NITZER EBB IN RUSSIA

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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 Hammill.

"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 and Julian.

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 HERE

"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