fear and loathing in st petersburg: mike boorman’s foxy memoirs
It's hard to know where to start with all this. In short, that stuffed fox we keep banging on about has become a sensation in Russia, so much so that a media group/entertainment empire stumped up the money to pay for me + Adele (the artist that created and sold me the fox) to go to St Petersburg to exhibit it, with the permission of Space Dimension Controller, who kindly loaned the fox back to me despite having received it as payment for playing a DJ set.
In long, it's been a series of experiences that sound like the biggest lie ever. Take last night for example. In my hotel, just after midnight local time, and at some point during the second half of the Manchester derby, I receive this Facebook message from my excellent host Ksenia:
There was no doubt that this was the way forward – something amusing was bound to happen. So two guys who I'd never met in my life came to the hotel to pick me up, and within half an hour, there I was, sitting in a strip club, at a table with a carafe of vodka (about a pint's worth), half a lemon, a massive tray of salami and cured meats (with bread and honey), smoking a shisha pipe (they love to hubble-it in St Petersburg), receiving a private dance that involved various inventive delivery methods of said lemon, vodka and shisha.
Result. But like Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United in 1996, after such a promising start, the wheels fell off completely. The next thing I remember is waking up next to a jacuzzi, wearing only my underwear, with a pair of black high heels by my head. And it was 1pm. But credit where it's due – it was a very loyal strip club; still open 11 hours after I entered it, and as I stumbled downstairs, bare chested, in a panic about not being able to find my T-shirt, they duly produced it from the cloak room.
I assume that I would have been too battered to have done anything overly disgraceful, but on the other hand, you could argue that when you're in such a state, all bets are on. I will literally never know. But it was the salami that legitimised it – those 10 or 11 shots of straight vodka didn't seem like such a big deal with something as civilised as that on the table.
So you could assume that today must have been a write-off – nothing productive could happen, surely? But I hadn't bargained for the Romeo Brothers. I'm woken up at 7pm in the evening by the sound of a telephone… "where the hell is this coming from?," I thought… I couldn't see it anywhere by my bed; but ah hah, of course, silly me, the phone is in the toilet. It was always bound to be in there.
"Alexey Romeo wants to meet you – he wants to represent you as a DJ in Russia". Another genius proposal from Ksenia. "We will come and collect you in 20 minutes and have some food". All good, I thought – I could do with some breakfast. It had been nearly 20 hours since the salami. And then, rather like last night, it wasn't very long before I was honking on a shisha pipe; but this time there were no tits and vodka for company; it was me + interpreter negotiating terms with Alexey Romeo (who is one of the biggest DJs in St Petersburg) and his agent with a plan for me to have DJ residencies in both St Petersburg and Moscow, a minimum of 15 other gigs across Russia and Ukraine, plus a plan to fly me from the UK to Moscow and back next Wednesday for a one-hour appearance on national radio.
Although I was proud of myself for invoking Harry Choo Choo Romero – Night At The Black in amongst a load of Deep House in my DJ set at The Geometria Cafe on Friday night (the recording of the set is here ), I didn't expect to be made offers I can't refuse by eminent Russians.
But the truth be told, as long as that fox was sitting in the DJ booth behind me, I could probably have played Happy Hardcore and got away with it – the hysteria about this fox really is that big over here. And lest we forget, I was supposed to have gone home on Sunday. Adele went back as planned, taking a well-earned rest from the madness; but literally with my bags packed, ready to go to the airport, offers are made for me to DJ once more in St Petersburg, appear on the radio, and then nip over to Moscow on Friday to play a gig there.
And the funniest thing about all of this is that Adele and the fox are really the story – I'm a smaller part of it as far as Russia is concerned. In all of our public appearances (4 press conferences, a meet and greet at Russia's equivalent of Argos, a visit to VK which is the biggest social networking site in Europe… yes, bigger than Facebook), Adele has literally been mobbed. She is a massive celebrity here. Only about 10% of the media that have spoken to us even know anything about the back story with Space Dimension Controller; to most people the fox is just "Uporoty Lis" which directly translates to "Stoned Fox".
