In 1991, the metal fury rocked the USSR

By Benoît Vitkine

Posted today at 1:57 am, updated at 5:26 am

By the hundreds, by the thousands, they poured out from the surrounding metro and bus stations, a screaming crowd that exulted and pitched like in a giant pogo. On the rare images that immortalized their arrival at this legendary concert, we see them, a tide of denim jackets, leather jackets, awkwardly tied bandanas, faces distorted by excitement.

There are also bottles of alcohol displayed as trophies, adults addressed to the camera, mocking glances at the police who are trying to channel the flow. Who could imagine that Moscow had so many hairy people ? Metalworkers, as metalworkers are known in Russia, are more used to razing the walls of their dormitory towns, in this Soviet Union (USSR) which has not quite said its last words yet.

From the morning of September 28, 1991, crowds flocked to the grounds of the huge Tushino airfield, on the outskirts of Moscow. Among them, the most enthusiastic or those who had nowhere to go when getting off the train slept there, in the grass or on the airstrips. They come from all over the USSR, young adults or rebellious teenagers with faces that are sometimes so childish, music lovers or simply curious, all attracted by the breath of an extraordinary event. The braziers are still smoking, in the cold morning. The bottles rotate to warm bodies and souls. We relieve ourselves in the grass – the organizers have thought of the essential, the sound and the stage, and not the accessory, the toilets.

On September 28, 1991, on the Tushino aerodrome, the public was mainly made up of young rock fans.

How many will they be in the end ? Six hundred thousand ? A million ? One million six hundred thousand, some members of the Californian band Metallica will say, evoking the best concert of their life. Thirty years after the event, no figure is yet a consensus. One thing is certain: the Soviet Union had never known such a bacchanal against a background of hard rock and metal.

The spectators do not know it yet, but they are experiencing a moment of history. There are people, of course, a figure never reached for the country and which comes to titillate the world records. There are the artists, these names that one would never have imagined to see landing on the planet of communism: Pantera, The Black Crowes, Metallica, AC / DC… A few years earlier, rock was simply banned; and now its most angry representatives are greeted like idols.

A historic turning point

But above all there is the context, this formidable pile-up of the history which constitutes the year 1991, that of the collapse of the USSR. A month earlier, the most radical members of the Communist Party and the KGB tried to stop this collapse, terrified by the disintegration of the republics and what they consider to be the softness of the one who will be the last president of the Union. Soviet: Mikhail Gorbachev. On August 18, they attempted a putsch: elite divisions were brought to Moscow, Gorbachev, then on vacation in the Crimea, was declared unfit due to illness. The televisions, after announcing the news, contented themselves with broadcasting Swan Lake.

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