Stories

Published on April 13th, 2006 | by Vincent BlackShadow

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Kingswood Country

Recently Vlad Maryasin refused an opportunity that most people in the recording industry would find difficult to dismiss. He turned down one of the icons of Australian music, Darryl Braithwaite, who came to public attention in one of the most popular bands of the 1970s, Sherbet. To Vlad he was just another cold caller, knocking on the door of the studio, inquiring about renting a room to write in.

‘I didn’t know who he was. If he had seen it he wouldn’t have wanted it anyway,’ Vlad said. ‘So I just told him, we’re in the middle of renovations, go rent a house in the country or something. I’m standing there in my leather pants and a singlet, tatts hanging out and I’m giving this guy advice.’ When asked if he thought he had missed a chance to secure a regular income, Vlad insists that he is not in the music business solely for money.

‘I want the place to be a punk, industrial, metal studio. We don’t need someone who’s just recouped on a record he made ten years ago coming around to suck up all the creative vibes.’ This may seem a counterproductive attitude for someone raising a two-year-old son with his partner Colleen but an attitude well in keeping with Vlad’s philosophy. He is a person the Hell’s Angels would describe as a ‘One Percenter’ — the one percent who don’t fit in and don’t want to fit in. Someone who is true to their ideals and will not compromise them in order to have an easy life. Turning down clients who do not fit the criteria of his studio is not an attempt to maintain some kind of elusive brand of ‘cool’, for Vlad it is about freedom of choice; the liberty to conduct his business in any way he sees fit. Freedom is something Vlad takes very seriously.

As a teenager in the Soviet Union, Vlad accepted state control and the absence of choice as a permanent reality.

‘You don’t know what it is until you can see it from outside. Until I immigrated to a capitalist country, that’s the only time I could see the difference. I felt really sad, ripped off and angry. More than anything I felt really frustrated for the people who were there and didn’t know what they were living in. All my friends were left behind.’

Vlad grew up in what is now called Kyrgyzstan. Situated on the western border of China, it has been described as the Switzerland of Central Asia due to its vast snow capped mountain ranges. He remembers going to school during the Cold War when he and his friends would wonder why the Russians wouldn’t just nuke the Americans and get it over with.

‘They teach the kids to sing the communist songs; they put the red flags around, our leader’s portraits and everything. When you’re a kid and you grow up in this environment it’s normal. The communist ideology is the religion.’

They were taught to assemble Kalashnikov rifles and practiced nuclear attack drills. In the neighbourhoods the triangular concrete entrance to a nuclear fall out shelter stuck out of the ground every few hundred metres; a bunker stocked with the basic provisions for surviving a nuclear attack. Kids would break into them and get high on the radiation sickness drugs. As well as coping with the rigours of the state, Vlad endured a family life that was unstable and extremely dangerous.

‘My mother had a defacto partner for ten years who was an Arab, and we’re Jewish, so there was always domestic violence going on. He was a gangster, never worked a day in his life, never went to the army, never done anything. Just made money out of criminal activities like rolling big guys for a lot of money.

‘There was an underground casino in the house. He installed this massive magnet under the floor and put a tiny piece of metal inside the dice. The magnet only worked on remote control so when one of his own crew rolled the dice another guy triggered off the magnet and the dice would sit on the right position for them to win. It’s always a different person who wins and they split the money later. To everyone else they don’t know each other, but it’s this gang working together. So they lose to each other, to their friends, but it’s just a show so no one gets paranoid.’

Fortunately no one did get paranoid and the elaborate ruse was never discovered.

‘If they did I would have been dead. My mother would have been dead. People would have come and killed us. So this guy put us in that kind of danger all the time.’

The catalyst for the move to Australia was danger of different kind, a mixture of teenage indiscretion and bad luck. Vlad was caught in possession of marijuana.

‘It grows wild everywhere over there,’ he explains. ‘I went hunting with friends and picked some just growing on the side of a mountain. On the way home I went to the shop to buy some rolling papers with this thing on me. It was just cops randomly pulling me up and checking me out. I was thirteen. They wanted to put me away two years for this. My mum kept paying off the cops so they would put off the court date further and further until the visa came through and we took off. So I never went to court over this because if I did I would have been convicted and sentenced. That would have been it.’

The Soviet Union was notoriously difficult to leave. Rather than emigrating, you escaped, but Jews were permitted to leave. The timing of the visa is something even Vlad, now an avowed Satanist, describes as a miracle. He left the day before he was due in court to answer the possession charge and arrived in Melbourne with $300 and a suitcase, six months before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although capitalism has provided Vlad with an improved standard of living, he is naturally suspicious of any system that promotes preferred modes of thought and behaviour. ‘Here it’s nice, everyone can have everything they want but they keep to themselves, to their own little box and their own little entertainment unit. In Russia if you need help you go to your friends, over here no one’s going to help you if you’re in trouble. “They say, Social Security is over there, go and sign up. You’re trying to crawl out of shit forever; until you do then you’ve only crawled out of shit by Soviet standards and it starts all over again.’

Dressed entirely in leather with a black baseball cap covering his clean-shaven scalp, Vlad sits far back from the wheel of his gas-powered Kingswood. A rubber shrunken head swings from the rear view mirror as he coasts into the service station on the last gasp of pressure from the tank. ‘I used to collect guitars,’ he said. ‘And one day I would like to collect Harley Davidson motorcycles and Lamborghini vehicles but right now, I want to concentrate on collecting money.’

— Luke McKay


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