Interested to get a taste of Russian weirdness and the local nerd scene, I (at first, apprehensively) accepted my friend Mikhail’s invitation to attend what he described as a “post-apocalypse event.”
I had to ask what he meant by that — despite his best attempt to paint a picture for me, I was wasn’t entirely clear what I’d be in for. But my interest was definitely piqued.
After wandering around an out-of-the-way side street in a semi-industrial part of Moscow, my small group found the entrance to the event. Inside we were searched and even patted down; I couldn’t help but wonder how rowdy this was going to get.
We were somewhat early (it was only 1 PM). After going through the informal security entrance, we wondered around, slowly seeing what “После нас” (literally “After Us”) had to offer.
Appropriately, the sky was quite overcast and the air rather chilly; the ground was somewhat muddy in places and much of the area was covered in broken concrete or asphalt, in others. The location could be best described as a mostly disused industrial back alley. In combination, it made for a very effective atmosphere of a landscape darkened by atomic warfare and a fractured human society.
Wandering around, we first came upon the “barter” area: A haggard looking tent covered the “merchants” who were offering odd little trinkets, ranging from dirty children’s toys to items us “pre-apocalypse folk” might consider trash or junk. Under the same tent, one could get their face painted in a tribal style. Across the way, there was a modest airsoft range. To purchase or partake in these activities, however, required “currency.”
When talking currency, I don’t mean rubles and kopecks; rather, event attendees collected and spent real emptied bullet shells. These could be acquired by undergoing “quests” — much like a role-playing video game.
To anyone who’s played an RPG, the set up was quite familiar; think Elder Scrolls, or, more accurately, Fallout. A questing individual had a few options to get on their way — one simply had to find the various bulletin boards scattered around the area which identified tasks or a costumed character who would offer a quest.)
One of the more straight-forward quests involved visiting “Padre” — the local priest (well, not a real priest; like many characters wandering around the event, this was a costumed organizer). After finding the “chapel,” filled with makeshift wooden pews (and hookahs), my group met Padre. We were given three dusty envelopes addressed to characters we were supposed to find roaming about.
One that many Americans might have recognized was “Mad Max” — I managed to spot him quickly, a guy dressed in an impressive recreation of Mel Gibson’s costume from “The Road Warrior” — buzz cut, leather jacket and all (no dog food though).That was one of the most striking aspects of the event, actually — the elaborate and highly accurate cosplay going on all around. Among the more memorable characters I spotted were Imortann Joe (from last year’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”), several Fallout vault dwellers (in their iconic blue jumpsuits), and an NCR soldier wielding the long-barrel .50 caliber sniper rifle.
Others were dressed in equally elaborate attire, though as far as I could tell they were original creations (though some were obviously Mad Max/Fallout inspired). Later in the evening the most impressive costumed party goers were assembled before a crowd and everyone got a chance to vote for their favorite.
A man who called himself “Reaper” was especially popular (and my personal choice). He was particularly distinctive for the way he wielded an intimidating scrap-assembled scythe that could be opened and closed at will.
This contest was held inside a disused industrial warehouse which was dubbed Aftertown. In this area, one could also visit the “bank” and exchange rubles for bullet currency, visit a tent housing a small owl and a raven, purchase nerdtastic jewelry (inspired by various sci-fi shows and video games), sit in a mock electric chair, visit the “Brahmin & Rat” bar (to drink warm wine out of dinged up tin cans), engage in (padded) sword duels in a moderately sized arena complete with obstacles, or, as the night went on, watch a variety of music acts on the main stage.
One vendor had some particularly interesting items for sale (for real money, unfortunately): impressively realistic looking chocolate handguns and hand grenades. One could quite literally eat a gun. One of our party went with a grenade and it was quite tasty, truth be told.
On the opposite end of the party area, in a smaller warehouse space, another stage could be found. Eventually music acts came on as well, providing an alternative to the main stage. Before that, however, there was a short stand-up comedy act as performed by a Road Warrior-esque “clown” (Americans might have considered him a post-apocalyptic Juggalo). He told jokes in theme with the event, naturally. After him came “weird” poetry (according to one in my group; my Russian wasn’t good enough to follow).
We continued to undergo quests; one of my group was particularly enthusiastic, gaining a good pocketful of bullet shells. One particularly amusing quest she completed involved her walking up and down the area (spanning about 300 yards) and loudly proclaiming where the best hookahs could be found, as a sort of advertisement.
Unfortunately for one in our party, he arrived too late to enjoy most of the questing activities. But he wasn’t entirely left out — he came just in time to partake in the cockroach races. Yes, you read correctly: Onlookers picked one of several large hissing roaches to place bets on with their bullet casing and cheered them on as roach wranglers urged them forward with small sticks. Much to our tardy friend’s dismay, his chosen roach felt rather uninterested and opted to watch rather than participate in the competition.
Having just lost the last of his bullets, he went to the chapel to confess his sins for gambling — lucky for him, Padre was in a forgiving mood and gave him communion via gin and tonic before rewarding him with a handful of fresh bullets.
Just when it seemed we had exhausted the bulk of the possible activities, an intermission was called in the musical performances and a large crowd gathered outside — after the sun went down it had become rather chilly, so most had been inside — and that is when I saw what is quite likely the most ridiculous thing I have witnessed since arriving in Russia.
As several people were motioning for the crowd to back up, several others unveiled a homemade flamethrower. This was no small hand torch — the device must have been at least five feet long and looked quite heavy to boot.
Using what looked like a fire extinguisher, one person sprayed a flammable substance on the asphalt as the thrower’s torch was ignited. Next thing I knew, I was standing less than two dozen feet from a huge ball of fire — it sure warmed up the cool night.
Coming from the United States, the land of litigation and overzealous attitudes toward safety precautions, I was amazed this was taking place — especially surprised not to see police suddenly swarming the place (up until this summer I’d spent my life in Colorado, a place where even simple fireworks like bottle rockets have long been banned out of fear of starting forest fires). So this was a little different for me.
After demonstrating the raw power of the device, the bystanders began to line up for their shot at creating a thrilling fireball — I chose to remain a spectator, as I had no interest in losing my eyebrows.
Without a doubt this was the peak of the party, as half drunk Mad Max types took their turns ruining my night vision.
Though I am uncertain whether there is anything similar that happens in the United States, this was undoubtedly a very Russian gathering — in many ways, but in particular, in the theme. As Mikhail explained to me, Russians are especially interested in post-apocalyptic subjects because, as many saw it, after the official end of the Soviet era in the early ’90s and the turmoil that characterized the rest of the decade, Russia was experiencing the post-apocalypse already.
Perhaps a bit mellow dramatic, but attending After Us was a particularly unique look into the mindset of young Russians — and it was a hell of a good time, to boot!
All photographs courtesy of Mikhail Malisov except where otherwise noted. All rights reserved.