The world of pop music and entertainment – especially the festival merry-go-round that has dominated the live music industry narrative this past decade – will inevitably be very different after corona is finally beaten. Whether in the short term with restrictions on attendances or travel, or in the longer term, when this huge, maybe bloated sector comes to terms with revenue cuts and funding issues. The festival circuit has had far too many chancers, spongers, and energy and idea vampires running matters. And even though it’s not the way anyone would have chosen, the current tragic situation allows us to take stock and promote those whose work – often underpaid, unseen and undervalued – has been of real benefit to festival goers and a wider public.
Louder than War decided to catch up with some figures who rarely get the mention they deserve and who have shaped the world we once knew and maybe still see as the norm. One such figure is Tanya Makarova, who though in her early thirties, has managed to both run and co-manage clubs, festivals, bands, and is co-pilot of an unofficial Russian music export initiative, RUSH, in Moscow. These have included Director of Content and Programming at КРУГОЗОР and as Programming Director at БАР ЭМА, manager of the great Moscow band Inturist / интурист, electronic duo Simple Symmetry and working at the city’s infamous Solyanka club.
Makarova has experienced many changes in the Russian capital in the last decade, some good, some less so. Now based temporarily in Berlin we caught up with Tanya through a couple of Skype sessions and asked her to reflect on her thoughts on the Russian club scene and her ideas for the future; in the east and west.
LTW: Tell us about yourself, Tanya
T: I was – and am – a part of the Moscow club community, one of the many organisers. I have been artistic director and programme director; and responsible for the artists and event production, the bookings, dealing with the promoters, the whole process. I started in Club Solyanka, towards the end of its existence, the last three years. Then it shut down…
Around 2014 we had this crazy time in Russia with the euro exchange against the ruble. That was a huge crisis for all of the industry here. Lots of people lost a lot here, their dreams… and the venues were closing. But luckily I got invited by the Stereotactic agency to a new project called БАР ЭМА (Bar Ema). It was a really cool special place. We decided to make it weird, in a way, also. We started to promote avant-garde jazz there. Every evening from a Thursday to a Saturday we had weird content. Jazz, avant-garde things, really crazy stuff. Then we started to do parties and they were successful. During the summer we did festivals and they were really different, with a range of people; from the local bookstore, or anarchists, to screenings of erotic movies (as a part of shnit International Short Film Festival). Everything was DIY. It was in a cool space; part of a big development project, that let us create a really different atmosphere. It was nice. We promoted unusual music, I mean unusual in the sense that people would not normally come across it in Russia. That was the place to be even if it was only for half a year!
Once we stopped with Bar Ema we started a second project in 2015-16 called КРУГОЗОР, that was also a big place with a huge area; essentially a summer project. I was artistic director and programme director there. We had an area where we could do jazz, an old repair hangar, but there were a lot of different areas, places where you could just enjoy the sun without music or dance till the sunrise.
LTW: You wanted to create an atmosphere in Moscow, something different, or not a standard club offering. Why did you want to be different?
I’d better make it clear that Solyanka club wasn’t influenced by my concepts, Solyanka was a big and well established club, it was one of the symbolic venues in Russia, one that embodied the 2000s. I was only a part of it. I worked on a programme during the last couple years together with Sasha Rozet and learnt a lot. The only thing I did there were a couple of parties; one a new kind of party, with my partner in crime, Kolya Rish. I was mostly interested in the types of audience who would turn up, what kind of Muscovites would come.
With Bar Ema and КРУГОЗОР I was one of those who tried to create a concept, but we were different people in general. Our group had a different kind of mind, and outlook. And we saw that there were a lot of people like us. We all need a space where we can feel comfortable, enjoy our time together and experiment! Because I also feel strongly that Russians have this internal drive to experiment with culture. We needed to find out how we can change the situation. We also like doing things collectively, to build communities, to develop ideas. I believe in this idea of developing and going through with it, as far as you can.
LTW: Yet you want to appeal to people who are the mainstream, What is mainstream Russia in terms of its culture and its youth? What was different with you?
Mainstream in Russia means everything that is big. Literally. Currently it’s all about Hip Hop, pop music, or what we can hear or see on the media. Also remember for us the money is very important; from our side [of the fence] we don’t have a lot of money to invite these big artists or to build a scene. To have a “big” venue… Ah, honestly also, it’s not so interesting for me. I don’t want to build a big venue or have a big media scene around what we do. I’m more interested in what you could see as a form of education. Something to inspire you and your own ideas. And those of the people around you; including the musicians. It’s also important to have the right people around you who know how you’re going to work. Not bullshit people, ones who talk about how to be famous or have lots of money. If I would love to be famous I would get into the pop/Hip Hop scene, but no. I have a different way; of thinking and doing.
