My Helmet Couldn’t Care Less
“Behind the iron helmet, you must see an angry person, who won’t back down in his fight for freedom and new ideas” – reads the motto. BASSIANI is a startup – a startup that has managed to create a world-class clubbing product in a very short period of time. The founders of BASSIANI are convinced that this culture even has the potential to attract a significant number of tourists.
– Have you seen Kipiani?
– No, I was born in 1988.
– In that case, you haven’t seen anything. The cab driver turned off Kurdiani Street and then on to Tsereteli Avenue. The board at the bus stop showed 3 a.m. We were approaching Dinamo Stadium. At the entrance to the 9th sector, several young beautiful people dressed in black stood on the pavement outside, just like in large European cities, where people stand in a queue at the entrance to night clubs awaiting their turn.
– What’s going on here? Is there some game?
– Have you seen Ben Klock on Rike?
– No. In response, I gave him a Rowan Atkinson gesture, indicating that he hadn’t seen anything and handed him a new five lari note.
“What’s wrong with this old guy?” The cab driver inquired, as he pointed to my friend Beka ‘Shpingle-Shpongle’ Molashvili, who is undeniably one of the most colorful residents of Tbilisi. With his gray beard reaching his chest, Beka was playing to some unknown tune with three tickets in his right hand.
The queue area at BASSIANI is a bit chaotic. People are bundled-up in warm clothing, and are feeling the crisp chill of Tbilisi’s early morning air. One line is for club-goers who booked tickets online, and the other line is for those who bought tickets on arrival. Despite the cold weather, one can still feel the festive vibe among the crowd, which tonight is rather diverse. That’s because Tbilisi is too small to miss such events. The event has drawn people from different segments of society. Needless to say, this custom was established a long time ago and no one seems to complain about it. One could even say that people even enjoy being together –‘party animals’, a guy in a white office shirt, pretty girls wearing flat shoes and of course, the energetic representatives of the wildest young masculine movement – the ‘Babuliks’.
Everyone wants to get into BASSIANI.
“How do you filter the crowd coming into the club?” I asked Niko, one of the members of the BASSIANI team.
“Tickets are only sold to those who have registered online and have been verified. Those who follow this process receive our discount policy and can enter the club through a different door. A person needs to meet three main criteria in order to pass our verification process. Basically, we need to know who the person is, or our acquaintances must know who they are. However, there are people that none of us know, but still pass the online verification. In such cases, we maintain a record of their data. If they cause any kind of conflict inside the club, they are immediately placed on our black list, and will never be allowed to enter BASSIANI again. As for those who buy tickets on the spot, we use face control measures to filter them,” he says.
Being banned from BASSIANI might be the worst possible fate imaginable to someone from Tbilisi who has a love for electronic music. To put it into context for the older generation, this punishment is akin to forbidding a young boy from Tbilisi’s Didube District from entering the football stadium and watching Kipiani play football in the 1970s. Energy can change forms but is never lost. If this energy inhabited the football stadium benches in past years, it has now moved underneath the tribune and slightly changed its face.
After passing several barriers, I reached the Dinamo pool entrance where a crowd of young people were congregating. Amongst a sea of people clad in black, Naja Orashvili’s yellow jacket caught my eye. She never stops. She controls the crowd and greets acquaintances, as I watch her take one dissatisfied patron aside, holding him by the arm, explaining to him that either he complies with BASSIANI’s rules or forgets the club’s existence altogether. You could tell by the expression on his face that it was the first time he was given such an ultimatum, and he seemed genuinely terrified because of it. Orashvili is the only girl on the BASSIANI team. She may politely deny it, but she is one of the chief catalysts behind BASSIANI. She is the author of the BASSIANI concept, and the one who helped put the team together.
After a few unavoidable hugs and kisses, I approached the pool area. A sharp increase in temperature helps me feel the concentration of energy inside the building. I make my way through the hall, pass by the first bar and a few drunken people, and then approach the edge of the pool. Amid the clouds of smoke, five or six pairs of legs jut-out from the couches. From there I manage to push my way through the flow of people and enter the rectangular section of the pool where I find a crowd of people (also dressed in black) – the red lighting adding a stronger tone to their dark attire.
