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Kabul Korrespondence

Fresh, factual, and funky view of Afghanistan and the surrounding Central Asian region

White City in Kazakhstan and Uzebkistan

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Surprisingly we cruised across the border hassle free and were soon in Almaty and lost in this mega-vehicle city: Petrol is cheap so everyone drives. Our first concert on Thursday was at a small club called Retrospective, on the outskirts of the city. We only managed to pull together a small crowd of 15, but it was obvious that they were all musicians or conersuers of music as they really got into the music and the night ended with both Ruth and I on the floor and Andreas leaping over his drum kit and landing on us [ouch!].

During our stay visit in Almaty we also had 2 gigs at an awesome rock club called Zhest, by far the best venue we have played in since starting this tour. They have a raised stage that sits over the bar. The owner Alex has set the place up real sweet with good amps, lighting and even a smoke machine. Both nights we had healthy crowds and support bands that helped us to warm the crowd. The only challenge was that we didn’t go on stage until 1 am, so we had to be diligent and keep sober until then. The crowd really enjoyed our music and many commented that all they got was metal in Almaty and they were refreshed to hear something ‘new’. Here is what Ru says about Zhest: “Our gig home for the next two nights was Zhest. It had a raised, 360 degree stage, surrounded by the bar with strippers on poles. It was very Dusk till Dawn liker. One of the ‘go-go girls’ (a Russian, who was born in Uzbekistan) fell in love with me and would not leave my side all night. I am now wearing her favourite bracelet and have, so far, not spouted fangs.”

Our last concert in Kazakhstan was at a bikers Fest 80 km outside Almaty in a lake side town call Kapchijay. The term no sleep till Brooklyn really made sense after Andreas and I stayed up till 9 am belting out tunes in a suburban karaoke club. But we pushed on through and drive at 200 km an hour with a mad taxi driver to the bikers fest. We arrived at the fest and in true White City fashion took over the place [even though we were only the support act to Russian rock legends: Aria] The fest was well set up with the stage on the beach and villas on the hills for all the bikers to use. The crowd was a mixture of hardcore bikers, part time bikers, families and even some car drivers. There was 4 local bands that played before us and the highlight was a band called Storm that had a lead singer that obviously idolized Kiss. We played the best set we could considering the cold conditions: both Andreas and I got cramps in our arms. Again the crowd was into it, with loads of people saying it was nice to hear something else besides cock rock on the bill. The main act Aria may have been old bastards but they still rocked in true Iron Maiden like sound. The crowd was obviously there to see them and therefore went crazy.

Ru: Our set was cut short by a billion hair-metal bands before us, but we enjoyed our first festival. It was fun to play a really big stage and do lots of foot-on-the-monitor poses. Seen the pictures and I look like a massive show-off. Hello to the White City Angels and thanks for getting everyone dancing. All in all it was a great experience to play at a bikers fest and too meet loads of bikers, a big hello to the guys at the Almaty chapter of the Nomads!

We met these three lovely young ladies in Bishkek at our concert at Zeppelin Bar, they proceeded to come more of our concerts. As with everyone else we connect with, we invited them to join us in Almaty. But of all the people we invited, only these 3 dedicated rockers actually made the trip up and joined us for the bikers fest. So after some drinks and dinner we all decided that they should form the fan club. And seeing that they had very similar traits to the girl of Charlies Angles, we all agreed that they should be called the White City Angles. Introducing: Aigul, Olah and Regina. They will be starting a group on face book and have promised us to have 100,000 members in five years time. So help them out and join! Visit White City Angels Facebook page here And to prove that they were the ultimate WC fans they also flew to Tashkent a week later to see us perform at the Iosis Festival, wow, well done girls, respect!

Kazakhstan has been a damn cool country and we really look forward to coming back here and rocking it again. Next stop: Uzbekistan! After all procedures and checks with documents and visas we finally got to Tashkent, where we were supposed to give 2 gigs in local clubs and perform at Ilkhom Rock Fest and Iosis Rock Fest, the biggest Rock events in Uzbekistan.

Apart from planned gigs we organized guerilla gig on the streets of Tashkent. This was a cool guerilla gig, we were told by loads of people you will not be able to play in Tashkent, you WILL be arrested if you tried. Even when we were walking to this park we must have passed 100 police on the streets at different locations. But for some magical reason they never interrupted our little gig. We played for an hour, jammed with locals and probably had 30-40 people getting into it. Even when we yelled out “Police come and bust us!” they still didn’t come…. We love Tashkent.

We also played at the VM bar on our 2nd night in Tashkent, the bar was a biker and snow-boarder hang out and had some great interiors. Thanks to the help of Tyler and Dimitri we had some sound system brought in. The crowd was a 100 people strong and were well drunk by the time we came on stage. We even had a few people from Kabul in the crowd. We played a good stinking pub gig and the crowd appreciated it.

