Techno in Tbilisi

By Audio Pervert - 5/20/2018

Mid May this year was witness to a series of state authorized crack-down of certain popular techno clubs in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia. Soldiers, in riot gear marched into the dance floor and evacuated the spaces, the so called "spiritual places" in a matter of few hours. An orchestrated series of ruthless raids, on so called "Sex and Drug Havens" as a show of authority. Clamping down on the rights and culture-spaces of thousands of 'party-people' (and the industry within). The technocracy of Tblisi powered by thousands of residents plus many DJs, music producers, journalists and LGBT activists took to the streets protesting, playing techno, demanding justice. Dozens of top-rank DJs and electronic music blogs from EU and US pouring online support at the pandemonium of events in Tblisi. Consequently violent clashes broke out between right-wing juntas and protestors injuring many people. Mainstream media simply followed through as state police arrested people incoherently.

Getting certain facts into place for a 'fair' context : The raids itself symbolic in nature, planned and executed by the state, has been abetted by various forces - nationalist youth, the influence of the orthodox church of Georgia and lobbying groups of men from deeply conservative backgrounds. Clearly Georgia's underbelly of a violent patriarchy and orthodox christian values combined, has a problem with techno-culture and youth liberalism. "Safe Haven for Drugs" or "Spiritual Places" both useless comparisons : the problem is not really about the music per-say. The music is being sequestered in the process. Techno is not native to Georgia and nor is the idea of a 'diverse open' nation. The authoritarian presence of orthodox Georgian values remain as is, even after the country became independent from Russian control. These religious and social shackles were partly hacked-off by the effects of globalization, liberal education, even war as well as ethnic changes within Georgia. Note the big influx of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 15 years. Al Jazeera News points to the huge donations appropriated by Israelis towards Georgian institutions to promote education, technology and zionist culture. The entry of foreign cultures, music, liberalization and populism has repeated itself like a loop in many nations in Europe and Asia since 2001. The transitions and struggles also similar : Example, the Gay Community in Georgia cannot marry just like India, Egypt, Iran, China, Malaysia etc. Yet everyone must have a voice if we are all are actually equal and free. The new Techno-Anarchism and Georgian 'Holy Trinity' both at logger-heads yet cloistered in opposing conservative systems. The state which clamped down on these venues had been surveilling it's patrons and customers alike snooping for evidence of narco-trafficking.

State vs. Techno vs. Mainstream Baptism : An attack on " their generation and their culture " : The seminal culture itself less than 15 years in the making. Tblisi, post independence and war has been viewed as a friendly place, favored by tourism, good weather, rising western-european funding and cultural influx. Techno in Tbilisi is a product of that very change. Similar changes felt in many other nations after the new millennium. Tbilisi off late is being championed as the new 'Mecca' of Techno and EDM, as hordes of young european tourists fly to Tbilisi every year and the demand for electronic music, european food, hotels, air b&b has surged significantly, welcoming new business opportunities, prospect seekers and international connections. As 'british' approval matters a lot in such cases "lives of thousands of European-oriented Georgians who want a more socially liberal future.. The creative boom". The very term "european oriented" reeks of hoodwink and seems like a cloudy aerial-view of the nation. One might ask "a creative boom for whom?" and how many ? Never-mind, that's not a part of the current populism and euphoria. Hype would sustain for a while with jargons to draw more customers such as "The Darkest Underground Club in the World" [10 euros for a Redbull-vodka mix to start with]

Like most emerging electronic music culture and talent outside Western-Europe, Georgian talent and business has to be subservient first, in order to gather western accolades and climb the ranks. Speaking to DJ and producer Ana Kublashvili (Newa) “Georgians like to listen and dance ... The club scene here feels fresh now. People are excited by the idea of it..” Newa is a rising name in the city’s small technocraty. She co-founded the label Icontrax with fellow producer Berika : All blessed by Berlin based 'cartels' off course, which are mostly engaged in fiercely competitive market expansion and exploiting future talent. The entrepreneurs, the agencies, club owners based in Tbilisi and the few successful artists reveal a curious story. Dig?

The club Bassiani, which was raided, is one of the biggest attractions in the capital city for young european electronic music lovers and many locals, who are seeking newer pastures and the continuity of euro-centric traditions. All traditions are better when familiar and best approved. Bassiani, which means 'With the Bass' - the word inspired from the medieval War of Basian between the existing regional kingdoms circa 1350AD. The logo of the club a greek war-helmet somewhat reminiscent of Sparta.