Today it’s Max M Tribute Night at BASSIANI. Max M was a great artist that died way too young – and an artist that was very much loved by the BASSIANI audience. Unfortunately, Max M did not make a second trip to Georgia, and so his friends stand below the glowing BASSIANI triangle without him.
The very first surge of bass hits my sober mind with incredible emotion. It was the kind of emotion I had never experienced in a Georgian club before. It was at that moment that I realized several fundamental things I hadn’t thought much about before:
1) BASSIANI has the best sound system on the Georgian club circuit.
2) It’s the most appropriate venue for a club I have seen so far
3) The Georgian crowd is different, but it’s not bad at all
4) It’s the highest quality club we have ever had in Georgia
5) BASSIANI is a startup that managed to create a world-class clubbing product in a very short period of time – in a very small and strange country, where users of club drugs are handed down a harsher prison sentence than child molesters if they are caught.
Despite the glaring absence of one of the scene’s main ingredients (drugs), Tbilisi’s electronic music scene, party/club culture have developed immensely over the last few years. While there are good and bad electronic music festivals held in Georgia each year, the Georgian electronic music scene is still easily one of the best in the region, and maybe in all of Eastern Europe. This business is already worth millions of Georgian laris, and with the proper approach, it has the potential to expand even more.
I met with the BASSIANI team on a non-working day underneath Dinamo Stadium to discuss the Georgian electronic music industry. I was pleasantly surprised to see only one light box ad, and a few stands with energy drinks and mobile gadget chargers. The stand is placed away from the dance floor and is not distracting.
“We took a risk and refused to accept the ugly forms of sponsorship that have been established in Georgia – things such as a branded dancefloor, bar, DJ table, promo girls and logos,” says Naja Orashvili, one of the founders of BASSIANI Club. “We took a major financial blow because of that, but we survived it. Now we are not financially dependent on anyone. We believe that when a person comes to the club, their attention should not be distracted by cigarette or drink ads,” she notes.
For BASSIANI, the most important thing is to feature good artists, good music, and provide a comfortable environment for the club’s guests.
“People come to listen and feel the music, so their attention should not be distracted by corporate banners,” says Orashvili.
Before BASSIANI, I would not have believed that it was possible to eschew sponsorship in a country where buying club tickets is still an uncomfortable experience, and where everyone strives to get on the list. Sponsors play a very important role. Money provided by sponsors allows you to invite artists that will in turn help attract hundreds of additional guests, who will readily pay 20-30 lari for a ticket. Earnings from the ticket sales will cover the costs of the venue and sound system, as well as staff wages, and leaves a small profit for the promoter.
In Georgia, our sponsors are mainly companies that manufacture cigarettes, beer and other alcoholic beverages. Their demands are simple: branding the place to the maximum. The marketing services of sponsor companies always come into conflict with promoters, since they want to overload the venue with their brand. The marketer always comes out the winner in these battles and the venue ends-up looking like a marketplace: lots of light boxes, logos, slogan projections, banners, beautiful girls with iPads offering guests silly games, shots of alcohol and flash cards. On top of all that, then there’s the photographer (in most cases, it’s my humble self), who captures the unique moment of contact between promo and the listener with a blinding blitz. I wonder how many sponsors have ever thought about the English term ‘over branding?’
BASSIANI refuses to take part in any of that. However, just like everyone else, they learned from their own mistakes. At one of their parties, where Ben Klock, the resident of the club Berghain was playing his music, the sponsor put one local DJ at the entrance who was teaching guests how to do the ‘mix’. This was the most inappropriate sponsor activity I had seen in my entire life. Maybe those of you who are not familiar with this topic don’t quite understand why it was so strange. Therefore, I offer you a small experiment: search the artist Ben Klock on YouTube, and then find the most recent event with DJ Qasara (that’s the one that was teaching guests how to ‘mix’). Listen to both and compare. As Orashvili says, that’s when she realized that her team would never tolerate anything like that.
BASSIANI has a very good team. The team came together as a result of a conscious, well-thoughtout decision. It is my opinion that they were all united by a shared feeling of general disdain for the kind of commercial dance music that seems to predominate the Georgian club circuit, which none of them like.
