After stepping off the train from Moscow I had just been on for the past 12 hours, I was greeted by Zebra, who was to be my translator and host for the next five days while I was in Kazan. Zebra was dressed (and would only dress) in all black and white, with dyed white and black hair, and had adopted the name Zebra because she feels she is in fact, a zebra.
By day, Zebra works as a stock trader, dealing with money and numbers, and by night works with a small group of young people as a promotional team called [KAK?TAK] throwing raves and parties with a true DIY spirit around town. Basically, she is the shit. We drove to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, which was situated in what can only be described as a small city of project housing, with seemingly miles of apartment complexes.
There, she proceeded to cook me my real first real Russian meal. Some cabbage with mayonnaise, and some meat and potato cakes in the shape of triangles, which she joked were “witch house cakes.”
One of the first things I noticed about Kazan, (and all of Russia) was the packs of wild dogs roaming around. I saw dozens of them. They are truly wild because they breed in the streets, are born in the streets, and will die in the streets after about two years maximum. I asked if people ever try and help the dogs, but Zebra said the people don’t pay attention to them and there is no money for people to help them anyway. tThey are like social outcasts. It is very sad. Later in the day, we met up with some of her friends and spent the day walking around old town Kazan hanging out in the Kremlin, which is where the first medieval village was and is still surrounded by the original high wall.
Inside the Kremlin is a brand new mosque that is supposedly built on the spot where a mosque once stood over 1000 years ago. Kazan is about 50% muslim, with a large percentage of people being Tatars (a Turkish ethnic group).
All day everyone was excited, including myself, because I was to perform that night. Later at the club, I knew it was going to be a special night as I was walking in the front through a crowd of people and a crying girl came up to me thanking me for being there.
Some people had driven far distances from much smaller villages just to see the show. Everyone kept telling me how historical of a night it was because I was there. It was an incredible feeling.
During my set I was doing normal things I do, like climbing on speakers, throwing things into the crowd, or trying to incite people to get really crazy, which people were definitely doing.
Hit The Jump For The Rest!
The small stage was full of people and photographers and some people just going totally mental. I dont think the security guards knew what to make of the whole scene. They eventually just came up on stage and sat in chairs next to me for the rest of my performance, attempting to do their job, but not really knowing how. that was definitely a first for me.
The show was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful experience. People were coming up to me and hugging me and crying, telling me I had changed their lives forever, and that I was helping all of Russia by bringing my music to their country, something that is deeply important for the Russian youth. It was surreal, and most definitely a highlight of my young life.
Young people in Russia are highly interested in and influenced by American culture. To many, it is the “Russian dream” to just visit an American city like New York or L.A. They look at America and see a thriving epicenter of art, music, and fashion. It seems to me, that under communism, a lot of their culture was destroyed because it simply wasn’t allowed. Under the communist rule, if you were not working then there was big problems, and things like art and music that were not sanctioned by the government were not considered “work”. So when communism fell, what was left was a very confused country, searching for its cultural identity that they had been robbed of. It is very sad, but it is a reality in Russia. It is obviously a bit different now, because it is not the early 90′s, and there is now a massive younger generation that barely even has any memories of that communist state, but in a lot of ways it is still the same. Russians see American underground culture as being very important and authentic, and I think to a lot of the kids in Kazan, that I was there in their city performing was something really special. And indeed, it is not very common for an artist on a level like Pictureplane (I dont even have a record deal in Europe) to be in a Russian city like Kazan. Shoutout that great global uniting force of culture, the internet!
What really stayed with me during my time in Kazan was that the people whom I met there repeatedly told me that I felt Russian to them, and that I had and represented the much talked about “Russian soul”. From what I could gather about the term, because the kids in Kazan would use it quite frequently, is that it denotes a simple appreciation of the world around you and somewhat of a mystical understanding of the self and your fellow man. I recommend reading the Wikipedia write up about it. It is something that is very poetic and there wouldn’t really be something to compare it with here in America, the same goes for their relationship to their communist history. Zebra would tell me that the Russian Soul was dying and that Iwas helping the Russian people to remember it. It is probably one of the better compliments I have ever received.