But why are they so bloody interested in this anyway? Yes it's funny, of course it's funny – Space Dimension Controller knew that, Adele knew that, my mate Matt Tyson from Uber in Carlisle knew that when he rung me up and suggested we go in 50/50 and buy it; but there are a lot of funnier things than this that do not make headline news in one of the biggest nations in the world, and do not provoke a reaction from The Kremlin and a Communist splinter group. I kind of hoped that my visit to St Petersburg would provide a definitive answer, but it still isn't really clear.
What is definitely true is that foxes are a bigger thing over here than they are in England – people keep tamed versions of them as pets, believe it or not; and it is also true that Russians possess a pretty bonkers sense of humour (and this is my favourite aspect of the trip – people will always talk about St Petersburg's amazing architecture, but the unashamed quirkiness of the people is what makes this place truly amazing); but this fox means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, none of which is anything like the truth of the matter, which was that Adele ballsed-up the fox because she did it in a rush to meet a deadline at art college.
Here are just a few examples:
"The fox's visit to St Petersburg is belittling Lenin, because Lenin is also dead and stuffed like the fox" (St Petersburg Communist Splinter Group)
"The fox and Adele are both secret agents" (St Petersburg Communist Splinter Group, again)
"The stoned expression of the fox symbolises the drug problems with our nation (a common media quote)
"The fox is a gay fox, and the artist is a pervert" (Vitaly Milonov, Head of Legislation in St Petersburg)
"We don't know why this is so popular either" (most members of the public we speak to)
But despite the three armed guards that protected us from the Communists on the first day, the fox is pretty much universally-loved. Don't be fooled by the English media's reporting of this – as funny as it is to use the phrase "The Communists" and to quote that lunatic politician Milonov who everyone here thinks is a bit of a joke anyway, we are not the public enemies that it may look like from afar. In fact, quite the opposite – we have been treated like Gods, especially Adele. You just wouldn't believe how many autographs, photographs, free booze etc. we have been party to… we have basically paid for nothing.
I even tried to provoke both the Communists and Milonov, just for the craic, in our second press conference, and nothing happened. "I'm not scared of Milonov," I proclaimed, "and if those Communists outside have got a problem, they can come in and say it to my face" Although to be fair, the fact that I was supping a pint of Budweiser at the time may have undermined my fighting talk.
Yet another surreal scene, sitting in a press conference, drinking a pint of lager, and then goading Communists through an interpreter… this has not been your average holiday. And there's still Moscow to contend with yet.
Article: Mike Boorman (Follow him on twitter)
El Foxy in pictures:
"Coming soon, from the makers of Snakes On A Plane".
Baying paparazzi at the airport.
The hosts of the fox by day, the excellent Geometria Cafe.
Canny turnout for our first press conference.
By night, the fox is stored away from public view, so our hosts decided to exhibit a few rubber ducks in the case by way of substitution. Fucking brilliant.
One of the best photos ever… check out the brand name on that telescope. This was in the observatory of the ridiculously exclusive Zinger building, which is home to VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It is the highest point in St Petersburg, and no word of a lie, the last person allowed up there before us, apart from the staff, was Tom Cruise.
Below the observatory this is what VK call "The Stalin Room". It is a meeting room that looks like a cross between a torture chamber and The Medieval Zone in The Crystal Maze. Literally billion dollar deals would have been done in this room.
"He turned up late for a board meeting one day," according to one of our hosts. Where's Mumsy when you need her? Automatic lock-in and no visit to the Crystal Dome for you boy.
Fox with slightly less deranged fox.
Fox with further dead animals, and it never failed to be funny whenever Adele would point to something and say "I've got one of those in my freezer".
Fox mobbed by kids at dead animals emporium.
Fox in toy/comic book shop, next to some attempted replicas.
Adele being hassled by the public and the media.
A photo of people taking photos of us. We have a lot of these.
Not even my ex-employers Renaissance are safe. Would love to have been with Geoff Oakes at the time when I walked into a bar and this was hanging on the wall.
And yes, some Russians still drive Ladas.