Solex in Russia 10-3/6-2002

What is there to say about a 4 day trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg? 'Not much', you'd say, right?

Right 'cause we only played two shows, one at b2 in Moscow and one at the Red Club in Saint Petersburg, and since "a club is a club" there's not much to tell.

Wrong 'cause Russia is not Holland, England or the US (even though it's quite the same). So for all of you that might go to Russia one day, I have some tips and tricks on how to cope with vodka, Russian citizens, policemen, Russian drum stools and Tupolev Planes. Read on...

more solex at eleven

1-Learn Russian:
In contrast to most people I met before in my life, the Russians are very quiet. They read heavy stuff or a newspaper, they have quiet conversations, just sit on a park bench or walk quietly around. Usually they operate in couples. They talk but don't shout. They wear plain clothes; nobody would wear a yellow ski-jack or loud pants...
People in shops or bars don't speak English. Even some of the folks who were in our company didn't speak a single word English. We were picked up at the airport by Irina, one of the promoters, who spoke English pretty good. She brought another driver, and so the four of us left in two cars. Elisabeth, Miguel and Geert were with Irina. Robert and all luggage were with the other guy that didn't speak a single word English. The main road through the city towards the center is 8 lanes wide. Skodas and Ladas everywhere. And so are Coca Cola and McDonalds. Also a lot of western European cars. They usually have the original stickers of the countries where they were stolen. After one and a half hour we arrive at the club: Robert and the driver guy didn't speak at all.

learn russia

2-If you like to play a vintage drum kit, bring one:
Since we flew to Russia and only played two shows, we didn't bring a lot of gear. Both nights Geert had good rented amps. In Saint Petersburg he even had an amazing Fender. Also the sound systems were nice. But it seemed impossible to get a vintage drum kit. One night Robert played an 80's Pearl, the other night an 80's Yamaha. Also renting a drum stool seemed impossible, since there was a wooden Soviet chair placed behind the drums. The top of a broken bar stool that was in the garbage bin, brought the chair to the desired height.

drum stool

3-The deal with vodka:
Vodka is great stuff. The Russians drink it all the time and let's face it, we would do the same if we had all these great vodkas. But in Russia a good bottle of vodka never comes alone. After the show in Moscow we had a bottle of Crystal vodka waiting in our dressing room. Since some people from Amsterdam came to the show, we invited them to the dressing room. There were also the Russian promoters and the journalist that tipped the promoters about Solex. That journalist, by the way, is in Moscow generally known as 'the Russian John Peel', even they probably don't even know who the English John Peel is. So we all had some shots of vodka, but since our plane for Saint Petersburg would leave rather early we kept it to "some".
The next night however, after the show we finished the first bottle in 10 minutes and the second bottle in the next half hour. Bottles 3,4,5 and 6 were finished during the next couple of hours at some bar in a basement. In that bar they celebrate New Year's every night at midnight. We missed the great celebration, but when we arrived at 2am, everybody was very drunk. I believe we left the bar at 5am. For snacks we had sour garlic, garlic grass, pancakes with caviar and more funny stuff. Even though later that night we had one "thrower upper", we all brought Crystal vodka back to Holland.


4-Great sites, but bring a coat:
The buildings in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg are huge. And amazing as well. After soundcheck in Moscow we went into the city to see the Bolshoi and the Red Square. The Red Square is huge. I'd think about four times Amsterdam's Dam square. And since it's on top of a hill, it's freezing cold. Even the temperature was a reasonable 6 degrees celsius. it felt like it was minus ten.
Because of that cold outside, it's very hot everywhere inside. Even those Ladas are like little driving saunas. We stayed at the Ukrain hotel (one of six identical beautiful buildings built by Lenin) that had an amazing and expensive interior. But also these rooms were extremely warm.

caviar pancakes

5-Many cops and they steal your money:
So after we drank bottle of vodka no. 3 to 6 that night we left the bar and said goodnight to our guides and promoters and left for our apartment (that looked by the way very much like the set of Married With Children). It was only a ten minute walk, but it was the first walk on our own. We were stopped by two cops and had to show our passports. They were especially very interested in Robert and Elisabeth, who were frisked. 'What's that?' cop number one asked out loud in English as stupid as possible, and handed the other both Robert's as Elisabeth' wallet.
'Uhhh....', the other one replied with even more stupidity and went through the wallets. Even we were all drunk, we all kept the wallets in clear view. The guy must have been a magician, cause the next day we found out that 500 bucks were missing.
It seemed this was quite normal (not that they hit the jackpot every night at 5pm). Cars get stopped all the time by cops. Drivers have to show their passport and bribe their way out even though they probably did nothing wrong. You can see it as some form of tax, since Russians hardly pay tax in another way.

money for nothing ...

6-Avoid a hangover if you plan to go to the Hermitage:
The night after the '6 bottles of vodka on the wall' we had a good night sleep. At 1pm we were picked up by Natasha, our guide for that day. First we went to some great indoor market where they sold the most beautiful grapes, fish, vegetables and cuts of meat. Then we walked through the center, were pushed in some cars with more Russians and went to the Hermitage. We were told it takes about ten years (10!) of 8 hours a day walks through the museum to see everything. We were very hung over, and late, so we saw very little. A shame, 'cause the rooms and the art are amazing. We saw four van Goghs. The first Dutch word we were able to read. Well, apart from Solex.

geert en miguel @ hermitage

7-Tupolev: just think it's a bus with a pretty bad driver:
So we flew from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and back, and since these national flights are only done by Russian companies, we had the honor to fly a Tupolev. The interior of the plane looks like a hip lounge club, but that's because it was done in the 60s. And since the motors are on the tail of the plane and not under the wings the plane leans backward. Because of that, the plane makes a lot of noise and it becomes really scary when you DON'T hear the noise. It's like the guy is flying a stick gear. To top it off the plane zig-zags through the air. As if the pilot just had some vodka and...ahhh I don't even wanna think about it.

geert plus his m16

8-Pay in roebels:
The price of a ticket for the Hermitage is 25 Euro/Dollarcents for locals (Robert and Elisabeth looked probably Russian enough to actually enter on Russian tickets, Geert and Miguel didn't). The tourist actually pays 10 dollars. A stupid tourist pays 10 dollars, a clever one pays in roebels and saves 5 bucks. It seems they don't have the conversion rate right or something. The same happened at the airport on our way back to Holland where we spent our last roebels on bottles of vodka: we paid far less then the price tag in dollars.

meet the german sumo team

9-Support your local pirates:
Our day off in Saint Petersburg started with a visit to the local record store. In the front room Russian cd's from Russian bands. These cost about two dollars. In the backroom is the Pirat section, where you can buy all the stuff you ever wanted for a dollar. Illegal copies on actual cd's (not those recordables) and a cute copy of the original artwork. Sometimes you they made their own 'best of' release of some artist. Or a non existing live record. Their bestseller at the moment was some new British Portishead soundalike, that they ripped from the internet. They believed it was Portishead and made the artwork themselves. The titled the record: 'the New Portishead'.