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rdj - britronica festival, moscow, 1994

Guest margaret thatcher

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Guest margaret thatcher

This is the article chronicling the Britronica festival in

Moscow, which featured Ultramarine, Seefeel, Bark Psychosis, Autechre,

Banco De Gaia and Reload performing (among others), and Richard James,

Alex Patterson and Paul Oakenfold among DJ's.

It is from the New Musical Express and is reprinted without permission.




by Rupert Howe


"Only a revolutionare dictatorship supported by the vast majority of

people can be at all durable."

--VI Lenin


"What?" - Richard D. James


It's Thursday April 14 and we're somewhere around Moscow on the

edge of nowhere when the weirdness begins to take hold. Straight off

Aeroflot and into full-on, no-holds barred disorientation.

The Aphex Twin is ready to puke; Alex Patterson is telling him -

for no particular reason - that his music will only be appreciated in 15

to 20 years time; the ground staff at the airport want $50 before they'll

get Ultramarine's gear off the plane. Shit.

Then we're on a coach, 60 of us in varying states of disrepair.

The driver keeps stopping, for no apparent reason, at the side of the

road. On one side there are unbroken rows of tower blocks with tiny

squares of light. On the other, darkness.

After a time we veer suddenly off the unmarked tarmac that passes

for motorway and onto what feels like a potholed farm track. Maybe we've

all been kidnapped and are being taken to some secret rendezvous. No, no.

Stop it. Tell yourself: Everything will be OK.

We're in Russia for Britronica, an ambient-techno/electronic

music festival organised by British promoter NIck HObbs and greying

Russian music guru Artem Troitsky. The basic idea is to show young

Muscovites that there is life in the contemporary music scene beyond FM

rock and MTV, beyond the Nirvana and Sam Fox bootlegs stacked up in the

kiosks which line the dirty streets as constant reminders of the

burgeoning cult of 'free enterprise' - a relaxation on controls of sale

which has had some obvious and disastrous results. Not the least of these

is the growing power of the Russian mafia.

In less than a century, Russia has moved from chaos, through

rigidly enforced dictatorship, and back into chaos. In a recent poll for

the _Moscow Times_, people were asked who they thought was in control of

their country. The largest proportion, 24 percent, plumped for the mafia;

Yeltsin managed a mere 14 percent. It's the harsh reality of Mao's old

adage about power growing out of the barrel of a gun.

We drop off the band's gear at the hotel and most of us travel on

to a reception for Britronica being held at a central club called

Manhattan Express. It's in an anteroom of one of Moscow's largest

Western-style hotels, situated just off Red Square. There's a camera crew

outside filming us as we get off the bus. Inside it looks like any other

London/New York/Tokyo rip-off joint, one of those places that exists for

one purpose only: money.

And it's not exactly the techno underground either, since the

people inside are almost entirely mafioso in ill-fitting suits and

prostitutes in their hard-currency designer glad-rags. It costs $40 to

get in, so there aren't many punters around - who knows what they'll make

of Banco De Gaia, who are supposed to play later in the evening? The rest

of us don't bother to hang around and find out; half-an-hour after we

arrive, everyone is back on the bus.




In the grey morning light we take stock of our surroundings. The

hotel is basically an old Communist Party conference centre on the

outskirts of Moscow, a run-down collection of high-rise buildings parked

between two expanses of scrubby, litter strewn wasteland. At the end of

the road outside the gates is a Metro station surrounded by kisoks

selling vodka, Snickers bars, cheap lighters, cigarettes, keyrings, copies

of _Penthouse_ and German heavy metal magazines. Old women sell carrier

bags to those with no means of carting off their purchases; old men drink

vodka straight from the bottle; and kids saunter around showing off their

Metallica T-shirts. This is the face of late-20th Century Russia

After breakfast we discover that Richard 'Aphex Twin' James has

been taken to hospital. Travellers beware: if you start running a

temperature in Russia they'll take you in as a matter of course. We're

told he's being held at Hospital Number One. Trouble is, no-one seems to

know exactly where it is.

The rest of the crew head off for the Youth Palace, the main

concert venue and a classic piece of lumpen Soviet architecture which

contains an 1,800 seat concert hall where Youth Party members used to be

herded to offer up their allegiance to the State. At the afternoon

technical meeting everyone agrees it's a great venue, decorated with fake

marble, gold trim and heavy Revolutionary-style stage curtains.

