Traveling the Trans-Siberian Railway

The Trans Siberian Railway spans the largest land mass on Earth, officially starting in Moscow and finishing in either Vladivostok, Russia’s most eastern city, or in Beijing by passing south through Mongolia via the Trans Mongolian line. Intrigued by the possibility of travelling from central Europe to North-Eastern China solely by land, we chose the latter. After a few days in Berlin it was time to board our train to St. Petersburg. As we had bought our tickets through DB Bahn we made the mistake of presuming that our train would be German and thus, to some extent, English speaking. However the “Vash Passport!” demand that greeted us as we boarded the train told a different story.We quickly identified the speaker as our provodnitsa, the term for the infamously strict female train attendants, and waited for the journey to start. But the consequences of our linguistic presumptions soon posed a large problem. As it was a 36-hour journey we had naively presumed there would be some way to buy food on board the train. And that may have been the case, but despite our Russian phrase book and best attempts at body language (something not really understood in Russia) the fact that it was an exclusively Russian speaking train meant we never found out. Thankfully we had brought some basic supplies with us but we still arrived in St. Petersburg a day and a half later very tired and somewhat malnourished. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="614"]A Remote Grassland Buddist Monastry in Mongolia A Remote Grassland Buddist Monastry in Mongolia[/caption] The first time you arrive in Russia it is a strange experience. As a westerner, the familiar faces of the Russian people are juxtaposed with the completely unfamiliar language, alphabet and culture - it is like you have stumbled upon a lost world or a parallel universe. Equally, the first night in Russia is also one to remember. Or not, as the case will most likely be. After getting ushered out of our hostel by an eager and extremely friendly staff member, the power of the Russian shot measurement was unleashed, and once the initial hit of the famous soviet juice was eased by a tactical slice of lemon, one shot soon became somewhere well above ten. Normally spontaneous night outs are relatively harmless, but spending my first night in St. Petersburg blind drunk was not the safest choice and it was only by some form of divine intervention that we woke up safely in our hostel the next morning. As you can imagine the next day’s plans were not quite as punctual as we had hoped but the glory of St. Petersburg, often referred to as the “Venice of the North”, is not one to be missed and we wandered the lengthy Nevsky Prospect and enjoyed the fantastic architecture for the next couple of days.

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Christo Geoghegan: Behind the Lens

Why is traveling so alluring? Perhaps it's the excitement of departing from the routine of our daily lives,  or of experiencing things previously unimagined; it's something we all dream about at one point or another. With globalisation propelled to the extent that a journey to the ends of the Earth is not only affordable, but mostly achievable in under a day by plane, the idea of the truly remote seems to be a myth of the past. London based photographer and filmmaker Christo Geoghegan spoke to GUM about what travel means to him, and how he goes about capturing the lives of those who live in some of the last isolated places on Earth.

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  • What prompted you to become a travel photographer, any specific instance where you felt you knew this was the thing for you?
I wouldn't necessarily class myself as a travel photographer. Whilst almost all the work I do is indeed abroad, the basis of the work isn't about the notion of travel. I'm not trying to capture the essence of a country, but document a particular group of people living within it. I spend around 10 months to a year researching and organising a story I'm working on, so it's very much less about travelling around and photographing the country as a whole. At the moment, I'm very much dedicating my work on communities that are marginalised in some way, or those whose way of life is under threat. The reason why I choose to work further away from home is not because I am in search of the exotic other, but because I feel that an outsiders perspective, without internal bias, allows me to document and photograph in a more well rounded manner.
  • You’re on your way to Mongolia on Thursday to continue your project on the Kazakh nomads, what made you decide to return?
Last time I went to visit the Kazakhs in Western Mongolia, I was only there for a month. It gave me a decent amount of time to give an outsiders account of their way of life, but still was only enough time to scratch the surface. I'm hoping my second visit will be able to start doing just that. I want to be able to tell more personal stories from the nomadic way of life, rather than the brief overview I managed to photograph last time. I'm also hoping to start work on a short film out there. So this is the second of many visits to come!
  • What has been your favourite experience whilst traveling with the nomads, and anything particular that you’ve learnt?
Without a doubt the sheer kindness I'm greeted with every day. I found from travelling a lot and from working all over the world, that those with the least, are willing to share the most. I would travel to the far corners of the Kazakh state of Mongolia and would always be ushered into houses, thrust a large meal in front of my face, and poured an endless flow of tea. That sense of community and willingness to help strangers is just something that's been lost in the West; everyone is so guarded.

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Films: Django Unchained

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'Django Unchained' will be released in British cinemas on Friday the 18th of January but it has already stirred up a lot of controversy in America. The film follows recently freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) team up with the eloquent dentist cum bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) as they track down and free Django's wife. Waltz turns in another dazzling performance, audience and director alike are wooed by his eccentric sense of humour which slightly overshadows Foxx, who, for the most part goes for more of a laconic tough guy caricature. The balance works well and helps Tarantino deal with the issue of slavery in smart ways as Schultz teaches Django how to read and shoot to further his emancipation. However it is DiCaprio who steals the show as the southern debonair, Monsieur Candie, who couples charming wit with sadomasochistic racism in a captivating performance. DiCaprio has been stifled in recent years as he constantly returned to psychologically disturbed roles in an attempt to pick up an Oscar that to this day eludes him, but he seems rejuvenated playing out of type as the Southern gothic villain with high energy and a dandy flair. Quentin Tarantino has made a name for himself by taking forgotten, worn out relics and breathing new life into them. He salvaged the careers of John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster, David Caradine and put them back in front of the camera with a renewed hunger to lay down the performance of their careers (in the case of Travolta, he came up against fierce opposition with the Weinstein Company, almost jeopardizing the completion of Pulp Fiction). He took expired genres like the 70s Hong Kong revenge film, grind house and the 'dirty dozen' and charged them with his witty dialogue and vivid violence. The only misstep in 'Django' is the fact that the western genre has already been updated for modern audiences and once again exhausted by shows such as Deadwood, games like Red Dead Redemption, and films like Cowboys vs Aliens. So the awkward scrolling inter titles and long shoot-outs are a part of a ready-made style as opposed to one unique to Tarantino.

