St. Petersburg: Back in the (not so Russian) USSR

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, Russia - St Petersburg | Posted on 21-11-2011

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After 2 weeks in Moscow, we headed to St. Petersburg, which although still in Russia seemed a world apart. Gone was the bleak grey box architecture, gone were the dodgy roving bands of thug security/police, gone were the threatening scowls, gone was the 90s-trashy-hooker fashion sense… The city was beautiful! People were laughing! People dressed… normally!

The city is right up in the north west of Russia, across the border from Finland and near Estonia. Because of this, it’s always been a gateway to Europe and you could see the influence immediately.

Our first day there we had a bit of an afternoon wander and sushi lunch, and made it to Catherine the Great’s palace, which has been converted to a massive museum called the Hermitage. It was closed on Mondays, so we headed over to a huge beautiful church (editor’s note: they had one here! weird, huh?) to warm up. We then walked the main shopping street back towards the hotel and popped into another building which ended up being another church with a russian orthodox worshipping taking place – lots of subdued singing, candles and insense in a dark gloomy space with no seating. It was quite beautiful in it’s own way, and triggered a lengthy conversation about the substance and viewpoints of organized religion as we popped into a great little cafe for some tea and port. Someone must have been listening, because when we left we were gifted an extrordinary sunset on the way back to the hotel.



We had a cute little loft with fantastic skylights and giant windows overlooking a main square right on the main walking street, and as the weather was sleety and dismal and spent most of the week heads-down in work mode plowing through a project cuddled up on the couch in a blanket and fiending on Mixcloud dj sets.

Chris had Saturday off, so we went back to the Hermitage museum which was easily one of the best museums I’ve ever seen. Most museums keep you at a distance from the artworks and feel like a building set up for viewing art. Here though, you’re wandering Catherine the Great’s winter palace, just strolling along surrounded by an *unbelievable* collection of art. In the Louve you can see the Mona Lisa from about 10 feet away, with guards standing on each side, and protective glass overtop. In the Hermitage, there’s paintings by Da Vinci, Monet, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo just hanging on the walls you can get right up to and lose yourself in the genius of the individual brushstrokes. But it’s not just about paintings – the building is insanely opulent and a work unto itself, that’s just brimming with millions of pieces. We spent the better part of a day strolling around and only saw a portion of one of three floors. Words can’t do the scope and beauty of the place justice, so if you ever end up in St Pete’s, do not miss the opportunity to see close up what’s easily one of the best art collections in the world, and thusfar my favorite museum.



After this we walked over to the touristy (but still delicious) The Idiot restaurant for some eats in the comfy cavernous space that was decorated with a hint of russian grandmotherly kitsch. Free vodka shots to start the meal led to some full bellies and rosy cheeked spirits before we went back to the hotel for a quick nap and cleanup.

St. Petersburg has long been known as a bit of a seedy place, with more european attitudes towards sex and culture, but in the middle of the week we were in town the government had passed a law that would “prevent the propaganda of homosexuality” where children could be exposed – essentially banning anything that could be taken as gay, and making it a crime to bring it up in public or where children are present (ie: gay pride parades, telling your niece you’re gay, etc). The effects of such a law are pretty far reaching, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in Russia’s politics. Of course, the immediate effect of such a prohibitive law meant that all the gay people were immediately cleansed of their illegal wants and desires, and gay was no longer a problem in St Petersburg.

“Ohhhhhhh, those Russians” – Boney M, Rasputin

Of course, we didn’t really understand what was going on at the time, so we went out Saturday night to find Central Station – the main gay bar in St Petersburg (previously Greshniki). We had a bit of trouble finding the place, first wandering into a dodgy lobby of a building where giant bouncers and a large breasted woman told us it was 15k rubles to go upstairs, but we got unlimited drinks, food, shisha and ladies. Not quite the buffet we were after, we ducked around the corner and found the lit up sign for the club we were after. We stayed for a few hours, and it was a fantastic 4 level club with a cabaret, opium den styled chillout room, lounges, and a good dancefloor, but we just had a weird vibe there all night – it was kind of empty aside from the hustlers and regulars, and everyone just seemed on edge and shifty (even more so than regular russian shiftiness). We had a few drinks (and watched absinthe being served in the most amazing way we’ve ever seen -stacked glasses and fireballs, ohmy!), but definately felt some unease when we left the bar around 3am and melted into the crowd as quickly as possible and watched over our shoulders to make sure we weren’t being followed or targeted.

