Back Inc. the USSR
Russian Express? Nyeht problem, Boris! Cashed-up decadent westerners NASTY ROX INC red-nosed their way into Moscow for a dose of showbiz excess. STUART BAILIE cruised the tackle shops. Picture A J wotcha!-I’m-abroad again! BARRATT.
Nobody knows exactly why Nasty Rox Inc. are in Russia. Ask the band and they will say some vague things about how Andrew Lloyd Webber had to pull out of a residency at the Hotel Rossia. But no-on will clarify the connection which brought this particular bunch of techno-grebes so far away from their patch.
Moscow and Nasty Rox are no hugely compatible concepts. The city is stern, impoverished, and lacking in any wildness out Western friends yearn for. Nasty Rox released a debut album called ‘Cash’, a gasping, jism-spattered tribute to the pleasures of Mammon and venal excess. In Russia, the people are queuing for hours on ends for a newly-arrived consignment of ice-cream. in the freezing cold.
So vocalist Dan and his band are casing the confines of the metropolis, pockets bulging with black market roubles, and bursting to satiate their consumer instincts. Everyone has a fine range of furry hats and Russian dolls. The hotel rooms are an armoury of military badges.
John has found a fishing tackle shop, and has bought a G-clamp for tieing trout flies. John has never been fly-fishing in his life. “I’m taking it home though,” he says with much determination. “Just to remind myself of what a dickhead I can be sometimes.” In another corner there Is a decorative tea urn in the shape of a cockerel. We agree not to mention thing.
This city is the weirdest thing ever. Just four days in the place has us behaving with the finesse of used car salesmen and eating like barbarians. Life has become a funny-desperate teeter-totter of heists and harangings, as Marlboro packs, chewing gum, dollars, quids, soap, anything that is passed on to the local populace, so that they might make the life of these pampered Westerners more cheerful.
Two members of our party who were formerly caring vegetarians are presently voracious flesh fiends. They are tearing off strips of mangey salami, patting them down on the ancient bread, and they are loving this dearly. Likewise with the meat kebabs that taste of germoline — any dead animal is a mighty improvement on the pickled vegetables that are common fare here.
Another musician is eyeing up the corpulent form of the Russian promoter, and is considering a more adventurous change of eating habits. “I could eat that fat bastard,” he supposed. “I really could. I reckon I could be a cannibal, I do.
Lack of vitamins and too much bad liquor is making all this worse. Also,there has been too much time spent in this 7000 room guesthouse, a creaky, labyrinthine shit hole that a Russian friend prefers to call ‘The Apocalypse Hotel’. We are all going stir crazy.
Billed as ‘London Rock Show’, Nasty Rox and some youthful funkateers called Buzz The Joint play 12 shows in as many days, including a matinee date to make up for an evening off. In total, they reach more than 25,000 Russians with a schedule that one local refers to as ‘Socialist exploitation’. Nyeht problem, as they like t say here. Since foreign bands are unable to take money out of the country, they are paid only living expenses. All of the flights, meantime, are sponsored by Aeroflot, the state airline, so that still leaves room for a handsome slice of profiteering on this ‘cultural exchange’.
Whatever, it is not conductive to a classic rock experience. The sound system is tiny, and the bill is supplemented by a Russian comic who makes spacey sound effects with his mouth, plus an especially unfunny gentleman who does some routines with a Michael Jackson puppet.
It figures also that Nasty Rox, with their backing tapes, HM sypathies, conceptual overdrive and hip hoppity elements, might well be a tough cookie for the Russian light entertainment brigade.
On the first night, the band leave the stage, as they normally do, to a tape of The Art Of Noise’s ‘Moments In Love’ (“cause it makes us cry”). However, when the Moscovites hear this, they are not moved to such tender sentiments, and a deputation of concert-goers accuses the band of miming throughout the show, and thus being a phoney operation.
So consequently, ‘Moments’ is abandoned, and prior to each appearance, a bearded party associate called Boris steps forward and delivers a tidy lecture about the band; their influences, a thumbnail sketch of what exactly this hip hop thing might be, and the theory of backing tapes. There is a polite smattering of applause and thus the show continues.
“Don’t be expecting anything tonight,” singer Dan Fox warns the NME team as they arrive a week into the band’s residency. “This one is full of Party members, so they won’t be going wild. We aren’t allowed to wear ripped jeans, because they think that’s a mark of disrespect. And I’m not allowed to take my shirt off because they think it’s decadent.”
These is an incident when NME photographer Tony Barratt reaches in his bag for a camera, and a security man hauls him over and advises him otherwise. At first, we take this as a sign that the Main Man, Mr Gorbachov might be grooving somewhere down the hall to the fresh beats. More likely though it is just a knee-jerk reaction in a country that as known decades of overpolicing.
