Metal in Soviet Russia: Monsters of Rock 1991

The poster advertisement for the event. || Courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons

What if I told you that one of the largest crowds to ever attend a concert—1.5 million people—happened in Russia?1 What if I told you that it was just before the fall of the Soviet Union? What if I told you that it was a heavy metal festival? Yes, this all happened in the fall of 1991, the very same year that the Iron Curtain fell. This is the story of the Monsters of Rock Moscow show.

The whole Monsters of Rock idea started in Castle Donington, England in 1980, gaining a monumental following in the following years, adding more popular bands in the rock and metal scene to the lineup. Although it was originally going to be a one-time event, over the next decade, the show was held again, and it only increased in popularity. It put on shows across Europe, cementing its place in music history.2

The Soviet Union Flag | Courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons

At the same time that Monsters of Rock was happening in Europe, the Soviet Union was in turmoil. During the 1980’s, Soviet Premier Lenoid Brezhnev died and by 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Throughout the decade of the 1980s, western music was making its way into the USSR.

September 1991 was a big month in Russia. There was an August Coup, which was a failed military takeover of the Soviet Union.3 So, tensions were still high when the Russian government contacted the organizers of the show to see if they would be interested in having a show in Russia. Word of the show spread to many outlets, who wanted to see if they could televise the event, with Time Warner ending up getting the rights to record the show.

Shot of some fans at the show | Courtesy of Time Warner

When it came to selecting the bands to perform, it was difficult to choose which bands would go. Because of Soviet isolation, the festival organizers did not know which bands would be popular in Russia. So, some of the most popular metal bands were chosen, bands such as AC/DC, Metallica, and Pantera, which became the main headliners for the show.4 The date for the event was set for September 28, in Tushino Airfield, a former site of Soviet military exercises.

On the day of the event, a flood of people came into the airfield early in the day, with events starting off at 2 p.m. with Pantera preforming first. The recordings of Pantera’s set can be seen online, capturing the loud and energetic atmosphere that the band was able to generate on their audience. The set that is remembered the most out of this event is Metallica’s. It was here that the estimated 1.5 million people showed up, causing chaos for the Soviet guards who were at the event.5 Video footage shows helicopters flying close to the crowd, trying to settle down the rowdy fans. In a video of the set, one can see the ocean of people moving around and singing along, even though the majority of the crowd only knew English through the music. You can feel the raw emotions of the crowd and see how one simple music event was able to draw in over 1.5 million, all through the power of music.

Crowd shot of the show | Courtesy of Time Warner

In December of 1991, a few months after the show had happened, the official dissolution of the Soviet Union took place.6 Many of the many restrictions on western media and music were gone and more events like the Monsters of Rock show were able to take place in the country. The legacy of the show is still known today. What was once thought of as a risk turned out to be one of the largest attended shows in history. It is truly beautiful how music was able to do this in a country where many restrictions on media did not allow this.

 

  1. Nathan Smith, “No Fences: Garth Brooks & the Fuzzy Math of 10 Mega-Concerts,” Houston Press, May 23, 2016, https://www.houstonpress.com/music/no-fences-garth-brooks-and-the-fuzzy-math-of-10-mega-concerts-6776412 .
  2. Matt Wilkinson, “Plaque in Honour of Monsters Of Rock Co-founder Presented at Download.” NME, June 14, 2010, https://www.nme.com/news/music/download-festival-9-1291987 .
  3. Jamie Glazov, “The Collapse of the Soviet Union: 25 Years Later,” Frontpage Magazine, December 26, 2016, https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/265260/collapse-soviet-union-25-years-later-jamie-glazov .
  4. Nathan Smith, “No Fences: Garth Brooks & the Fuzzy Math of 10 Mega-Concerts.” Houston Press, May 23, 2016, https://www.houstonpress.com/music/no-fences-garth-brooks-and-the-fuzzy-math-of-10-mega-concerts-6776412 .
  5. Brian Bumbery, “Metallica’s “Black Album” Sets New Sales Record,” Globe Newswire News Room, May 29, 2014, https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2014/05/29/1002715/0/en/Metallica-s-Black-Album-Sets-New-Sales-Record.html/ .
  6. Jamie Glazov, “The Collapse of the Soviet Union: 25 Years Later,” Frontpage Magazine, December 26, 2016, https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/265260/collapse-soviet-union-25-years-later-jamie-glazov .
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36 Comments

  • Great article! I have actually never heard of this which is disappointing on my part because I really love music. It is amazing how music could bring people together and have such a positive impact during such dark times. What struck me was how they chose bands that they had no idea if the Russians would like and they still had a lot of people attending and enjoying the concert.

  • I love AC/DC but I never knew about this, I’m very surprised that that the Soviet Union let the bands preform give with the restrictions on the western music in the country. Another thing I found interesting was that 1 and a half million people showed up for the Metallica’s performance. That Is so many people at one concert. Its much like Live aid back in 1985 there was about 200,000 people in person and it was broadcasted to about 1.5 billion people world wide. Although they’re watching from home that is still so many people watching on concert at one time.

  • I never would have thought of the Soviet Union having a large fan base for metal music, but because after reading the article it made a lot of sense as to why. Heavy metal is typically popular among those who want large societal change or have deep frustrations with society, which I assume those living in the Soviet Union during its collapse felt. Interesting article that examined the way music has a role in history which I really enjoyed reading!

  • It is such a beautiful thing what music can do and the type of impact it has, I had no idea that metal music had taken place during a dark time for Russia. It is amazingly shocking that The Monsters of Rock were able to bring 1.5 million people to one place together for one of their shows, creating a famous marking point for themselves in the history of music.

  • God Bless Heavy Metal! It is truly astounding to learn about this occurrence and celebration of music happening in Soviet Russia. It is also interesting to learn of American bands performing for the Reds. The USSR and United States did not have the best relationship at the time and so it is interesting to learn of the participation of Metallica and Pantera, (RIP Dimebag). What is even funnier is when we consider what James Hetfield experienced years later as a result of the war on Terror concerning his facial hair.

  • I never knew about this. I’m surprised the Soviet Union let these metal bands perform, given the restrictions on western music in the country. Another thing I found amazing was that 1.5 million people showed up for Metallica’s performance. That’s basically all the people in San Antonio! I think that is incredible, and it’s hard to imagine how they even had a large enough venue for all those people. I’m sure it stunk to be in the back of the crowd!

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