16 tons weights into their scenes, mostly onto an intelligent chap called Gumby.

I use the club-owned TAMA drum kit. Steve is working with a notebook and the ABLETON LIVE software, which is suited outstanding for our purpose. A MOTU-828 converter connected via fire-wire is stowed into 19-inch-rack together with a treble unit. Moreover, all cables and Steve’s MIDIMAN-OXYGENE-8-OCTAVE-KEYBOARD also fit in there. It is just the perfect minimal-equipment for flexible travelling. During our tour with ASHRA in Japan several years ago, he had to drag baggage by 45 pounds weight round the quarter.

Steve has put the final changes to the tracks aboard the plane. By the way, ABLETON-LIVE has got outstanding audio properties, furnished with a 24-bit-audio-signal-output. The virtual delays, reverbs, and filters are excellent. Altogether ABLETON-LIVE is a very creative music machine. The software allows improvisation of any music style that you can imagine from all sorts of heavy rhythm orgies up to chilly passages. While pre-listening, you are able to download any wave material from the memory, tuning and arranging to any track whichever. The software automatically cuts such wave files adjusting them perfectly to the timing of the composition. It is groovy! We communicate by hand (signals) on breaks that come exactly on the dot. In and out.

Over the years, I have had some trouble with problematic monitoring particularly during festivals that usually are very hectic on stage as well as backstage. Therefore, I bought the HEAR-SAFE In-Ear monitoring system half a year ago. The amplifier station HW can be carried without any problems into a hand baggage and has excellent audio quality. The station is furnished with an EQ for optimal sound, 4 separate inputs including phantom-feeding (for one or two microphones with those you are able to catch the live atmosphere in addition to the sound), stereo-inserts for effects, and an adjustable limiter to protect you from sudden level changes that would ruin your hearing for all times.

The 2 sound characteristic headphones, HS-15-2, that is put on custom-made earpieces fitted via inner ear moulding, have got a good audio quality and keep the ears absolute closed. The bass underprivileged by nature you normally get sufficient about vibrations of the environment round the stage. For that matter, HEAR-SAFE has developed a brilliant technical solution called Bass-Shaker, which is not bigger than a fist and seems to be a little bit reminiscent of loudspeaker magnets. It is usually screwed underneath drum- or keyboard thrones fed separately by a handy amplifier cutting middle and treble of the sound delivered by an output of the In-Ear station HW. The Bass-Shaker produces pure, inaudible sound waves without any noise putting user balls and belly into good vibrations.

Today is the highlight of the three-day festival. Steve and me are the headliner tonight along with two further bands. We call our mini -formation N-TRIBE. I am unable to keep the complicated Russian name of the first band in mind, a quintet with a female singer. When the band stimulates the upper floor with its reggae-like sounds, the whole place of worship is filled with an open-minded audience that seems to be a little bit shy. The guitarist is operating with notebook at the same time contributing quite a lot to the backbeat with CUBASE VST32. The second formation called ZHGLI DUB has three bandmembers who serve a pleasant electronic-jazz. The bassist is an outstanding musician. A rhythm machine delivers the groove, which sounds a little bit shallow for my taste in the long run.

On stage now, we are announced by Sergey with a long comment of which I understand nothing except our names. We feel very well from the beginning. We see that there is boundless action for a period of one and a half hour. The audience is very enthusiastic. After the performance, we are continuously talked to by many people, and overwhelmed with superlatives, which are hard to believe, but being heard with pleasure, of course. We are sitting around a table with many people, drinking vodka, talking about music and the dreadful war on Iraq , which is condemned by all present people unanimously. Vladimir, our driver, takes us back into the hotel at 3:00 AM. We have a good feeling and are sure to be involved in an astonishing event.

We have a date with Artemiy Artemiev the next morning. Artemiy is an avant-garde musician of the Russian electronic scene, producer (Electroshock Records), partner of a movie and video manufacturing company as well as distributor for audio equipment. His father is Edward Artemiev, a famous film composer in Russia who has produced a number of film music for the Russian film director Andrej Tarkowski (Solaris, Stalker, Mirror). Although I know him via e-mails and several pictures from his homepage only, it seems we had known each other for a long time.

Blue sky and brightest sun. Gammer Russia is still cold at this time of the year. We drive past the Kremlin, which we want to see in close distance, however, we get the feeling Artemiy is not willing to show us ordinary tourist’s clichés. We put off our plan the next day visiting the National Tretjakov Museum instead, a beautiful building in architectural style of 17th century. On five floors, it presents the whole magnificence of Russian painting of the last 500 years.

The next sightseeing-stop is the Pirate-Market. Artemiy tells us that tourists usually dare not to come this way. The giant market is shaped by many booths standing very close to each other at which the crowd, mostly man, is moving clumsy over slush. There are all sorts of things that make the heart beat of any computerfreak that uses telecommunication and electronic entertainment equipment. Probably, that fact would also make the heart beat of any western customs and economic investigator, if they were responsible for that area. At this place, it seems to be possible to sell illegal goods without any problems, because there are obviously no plans to take legal measures by the administration in the near future. You can easily get Cubase XT, Windows XP Professional, Reaktor, Photoshop 7.0 for less more than 10 dollars, brand-new cellphones for a fifth of their sales price listed in the western hemisphere and many more!

