Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beyond the Farthest Shore

This is a picture that was in the Vladivostok album; I've cut it down to just the poster at full resolution (click, duh) to take a look at what DIY metal is like at the end of the world.

You can pick out the names of the Vladivostok bands pretty easily -- Genom is in readily intelligible Roman letters, and Khaos Labyrinth is the only one of the five with a metal-archives page.  The others are a little more interesting.  Artyom (the flyer's kind of misspelled, or the promoter has an accent), S.V.D.'s hometown, is where the Vladivostok airport is located, and Arsenyev is also in Primorskiy Krai, so Galirad doesn't have that far to go either.

Prakh Imperiy, though, are coming all the way from Blagoveshchensk in Amur Oblast.  This is 1500 kilometers away, reckoned at a 17-hour drive assuming all the roads are passable -- never a sure thing in Russia -- and probably longer by rail.  It's about as far away as Byelogorsk, which as noted is nearly a full day's train ride (24 hours) from Vladivostok.  This is a long damn way to go for a gig.  Outside the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic, there is nothing in North America that is 17 hours, minimum, away from a major city.

The band might be on tour, you say.  Well, sure.  They could play a gig in Khabarovsk on one leg, play in Vladi, and then come back through Harbin, assuming that the Chinese and Russian border authorities were not as completely mental as they are about making crossing as painful as possible for anyone whose pockets aren't overflowing.  These are the only settlements with potentially nontrivial concentrations of metalheads.  A three-date tour, with an 8-hour minimum required drive between every stop, in the kinds of vehicles widely available in the Russian Far East, contending with Russian traffic norms and the Russian highway system.  You'll have bands beating down the walls to sign up for that.

The more logical conclusion is that the band is down for a one-off, traveling light, borrowing other people's gear, and will go back the way they came.  For a one-off gig with a $9 cover.  The club is on last.fm with a fairly meager history; looked at through that lens, it looks like the "Legion Fest" is from the same roughly-semiannual mold as Bobfest, and similarly gathers mostly-local bands.  It's just that "mostly-local" has a different definition in the DV -- Blagoveshchensk is relatively close to Vladivostok in the same way that Eugene, Oregon is relatively close to Phoenix, Arizona: they are still in the same country, and on the same general side of the continent.

It's also worthwhile to look at the stylistic mix on offer on the bill, and in the scene via FVRC.ru.  The diversity is not, I suspect, as much "we want to make a festival, so we'll book one of every kind of band", as "these are the five bands we could get on the same day we got the club".  In more remote parts of the world, people will go to a show no matter who's playing, because live metal does not happen just all the time the way it does in areas with more population density, better finances, and/or better transport links.  Even just researching this, and recalling the time spent in Vladi, it was an eyes-bug-out moment to see the flyer for Katalepsy headlining a grind bill back in March.  Seriously, Katalepsy -- a good band, but no one's idea of the best slam band ever, or "they're headlining, must go" -- unless you live at the ends of the earth and they are coming all the way out from Moscow, which never happens.  Metalheads are not abstractly better or more numerous per unit population at the ends of the earth; it's just that ALL of them go out to ALL the shows, because shows are rare, and they tend to go crazier, again because the opportunities to thrash out are more limited.

The intent of this piece is not to run down Vladivostok, or anyone doing the hard work to make DIY metal go in the Russian Far East.  In an ideal world, this would not be "the ends of the earth", but rather part of a vibrant cross-border scene with northeast China, the way Vermont usually looks to Montreal, and an essential stop for any bands coming from European Russia or the EU heading to Japan.  It's just that the Russian and Chinese border controls are not really set up for that right now, and it's pretty hard to get farther from Moscow, which is still the cultural center of the Russian Federation.  This, though, will hopefully a) help advertise the scene to a slightly wider audience, and b) maybe clue in some of the people in the Boston area, this interblag's primary musical catchment area, that there are worse things than having to drive to Providence occasionally to see a show every other week.  Vladivostok has a well alive metal scene.  Boston's is certainly to fuck not dying because the police are squeezing a couple venues and the national bands are all playing Euro fests at the moment.

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