The next night I DJed at a small private birthday party outside of town at the parents house of a dude named Timofey. Someone made a really cool time lapse video of the whole evening. I DJed outside on a patio under massive storm clouds until it began to rain and we had to quickly move everything inside. Everyone was saying I was a shaman who brought the rain. It was a beautiful moment. There was Mitsubishi ecstasy floating around, I got my nails painted, my eyes glued shut with pink acrylic paint by a “witch”, switched my Mishka eyeball tights with a girls leopard print tights, and basically just raved out with these people all night in a really old Russian home. Timofey said me Djing at his house was the best present he has ever received in his life. It was the kind of night that makes you happy to be alive.
We woke up hungover the next morning and I was treated to a traditional Russian hangover cure. 7 Meat soup and vodka shots. We went back in to the city and that night went to the club that Zebra’s boyfriend, Andrew, worked at. The show was of the cult famous Russian thrash metal band, Master, whom I had never heard of. Master have been doing it since the mid 80′s and I guess are a really big deal to some people in Russia. The crowd was full of headbanging metal dudes, who amazingly looked and acted like they lived in another decade.
I couldn’t really believe I was there watching the show. Master was great. I bought a crazy t shirt of a man in an executioner hood with an axe and a severed bloody guitar. After the show dozens of people were outside of Master’s dressing room chanting “MASTER! MASTER”! hoping to get autographs. Because Zebra’s boyfriend worked at the club, I was able to be taken in to their dressing room to meet them. As with most encounters in Russia, a bit awkward because they didnt speak much English. a very funny moment in Pictureplane history. MASTER!
The Master show was over very early and we were trying to figure out something to do. I am not very much in to going clubbing, but I knew that I wanted to go out and see some real Russian clubs. The group of people I was with had never been out clubbing in their own city, and I wanted to see what mainstream Russian culture was like.
Or “Russian trash” as Zebra would say. Russians take clubbing very serious, and things like trance and heavy electro are as ubiquitous as pop and hip-hop here in America. That night, we were rolling in a solid crew of about 6 or 7 people, so we knew we could have fun wherever we went.
Not so long after being in the club and actually having a lot of fun, it became very clear that we had to leave that specific club for reasons that I didn’t really fully understand. By this time we were quite intoxicated and were fully running around the streets of Kazan. They were showing me some buildings that had been built by “nazi slaves” after the end of WWII. we tried to go in to a few more clubs, but each time we were not allowed inside because of how we looked.
Which was not up to the clubs standards of skimpy outfits and hi-heels. Basically, in the bouncers minds, we were not cool enough to get inside. This was something I had never really experienced before and it became apperant why my Russian friends never went to these places.
Later that night, after returning home to Zebra’s apartment, I had the fine and hilarious experience of completely blowing these kids minds by creating a pipe out of an apple for them to smoke weed out of. Russian kids smoke pot out of aluminum cans and, in Moscow I even saw them smoking out of plastic bottles.
Like inhaling plastic fumes and shit. That was their first apple pipe, and I was really happy I could bestow upon them this magnificent technology.
The next day was my last day in Kazan and we spent the day walking around the city. It is such a beautiful city. I ate some really horrible Russian pizza that had eggs all over it, and we watched some stray dogs playing in the grass. That night I was taken way outside of town to the woods to a enormous chemical factory to do an interview with some local bloggers.
The factory made different kinds of plastic and had huge smoke stacks that shot out massive plumes of flame, illuminating all of the trees and surrounding area with a ghostly orange glow. The air smelled toxic and probably was. It was truly apocalyptic and scary, like no place I had ever seen. So naturally, I wanted to shoot a music video there. The resulting video was “Black Nails” which can be seen below.
My time spent in Kazan was a profoundly special experience, and I was so happy and blessed that I was given the chance to enter these people’s world and effect them positively. The next day I took the train back to Moscow to continue my adventures, and waiting for me at the train were various people I had met over the few days. Some had brought presents like glass pyramids, hand written thank you letters, and teddy bears (called Mishka’s) with punk band patches sewn in to them. I was blown away. The Russian soul is very much alive in Kazan, and I won’t ever forget it.
UP NEXT, PART 3. MOSCOW AND THE ILLUMINATED CITY- Pictureplane