Across town at a club called Pilot, major problems are emerging.

Ultramarine and Autechre are supposed to play there that night, only the

necessary PA equipment hasn't turned up and no-one seems to know when,

ior even if, it will arrive at all.

It's almost showtime at the Youth Palace, but Pilot remains in

silence. It's emerging that Sasha, the dark-haired, chain-smoking, ageing

Nureyev-alike promoter, is losing control of the situation. He's sent

Alex Patterson over to DJ at jet another club, called Jump. only for him

to arrive, walk down endless, badly-lit corridors and stand around for

two hours in a converted sports hall waiting for anyone to turn up. Even

when they do there's only 200 of them and the capacity exceeds 1,000.

Toby Marks(Banco De Gaia) is the next victim. AFter the fiasco of

the Manhattan Express 'reception' he finds himself roped in to play an

unsheduled gig alongside Alex. He's knackered, has had hardly anything to

eat and doesn't relish the thought of going on in a half-empty venue.

"If this was England I'd have walked long ago, but ovbiously

you want to play to the people here if you possibly can," he muses. "I had

a real go at Sasha last night, though it's difficult trying to have an

argument through an interpreter. You have to talk slowly when all you

really want to do is scream, 'You fucking bastard!'"

Dreadzone, meanwhile, have been taking it all in their stride.

Being one of the only dreads in town, bass-player Leo has attracted a

certain amount of curious attention. A girl he met at Manhattan Express

took him and keyboard player Dan Donovan along to an art 'happening' at

the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, which involved a guy dropping his trousers

in front of a painting by Van Gogh, crouching down and shitting into his


Back at the Youth Palace they dub it up for the 150-strong crowd,

who shout back their appreciation in the echoing hall. One wired Russian

guy is so moved that he passes one of our entourage a little package and

insists that it be given to Leo. Inside are five meticulously rolled

joints, his gesture of appreciation.

Most of the Russian kids we meet are similarly generous with what

they have, even if in practice they have very little. DJ Eric from Moscow

has lent his precious Technics turntables for use at the Youth Palace;

Alexei from St. Petersburg gives out little handfuls of dried mushrooms.

Eugene and Artur (also from St. Petersburg) want to start up a record

shop and label, only they don't have any money and the one means of

getting it, going in with the mafia, would put them right in over their

heads. and Vadim, who works on the Estonian national radio station in

Tallinn, DJ's on tape decks (there aren't any turntables to be had),

reads NME in the library at the British Council and spends every spare

penny (much to the chagrin of his hard-pressed mum) on the few records

which filter over from the West. He hands out a few tapes made up in the

Baltic by a guy called Marko Sula, sticks it on a rewired record player

and reel-to-reel tape deck. "It's got some really weird noises on it,"

comments Richard James, in recognition of its value. "Maybe I'll sign it

up for Rephlex."

Over at the Pilot there's no gig. Paul Oakenfold has been kicked

off the decks for not playing commercial tracks, so the Russian DJ takes

over and slips on the theme from _The Crying Game_.

As the mafia and their molls start pairing off to smooch on the

dancefloor, questions like "Why are we here?" are asked. But when Julian

Liberator (a Megadog regular from the Bedlam sound system posse) is

finally allowed to take over, clearing the floor for the Brits with one

sweep of The Rising Sons' burbling 'Afghan Acid', the question is turned

around: "What are *they* doing here?"

The main reason, of course, is money. In Moscow, life and vodka

are cheap; everything else you have to pay for. Tickets for the Youth

Palace cost around ten quid. Those who want to go on to one of the clubs

have to pay again. For most of the kids this is more than they'd have

spare in a month. The result: a club audience of rich assholes who'd

rather stumble around drunkenly to Culture Beat than really get their

rocks off.

Ian from Ultramarine is understandably disappointed. "It's the

sort of bill you could take anywhere in the world and have a success

with, but here there was also the chance to open people's ears and minds

a bit. So it's a shame it had to fall through because of a few missing

wires and boxes."

All, however, is not lost.




This is the big day. If nothing goes right now then the whole

thing is off. A bizarre arrangement has been worked out where by the

electronic bands at the Youth Palace will play last so that the drum kit

can be driven over to Pilot for Ultramarine. A nervous Sasha, who looks

like he's been down on his knees all night praying this works out, lights

another cigarette. Pilot is, naturally, run by the mafia, who paid him

for the right to hve the bands and DJ's play at their club. If he goes

any deeper in hock to them he could wind up in the Moskva River with

concrete blocks on his feet.

