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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Unofficial Anthem

There is something almost religious about being a DJ. High up behind the altar of the technics, they preach a philosophy of serious, concentrated, unconditional fun and escape from the banality of daily life into a better life where the crowd -- and it is always a crowd -- feels "it." The whole idea of "havin' it" over the weekend has crisscrossed European borders in a way that pop music has never been able to before because of the predominance of the English language. Technoheads are part of a brotherhood, and Russia has joined the "House Nation" with the DJ leading the way.


Sveta, a second-year law student from one of the prestigious institutes in Moscow, is a self-confessed addict to hard core. On weekends, you can find her and her friends dancing all night at one of the many raves that have sprung up in the suburbs.


"I don't know what happened to me," she says. "I used to just go and see my friends and hang out. But now I go clubbing nearly every weekend and sometimes more."


Good techno is like good sex. Take the German techno band Scooter's gig at the Palace of Youth a couple of weeks ago.


About 1,000 sweaty teenage bodies are on the floor as DJ Kolya spins a sound that gets them working. The meditate repetitive movements, the regular breathing, lock the dancers into the telluric beat.


Ten minutes and the pace quickens. Hands are pumping, feet shuffling in an energy-conserving pattern. Half an hour. Sveta and her friends are in a trance of light and rhythm. Seamlessly, the next track backs into the last. The tension builds.


Forty minutes. The DJ cuts back a record into a wall of static, making the people pause and strain for the relief of the beat that comes slamming back. Tempo up. It's coming.


A few minutes more. The treble rises and begins to get inside the brain. A group moves into the treacle of sound next to the speaker looking for the release, just a minutes away. Now shouts and whistles are going up. But the DJ uses the fader to staccato the tune into one base element. He stops it. A single high note is left lingering. The crowd gels.


All faces are turned to the man on the wheels of steel. Kolya smiles and stretches out his arm to count out a silent beat. One, two, three ...


"Come on!" they scream.


Bang! It's there. Bass kicks in and the rhythm pumps louder and faster than before. You feel completed. The techno tension is released, and the crowd melts with hands in the air and lets the music wash over them, dancing hard in an amorphous mass of smoke and bodies.


Five minutes of fever and the DJ brings them in for a soft landing before slowly, very slowly, building it up again. It could go on all night; it's up to him. He plays the crowd like vinyl under his fingers.


Techno is Moscow's unofficial anthem. In the same way as the "true ravers," as promoter Timor Mamedov calls them, pushed the mafiosi out of the clubs in 1994, the glitteratti have in turn been pushed out by the teenage Muscovite. The change has been largely fueled by one radio station: 106.8 FM, a collective of young commercial DJs loosely grouped together around Russia's first 24-hour dance station.


Nearly every weekend there is some club or other that is holding a party, large or small, and chances are that the DJ is from 106.8 FM.


"We are the No. 1 station in the 16- to 24-year-old range, with a daily audience of more than 194,000 listeners, and we intended to monopolize dance music on the radio," says the station's manager, Oleg Teterin. "Of course, the radio industry is growing very rapidly, but we expect to be in the primary position for at least the next two years. We are bringing the people the music that they want, and we are dealing with quite a narrow band of people who are into clubbing, into going out and into the music."


Techno -- a much-maligned term for a wide spectrum of dance music styles -- debuted during the glasnost era at the now legendary house parties held at a squat on Ulitsa Fontanka in St. Petersburg. First played on smuggled tapes on a junked together system, techno's popularity grew quickly, and huge raves were organized, such as the "Gagarin the First" in the Cosmos Pavilion and "Mobili" in the Olympic Sports Center. A small group of promoters and musicians emerged to dominate the party scene, centered around Bogdan Titomir and Ivan Salmaksov, whose wild parties were the stuff of legend. They taught Russia how to party, and the Russians were fast learners.


But like so many scenes, the rave scene began to implode. The original groups of DJs were artists, but techno can be like the drugs that are so often associated with it -- and the combination of both burned out the people involved. Besides there was money to be made. The clubs began to work toward pulling in a regular crowd, and that meant younger kids who weren't always looking for something new. Teterin says that about one third of 106.8 FM's listeners have more than $1,000 a month to spend on entertainment. The clubs have latched onto this crowd -- they're impressionable, and they come every week.


Radio station 106.8 FM began with DJ Zmei, who now plays in Titanik, Master and many of the other clubs around town. In 1991, he teamed up to begin the radio station with DJ Groove, who has a chart-topping hit "Luck Is" and is the anchor of the "Storm Crew" show Wednesday nights, with DJ Dan playing jungle. They had little more than two turntables and a microphone, but soon a collective of people began to form around them, mostly DJs from the many clubs in Moscow. The audience grew, and soon 106.8 FM found clubs knocking down their doors to advertise on air.


"Now our DJs are playing in nearly all the clubs in town," Teterin says. "The DJs that are working at [106.8 FM] are real professionals, but their first love is always playing in clubs."


DJ Incognito, who had been working for Russian promoter Rice Music, is another individual from the early music scene. "The DJ in Russia is now a big thing for young people," he says. "It has grown very fast here, and for me the music is everything. And always, above all, it should be fun. Look at techno as a whole. A few years ago, people paid little attention to it, and now it is a global phenomenon. I don't consider myself a star. We are a collective of people who are working together to make good music."


With such dedicated listeners, 106.8 FM's DJs can promote parties and gigs and virtually ensure a large audience. A 36-hour, Valentine's Day rave at the Palace of Youth, for example, drew a crowd of 6,000. With this kind of reach, a job at the station guarantees work in the clubs as each DJ pushes their own night and fills the floors for the promoters.


The station's success has not gone unnoticed by its competitors. As the techno phenomenon grows in Russia, other radio stations are launching their own dance shows and have attracted some of the top talent. One of the best of the new breed of DJs, Fonar, the author of the Funny House Dance Awards, left 106.8 FM to play a three-hour dance show Fridays on Radio Maximum, and DJ Shukhakov has a two-hour "Garage" show Sundays on the pop radio market leader, Europa Plus. But 106.8 FM is the most active station, and its circle of artists still holds almost all the strings.





For a guide to Moscow's techno clubs, see the Hanging Out section, pages VII and IX.