Sunday was our last day, and I worked for a few hours and when the sun popped out I was ready to go for a wander with my camera and ended up strolling thru some interesting industrial neighborhoods full of abandoned buildings and ended up at a monastery that had a great church in the middle of a cemetary.



Stuck around for some of the service, and then wandered back through town and up the main street back to the hotel where I met up with Chris and some people from work so we could hop the metro and head to the Mikhailovsky theatre to catch a ballet. I’m not the biggest fan of ballet, but it was quite decent, and the stunning old theatre made the night. Side note: beware coat check lineups in russia after a show. You’ve never seen little old ladies turn into such vicious, elbow throwing nasties who will crush you for a foot forward. Had we not been in Shanghai shortly before, this might have been traumatic.



So that was about it… Lots of work, a few decent days out, a cozy little hotel room, friendly people. I’d go back in a second to spend more time wandering the Hermitage, but that aside it’s still a city that I’d love to go back to if given the opportunity.

Tour break in Vancouver!

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, Canada - Vancouer | Posted on 31-10-2011

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After Shanghai, Chris had a week off back in Vancouver that we used to maximize our chilling, catching up and visitings. Thanksgiving dinner with the family, and some kickass seats to a BC Lions game in the new stadium were a nice treat.

Chris headed off to Russia, and since I could only get a 30 day tourist visa I stuck around Vancouver for a very well received 3 extra weeks enjoying my couch and cat. Got to meet up with a bunch of the guys for a random MEATFEST of bbq madness, catch a hockey game with the father-in-law, and enjoy the indian summer’s crisp days of blue skies and rainbow leaves.

I even managed to sneak in a hike up Hollyburn mountain on what ended up being the last day before the snows fell on the peaks (where cheeky grey jays flew right onto my knee and ran diversion while another snuck up behind me and tried to steal the ring right off my finger! cocky bastid birds – shah).




My buddy D was still in town from his best man duties at the wedding before he continued off back on his journey around the world on his (pedal) bike. He was leaving for Cape Town in South Africa where he was headed on a zig zag journey northward towards Morocco. If you aren’t already, you should be subscribed to his blog – TiredOfIT.ca to follow along on that journey.

D was a roommate and mischievous cohort from way back, and we’ve spent many weird nights djing together even though he plays a much… harder style than I tend to. He used to run a radio show in Winnipeg, and later on CJSF in Vancouver, called SLEIZURE which was a frequent friday night haunt for me and a bunch of other drunken djfolk. Somehow they’d got permission to do a one off reunion night on the radio station and I got to tag along to play. The night was a blast, and got suitably messy with hot dog explosions, flying records causing facial injuries, and a certain someone requiring forceable removal from the studio by the testicles. I played a set from about 1-2am that was harder than my normal style but perfect Sleizure-fodder, that you can listen to here…

Another audio treat while I was back in Vancouver was the virgin voyage of my buddy C’s TRUCKERDISCO night. C has a kickass taste in sleazy punkrock disco infused grindy beats, and invited me to play the night… I played from 10:30-12ish so it started off a little slow and got more banging as the room picked up – and maaaaaaaan did it pick up. It was one of the crazier dancefloors I’ve seen in Vancouver as people from all over the place, cliques, genres, styles, and persuasions messed up and mashed up the place. Serious freakers ball action, and way fun. Anyways, keep your ears listening for info on the next one, and here’s a recording of my set from the night if you’re needing some sleazy listenings… [remember: starts off slow, but picks up… give it some time to build].