The other news is that Richard James is out of hospital. So, what

was it like? Did they give you any weird drugs?

"Yeah," comes the slurred reply. "It was really strange. Stranger than

acid. I'm still seeing double now."

Apparently they'd locked him in a room on his own, thinking he'd

infect the whole place if they let him wander around. There were bars on

the window, so no chance of escape that way. He'd just have to get well.

And to help him, the doctors would stride in, turn him over and stick a

needle in his arse.

The gig at the Youth Palace that night is a revelation. More

people have shown up than for the Friday show, word-of-mouth here proving

stronger than advertising, and they're not disappointed. Seefeel play the

gig of their careers, with the frustrations of the last few days

(guitarist Mark Clifford is a vegan - not a good position to be in in a

country where fresh fruit and vegetables are both scarce and wildly

expensive) paying off in a mind-warping display of sonic pyrotechincs.

"Typical that it had to be in Moscow in front of 300 people," he

opines later. But the crowd love every spiralling second of it,

especially the moments when Darren hoists his bass above his head and

stomps around the stage wearing an open-mouthed grimace of primal intensity.

Bark Psychosis pull off a similar feat, even managing to get a

few of the less hardy souls cowering behind their seats during their

brutal, white-noise opening. What these people can't see, however is the

developing drama backstage, where Richard, Ultramarine's tour manager,

has appeared looking like he's been led on one wild goose chase too many.

The upshot is that if the drum kit (currently onstage with Bark

Psychosis) isn't at the Pilot in two hours there won't be anly gig

happening there, period.

Around 1am, Ultramarine finally come on, and for a while it looks

as if everything is going to plan. Their easy-paced grooves go down well

with the dressed-up clientele (just as Banco De Gaia's had earlier at the

Youth Palace); the trouble starts once they've come offstage and Bruce

Gilbert starts to DJ. Suicide are not these punters' preferred choice of

Saturday night listening. Wires aren't only getting crossed now, they're

tying up in knots.

The Russian DJ comes over and tells Bruce enough is enough, then

watched hawkishly as Richard James puts on a record. Finally he's doing

what he's flown 2000-odd miles to do and, as a few inoffensive, vaguely

acidic noises are released from the PA, it looks as if we might have a

party on our hands. The management, however, have other ideas. A pair of

soldiers appear, Richard is manhandled from behind the turntables and the

Russian guy puts on East 17.

This news is transmitted upstairs to the dressing room. Alex

Patterson grabs his record box and barrels downstairs. As he approaches

the DJ booth more soldiers appear and start jostling him away. Being no

stranger to a bit of argy-bargy (he is a Chelsea supporter, after all),

Alex tells the guy to fuck off. The guy won't back down. Alex looks him

right in the eye. "Fuck you," he says. "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you..."

The DJ fades in 'The Crying Game' again. Our intrepid

photographer tries to take a picture. Things go rapidly from bad to very

bad indeed.

It transpires that you're not allowed to take pictures of the

Russian Army. They don't like it. Especially not if they're jumped-up

squaddies hired as security by the mafia. The camera is passed back to

Paul from Ultramarine, who then hides it under a coat. Alex, making good

use of the distraction, picks up his record box and storms back up to the

dressing room.

Bruce is up there shaking his head and looking apologetic. "I'm

sorry Alex, this is all my fault."

"No,no. Come on, what the fuck are we here for?" Good question, Alex.

Someone's hammering on the door. A soldier walks in looking for

the camera. Silence, the way it always is when extreme antagonism's in

the air. It seems, though, that the possibility of there being blood on

the floor has been averted. One of the interpreters does some quick

talking and the soldier leaves. Time to crack another bottle of vodka and

wait for the coach.

Two hours later it arrives. Alex has donned a head-band and,

looking for all the world like a stocky version of the _Beano's_ Little

Plum, is handing out various atricles of Orb merchandise to various

delighted Russians. We down the last of our drinks and prepare for a

swift exit.

It's left for Paul from Ultramarine to deliver the final blow.

While their tour manager distracts the DJ's attention, he moves along the

back of the sound system pulling out all the connecting wires. With a

resounding pop! he finds the power cord, the sound in the club goes dead

and they dash for the coach pursued by an irate army crew, an equally

irate management and a gaggle of bemused onlookers. Smart.

