My Disco: How not to tour Russia

Never laugh in public and pretend your band is called “Party Shark” – Melbourne noise-rock trio My Disco share their tips for touring Russia ahead of an east-coast tour and a Melbourne Festival show with Shellac.

We’ve toured Russia before and are about to tour there again this November. The former Soviet socialist republic can be a difficult place to get into it, let alone navigate while you’re there. We entered the country for the first time the same way that Joseph Stalin did – on a train from Finland to St Petersburg (Note: We only learnt this from eavesdropping on a local American tour group who sat near us on the train). The Russian sleeper trains, as they are known, are by no means a luxurious ride. In fact, you are forbidden to use the bathroom for 90 minutes either side of the stations, as effluence flows directly onto the tracks!

Upon entering the Russian Federation (by train) you do not exit the carriage. Instead, for 30 kilometres or so, the train moves at snail’s pace and border security guards (armed with machine guns and rat tails) enter the train to look at passports. In our case, they saw our equipment and merch and simply said “festival?” to which we replied “niet”. One young guard then said “present?” (meaning bribe) so we gave them a CD and t-shirt each. And just like that we were in Russia.

Eye-sential rules

Do not look at people, especially Moscovians, directly in the eye. It’s rude. Instead, always have a semi-stern expression, and don’t laugh out loud anywhere. It simply isn’t done.

Border crossings: Tales of extortion and ways to avoid visa issues

It’s interesting the amount of bands that ask me for advice in relation to visas and border crossing information. Essentially, when you do things on a shoestring budget, it can be difficult to always go about things in a “by-the-book” type fashion. When entering the US or Canada, for example, try to always enter the country on your own or as a couple, larger groups arouse suspicion from the powers that be. Wherever possible, try and freight musical equipment in advance to your destination. That way you look more like a tourist than a band about to head out on tour.

Never carry tour itineraries, band merch and the like with you. It can get you banned. We even go as far as to take down all our online data until safely inside the border. Of course, if they want to dig deep they can always find a way, but these lil’ measures help and have worked for us 100 percent of the time. We also often carry a letter stating our intent to record in whatever foreign country we are entering, often with a fake band name attached so they can’t Google us and find out we are doing 45 shows across the continent! One such band name that we have used is Party Shark. Who wouldn’t let a band in their country with a name like that, huh?

What to do when everything gets stolen on the road

We have had our fair share of bad luck on the road for sure. It is quite well documented. The thing to do when passports/gear/computers and cameras go missing is to not lose sight of your main objective: to get back on the road as fast as possible. That’s what all the fuss is about in the first place right? Unless of course without a passport you can’t physically gain entry into the United States and the tour must be cancelled. Then the only thing left to do is drown your sorrows away with endless pints of malt liquor at a local Toronto dive bar named “Ronnies”, where fist fights and Jager shots are one and the same.

Van problems: Some interesting tales of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere.

One time we got stranded in the south of France when our piece-of-shit British van broke down for the fifth (and not final) time. Waiting to service it in the very rural countryside – which took a day and a half and cost a fortune – we checked into a lovely bed and breakfast cottage that slept six people and came with a gorgeous full European breakfast. To be honest we didn’t want to leave, but duty called. Lesson: Beauty can still be found when all else turns to shit (on the road).

My Disco headline tour dates

Saturday, September 29 – GOODGOD Small Club, Sydney, NSW

Sunday, September 30 – The Patch, Wollongong, NSW

Friday, October 12 – Tinning Street Galleries, Melbourne

Friday, October 19 – The Hi Fi, Melbourne w/Shellac (SOLD OUT)