After that it was time to pack up, as my Russian visa was kicking in and Moscow was on the horizon…

France – fuck yeah!

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, France - Lille, France - Paris | Posted on 13-01-2011

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Ok, so I’m a bad blogger… This is posted in sequence, but I’m really writing… FROM THE FUTURE! I never got around to writing up a blog post for the last two cities of the leg, but that’s because I was having too much fun there and once I got home I just wasn’t feeling quite so in the moment. So, retroactively, here’s the i’m-lazy-note-form-version of a week and a half in France:

Lille! It’s French! And Lovely! Suburby and quiet, but a nice place to refresh the french I learned once upon a time and didn’t realize was still stuck in my head.



Paris! It’s not just London with a tower! There’s good reason that it’s known as the romantic city – it really is a soulful place. I was only there for 3 days, but will definately, positively return at first chance. The three days were pretty epic condensed fun though!

Sunday night I went out with Des. She’s fab. We caught mass at Notre Dame, and got suckerpunched with shitty crepes. A really wonderful night out.



There’s a big tower there. It’s a lot more ornate than I imagined it to be.



We did a walking tour with a bunch of peeps, and wandered around on our own afterwards. Paris is gorgeous.



The catacombs are creepy. The bones of millions.



There was a party with much, much, much champagne. I DJ’ed a 3 hour set that you can download and listen to (starts off super chill and just builds into silliness – please save as/download to your own computer rather than streaming!).



So, in summary: France – fuck yeah!

(… and I’ll try to be a better blogger in the future).

Copenhagen wrapup

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, Denmark - Copenhagen, General | Posted on 07-11-2009

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So, I’m pretty sure looking back on it that Copenhagen is my new favorite city that I’ve visited… as someone said the other day: “Copenhagen is one of those cities that you’re allowed to be an adult. If you want to go have a beer, go right ahead. No one’s going to tell you not to, because you’re responsible for your decisions. Be a grownup, and have fun”. That pretty much sums it up.

The halloween party was pretty fantastic and epic… 31,000 people all in white… good tunes… a fun night out fo’sure.

Favorite set of the night went to Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso(download the set here), which had the place bouncing something silly.

Party ended @ 3am, cabs were impossible and it was about an hour walk back to the hotel but it was really cool – wandering the streets as the sun came up while clusters of white dressed people floated around in the darkness like spirits…

Yeah.
I liked Copenhagen a lot, and hope to get back there one day.

Christiana

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, Denmark - Copenhagen, General | Posted on 31-10-2009

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(Note: Recommended listening for this post is the Raz ohara and the Odd Orchestra mix called Oddpod from Allez-Allez that I listened to while watching sunset.)

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Friday afternoon after finishing up some work, I strapped on the headphones and wandered off into Copenhagen… I’d heard about the Christiania area, and pointed myself in that direction.

Essentially, Christiana is a part of Copenhagen that exists unto itself as a free republic. Back in the early 70s, squatters took over an abandonded military base right near the downtown core and turned it into their own commune with it’s own tenets and laws. They’ve got europe’s largest organic food store, some really cool restaurants and bars, a unique bike company, and amazingly beautiful trails with houses tucked along lakefronts. And of course, there’s the bustling open air hash market in the centre of town that gets the majority of attention.

When Christiana started having problems with hard drugs and junkies, as a community they dealt with it: they told the junkies and hard drug dealers that they either had to quit or take it out of town. Since then, they’ve successfully limited the drug problem in town and created a thriving soft drug market. Interestingly enough, when the recently elected conservative government tried to crack down on and reduce the Christiana soft drug market, it caused an unexpected ripple effect. Where once everything was concentrated in one area, the market spread across the city, and where it was once soft-drug dealers working alongside eachother, it changed the market to biker and middle eastern gangs who dealt whatever would turn a profit without consideration for the damage. As these gangs have started battling for turf, there’s an incredibly violent gang war sweeping the city that has so far been unstoppable by the police, the damage from which would have been strongly reduced if they’d just let the hippies be.