We travel back to the hotel buzzing. A few of us go up to Rob

from Autechre's room to watch his TV throw hallucinogenic patterns up on

the screen. "It's techno, this telly," he says, admiringly. Apparently

they do this all the time at home in Manchester, in various altered

states of consciousness.

Around 6am, having drunk all there is to drink and talked out the

strangeness of the earlier confrontations, we head for our rooms to sleep.




Next morning the strangeness is still there. People are beginning

to go fuzzy at the edges. There's semi-humourous talk of a giant snake

following people around on the Metro. Character traits are changing - Tom

from Reload(whose partner Mark is the second person on the trip to be

hospitalised - no more gigs for them) has grown almost completely into

Baron Munchausen and twists the ends of his gravity-defying moustache

with renewed vigor. Words like 'weird' begin to seem pathetically


That night's gig at Pilot is written off. Bark Psychosis are

banned for being "too strange" and Toby doesn't want to risk Banco De

Gaia there after the previous night's fracas. The Youth Palace shows,

last minute hitches permitting, will go ahead as planned.

Autechre decide they're taking no prisoners. They come on in

near-total darkness and let the machines do the talking, the hard-edged

electronic rattles and squeaks smoothed out by rolling electro-style

beats. Lasers mounted behind the stage swing into life and start drawing

spirograph patterns on the darkened back wall; people climb down into the

camera pit in front of the stage and start flailing around. At just the

right moment, madness has arrived.

Ultramarine manage to increase the Russian's ecstasy to the point

where the venue's security guards position themselves on either side of

the stage and start swinging their batons. Most of the crew retire to the

dressing room for a bottle or two of 2 pound Russian champagne and a

chance to relax. This is denied by Artem Troitsky, who calls an impromptu

'conference' in the hallway to inform us that a keyboard has been taken

hostage by the stage electricians, understandably miffed at not being

paid. The offending item is later 'stolen' back out of the promoter's

car. Confusion reigns.

Standing outside the Youth Palace Richard James points to his

record box and says "There's bits of dead people in there. Look." He

opens the clasps so it falls open to the night air. There's nothing in it

but records. "Smell it," he insists. "It smells of dead people."

It does smell vaguely musty, like it's been stored in a cellar.

Is that what bits of dead people kept in a record box smell like? Nobody

knows, including Richard probably. He's warmed to the task though. By the

time we get on the bus he's talking dirty, telling us how he shagged his

mum and killed her. Then he remarks that it'd be smart if it plane

crashed on the way back "'cos i'd be the only one to survive and then i

could eat your limbs". He's smiling now.

It's suggested that we go back to the Pilot, where the management

want to apologise and offer us a banquet. The general consensus is that

if we went back to the Pilot we'd risk getting ourselves into some very

deep sewerage.

Eventually we make it back to the hotel and set up camp in a

lounge on the 17th floor. More drink is served. Suddenly one of the

red-cushioned chairs appears on the balcony. Members of Seefeel, BArk

Psychosis and Ultramarine are preparing it for a crash landing. Everyone

knows it's going over the edge, it's just another one of those inevitable

things, like gravity or not being able to find a post office in Moscow.

We all just stand there as it plummets. It's surprising how little sound

a chair makes hitting the ground when you're standing on the 17th floor.

Some more good ideas emerge - looking down the lift shafts,

trying to get out on the roof - under the spell of Russian vodka

everything has to be explored. The party doesn't break up until around

8.30am. We've gone this far, so why stop now?




Time to go. Sasha has reappeared despite one of the

Russian-English liaison team's assureances that he would "dissappear into

thin air" as a result of his dealings with the mafia. In a world where

all certainties have collapsed, where the only things that can offer any

form of security are US dollars, it's hard to hold out much hope for his

long-term safety.

On the plane home there's a sense of relief tinged with

disappointment. It's in the bag, evryone achieved more or less what they

set out to achieve, but as Nick Hobbs points out, "No-one out there will

try anything like this again for a very long time."

And that's not only their loss, but ours.

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Guest moo duck

yeah, i have scans of it with pretty funny pic of RDJ (paste funny joke) at Sean Booth.

there was also stupidistic interview where he questioned about authentic folk and pills, it's on tube.

i can't believe this is not fucking jazz!

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