Sites of Resistance: Nightlife Culture in 2018
From Tbilisi to London and Washington, DC, we trace the small – and not so small – acts of defiance offered up by nightlife throughout the year. Below are three essays penned by key figures and participants of moments that made a mark on dancefloor culture in 2018.
On 12 May, armed special police units raided Bassiani and Cafe Gallery, two clubs central to the rise of techno culture in Tbilisi in recent years. The clampdown sparked protests in front of Georgia’s Parliament which led to clashes with right wing extremists. Davit Chikhladze and Keta Gabunia from Tbilisi club Mtkvarze reflect on the city’s ‘year of fear’.
Before we get onto the club scene, we need to tell you a bit about Tbilisi. The city is quite messed up. The collective memory is a brief timeline of fears infused into society across the centuries, especially during the Soviet’s great terror of the 30s and the civil war of the 90s. Sometimes when you walk around the city and it’s sunny and peaceful, you get this feeling out of nowhere, that everything might explode at any moment, and that’s quite scary. Modern Tbilisi exists to make you feel insecure.
Most of the people you ask will tell you that the club scene changed this. That our club scene liberated the souls of the youth, who can now dance until dawn and care only about the next drink they are getting. No matter how hard the local community will want to believe in this nicely told story, or how much excitement the cultural west can muster about the liberation of the former Soviet east with dance, this will not be true.
The truth is that the will of liberation brought the clubs and not vice versa. At some point, in the massive authoritarianism that ruled Georgia with fear, the city’s youth found a loophole in the minds of people in charge, people who think they are in charge and people who are afraid of people who are in charge, which basically was the entire population of the country. So we started to dance, because nobody cared what happens during the night. We started to dance in old cafes, former Soviet fish restaurants and disused swimming pools. We started to dance because we felt that these places were empty from the people and influences mentioned above. These places were empty from fear.
In other words, it was the community who built clubs and not clubs who made communities. First clubs were established by people, who partied in the city for a long time – we have seen them on our dancefloors for ages. And it didn’t cost much to start a club, you just needed to be creative in finding spaces. Now it is all changing of course, but for example, Mtkvarze was started in the abandoned Soviet-era fish restaurant and with zero funding or help from investors. Seven years ago you simply didn’t need that.
Clubs grew in popularity, and the number of clubs increased accordingly. While the people dancing grew up on those dancefloors, the numbers of dancers grew as well. If this all started with 100 outcasts, now we were much, much more, and not outcasts anymore. We became the mainstream of youth, because somehow dance as a medium has become a message. In other words, and we need to be entirely clear in this, people do not dance for freedom, people dance because they feel free and through dance they mediate the condition to society, stating “look at me, I am free.”
"People do not dance for freedom, people dance because they feel free"
We won’t be wrong to say that Georgia has never had a government or ruler or leader who likes and encourages people to be free from fear. This is quite sad, but that’s how it is. Now is no different. What happened in 2018 was that today’s Georgia made us know and realise this again. On one day, they started to build tension around the club scene in media, and on one night in May, they just sent armed police on to the dancefloors. The official reason given for the raids was that for our safety and security we need to be shown that this kind of lifestyle drives us to take drugs and engage in pointless bohemia, something which is totally unacceptable for conservative Georgia. The true message behind this was: “you people are having too much fun”. And now we are afraid to be on the dancefloor.
Even though there were massive demonstrations, there were apologies from the government, there was an enormous feeling of unity in front of parliament where we started to defend our rights, there was a substantial western media hiatus, not a single night on the dancefloor had felt the same after the night when armed forces invaded the dancefloor, made us leave the clubs and occupied the space for hours.
Once we went to clubs because it felt safe. In May 2018 that feeling was gone.
On 13 July, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of London for the Together Against Trump march against the President’s first official British visit. So naturally Gideön Berger, one half of the Block9 duo behind Glastonbury’s NYC Downlow, smuggled in a huge sound system.
My life’s work is to persuade people to engage in politics by using music as a sweetener. People need to see the world unfolding in front of them for what it really is, and by partnering causes with music, you make them much more appealing. People are more likely to engage.
People often say, “don’t pollute the party with your politics, music is sacred. Isn’t it just enough that dance music unifies people on the dancefloor?” In my mind, dance music has always been political. House music has always been a radical leftist force promoting queer people and queerness, black people and blackness, celebrating humankind as a patchwork of diverse variation and non-compliant freakishness.
One of my first ever DJ gigs was to 50,000 people at the Criminal Justice Bill demo in Trafalgar Square in 1994. I remember the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp protests in the 80s that my mum used to take me to as a kid. Music was central to that scene. Protest doesn’t have to be shitty and cold and boring, it could be totally fun! Some of the best parties I’ve been to have been linked to some sort of political or social cause.