Now we head along and through a district in which politicians usually like to settle. Over there, between two six-storeyed apartment buildings the former president Boris Jelzin has a larger place to stay. The way through the woods to the right below is used by Vladimir Putin two times daily to reach his residence. We pass Stalin’s high-walled arbour, to which the Red Despot gave order to lay a private subway line to the distant city of Moscow. Half an hour later, we reach the summer palace of Catharine the Great, Empress of Russia with German descent, who was given this architectural piece of jewellery by one of her lovers. There is a two hundred meters long walk grown with many green plants that saved the pale aristocrat from the sunlight.

Being hungry, we stop at a colourful, one-storeyed traditional log cabin, which has already been a restaurant during the days of USSR. A delicious meal is served in that restaurant, e.g. piroggs, preserved fish, filled pasta, and shrimps. Before meal, we have vodka that makes me clumsy for hours.

Shortly before sunset, we get to one of Russia’s oldest monasteries. We walk into the small chapel. Longhaired, bearded priests are speaking monotonous verses. People cross themselves with solemn gestures, bowing to the altar several times. Deep and throaty chorales sound from a balcony. Icons from five or six centuries hang on the walls from top to bottom. Novices swing incense, filling the air with that typical scent. I have a sensation of being moved into Middle Ages.

Click for large viewCNN is reporting on successful and quick advance of the allied ground forces to Baghdad, when I drop myself tired into hotel bed. We are still going to meet Sergej Tutov. Sergej is a radio presenter and DJ and had set the ball rolling for our performance. Because he is an enthusiastic fan of electronic music, we made him obviously very happy to come as the very first representative of the genre to Russia. Tonight, he is DJ in a club.

All clubs, hotels, and public buildings are mostly guarded by several grim-looking, tough young guys dressed in black or uniform. Stepping in the club, we are examined by a man of these Russian Special Forces called Omon. The club has several storeys. Goa and Hard Trance is played. There is no difference between the local kids and their contemporaries in Berlin or London at all. Sergej is serving for the chill-out community in the basement. Shortly after midnight, we leave. We want to get up early the next morning, having more time for Kremlin and Red Square.

The restaurant of the UKRAINA is more a big lounge with huge pillars and chandeliers than a simply room for breakfast. After having breakfast, we leave the hotel and stop the next car again, shaking off some taxi drivers, who wanted 1800 rouble for driving there and back. The cultivated black Volga (the car in socialism!) is taking us for one hundred roubles (three euro) to the Red Square. We visit Lenin in his public grave, who, by the way, looks somewhat unreal, and our tourist guide tells us, which people are buried at the Kremlin’s wall. Indeed - from Juri Gagarin via Chruschtschow up to the riding general Budjonnyj - here lies the whole high society of an awful era, which killed more than 25 millions Russians. This is the historical place that I know from documentaries and media reports only.

Harald at the Red SquareUp there, behind the stone balustrade of the Lenin mausoleum panelled with red marble, they had stood all of them, the secretary-generals and party members of the USSR. I am impressed. Stalin had given order to pull down a chapel from the 14th century, which was rebuilt in the meantime, to make room for tanks during parades of the Red Army, having a free passage to the Red Square. The word Kremlin means simply: fortress. We hear that the name Red Square has nothing to do with the favourite colour of communism but named according to the predominant red colour all over the square. By the way, the meaning of the Russian words “Red” and “Beautiful” can be easily mixed up! (The Webmaster). In order to give the deep brightness of a ruby, 25 kilograms gold were built into the big red star on top of one Kremlin tower.

Steve at the Red SquareAfter an hour, we are taken back to the UKRAINA by a LADA. Artemiy is collecting us again, leading Steve and me into the Puschkin museum. Apart from Roman-Egyptian culture, there is mostly Modern Art present. Having had a stroll over a tourist-mile, on that is offered the whole historical USSR odds and ends from Lenin-shirts up to a Soviet airman helmet, we go into an American fast-food restaurant which has the usual rock ’n’ roll kitsch on the walls. It is somehow strange.

On top of the Lenin-hills, we take a quick look on the metropolis below. After that, we visit the legendary Mosfilm Studios and meet Artemiy’s father Edward, who lives with his wife in a guarded block using two apartments, one for living, one for his recording studio.

We feel honoured to meet such a famous man. His electronic studio is equipped with the latest Hi-Tech and a number of the best synthesizers . Edward is a very friendly man with a great sense of humour. We chat and talk shop, and are astonished to have a sixty-five-year-old man in front of us. I have never met someone in that age, which knows such a lot about modern recording and music equipment like Edward. Slightly drunken by the inevitable vine and vodka, we say good-bye after several hours. Artemiy takes us back to the hotel. Thank you, Artemiy, for all the lasting impressions! Steve and I are in a very good mood and visit the club “16 Tons” to eat something. Tomorrow, we have to get up early.

Written by Harald Grosskopf, March 2003

Translated by Marcel Vogel, May 2003