Is tropical is a British three-piece band made up of Gary Barber, Dominic Apa and Simon Milner, whose debut album, Native To, came out this past June. In 2010, they booked a one-way flight to Moscow to play the Avant Fest. Here, Simon Milner explains what happened.
We landed in the Moscow airport without a visa or a return ticket. The promoter of the festival we were playing, the Avant Fest, said he'd pay for our return trip after he got the money from the show. We were a little worried about this setup, but we're used to winging it. Our taxi driver took us straight from the airport to the festival grounds, an abandoned space station, which was not too far from the center of the city. The festival was sponsored by a cigarette company, and they had hired girls to walk around handing out free smokes -- in packs, or just a single if you didn't fancy carrying a whole pack.
These were the days, back in 2010, before we had a soundman, so we had to use the festival's crew. Everything was fine until the third song when all the monitor speakers blew and we discovered that the sound guy didn't speak a word of English. So we stood on the stage shouting down the mic, "Can someone tell the soundman the monitors have blown?" All we heard back was the reply: "Welcome to Russia."
After our horrible show we watched The Horrors play in an adjacent warehouse. There were a few Horrorettes in the crowd, one of which I ended up taking a bubble bath with a few hours later.
At the end of the night, we went around and scooped all the dropped cigarettes off the floor (about two carrier bags full) and invited everyone to our apartment, not far from Red Square. After running out of really cheap -- but good -- vodka, we went down to the booze shop at about six in the morning. There were about ten of us in a four-person lift and we ended up getting stuck. Gary passed out and though we tried laughing it off, panic began to creep in. After a few hours, Russian paramilitary cops shanked the door open with a crowbar and a Kalashnikov, and made us lie on the ground. Luckily, we didn't get kicked out.
A couple of peeps went off for a "wander," but were too stupid to do the usual Is Tropical trick of writing the hotel information on their bodies with Sharpies. So Dom and Gary got lost and ended up wandering around for 36 hours trying in vain to find the apartment. It was a good way for them to explore the metro system, drowning their sorrows with trampy, low quality booze and trying to decipher the Cyrillic hieroglyphics that taunted them with their unfamiliarity. At one point, Dom accidentally switched off the light of some government agency board meeting on his way out of the toilet he had found by creeping past the guards. They had to leave sharply, a haggard police dog snapping at their heels. Gary was drunk and tried to explain to a questioning police officer that he was English by handing over his bank card, which they thought was a bribe. Then by sheer chance, a kid who had seen us play at the festival ran into them, and managed to talk the officer out of detaining Gary. He explained that they shouldn't be drinking with tramps in the park and returned them to the apartment.
In Moscow, anyone with a car is a taxi driver. No joke. On the way home from work if someone flags you down, you pull over and give them a ride for a few bucks. It's a good way to get about and some cars are really funny fucked-up bangers. One time we forgot to shut the passenger door when leaving so the driver just drove it into a lamppost to close it.
For the next three nights we invited everyone who we'd met at the festival to our place because we had zero money to drink out at a bar, and Moscow is expensive. So each night we would have a different group of Russians over and of course the promoter of the festival, Igor, became a good friend of ours. Igor brought us a five-liter bottle of tequila that had a swinging mechanism for easy pour and others would bring their favorite Russian liquors to prove that their sauce was the best in the world.
One night, after drinking heavily at the apartment and high on Russian life, Gary and I went for a swim in the Moskva River, something that we were told not to do because of the dirtiness. I was smart and tried to keep my head above water. Gary just ran and back-flipped in, which ended in runny shits for a while and suspected hepatitis. Afterwards, I fell into a post and ripped my hand open, cleaned the wound with vodka and a few hours later went to a kids' hospital with Nat, our unofficial tour guide and "trip wife," who cleaned and cooked for us our whole stay. She blagged it and a Russian doctor sewed me up while talking on the phone with her husband.
Luckily the promoter managed to get us a cheap return ticket (do not fly Aeroflot, they have rubber chicken tikka feta cabbage salads that taste like dog food) back to London. Our flight was super early so when we packed we had to ask all the drunks in our apartment to leave. One guy that looked super cool, but was hanging around after just having finishing the bottle of tequila, shouted something then fell straight on his face. Everyone went quiet and a pool of blood gathered around his head. His friend said in a monotone voice, "Now you've killed a Russian man," and proceeded to grab him by his feet and drag him out of the room, leaving a trail of blood from his head. Nat quickly followed them with a mop. That was our cue to leave.
We'll be posting more pieces from our Winter Issue travel feature through out the week. You can read about Sasha Grey's trip to Thailand and Germany here, Twilight star Jackson Rathbone's account of being robbed in San Francisco here, Momofuku Milk pastry chef Christina Tosi's 10 traveling rules here and designer Nicola Formichetti's love letter to Ibiza here.