Downbeat DJs Strike for Pay Raise

ST. PETERSBURG -- The ravers and revelers who flock to St. Petersburg's youth-oriented nightclubs like Griboyedov and Mama every weekend are having to whip up a party mood without the services of Boomer, Kefir and Lovesky.

Boomer, Kefir and Lovesky are three of the city's most popular disc jockeys - and lately they have been feeling underpaid and unappreciated. So, along with two dozen other local disc jockeys, they're on strike.

Prior to last August's ruble devaluation, DJs at popular nightspots could expect to earn 100 rubles (then about $16) for a one-hour set. Today those same DJs are earning the same 100 rubles an hour - which now comes to about $4.

To fight the de facto pay cut, 29 local DJs have formed an unofficial labor union called the Trade Union of St. Petersburg DJs. Earlier this month, the union told nightclub owners they were on strike until they started getting paid more. Not all St. Petersburg DJs are joining the strike, so the clubs still have DJs, just fewer of them.

DJs don't just provide music, they create the mood at an event. They use vinyl records - never CDs or tapes - on twin turntables, creating sound effects by scratching the stylus back and forth on the vinyl and blending short snatches of music. They're a must at a rave.

"Wages should have risen long ago so that DJs could at least cover what they spend on records," said Dmitry, who didn't provide a last name, preferring to go by his nom de rave of DJ Phunkee. He's the one who initiated the idea of the trade union. "What we wanted was to meet and discuss our problems - and the first thing everybody spoke of was payment."

A disc jockey's bread and butter is his record collection. For example, the pioneering DJ Alexei Haas says he owns more than 2,000 records. But many others say they aren't even making enough money to keep themselves stocked with the tools of their trade.

"You have to have money to work, not to mention something to live on," said Natalya Nikolayeva, who spins records as DJ Slavyanka. "One vinyl record costs between $10 and $12, and you need at least 20 records for a one-hour set."

The union is demanding that DJs be paid at least $12 for a one-hour set. They are also requesting the right to invite four guests to their performance free-of-charge and the right to consume $2 worth of food and drinks at the bar.

Club officials such as Mikhail Sindalovsky, co-manager of Griboyedov, say that being a DJ is more of a hobby than a profession. "DJ Lovesky makes his living as a dentist, spinning records in his spare time," Sindalovsky said.

But for many other DJs, a night's work in a smoke-filled club is their main occupation.

"Unfortunately I have no other profession, so I have to make a living as a DJ," Nikolayeva says. "I am very concerned about how much they pay at clubs."

"This city produces the most qualified and interesting DJs," said DJ Phunkee. "But somehow it has happened that being a DJ in St. Petersburg is not a profession, but just a hobby - and a quite expensive hobby at that."

Profession or hobby, local nightclub owners say they can't afford to pay more.

"We can't pay that much, because every night we have six DJs playing a one-hour set each," Sindalovsky said. "Very often there are few people in the club, and we didn't increase prices since the crisis - only for imported drinks."

"Griboyedov and Mama are the only two youth-oriented clubs in the city, and the youth have almost no money," says Andrei Haas, Mama's co-owner, adding that since August his club has seen its clientele diminish.

Not every DJ has joined the strike. Maxim Kislovsky, a regular disc jockey at Griboyedov, decided to opt out and keep working.

"Everyone should decide for himself," said Kislovsky, who also works at Radio Baltika.