I want my place to be sexy in an intellectual way. And I still believe that it can be economical successful.
LTW: What is the link between intellectual appeal and sex appeal for you?
T: I think how things come together. I don’t want to see people who can’t think, or don’t think about how they can behave. I like thinking, creative people with ideas. Sometimes even mainstream musicians have nice ideas too, and they want to work with them but they don’t have an outlet where they can do this. That’s where I come in. So for me, being intellectually sexual, it is about getting away from what you think normally and away from who you are, normally, and just find out things about yourself, from a different angle. And realise that you are capable to do this! Imagine if you like jazz and came to hear a jazz gig but ended up listening to a jazz-electronic crossover. Discovering things. And enjoying your time.
Also the look is vital, the venue has to look right, so you can imagine who are the people behind the space, and why they are doing it.
LTW: Can you describe those Moscow clubs for people? What was so special about their look, say?
T: Solyanka (situated on Solyanka street) had a great community vibe. Roman Burzev drove the look. It was cosy like a normal flat but not like a flat, more like a big house where everybody could find a corner for themselves. I think that the owner was inspired by London clubs of the beginning of the 2000s. It was a place that helped talent, a lot of stars first played there. Gavin Russom, now Ranya Russom of course, started in Russia there. A really creative artist, one of my favourites, and the sort of name the club wanted to attract, Nicolas Jaar, Daniel Avery, names like that.
Ema was a development project. The main design was done by this great architects bureau called Kosmos and they did it in a very special way and it became quite famous for that. But how the whole content, of how the design could live with a programme, we did together with the Stereotactic agency. It was an analogy of what we see in Europe or America; people rebuilding old areas. The policy of reuse. We even reused old furniture from Solyanka club and Ema. That was really nice because we could take some memories of old places and reuse them in a new setting. But we moved on, it was absolutely different. Nostalgia is a strong human sentiment. And reusing old loved things can help you to feel that you’re at home.
LTW: Future nostalgia and multi disciplines working together! Tell me about Russian audiences; they strike me as really inquisitive. They seem to want new things all the time, is that true?
T: Yeah that is really true. I think that in Russia we have this cabaret culture; you know, you’re going somewhere and you need to see the show. Russians really like it when it’s a show or a specially decorated event. They really like to be entertained, they don’t like to entertain themselves. Not yet, at least… So they come and they wait and expect you to provide it (entertainment). I loved it at КРУГОЗОР, when you felt the audience adjust to the place. They’d say: “Hey it’s nice and there are good people, but the music is really weird! And who are these people?” (Laughs.) So people would drift outside at КРУГОЗОР. The audience then created an area where they could talk, enjoying their time in the summer in Moscow.
You’re now based in Berlin. You have one foot in Russia and one in Berlin. How do you see the differences? Could you transfer ideas around clubbing into Berlin from Russia or vice versa? Or are they just too far apart?
T: They are absolutely separate. And in Germany, especially Berlin, there is a club culture that is really strong with a big tradition. There are a lot of communities in a very strong market. I want to use the experience here to understand how this very different Berlin culture works. Or if something from here can work together with something from Moscow. I mean not right now (laughs). But I will still do a lot in Russia. Still: there is so much of this culture here in Berlin, and so different. One big thing you notice here is the freedom. And that you have an audience for virtually everything. In Russia people still fight for the same audience from time to time. The social and educational levels, these last levels of freedom are different. And Berlin is international, with people from all over the world who want to be free at least during the night.
In Russia it’s not so easy to have an alternative venue as it can be perceived as a rebel thing. What is important in Russia these places can be an alternative reality for people, and in these places they can find something, whatever that is, mentally or spiritually, that helps them to survive.
And in Berlin it’s just another level of entertainment in a bigger economic-social system that gives people room to let off steam…
T: Exactly. There are some places that really are really community-led, though. I mean Berghain is now pretty mainstream but it is still a community, run by people. And its great! And it’s really hard to get in there, because it’s one of the oldest and one of the biggest. Also Wilde Renate is a community who are pretty much a family. There are smaller clubs like Sameheads or Arcaoda, or tiny clubs that exist because they love what they are doing. And there were possibilities. And of course the small unofficial places had the best parties. Closed, small things. You had the possibilities and there is a community there. You can see it right now.
LTW: Can you tell us about that?
T: Well, first of all it’s institutionalised. Literally; it’s Club Commission. And they really care, they collect money and discuss how to move forward. They do live streams, media support. They also have a dialogue with the government to work things out. Everyone knows that they are essentially fucked now, but they still stick together and look for ways forward. In Russia people are trying to do the same but still people think individually in this situation. Because they know nobody else will officially take care of them. And everybody wants this community but nobody can start it. Everybody is still closed off, and we had so many problems this last few years, no-one really trusts anyone else. They feel they are all each others’ competitor. Those in the Russian scenes are a bit afraid over who will take the lead. This is just a different type of mentality and reality, I guess
LTW: You went to Berlin on a fact finding mission and this thing happens. If you were to look into the future now, using your party-making skills, how would you start in this brave new clubless world?