But, the drug issue aside, Christiana is an amazing place if you look beyond Pusher Street. It reminds me a lot of the gulf island communities or places in the interior of BC where the freaks and the freethinkers disappear into safe havens and do their own thing. It might be a bit of a sore point for the Danish government, but everyone here seems to be kind of respectful of it – it’s kind of spoken about like it’s admired, and that the rest of the city understands that want for living outside the norm and is cool to see other people doing it. It’s like they all wish they had that anarchist spirit inside them, and are happy that people are resisting amongst them.

I didn’t take any pictures from Christiana as I know Pusher Street has a heavily enforced no camera policy and I didn’t want to be out of line taking pictures around the rest of the area, but I found a set on Flickr that are along the lines of what I saw and can give you a little taste of the vibe:



I left Christiana around 4:20 on a Friday afternoon, and was walking past a church with a giant belltower and a spiral staircase leading up the spire, so I cast aside better judgement and enjoyed an amazing sunset from far above the city skyline.


Came back to the hotel, knocked off a few hours of work, and then went out for a lovely late night tapas dinner with a few fine folk, en route to which we passed by this shoe store which had the most deliciously trashy onomatopoeia in untranslated form.

Went for a bit of a wander to see the chaos that ensues from what the local brewery has turned into a defacto holiday: The night of the year that Carlsberg released their CHRISTMAS BEER! Yes, the entire city was going mental and getting completely loaded thanks to a rather creative, patriotic and well purposed marketing effort. Smart.

Earlyish to bed to get up early for the Tivoli tour…

Oslo, exeunt…

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, General, Norway - Oslo | Posted on 10-10-2009

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Thursday: The sun was out, and it was another fine day in Oslo, and when I finished up my work around 2pm, I succumbed to the sway of one of my favorite bad influences: There’s a couple bikes in the hotel lobby that are available for use, and I figured that Dave’s blog makes hopping on a bike and riding across continents sound so easy that I would spill the metaphorical 2-wheeled 40oz in his honor, and go for a ride. I mean, I don’t know the rules of the road here, I’m not accustomed to pedestrian overload and unexpectedly windy streets, I haven’t been on a bike in traffic in a good 15 years… So with the mantra of “Safety Third” running through my head, I put on some headphones and pushed blindly out into traffic. It took some time to properly orient myself, figure out that riding on the rail lines wasn’t the smartest idea, and then just sorta relaxing and meshing into the ebb and flow, but I found a groove. It was a lot like driving in Cuba – there aren’t really rules, but it just works. North American drivers are domesticated and completely reliant on structure when it comes to their driving – without a sign telling them exactly what to do, they panic and lock up (see: round-abouts). Here, everyone’s awake – aware of what’s around them, looking over their shoulders because there could be something coming, totally swarming with bodies and cars and trains and busses and construction in tight little roadways and alleys… but everything just becomes a big circulatory system that pulses and works as a whole.

So I threw on a fantastic Prins Thomas swave disco/funk mix and pedaled across the better part of Oslo. Rode up the main downtown greenway to the palace in the centre of town, and then just kept going beyond through residential neighborhoods weaving and wandering semi-aimlessly until I came to Frogner park (aka: The Sculpture Park) Words don’t really do justice to the hundreds and hundreds of amazing sculptures that dot the park and spring up out of the landscape everywhere you turn. It reminded me a lot of burningman playa wanderings – just mosey’ing around on a bike from artwork to artwork, and chilling at each for a while.