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The Last Dance @ Chambre 69
from left: Assan, Colin, Tanner

The Last Dance @ Chambre 69

[caption id="attachment_3031" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]from left: Assan, Colin, Tanner from left: Ahsan, Colin, Tanner[/caption] This past Friday saw Chambre 69 opening its doors to Glasgow clubbers for the last time at its current location at 69 Nelson Mandela Place. The shock closure, announced over Facebook, sent ripples of confusion and a general melancholy over the demise of what has been, for the last 18 months, one of Glasgow’s finest venues. The Chambre team wrote in their announcement that “this has come totally out of the blue for us and we are not in a position to negotiate staying in the venue any longer.” The shady nature of the closure and the last minute pull-together of the acts gives anyone who wants to put on a packed-out club night a bit of hope. But then we have to remember that these are the Chambre guys, and we could only be so lucky as to have such a hint of scandal to propel a club night into the stratosphere. Originally billed as Chicago vs. Detroit, the line-up was changed to reflect the times, beginning with Glasgow based collective and electronic label All Caps, to aliOOFT, Void and Tanner. Seasoned regulars mixed with the scene kids for one last night at the soon-to-be notorious venue. That is to say, if it wasn’t before, the half mile queue down Buchanan street certainly made it so. _MG_5128 Shaun Murphy of Vitamins, was quoted as saying “It's a genuine loss to the club scene, hopefully whatever fills the void has a similar open, risk taking and supportive ethos.” Luckily for us Cheesy (Chambre Tech) and Ahsan (Deadly Rhythm / Former Chambre booking manager) will be launching a pop-up venue appropriately named Make Do, which will have it's opening night this Saturday.

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What’s On: Guys and Dolls

The Cecilian Society, Glasgow University’s foremost musical theatre society, proudly present their main show of 2013; Frank Loesser’s hit musical ‘Guys and Dolls’.  The society have previously performed musicals such as ‘Our House’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘Bugsy Malone’, ‘Oklahoma’ and in September 2012 ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. The society recently celebrated their 60th Anniversary in October, with a fantastic weekend of events including a hit concert packed full of musical classics. Building on the success of this weekend, they now bring this classic American musical to the Mitchell Theatre stage in February. With a cast of over 60 talented people bursting with enthusiasm, it is a must-see event! Guys and Dolls GUM

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Dauwd @ Rubix 13/12/12

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Just before Christmas the Rubix boys put on the fifth installment of what is becoming one of Glasgow’s staple nights. With past acts including South London Ordnance, Joonipah, Elphino, and staple Point To C; Rubix is the night for those who are particularly enamoured with the cutting edge of electronic music. Subclub was forcefully launched into the festive spirit with lashing of UV lights and rubix cubes hanging from the ceiling, the night proved to be the final assault against those pesky exam blues. GUM caught up with newcomer Dauwd at the afterparty to chat about music, his heritage, and his unwavering obsession with Dylan Thompson.

Interviewing on a sunken sofa surrounded by party goers I begin by asking the inevitable first question; how does Glasgow compare to other cities he’s played in? Without hesitation he says “The Glasgow crowd is really good, they’re boss!”, a statement that reflects the pull the city has on similar musicians, such as James Rand who played at Rubix in May last year. With friendly rivalry in the air at the mention of Rand, Dauwd exclaims “he’s so shit, he’s just like Skrillex”. The musicians met when doing the rounds of the Liverpool club circuit, playing at institutions such as Chibuku Shake Shake, where Dauwd played a supporting act back in October. A relative newcomer on the electronic music scene Dauwd Al Hilali has taken it by storm, with roots in Iraq, a childhood in Wales, he now oscillates  between London and Liverpool. His first EP ‘What’s There’ was released on Pictures Music in November 2011, while his reputation continues to be solidified by excellent live performances and a few strategic placements on compilations. One such compilation is Adult Swim’s ‘Unclassified’ which includes the likes of Kode9 and Lukid, as well as a recent mix he curated for 22 Tracks, where samples of Andy Stott are used to great success.

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Review: SWANS & Sir Richard Bishop @ The Arches 16/11/12

26859_large Experiencing a band who have retained their musical integrity over a thirty year period is not a daily pleasure; it’s a grand event. Swans’ appearance in Glasgow carried with it high expectations, and with support from Sir Richard Bishop it made for a promising line-up. Ticket price was reasonable for The Arches, and certainly merited by the band’s industrious career: exceeding thirty releases. The tour follows the release of one of 2012’s more interesting albums: The Seer. The artwork introduces the stark contrast heard in the music, and was in all manners a release concerned with every nuance of the sound. The title-track’s 32-minute duration and bagpipe/percussion introduction brings to mind Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s East Hastings, but soon ascends above and beyond in the moody excitement of Swans’ rich, rolling and diverse constructs. The track is largely representative of Swans live: in the course of a two-hour show we were subjected to only six songs, but each successive track sapped more sanity and drove the sheer weight of the sound into the audience. The crowd varied in age and well-represented the diverse appeal of Swans’ music. As support, Sir Richard Bishop’s music promised a fine and delicate contrast to the onslaught which followed. What he presented, however, was a dirtier, more convoluted sound. To watch his fingers it was clear that technically his playing was precise, even in its more chaotic motions, yet the sound was dense and reverberated angrily through the venue’s halls.

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