T: It’s really hard to say. I mean I will survive (laughs) I don’t know how, but I’m not gonna be depressed because I lost my job. My past means I am always looking for new opportunities: how I can develop myself, what new things can I learn. Together with some colleagues, we might open a venue in Russia, probably in Moscow, I don’t know yet, but why not! Because people will need this if the old world has shut down. Actually I would love to try to do something in Berlin also but need to think what it could be, I need to see what is needed here. It’s not just about clubs though. I could do something else entirely.
LTW: Working in Russia means you have developed pretty unique skills for specific situations.
T: Yeah, but you need to have strong people around you. I don’t believe in individual power I believe only in community and collective power. I have been a fixer – my first job in the industry – so I can do things alone and I am a bit of a loner anyway, but to do things well in this particular world you need people. It’s really important.
LTW: Tell me about Moscow Music Week. You work there. It’s scheduled for early September… How do you see the story of Moscow Music Week carrying on?
T: Moscow Music Week will happen. Especially the conference. I don’t know how it will be, but it will be. My partner Stefan Kazaryan and I have a strong feeling, this is the right time for this festival actually! We don’t have budgets from the government. We don’t have investors. We have a great team, we are the people! And we have done this alone without budget this whole time. So we don’t really care (Laughs.) The festival won’t be as it was, because the economic situation means it will be different.. We will wait till June and figure out how it’s gonna be. Our model is developed as a survival model. It’s the same as every year. We fight for it and build up from scratch, again! And the music industry in Russia is not organised the same way as the West. It’s starting to be but yeah… (laughs).
And again, it is an education mission. I really hope that the conference will help people to understand better how things work, but what is more important we are trying to bring successful interesting people from all over the world, a lot specialists from Eastern Europe (we have some common things today, because of our past) and build a bridge.
Even if one person can find an answer to their question during the conference or will be inspired by someone and first of all by music, Then I think this is success.
We are still at the beginning of our way and I hope we will have a long and interesting journey. I feel that now we have an opportunity to learn something new too. And its great, that you can learn from your job, colleagues and the situation. Today the most important question for the music industry, night life and culture is: what is next? I think that we have an opportunity now to figure this out.
We have options, ideas and even if we are wrong, somehow, I don’t think that it’s bad, it’s still an adventure.
LTW: You have never been part of a music industry world that has had it good have you? Having cocaine for breakfast all the cliches…
Yes I am much younger. I was at school back then. And anyway me personally never had any interest in cocaine (laughs), it’s just not for me. I am doing this because I just love music and music can lead to people having fun and developing themselves spiritually and emotionally. Music has a great power. And it and other art can help people to survive in bad situations too. I have seen this. So that is the music business for me.
LTW: You have been an ambassador for independent Russian music – through RUSH with Veronika Belousova -for couple years. What’s it like presenting yourself as this independent ambassador in these high level corporate events like ESNS or End of the Road?
T: First of all I don’t think I am an ambassador. I’m just someone who wants to help change things. Especially ways of thinking about Russian music. I mean Russia always has a lot of talent. We have had a lot of great composers and musicians recently and of course much earlier. Music and art belongs to everybody. And if you can’t find someone to listen in your native land you can find listeners somewhere else. There is something in humans, a connection through arts, that is amazing.
And it’s great we have this opportunity. I just travel a lot. And over time, being at these festivals I just figured out that if you want to enter this world there are some rules. For me that’s not so easy to apply or play with these rules, because I don’t have that authority in those situations. But well, then I think, what is authority here? It’s just showing people you are cool and nice, and have a very public presence. And a lot of people can do this. It’s just charisma, and you have it, or not. For me intelligence is always king. And determination. The industry is a bit… too concentrated on itself. Especially what I’d call the Anglo-Saxon industry.
The UK has a really strong system you can’t break down, where people earn money from each other. You will never be a famous Russian band copying Britpop in the UK. I don’t believe so, in the current system anyway. And British bands will always be best at making British-style music, so there is no point copying British music. But there are other markets, all over the world. And you just need to find yours. It shouldn’t be just the UK or America. There is plenty of place in China or Latin America, say. And rules always allow another side, another way to play. That is what is great about rules. Finding another side to the situation.
[We beg to differ in a way – RUSH promote Shortparis, Glintshake, Inturist, Kate NV, Lucidvox, SADO OPERA, Chikiss… the list is a long one, each of these acts is the equal of anything in the UK! IN fact the UK needs to pull its socks up. We disagree Tanya – Editor]