When I found out Trump was coming to London, I sent a text message to all the big name DJs in my phone book asking them to play at an illegal outdoor protest rave. I said, “I can’t believe Trump is coming to London on Friday the 13th, let’s have a massive sound system street party and tell him to fuck off.” Together with Soho Radio, Love Music Hate Racism and about 20 DJs, we pulled off an amazing day of resistance.
We had a massive articulated lorry – the kind you would get at Notting Hill Carnival – with a huge sound system on it. After five hours of trying, we finally got the lorry into central London, managing to convince the police that the truck had deliveries for a building site on The Strand. We already had a sound system outside Soho Radio studio with about a thousand people dancing on the street when we finally smuggled the truck into the no-drive zone enforced during the anti-Trump protest. One of my favourite moments of my life so far was when the curtain was pulled back and myself, Prosumer, Luke Solomon and the Horse Meat Disco boys jumped on the back of the truck and put on the first record. A thousand jaws just dropped, a unanimous ‘what the fuck’.
“All it takes is for people to be switched on enough, angry enough and motivated enough to take action and mobilise”
The street was so rammed no one could shut us down. It was completely insane. We had trans go-go girls crowd surfing 50 metres down the street, members of the public raving from lamp posts. All you could see was FUCK TRUMP and FUCK BREXIT banners all the way down the street. A huge gathering of strangers united in resistance. We managed to pull off an epic, free event entirely funded by goodwill. All it takes is for people to be switched on enough, angry enough and motivated enough to take action and mobilise.
Terror is all extremely close to all of our front doors, even in the privileged, fabulous western bubble of organic Chai lattes that we live in. Knowing that and feeling that is really important. We’re going to be force-fed to eat this shit sandwich for the rest of our lives unless we flip the table now.
Let’s come together and kick out this corrupt Tory government and stop this bullshit farce called Brexit. As Spiral Tribe, the original radical techno sound system collective, said 25 years ago… forward the revolution!
Madison Moore is a DJ, writer and assistant professor at the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. On 29 September, following the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the dancefloor offered some much-needed release.
It’s 6:40am and I’m crawling out of a warehouse in some unremarkable crevice of northeast Washington, DC, a street so discreet, so far off the grid, that there’s no reason to come here unless you were trying to have car sex. I love coming to unassuming spaces like these with no other clubs or bars or parties or venues in the area because it means you’re choosing to come here. A destination. You’ve put your faith into the experience. This is where you want to be tonight.
I’ve been dancing to techno and downing Club-Mate vodkas for six hours and I’m feeling fabulous. Tons of cute guys, maybe 150 people total. People going apeshit by the speaker towers. Bump into a friend of a friend I haven’t seen in at least two years, she’s in town from LA visiting for a wedding, how random. Cracks of my big black fan as I dance, pose and cool myself off.
As a seasoned punter I’m interested in spaces that are hot, raw, taped together and in process, and that’s just one reason this is the best club night I’ve had all year. The people were alive, the music was good, the sound was impeccable and the space felt improvised and makeshift, like the whole thing was held together by a single piece of masking tape and a few specs of glitter. But there was something else going on tonight – something else in the air.
Not even 30 hours prior the nation watched in horror as Dr Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of a panel of white men about her sexual assault allegations against United States Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. My place of work held a screening of the testimony that was open to anyone interested, and over the course of the day people popped in and out of the seminar room. For hours we sat and ate pizza, groaned in horror, took breaks, screamed at the television set and ached in disgust as the spectacle of white male privilege and entitlement raged on at full speed.
“We are weirdos, queer people, people of colour and femmes raging against the machine”
We were so repelled by the end of the hearings that everybody felt they needed to do something, anything, to restore themselves. One of my colleagues went to the beach for the weekend. I jumped on a bus to Washington, DC, found a place to stay, and danced for six hours in the northeast crevice of the District in a space anchored by weirdos, queer people, people of colour and femmes. Techno spaces are unfortunately not always so diverse nowadays, even though people of colour and queer people invented the shit. Tonight, though, we feel centred in the space. And even though it never came up once, here we are, in the same city or parallel universe where only 30 hours ago straight white men made a desperate, final plea for relevance. We are weirdos, queer people, people of colour and femmes raging against the machine.
A tale of two cities.
Club and party spaces are not utopias, and they are not perfect, immune to critique or even always safe. But they are certainly portals to other realms of experience and ways of being in the world. In clubs we free ourselves from all sorts of things as well as we flee from all sorts of things. My night in DC was exactly this kind of portal to other ways of being that allow us to tap out of our bodies, stresses, anxieties and worries, even if only temporarily – but at last.