In addition to being a pioneering
influence in electronic music, Nitzer Ebb blazed a trail as one of the
first foreign electronic bands to tour in the former Soviet Union – in
Russia and Belarus. As part of the Ebbhead tour in 1992, Nitzer Ebb
travelled to the central Siberian city of Novosibirsk for the Interweek
Festival, an event supported by the British Council that brought
together cultural and scientific figures in the scientists' enclave of
Akademgorodok. The band went on to play in another Siberian city,
Barnaul, and then flew to Moscow. The Moscow show, which was to be on a
riverboat, was cancelled for equipment safety reasons. The band then
played Minsk and finally St. Petersburg.
On their Body of Work tour this summer, Nitzer Ebb returns to Russia on
Wednesday, July 19 and plays in Moscow for the first time at the
recently relocated techno club Gorod as part of a series of concerts
promoted by the Russian Synth Community, which has brought German
darkwave bands such as Unheilig and Deine Lakaien to Moscow.
Russia in the early '90s was not the kind of place that one just decides
on a whim to tour, since visas and other fairly challenging logistical
issues are involved. It is still somewhat like this. Bon explained in an
e-mail interview that the band was offered a unique opportunity and
readily accepted it.
"We were invited to come as part of a cultural exchange program,"
recalled Bon, "This made the logistics more manageable. We were part of
a larger group of musicians, artists, writers, scientists and so on. Our
only exposure to Russia came from western media and movies – not an
accurate source. It was to be a completely new experience for us."
Nick Hobbs, a concert organiser from the U.K., was instrumental in
making the Ebb's tour in Russia happen and was with the Ebb for all of
their concerts in Russia. Since the mid-1980s, Nick and his agency
Charmenko put together alternative music concerts in Eastern Europe. In
the early ‘90s, Charmenko organized the first tours of Russia for David
Byrne, Marc Almond, The Shamen, World Domination Enterprises, The
Sugarcubes, Laibach, The Band of Holy Joy, The Young Gods and Peter
"My own band of the time, Mecca, was invited to play Interweek which was
a studentfestival organized by people who knew about me, one of whom is
still a close friend," explained Nick in a recent e-mail, "I was asked
to choose another band to bring with us, I chose Nitzer Ebb and they
agreed, the British Council funded the costs, and we added concerts in
other parts of Russia around the Akademgorodok concert, and that's how
the tour happened."
As can be expected for such a bout of concert trailblazing, the reaction
of audiences to the Ebb's appearances was mixed and the some of the tour
was dogged by organisational issues.
"In Siberia we found fans who had made their own t-shirts, bootlegged
tapes and so on," said Bon, "Also there were a lot of people who had
never seen anything like Nitzer Ebb before."
"Nitzer Ebb and Mecca were very different bands both musically and as
people but things worked out," said Nick, "When you're thrown together
on your own resources in the middle of Siberia then working together to
make things happen is usually the best course of action."
He added, "Looking back on it, the funniest story from the tour was
arriving in Moscow from Siberia expecting to be met by the organizer of
the Moscow event at the airport, but there was no one, and at that time,
there were hardly any mobile phones or e-mail in Russia so
communications were much harder."
"Nitzer Ebb were quite hi-tech and needed a lot of gear to be able to
play," said Nick, "We'd arrived in a Siberian charter plane and there
weren't even baggage handlers to help us with the small mountain of
musical equipment we had with us, so we had to unload the plane
ourselves without a forklift or anything, quite stressful! Then I had to
'hire' one of those low wheelbase buses which normally only work inside
airports and so we rode with the gear in an airport service bus to the
centre of Moscow where finally we found the 'festival.'"
"In Moscow, the show was cancelled," said Bon, "It was on a boat on the
river, and we couldn't safely get our equipment on board."
"There was a very fragile looking hoist to get the gear from the shore
to the boat, so Nitzer Ebb said no," remembers Nick, "Mecca were able to
play as our gear was a lot smaller, but it wasn't a great gig... the
whole event was terribly organized and the organizer was hopeless – the
same person who'd left us stranded at the airport. If we'd had any
energy left we should have thrown him in the river."
Nitzer Ebb has Super 8 film footage of the Russian tour that will likely
be included on the upcoming DVD. The line-up at the time was Doug, Bon
The Ebb's time in the former Soviet Union also inspired the song "In
Decline" on their 1995 album "Big Hit." The song features a
Prokofiev-esque synthesized guitar line and a rebellious undercurrent in
its lyrics: read the lyris
"The riff, which was actually performed on a Korg synthesizer, was
improvised. It would be very flattering if it could be mistaken for
Prokofiev," said Bon.
Bon also described the stimuli behind the song.
"We arrived in Russia not too long after the disintegration of the
Soviet system," he said, "We found a country that seemed to be very
run-down and out of step with modern times. Obviously the old wisdom had
tried to the keep the outside world at bay. Massive military spending
and decades of a false sense of employment and well being had been
abruptly removed. An overwhelming impression for me was of a country
that had its memory erased. Given the rich history of Russia, this stuck
me as very sad. So much indigenous art and culture had been lost and
suppressed. The counter to this depressing scene was the strength,
passion and wisdom of people we met. The 'ordinary' Russian was quite
extraordinary, in fact."
©2006 by Kirill Galetski