As I mentioned before, our main activity that has been planned in Tashkent, was Ilkhom Rock Festival. What can I say… for me, it was the best stage experience of the tour, yes our last concert at Cotton Club was wilder, but Ilkhom had class, sophistication, concept and flavour. There was video projections, live video projections, dancers, sounds scapes, a mezzanine stage and awesome lighting. The show was split up into a semi acoustic and electric set and we really mixed up the set, both for us and the audience. It was a little weird to play to a sitting down crowd, but I made up for it with a lot of running around the theatre with my wireless system. The highlight of the night was a cameo appearance by Cheburashka, a small fluffy soviet icon. We ended the night with a in depth Q & A with 40 or so audience members that stayed behind to learn more about Big in the Stans. So a big thank you goes out to Tyler and all the people involved at the Ilkhom theatre. Also the Uzbek musicians who played with us and lastly to our great friend Nikita and to Munira who dressed the band in her original designs. Take a look what Ru has to say about her experience at Ilkhom:

Ru: “Our gig at the Ilkholm theatre was a series of firsts for me. It was the first time I’d played in a theatre, the first time I’d played to an audience that stayed seated throughout, the first time I’d been dressed as a ‘girl’ in a dress and heels, the first time I’d come onstage to smoke and dancers and the first time I’d experienced the kind of creativity, care and dedication to a show that the Ilkholm team gave us. To be honest, at first I was nervous and a little out of my comfort zone – my voice was less than perfect from weeks of touring, I couldn’t move around the multi-levelled stage in the heels and was terrified my strapless dress would fall down leaving me VERY exposed through the multiple video cameras producing live feeds of our gig on a big screen. But I soon settled into the flow and enjoyed playing to a rapt audience and jamming ‘Piva’ and ‘Honey Goliath’ with local musicians on flute, sax, keyboard and mouth harp. I come from a punk-rock background, where down and dirty gigs in sweaty bars are the norm, so to play something progressive, artsy and sophisticated was a new and very interesting experience. But, as always, for me it wasn’t about the music, but the people. And they were fantastic, from the set-designers, MC and soundpeople to the audience who stayed afterwards to ask us questions. As Trav has said above, we’re a very lucky band to be given this kind of opportunity. Thanks to everyone involved.”

Straight after Ilkhom we had to perform at Iosis Rock Fest. I will leave you with comments from Ru:

“WOW. WOOOOW. Rarely at a gig have I felt so at home. My voice may have been shot, I may have been half-dead from the constant touring and I may have been sweating more than an overweight kid in a sweetshop supermarket dash, but with the help of the hundred rocking kids, White City found that last bit of energy to make a show to end the tour properly. There were stage-dives and fights, there was clambering on the speakers and a sea of hands making the devil’s rock sign. We were playing with a bunch of other rock and metal bands as part of the Iosis one-day rockfest. Our stagemates were very impressive, from the growls of local band Termin Vox to the pop rock of visiting Kazakh band, Deepresssonic. Thanks also to Deema from Formalgayt, who organised the night and our Tashkent recording session (but more of that later… ) We’ll miss you Tashkent. Wait for us!”

All in all it was great experience beyond our wildest dreams, since being back in Kabul and answering the same question over and over again: How was it? I keep answering: “Possibily the best 6 weeks of my life.” Not saying that it was all highs and no lows, but it was really like a dream come true, we headed off with little knowledge of the countries and what to expect from the people and what we got in return was continuing appreciation and energy from the audience. They kept saying; “thank you for coming to our country, no one comes here, no one makes the effort to rock our world.”
posted by Travis, 12:00 am | link | 105 comments |

White City in KyrgyzSTAN: Bishkek and Osh

Sunday, May 01, 2011

We arrived in Bishkek with a lot of ambition and excitement, for me personally it’s been the one country I was most excited about visiting. After we landed we were picked up at the airport by a cool dude named Vicktor, who has turned out to be the 'dude' in Bishkek in regards to the music scene. He organised the press conference and our first gig at a 60s themed cafe that we were a little reserved about, but it turned out to be a great warm up gig with a healthy crowd that was up for some rocking. 


                                       Press conference at ID Club Pulse in Bishkek

Our next gig was on a whole another level, playing for Bishkek's elite at a fancy bar called Movie City Bar. The crowd was stiff, but we looked so chik surrounded by all the mod-deco. Might not have been our best audience, but it was still an interesting experience. 

The gigs at the Pulse Club were intimate and with the most appreciative audience. We played a clean, pure acoustic set and it was well received. And to top off the night we had great in depth conversations with the musician dominant audience after. 