Rode back to the hotel, grabbed some dinner (mmm – catering!), bashed my head on a few hours of frustrating work, and when Chris got home, it was quickly realized that we needed to get outa the hotel room and pour some beers down our necks. I’d come across mention of an Oktoberfest being put on at the university, so we randomly threw ourselves on a train that luckily went towards where we were heading, and tracked down the Thursday night warmup of the campus Oktoberfest party. Walking up, we thought there was some sort of football game going on, but it was just the sound immense noise coming from one of the beer tents (complete with lazers shooting up into the sky). Once in, we bought our tickets (norwegian translation = “bongs”… as in, I’d like to buy 10 bongs please!”), picked one of the 20 bars each featuring a different brewery’s selections, loaded up and plunked ourselves down at one of the big long tables in the main beer tent.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in university, and tho I wasn’t the only one over 30, the majority of the few thousand sloppy drunk messes climbing over and under tables and eachother were students in their early 20s. I have no idea how to speak or decypher Norwegian, but I believe the Ooom-Pah-Pah band kept playing their favorite national anthem called “Stand up, sing along, and drink more f’n beer, bitches!” (or maybe it was a remix). The band would step off every 2 minutes or so and the DJ would strike up the weirdest mix of german sing-songs, norwegian metal, happy hardcore rave anthems, and oddball english tunes (seriously: They played ‘We Are the World’ and the whole place turned into a happy lovey arms-around eachother to hold off the gravitational onslaught singalong). It was a zoo. A big, crazy, sloppy drunk, retardedly messy, and wonderfully fun zoo.

Again had it hammered home that… Europeans are just plain better than us. I mean, take a few thousand North American students, and plunk them shitfaced in a tent. They’d be able to sing along with the regional songs, but play them a Norwegian song, and they’d have stares as blind as mine were. But here, they all speak flawless Norwegian *and* understand english perfectly. I mean, as I was getting beer, one of the clusters of drunken Norse hipsters asked Chris where he was from, and then said in flawless english “I believe it was Daniel Adams who once said that America is like a petulant 5 year old, while Canada is more of a mature 35 year old woman”.

Friday was a really productive work day for me, and I managed to get all of the pieces of the system I’m working on completed, and all that’s really left is to make it purdy and tie it together for a launch (hopefully by late next week – woohah!). Had dinner at the venue again, as the food *kicks ass* and it’s a lot cheaper to eat there than get killed by Oslo prices. Came back to the room and chilled out till Chris got off and brought back C for a drink.

“A drink” ended up the 3 of us finishing off a bottle of really really really tasty spiced honey polish vodka, and while C said she needed to crash out, we’d livened up enough to need some adventure and went out in search of a sleazy fagpub, and drank $20 beers and Jagers until we stumbled back to the hotel via a random block-long John Denver singalong.

Today’s my last day here, so I’m going to head out and do some more wandering, but since Chris works late, am anticipating a chill night of packing and relaxing before my 7am flight home.

This leg’s been a slice. I learned how to balance fun and adventure with a real-life, work-enabling routine on the road. Got a real feel for 3 different cities in 2 countries. And most imporantly, managed to eat bacon at *every single breakfast since I’ve been here*.

Looking forward to coming back and hitting up Copenhagen in 2 weeks, I do gotta say.

As I wind down and start my packing for home, here’s a nice song (via Mickey Moniker) from Brian Eno called An Ending (Ascent), and some random shit 🙂

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Europeans are better than us.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Audio, Finland - Helsinki, General | Posted on 26-09-2009

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It may have been because it was a Saturday…
It may have been because it’s the tail end of indian summer here in Helsinki with unexpected blue skies and sun shining…
It may have been the sleep deprivation…
It may have just been the novelty curve…

But, gal-dangit, Europeans are better than us.

They appreciate the unique vs. the mass manufactured.
The food is fantastic.
You can walk/bike to everything.
There’s public transit available anytime, anywhere (that doesn’t just look like an aquarium for poor people)
They make time for taking time out (Sitting at a cafe is a spectator sport)
Comparitavely, we dress in metaphorical hand-me-downs from the special needs thrift store.

Sorry North America, but today’s pseudo scientific study has them winning.

Please feel free to comment to this and let me know anything superultra awesome that I might have forgotten about NA that will redeem us in the rankings!

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