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  • One night I was sitting in the cafe/bar section of the internet cafe in Moscow where I practically lived having a couple beers with my buddy Tom who was visiting from St. Petersburg. After a couple he had to leave to meet his host for the night, and I stuck around to wait for my girl Anya, who was getting off of work soon. So I was sitting there, having a few more beers, when I start getting the stare from a girl with this big group of people drinking heavily nearby. Soon enough she asked me, in English, what my name was, where I was from, etc., then asked me to join her group. She introduced me to a bunch of kids and the vodka started being offered. Oh well, hate to be rude.

    In a mixture of English and Russian, she asked me what I thought about a G8 summit which was happening somewhere. Well I wasn't expecting any political questions. so I just said that it was a complex question, and that I knew the others were wary of Russia's inclusion in the club. She gave me a sticker for the Russian Animal Liberation Front, and said that she and her friends were vegan and straight-edge. Well that's cool, I thought, and I dropped Fugazi and some of them went Da! Da! and rattled off a number of other bands. But then I asked her how she could be straight edge with a cigarette in her mouth drinking vodka. "Well, we're Russian!" was her reply (a typical Russian reply).

    I had fallen into a group of anti-fa, short for anti-fascist, the punks that often fight the skinheads in the battle over youth identity in urban Russia. The girl who had invited me over asked me what I thought of Stalin. She said the USSR wouldn't have been able to beat Hitler without Stalin. Now I'm in the minority opinion on this, but I think Russia would have won without Stalin and his five-year plans. In fact, I believe Stalin's policies hurt the war effort. I explained to her why I thought that way (which I'll spare you), but she respectfully disagreed. I was hanging out with a bunch of Russian straight-edge kids, and their obvious leader (though her mohawked boyfriend was called 'Vozhd' or leader, which was what Stalin was called) was a vegan Stalinist/anarchist animal rights advocate. And everybody was drunk and happy to talk to an American, so cool! I was invited to a hardcore concert the next night at a club, and of course I said I would go, and my new friend wrote down the directions.

    When Anya showed up I could sense some smug disappointment from the crowd. She was not punk rock in any sense of the word, and she was coming from her job in retail and was dressed professionally. Many of them looked at her with a too-cool hipster smirk on their face, but I didn't care, as I was getting pretty tanked by then. Eventually the crowd started to thin out, until it was just me and Anya. But then this one kid Rubik returned, he had missed the last metro train. So the three of us went back to Anya's and drank another bottle of vodka. Oy! Rubik was a short, obnoxious, but fairly cool punk kid who didn't know any English except for the Ramones, Pennywise, and Rancid lyrics he would blurt out loudly every few minutes. He asked me if I knew any bands back home, and when I said the Voodoo Glow Skulls, he began a medley of their hits. We didn't all pass out until like seven in the morning.

    The next day I went to the club to hang out with my new friends and see the bands. There were five bands playing, and I arrived there around 8. The name of the club was the Jerry Rubin Club, named after the hippy turned stock broker, swear to god. The club called itself an autonomous non-commercial organization, so I decided not to mention the fact that Rubin had become a complete capitalist in his later years. The club itself was in the basement of an apartment complex with no sign outside at all, just a bunch of graffiti, and was an all ages club with no alcohol for sale and no smoking in the actual concert room. This was the first place I'd ever been to in Russia like that, maybe there were some actual real straight edge in Moscow. When I walked in Masha (the girl I had talked to the night before) and Vozhd came right up to me, and were very glad to see me. But then they noticed and stared at the Vans t-shirt I was wearing, and kind of laughed nervously. I remembered all that anarchist G8 stuff the night before, and I realized I had walked into a den of anti-globalization, anti-capitalist anarchist kids with a corporate logo across my chest, even if it was just Vans. I went into listen to the bands, and I was the only one that didn't have some punk band or fuck the police type of t-shirt on. Whoops! Stupid Capitalist American!

    The first band I saw was really cool, with a girl singer belting out English vulgarities between songs, a bass player and a drummer. Very Sonic Youth-like with Wendy O. Williams singing. One of the kids came up to me and said "post-punk!" OK. Afterwards I asked for a disc, but they didn't have any yet.

    The following three bands, two of which were from Belarus, were super-fast hardcore, and the circle was crazy. But the thing that amazed me the most about the whole experience was how similar it was to Rivercide, or anywhere in America for that matter. A bunch of kids saying "fuck the world" at some all-ages club, smuggling in some alcohol, listening to loud music, and getting off. There were two guys who just dominated the pit, one who kept losing his pants, the other who simply stripped down to his underwear and let loose. The boys went crazy, and the girls stayed on the edge, along with me. Vozhd came up and said "why aren't you dancing"? "Too old" I said. I think that was the final disappointment for him. He stopped giving me sips off his clandestine vodka tonic.

    The show came to an end, when I went outside where everybody was gathering, everybody was kind of ignoring me. (Granted, I was twice as old as some.) Not that I cared. I had seen some bands, had some fun, and had a story to tell. These kids were all right.

    Sticker translation:
    Left - The struggle is now! Take a step on the path to liberation!
    Middle top - Freedom for animals
    Middle bottom - Freedom for people!
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