From here on we turned up the volume to 11 with concert at the legendary Zeppelin Bar. Look what Andronik is saying about the venue:

“We were really pleased to get a chance to play at this legendary rock joint in Bishkek.  It´s a hang out for bikers, rockers, punks and hippies, absolutely loved the venue, the sound, the attentive sound crew and no the least the wild rocking crowd. Hoping to play here again, next time we´re back in Kyrgyzstan!”


During our stay in Bishkek we also were invited to play live at the local TV show and to give radio interview.

                    White City on Channel 5 in Bishkek

Here is Ru’s feedback about our visit on the radio:

“We arrived at a run-down industrial estate complete with decrepit, crumbling walls and broken glass over the steps for our first Bishkek radio interview. Ushered through what looked very much like a prison door, we crowded into the groaning lift and were transported to the wholesome, sunny world of Bishkek OK radio. Run by American ex-pat Wes, a lovely man who's been here with his wife for 17 years, he's been broadcasting the English language station to the city for most of that time, playing an 'everyone's invited' mixture of classical, jazz and rock to the masses. We did a short interview about the tour, where we came from and gave him an exclusive first - a rendition of our new song, Honey Goliath on acoustic guitar.”

                                    Ru with Wes at the studio on Radio OK in Bishkek

                              Travka and Andronik at the studio on Radio OK in Bishkek 

After Bishkek gigs, interviews and live performances on the TV our plan was to visit second largest city in Kyrgyzstan- Osh. We landed in Osh and were met by one of the young founders of Youth of Osh, a grassroots NGO started by 4 young Kyrgyz women with the aim of creating activities for youth. We were taken to the venue a park in the centre of the town, where we saw a flurry of activity as volunteers organised stalls and activities or the Earth Day Festival. Our stage and Sound equipment was rudimentary but considering where we were it was pretty amazing that we even had the gear. The crowd of curious onlookers swelled as we did a 3 song sound check and by the time we returned to the stage at 5 pm, there was 500 keen youth waiting patiently.

Andreas's drum kit was typical of what would be found in a toyshop, cables were faulty and the stage was rickerty, but we rocked on anyway. And I think the crowd picked up on this, cause they gave us so much energy and cheers that we were able to feed off on this. We played 3 sets and considering that we had come from a concert the previous night and only one hour sleep before our flight to Osh, I think we did pretty well. But the most pleasing aspect of this part of the tour was meeting the people of Osh, who are so kind and hospitable. Our aim of coming here was to bring rock to all corners of the Stans and to dispel an idea that places like Osh is dangerous [many people had advised us to cancel this leg of the tour]. What we found was a small city that was rebuilding and heeling after a troublesome last year. The youth were just so surprised and pleased that we had made the effort to come to their city. We were very pleased with our visit to Osh, here is what Ru is thinking about it:

Ru: “We didn't really have time to digest this information as we travelled to Osh with one hour's sleep and then straight onto a stage in the main square in 35 degree heat. We just plugged in and played. The equipment was rudimentary and the sound rickety. Andronik had to bend down every ten minutes to unstick his bass drum pedal from the skin and his wafer-thin Chinese hi-hats ended up turning inside out! But none of this mattered, because once we started playing, the kids went crazy. Jumping, headbanging and making rock-signs aplenty. We played for 3 hours in all over three sets with help from local Kyrgyz singer, Kanykei and 'Osh's only rock band' The Left. It meant a lot to be able to invite local musicians up on stage and jam with both established acts and kids just starting out in music. We hope we can keep in contact and support them in the future.

But I thought the best bit was after the gig and I'm not just talking about the hundreds of autographs and photos we had to do. We got to talk to the locals about their lives, about the conflict in Osh. We walked with them (yes, on the streets!) and saw the burned-out buildings. Although there's still obviously tension in Osh between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, both ethnicities were at our concert and we felt that, with time, there's a lot of hope for the city. Plus the fact that we converted many of these kids to ROCK!”

All in all we find Kyrgyz people really great, with advanced knowledge of music and a definite, refreshing European flavour to them.

Andronik: “Since we want to play in each Stan, we decided to call together a bunch of Kyrgyz friends and fans to the Turkish restaurant “Kebabistan” in Bishkek, for a farewell dinner and spontaneous gig. After some good kebabs, beers and Kyrgyz champagne, we got our semi-acoustic gear set up and did a few classic white city songs. Our friends loved it and sang along, while the staff were caught between excitement over the novelty of a band playing live in their restaurant and anxiety over what their neighbours might say. We were only told once to lower the volume, was a nice way to end our pleasant stay in Kyrgyzstan. We´ll be missing lovely Bishkek and Osh and all the nice people we met!”

Just got to Almaty…Stay tuned, next Stan is Kazakhstan!

posted by Travis, 2:15 am | link | 22 comments |