Tbilisi's evolution of techno has been 'baptized' to a large extent by certain German protocols subject to demagoguery. Little is known about it's original roots or pioneers. Most native DJs and producers appear playing a subservient role with their icons and mentors - from Germany, add contingents of Dutch, American and occasionally French and British celebrity DJs with the given hype and hoopla that usually follows. Similar in Georgia as seen in Goa, Amsterdam, Cancun, Miami or Ibiza... Also as we listen closely to some locally produced techno it seems to be perpetuating the pre-existing models of house, techno, minimal and related forms heard on German dance-floors years if not a decade ago. The routine of 909, 808, 303 drills that have long outlasted the potential of the machines itself. Georgian electronic music, though very nascent has strong undercurrents of German, Russian and European styles and flavors of the 90s and earlier. Even Georgian contemporary awards contain stark pre-war German icons such as the Electronauts trophy, a miniature copy of the robot from Metropolis [Fritz Lang 1927]. Some sort of revivalism via export? Does the sound of techno emerging from Tbilisi contain a native ideology or even narrative yet? Or is it a new market for powerful investors, DJ cartels and go-grabbers to exploit? One might ask why is that even important? As long as the business exists so must the traditions. Owners of Bassiani,  Zviad Gelbakhiani and Tato Getia in their statements reveal the sycophancy at play "While Bassiani is often compared to Berlin's mega-club Berghain—that's the ultimate compliment for anyone in the club world... Our resident DJs who started at Bassiani 3 years ago are now climbing the ranks, and they have made it to Berghain" Zviad adds with pride "Berghain has never seen that many Georgians”. The word "ranks" is ironic, as it aptly describes how soldiers behave in an army as well certain DJs and Producers work to reach a particular stature. Resident Advisor's feature about Bassiani  reads "Aphex Twin's "Xtal" played quietly over the sound-system. Political activists sat in a row onstage, awaiting their turns to make remarks" The club recently hosted a packed public discussion about the severe anti-drug laws as well as the ruling conservative values against the LGBT minority in Georgia. Local hype seems a bit preposterous yet not to smudge the glee spirit, as it reads "representing masterpieces of Georgian techno that in future might be coined as the classic of the 21st century" On closer listen, the reality of the sound and music seems hopeful. Yet for certain folks, Techno seems pegged on post-classical music dogma. Euro-master?

Members (or call them militants) from the Georgian Civil Unity group, who described themselves as “true Georgians” are openly claiming “to protect our country” and are often seen doing Nazi salutes. Yet that is a familiar and disgusting sight now to be seen in Greece, Hungary, Germany, Austria and even nations like France and Spain in the last 3-4 years. The Georgian right-wing juntas that denounced the techno protesters as “drug propagandists” "devil's children" and “sodomites” depict similar prejudices as seen with conservative pundits, xenophobes, police, local politicians of India who have attacked youth-culture, freedom and music in much similar ways. Homophobia follows right-wing conservatism everywhere be it Georgia or America or India. The case in Tbilisi would look minuscule compared to the reality of police raids and closure of festivals, clubs, private parties and raves in India. UK crime reports show that +7000 british citizens were arrested between 1997 and 2003, at raves, on streets, music festivals and private parties : busted by police and anti-narco agents. Hundreds of spanish party-goers have been arrested and detained during the runaway years of Ruta De Bacalao [Way of the Codfish] era 1990 - 1998. During 2015 alone, German police arrested 640 citizens on anti-narco charges. Between 2004 and 2014 more than 20 raves [including 3 festivals and several private parties] were busted by state and central police, raiding Goa every peak-season, which is nearly 1/10th size of Georgia. The damage is immense, yet the case in Tbilisi very similar to past events and patterns. They (Georgian orthodoxy) are particularly enraged by images and videos of a young woman dancing on top of memorials of those Georgians killed by Russian troops. Similar are the ideologies of conservative groups and the right-wing states, regardless of their ethnic differences, sizes or locations. The Georgian state, yet another violent institution. 1st world or 3rd, violence remains the a favorite tool used by the state to subvert youth freedom and it's cultural manifestations. As much a sickening mindset which perpetuates post-colonialism and it's fetishes, as seen here in the Guardian article praising the new meadows of east Europe "Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is home to the closest thing to Berghain you can find outside Berlin " Yet Berghain itself an epitome of elitism which thrives on "cherry-picking" names instead of creating diversity and inclusivity. To an outsider, this 'order of Techno' appears to be an evangelic one. Just like the Tbilisi order of DJs and producers, the counterparts in New Delhi or Beijing or Istanbul also work the same routine and rank system. In future one can expect a chain of 'little-berghains'  allover the world [Let's hope not] Yet many educated insiders, within Berlin's music industry realize that the 'zeitgeist of techno' has gradually shifted, and it's future would be written elsewhere.. and it will not be in Detroit or Manchester either. Tbilisi? Mexico City? Beijing? New Delhi? Johannesburg? We don't know. Yet we are missing the Techno-Viking spirit, era 2000 Berlin and the 'F**KParade'

So why such an outrage over 2 clubs being shutdown? The answers to be found within the narratives of Tblisi and the fabric of it's society, now being stretched and ripped by change. Sergi Gvarjaladze, the most revered of Tbilisi’s electronic music scene, admitted that inspite  of the hype and hoopla about the city’s techno culture, these raids marred its desired image. Given that the aging artist has big responsibility as ambassador of "night-life" which would collapse without the necessary inflow of tourists all through the year. Surely 'techno-tourists', foreign DJs, local clubbers and artists don't want soldiers with machine-guns barging into the dance-floor. The public outrage within Georgia plus international support, media coverage and solidarity is actually a very positive sign. But the 'forces' which want to conserve traditional values and attack diversity are powerful and rooted. Techno has yet again turned into a political force leaving the dance-floor and spilling into the streets. The sound of the movement maybe not-so-original, yet the voice of youth and it's rebellion higher than ever. At this point, one hopes for something outside traditions and limits - a dialogue and an exchange, between those who have put their faith in techno and the ones hugging the bible and cross... Tbilisi Gaizardos! {rise}

Photo : First Georgian Female 'Electronaut' : Ana Kublashvili

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