Sequencers start pulsing, the guitar goes blam-a-lam, and bassman Leo T measures time after his own sturdy variation of Hackney cool. Then Dan tumbles out, in a queer combination of Western biker chic and Siberian wolfskin winter-wear. He is in good form.
“GOOD EVENING, MOSCOW!!” (BLAARGHMM!) “HERE WE GO — IT’S BUTLINS TIME AGAIN!”
And then Nasty Rox peddle another surreal evening of entertainment — to middle-aged couples wearing their best supper club outfits, and a bunch of increasingly confused teenagers. Within minutes, the older types are making their way to the exits, clearly disturbed by this screeching pantomime. Half an hour into the show and two thirds of the seats are empty, but more importantly , the younger Russians are now feeling less inhibited, and move to the front of the stage.
“THIS ONE’S CALLED THE THEME FROM CROSSROADS’ — IT’S TIME TO RIP UP THE F***IN SEATS!!’
Guitarist John is leaping off the drum riser and playing lead breaks with his teeth, which is hugely funny. Continue »
“NO WAY!” says Nasty Rox. “YOU’LL BE SO LUCKY. THIS ONE IS CALLED ‘SEND THE LIGHTING MAN TO SIERIA’…”
And the mayhem resumes. By now, some Russians have climbed onto the stage, and are dancing to the side of Leo and Dan. It looks as though they might be able to transcend the terrible limitations of this night, and make this a decent rock show.
Boris, our party man, has different ideas. He walks out from stage left , a small, unspectacular man, with his palm held out like Moses The Lawgiver. Without even acknowledging the band he moves towards the teenagers, who are already retreating, and pushes the rest back down into the stalls. The authority of this man is immense.
For Dan, who has spent most of the night trying to get the crowd involved, this despotic action is a terrible blow. Enraged, and just a little tearful, Dan makes his own appeal to the audience.
“COME BACK! COME BACK UP! DON’T LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY!!”
The show ends on a greatly subdued tone, and Dan’s pleas for revolution are not heeded. Afterwards, we take stock, and note that while on theatre seat has been trashed, and the supervisory powers are not pleased, the advances made have not been massive. State Communism will survive this particular youthquake —
On our last at the ‘Peking’ restaurant, we try to reassemble our frazzled nervous system, as see if we can measure Moscow up against the situation in other strange parts. Nasty Rox remember a recent visit to Tokyo, and they are unanimous about which town was the most pleasureable.
John: “In Japan, it was like two in the morning, and you felt you were in Bladerunner, you know; steam coming out of the streets, neon everywhere, and everything was open. It was wild; you could buy a Comme Des Garçons suit at eleven at night if you wanted to.”
Dan: “F***ing incredible. We spent so much money. It’s the opposite to here, ‘cause all you want to do in Japan is spend. Here you try to, but there’s nothing you f***ing want. After you’ve got your fiftieth Russian doll, your furry hat and your bust of Lenin, what do you do here?
“The positive thing is that it’s really brought us down a level, in that I’m really relieved that I live in a consume society. It’s an awful thing to say, but I love having the choice. If I have no soap, I go to the corner shop and buy some. These people cannot buy soap.”
John: “You know a lot more about what’s going on in the West as well — the press has more freedom. Over here, they don’t know about AIDS — they can’t get condoms — but it’s a really big problem.”
Dan: “I met this hooker, and I was doing my ‘Save a Russian’ trip, and I said ‘AIDS, blah blah blah…’ And she said Nyeht problem. And I said YES, there is a BIG problem. They view it as a Western thing — these bad people who sleep with everyone.
“The first method of birth control here is an abortion — that’s freaky!”
John: “They’re terrified of anything they see as Western decadence; like taking your shirt off on stage is a sexual gesture — to get those girlies excited. They don’t like it as all…”
“It’s terrible,” Dan reckons mournfully. “It’s gonna be very hard for us to convey all this to people in England — they’re gonna thing that we’re just bastards. Until they get over here, and in two or three days, they’d be just the same.
“It’s great living in London; nobody wants to speak to you. I can’t wait to go on the tube, when no-one wants to look at me or speak to me, or change any money… they just want to get out of my way.”Continue »
Our journey back is an emotional one. The Aeroflot plane is a final encounter with Russia, and it sums up everything that is wrong with the place — stupid, functional design, nauseating food, and stewardesses who are sad-faced and unhelpful. We gladly quit this vomitey hulk.
Heathrow, for all its faults, looks peachy-good. Many people are smiling, nobody is trying to force dodgy currency deals on us, and there are consumer durables everywhere. Then we notice the a good number of the airport officials are wearing red, plastic noses, in honour of some goofy occasion that we dimly remember. And we laugh hysterically once more, realising that Old Blighty is, in truth, a fairly decent corner of the globe.
Nyeht problem, we agree, giggling crazily.