RUSSIA UNDERGROUND

Here are 4 actors from the Russian underground scene

Sergueï in St Petersburg
Vladimir in Moscow
Gourran in Novosibirsk
Alexeï in Krasnoyarsk

Sergueï

“Russia is more than vodka, bears and Gosha Rubchinskiy.” We asked the founders, club kids and residents of Kisloty about its underground music scene and the creative future of St. Petersburg. From this year’s football World Cup to one of the most influential designers of today, there’s a lot of things we associate with Russia. But one thing many people skip over is its music scene. Which is a shame -- because artists like Muscovite Kedr Livanskiy and underground producers such as Buttechno and RASSVET records are making sounds worth taking note of.

Most of these artists come together at Kisloty, which is to St. Petersburg what Berghain is to Berlin, although it’s mostly unknown by non-locals. There’s little information about the club online, except that it’s an old railway station converted into a techno epicenter. It’s there that, as well as clubbing, exhibitions and talks take place, and with it a community of like-minded people has grown.

To get a better idea of the underground club shaping Russian culture, we introduce you to the people behind it. St. Petersburg is a place of power.

Vladimir

Vladimir is from the collective Russki Attrackion. Strap yourself in and keep your knees and elbows inside the car, because party collective Russki Attrakcion (aka "Russian Rollercoaster") are about to take you on a wild night out in Moscow!

Russki Attrakcion began putting on club nights announced on the day of the event in hidden local spots as a reaction to the European-style clubs that dominated the scene. Holding spontaneous events in old Soviet cafés, Putin-backed biker garages and simple Chinese restaurants; a night out with Russki Attrakcion is a night like no other. Follow their recently appointed rooster mascot (they found him on the street the day of the party) and lose yourself in a world of spontaneity, ramshackle parties and an alternative underworld, by taking a moonlit ride through a new wave of Russian youth culture. “After our collaboration with Darkdron, we had lots of ideas in mind. The name Russki Attrakcion was obvious. We started to organize a few evenings together, just for fun and love of music. Our first evening was on May 1st. It was in a ryumochnaya of Zyuzino, ”remembers Katowskey.

And in terms of music, if Moscow is set to techno time, we take the opportunity to play what we like, bass, hip hop, Brazilian beats, Russian punk and jungle. And everyone is having fun. " The locations chosen by Russki Attrakcion are always out of step with what one would expect from a classic club experience. They settled in ryumochnaya, but also in mansions, billiard rooms, Khinkalnaya (Georgian restaurants), and large banquet halls, with bonus gold statues, usually rented for weddings. The attitude is inclusive; a little guerrilla approach. “We never rent these places. We show up, we put on music, we adjust the light and we bring the crowd together, ”explains Katowskey. "It's like a pop up that could appear anywhere within two hours. These places chosen by the collective immediately speak to anyone who grew up in Russia; they are a bit kitsch, a little bizarre but very familiar - an air of nostalgia for the culture of the past 25 years.

Gourran

In recent years, Russia has been regrettably known for the systematic oppression of the LGBTQ+ community. The so-called “gay propaganda law”, which was passed in 2013, has not only outlawed the representation of LGBTQ+ in mainstream media and culture but also has triggered an increase in homophobic violence. Russia’s conservative powers are keen to create a heteronormative image of the country — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite being largely unknown in the West, Russian queer underground culture exists — and it’s diverse, fearless and beautiful. The drag scene is a large part of it and is widespread across the country. Drawn by its creativity and fierce spirit, photographer Maria Babikova has documented the drag queen community in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.Novosibirsk is the third biggest city in Russia with a population of over 1.5 million people. It is a regional cultural capital and one of the main centres of Russian scientific research. “In short, it is a regular large Russian city,” Maria sums up. Portraying the drag community in the Russian landscape beyond the capital of Moscow was one of her goals — not only because of the fact that the vibrant and fierce drag scene seems completely out of place there but for the possibility to survey the broader Russian mentality.

“There are three drag clubs in Novosibirsk and seven professional drag queens. In Russia there is a big scene, in almost every city where there is a gay community there is at least one gay club and its own drag artists,” says Madam Butterfly, one of the key drag queens on the Novosibirsk scene. “We mainly meet at contests in different cities. The biggest one happens in Sochi at the beginning of September, and I participated myself in 2015, which really inspired me to grow. Russian drag queens mostly follow each other’s work and connect through social media. In Novosibirsk, we have “Diva of Siberia”, a pageant for drag queens across the region. On stage, we are competitors, but in the day to day life we often meet and spend time together.”

Alexeï

Клуб: the rail factory that became a visionary nightclub

Operating largely as a techno night, and occasionally as a space for exhibitions and gigs, Клуб is as much a platform for emerging and international artists as it is a subcultural meeting point – and an inclusive, judgment-free, safe space – for its hardcore weekend community: 300–500 teenage ravers and diehard techno aficionados. “Each night we make minor improvements and something changes”. “It’s an inspiring dynamic.” It’s Alexeï’s community-first, off-grid approach that has brought the club such success at a time when other venues in Russia – Moscow’s techno institution Arma17 and Rabitza, Russia’s original DIY club – have been shut down by the authorities. Rather than working with DJs already playing on the local club circuit, A chose to work with a pool of 10 exclusive residents. “It allows them to guide their audience over time. Traditionally, a DJ brings their own audience to a club, but that means the venue accommodates different people each week rather than growing a community.” Finding fellow techno lovers en masse wasn’t easy – the night barely covered expenses at the start. “I always looked at it as cultural investment,” says Alexeï. “A way to keep our people updated on what’s happening in countries with a more advanced underground music scene.”