It’s not every day you turn 20. So British indie-rock band Placebo decided to celebrate their anniversary in big style by touring 10 cities in Russia, starting in the remoteness of the Siberan Far East all the way to majestic palaces of Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. Along their journey, they showcased their music – which attract hordes of fans in the most unlikely places – and they also encountered some very unusual Russian treasures.
The tour started in city of Krasnoyarsk, where the band took the Trans-Siberian Express all the way to Moscow, with stops in cities such as Novosibirsk (the capital of Siberia; they note about the region: “that’s bigger than all of Europe put together”) and Nyzhny Novgorod. In each city, they discover a little of the local culture, examining the architecture, visiting bars and noodles restaurants. They also get behind the wheel and drive lorries at 100mph during of thier journey. The tour includes a concert in Moscow’s Gorky Park to 20,000 fans, the same place where they had performed 15 years earlier.
Most of the documentary, which was filmed in the summer of 2014, is narrated by the band’s bassist and guitarist Stefan Olsdal. The eccentric vocalist and guitarist Brian Molko is mostly downcast and silent throughout the film, except when the band performs. The drummer Steve Forrest also talks very little in the movie, and he has since left the band. Stefan defines their trip succinctly: “this is the romantic idea of taking a mythic journey through Russia”.
The film provides some very unusual and interesting insight into some lesser-known aspects of Russia. Stefan goes to trendy bars in Siberia, and promptly compares them to London Shoreditch and Mayfair. He interviews a constructivist architect in Siberia about the imposing and impressive bulding surrounding them. He visits TV Rain, an independent channel highly focused on arts and on the brink of extinction because the Russian government has recently outlawed advertising on cable television. Fortunately they find a new revenue stream into the future.
Towards the end of the doc, Stefan talks to the ultra-subversive artist Petr Pavlensky in Moscow, the biggest highlight of the movie. He has previously sewed his mouth in solidarity with Pussy Riot, and he has also nailed his testicles to the Red Square in a protest against police brutality. Olsdal is overwhelmed by his intense personality.
Alt.Russia is an insightful journey into the obscure corners of the largest country in the world. Disappointingly, however, the film lacks rock’n roll attitude. The British artists never touch on the subject of the ultra-orthodox and highly discriminatory anti-gay-propaganda law passed just the year before their tour. Stefan is openly gay, while Brian Molko is bisexual. Even Madonna made a very vocal protest. And they fall short to express solidarity with Pussy Riot. Perhaps, unlike Madonna, the “nancy boys” are thinking of their next Russian tour.
Alt.Russia is showing as part of the Doc’n Roll Folm Festival taking place right now in London – just click here for more information about the event.
You can watch a Q&A about the film with the Placebo members here: