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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Notes From the Club Scene

There is a new trend afoot in Moscow club life: Some of the best discos in town, in addition to their usual dance scene, have started to host live bands, fashion shows and special parties. Last Saturday at the Hermitage, I was witness to the wildest and funniest happening Moscow has seen in a long time -- the Brazilian carnival. Hundreds of Latin American students, diplomats and other residents, many of them remarkably dressed, danced the night away to the rhythms of samba and bossa nova.

The atmosphere was so engaging that a bunch of the Russians attending, not really used to this kind of music, threw themselves into the carnival inferno and, judging by my own reaction, found it far more enjoyable than the standard disco-techno moves. When some especially intense songs were played, the scene turned almost aggressive (in a purely nonviolent way), with lines of samba-ists bumping into each other and trampling over feet and bodies ruthlessly.

The carnival was great, but my favorite Hermitage-related story is still about the night when a university professor visiting from Saratov persuaded the club to let him in for free because he could not afford the entrance fee on his salary. The professor, who introduced himself simply as Misha, showed up for a concert by Dva Samolyota, danced until morning, made friends with the band members and followed them to Manhattan Express, where they played the next night. He was very happy, saying he had discovered an exciting new way of life -- a statement made especially interesting by the fact that Misha was 84 years old.

Another raucous event was the Beer Lovers' Party party at the Pilot discotheque last Wednesday. I got to Pilot around 3 in the morning -- the beer lovers had already left and the place was nearly empty. Judging by the decorative motif (white-on-red banners with slogans like "The People and Beer are Inseparable" and "Drink Beer -- It's Beautiful"), the party didn't seem too swift. I personally like beer too much to bother linking it to partisan politics, which I don't like too much.

I didn't regret my venture to Pilot, though, because a brand-new club has opened right underneath that's really something. The club, Soho, is spacious, perfectly designed and has a nice clientele (no entrance fee, but it's up to the owner -- Anton Tabakov -- who gets in) and Guinness, Kilkenny ale and Harp lager on tap. It is more like Dublin than Soho, but that makes it even better.

At a press conference last week, Boris Zosimov of Biz Enterprises announced that the Biz-MTV contract that has brought us the so-called MTV Russia programming is soon to be dropped, and that Biz will represent the Polygram recording company instead. The change, Zosimov said, was due to MTV's reluctance to put Russian artists in their broadcasting slots, contrary to expectations. That sort of reasoning does not sound convincing to me, and I am pretty sure that the MTV side would have a very different view of the whole story.

The whole MTV Russia project seemed sketchy from the very beginning. On both sides it looked more like a promotional gadget than serious business. In the end, it worked to the advantage of Biz Enterprises, which was able to use its MTV deal to impress Polygram. Otherwise, Polygram's choice of local partner is strange, to say the least. No Russian record company can boast of huge success and big sales, it's true, but there are some -- Gala, General, Feelee, SNC, Syntez and Zeko -- which at least have records on the charts and impressive catalogues. None of that can be said of Biz's Alien Records, which is tiny and focused on hard rock.

In any case, the arrival of a huge international company in the Russian recording market marks the beginning of a new era. With a bigger budget than all of the Russian labels put together, Polygram, if managed cleverly, may easily become the dominant force in the music business here. If they are followed by other big-name record companies like BMG and EMI, very little if anything will remain of the domestic variety.

I have mixed feelings about this development. It would be sad to watch native companies get eaten up by the transnationals or pushed into a small, specialized ghetto. On the other hand, I am sure that without the financial power, know-how and networking that only Western players can provide, there will never be a decent record industry in Russia. We cannot fight piracy or dirty tactics in the record and CD business here alone, let alone maintain a functioning distribution system. Just in terms of music quality, an injection of Western experience would be much appreciated.