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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can't Beat This

Moscow used to be the craziest party in the world. When I first arrived in the early '90s, clubland was little more than a black room at the back of the Hermitage Theater on Petrovka. The room was dark with a few lasers for illumination. The DJ played everything from polka to punk. And the crowd was a couple of models, a bunch of students and a smattering of turnip farmers on a night out. It had none of the trappings of today's clubs, but it was fun.

From the Hermitage, things changed rapidly as promoters and owners did the obvious things. Weekends became a mad rage: Start with the Yugoslavian club 011, then follow a roving party to venues all over town.

The pace was furious and propelled by young people living in the chaos. 011 was followed by Penthouse, an illegal club next door to Hermitage, which was my all-time favorite. Unpredictable, the first straight techno club was pure decadence. Time-share salespeople mixed with mafia molls, everyone off their faces on Dutch Es, everyone dancing bare-chested. Every week in Sunday's early hours, I would fall into a taxi and pass out soaked to the skin with sweat.

The peak was Ptyuch and then the Waterclub, which closed in 1996, followed by Titanic and the invasion of the New Russians when clubbing went mainstream. The $50 cover meant you were there to show off how much money you had. Cool meant rich. No longer a crowd of participants, spectators took over and the show became everyone else.

Nearly all the clubs have gone in the same direction - the $50 cover (or club cards and super expensive drinks) has been too tempting. 011 became first the Jazz Cafe and now Circus. Other venues have opened to compete for this lucrative market - Park, Gallery and Zeppelin. They all have nice decor, famous DJs and beautiful people, but they are dull statue zoos.

Andrei Khass, the grandfather of Russian rave, once told me that in the late '80s, if he heard techno coming from a car, he could walk up to strangers and invite them to his squat on Ulitsa Fontanka where it all began. Today, shabby Khass would struggle to get into Circus. Sadly, any truly underground scene is intrinsically self-destructive, destroyed by its own success. Here, the destruction has been lethal.

Of the DJs who used to gather at rap legend Bogdan Titomir's apartment, almost all have fallen. Ivan Salmaksov, who brought techno from St. Petersburg to Moscow, is missing, believed to be dead. DJ Jozh, afraid the drugs and non-stop party would kill him, left Moscow and became a monk in Siberia. And Bogdan is rumored to be hiding in Miami from the Chechen mafia for reasons it's best not to mention.

For me, the only place left to go out in Moscow is maybe Propaganda. The open-door policy attracts people who are interested in simply having fun - and Sacha and the boys put real effort into their music policy (although that may change now that Francesca Canty has left.) After all, that's why people used to go to the Hermitage all those years ago.

- Ben Aris