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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Even Grandma Would Like These Punks

I think Sid Vicious would not be very proud. Russian punks look like the real thing, they smell like the real thing. But there's something missing.

They're just too damned nice. Take last weekend's punk rock festival at the Gorbunov Club, for instance, when my worst suspicions of Russian punks' innate charm and decency were confirmed.

I had gone with high hopes of seeing some genuinely nasty violence: copious bloodshed, chain-whippings, baton charges by OMON security forces, not to mention extreme drunkenness, mass spitting at the bands and a bit of grungy sex. These expectations were fueled by memories of the last punk concert I went to in Cologne, which had culminated in a mini-riot and many arrests. Put that seething undercurrent of anarchy, violence and hatred into a Russian context, and we should be in store for some spectacular results, right?


There was some boisterous pogoing in the pit at the front of the stage and even some half-hearted attempts at spitting. But somehow their hearts didn't seem in it.

My pal Sasha Gnom was there, stoned out of his mind and bouncing off the walls, but his usual speed-freak enthusiasm had been dampened by a fight with his punkette wife and the breakup of his (very bad) band, "Five Minutes 'Till They Die." Sasha and his younger brother Sergei certainly look the part of evil, violent punk rockers but spoil the effect by always being fastidiously polite and friendly. Their father, a retired colonel who I spoke to last year after we met at a biker festival, said he "respected his sons' individualism," and that their mother listened to their tapes in the kitchen. All very cozy, but hardly street cred for the aspiring punk.

The Gnom's less presentable friend, Chirik, could have livened things up a bit. But he was involuntarily absent -- in jail, Sasha said, for stabbing some bloke in the stomach. Chirik is actually a nice guy. He looks scary at first because his face is entirely covered in self-inflicted tattoos, but once he gets to know you he's very friendly. I came across him at a Moscow tattoo convention, having "f*** the world" tattooed on his neck and Frankenstein-style stitch marks on his lips.

So, no Chirik. The bands might also have added some spice to the proceedings, but they were so bad even the punks weren't impressed. Don't get me wrong, punk rock aficionados, I know it's meant to sound bad. Who would respect Johnny Rotten if he actually hit the right notes, after all?

But the dismal lineup at the Gorbunov wasn't even bad enough to be good. Loud, yes, but 1 million miles off the Pistols' pinnacle.All in all, a wierd and strange scene: hundreds of punks together in a hall with loud music, booze and no doubt some d-r-u-g-s as well. But no violence, minimal aggression, and marginal enthusiasm. What could be wrong?

And then it dawned on me. Patrolling the audience were dozens of babushkas, for Christ's sake. The secret weapon of law and order was at large, frowning and clucking in disapproval and more devastatingly effective than Robocop.

Try as they might, the assembled punks couldn't get over their built-in deference to tiny old ladies. The Sex Pistols advocated anarchy in the U.K., and came close to generating a bit of it. But in Russia, anarchy is still firmly at bay as long as there are babushki to enforce order and discipline with a slap of the wrist.