“We all had a well-defined, clear vision of how we wanted to develop the electronic music scene and club culture in Georgia. It turned out that we shared the same vision,”says Tato.
Everything started with a dream – with Orashvili’s dream. She wanted to have a club that was exactly as she wanted it to be. Her idea had the support of Niko, Guram and her partner Milky Way recording studio. They decided to organize a series of events with their own savings. They were joined by Erol Gelbakhiani and Tato Getia (INPUT) – promoters that both have very interesting ideas and backgrounds.
“We wanted to have our own project that corresponded with our vision and desires. This wasn’t about money. First of all we wanted to materialize our idea. We did not hire anyone to draft a business plan for us, or count the project costs. We did everything ourselves,” explained Tato.
Gurami believes that the party business does not require a lot of money and almost anyone can get 30-40 thousand laris to bring an artist and assemble several hundred people. However, he believes that what matters here is the content (substance), which is so scarce among Georgian party-makers.
At BASSIANI tickets generally cost between 20 and 30 laris. Those who buy tickets in advance are given a discount. The club also has some special offers for tourists, since attracting techno-lovers from abroad is one of their top priorities.
Their main strength lies in their outstanding organizational skills and certain methaphysical aspects, such as faith in their own ideas and strength. The BASSIANI team believes in its own strength. The members of the team are in perfect agreement and have a clear understanding of the road ahead. It is a pleasure to talk to them.
The initial idea was that BASSIANI would be a series of events without one specific location, and would travel from place to place. In fact, the BASSIANI project started at the Rike Vera House. It was a cold and efficient venue, where the BASSIANI project camped-out for a year. People still remember the black poster that featured a white helmet posted in the center of Tbilisi, which announced the visit of Kassem Mosse, Vril, Alien Rain and Kobosil on October 4, 2014.
“It took a lot of money to build the brand. We wanted our logo to be spectacular and memorable – the style, font, the website… everything had to be in unison. I think we managed to do that. When a person visits our website or sees our posters, they realize that we pay a lot of attention to detail,” notes Orashvili. Within eight months of existence, BASSIANI became a leader in the local electronic music industry. The list of artists they invite has become steadily more impressive. During this period, BASSIANI managed to invite some of the best electronic music artists around, including the likes of- Ben Clock, Legowelt, Konstantin, Recondite, Nihad Tule, Ben Ufo and others of this caliber. BASSIANI rejects the Georgian line-up, and continues to surprise its listeners. Before BASSIANI, it was hard to believe that a club could afford such large-scale events without sponsors.
“We had a very rough financial start. It was particularly hard to adjust our values to the Georgian scene. However, the five of us believed that we could do it, and it turned out that we were right,” explains Naja Orashvili.
“Within eight months, we realized that it would be better to turn our project into a club, and by doing so, save money on the one-time rental of venues, lighting, sound and personnel.
As such, BASSIANI took a well-timed break and started the reorganization process. They found what might be considered a dream-come-true location for any techno club – beneath the old swimming pool at Dinamo Stadium. They began cleaning-up the place immediately. The team managed to mobilize its financial resources and did another incredible thing: they purchased top of the line lighting and the latest version of the Function One DS4 sound system (Function One is a state-of-the-art series of sonically and visually imposing loudspeaker systems designed specifically for the club world). In total, they paid over £100,000 for the sound and lighting system.
“We would not be a premium-class venue if we tried to save money on the sound system. Maybe some don’t know much about the standards of sound systems, but we believe that we must offer our guests the best. This entire business is built on the listener, his ears and eyes. If you try to save money on that, there would be no sense in bringing in a top-end artist. If an artist does not have the proper equipment to deliver his music to the listener, then you have wasted your money.”
“We have often heard complaints that BASSIANI does not promote local artists. This opinion is based on total unawareness. The inappropriate and erroneous policy taken by some clubs and promoters in recent years has caused great damage – to both the local club scene, and the artists as well. Supporting artists does not necessarily mean that a club must let everyone perform their music there. We all know that it is important to support local artists, but our vision is different. We believe in conceptual approaches, the experience of the resident DJs of our club. Based on the results so far, we are convinced that we are making the correct choices. The fee for an artist ranges from €150 - 9,000, plus expenses for agency services, accommodation, flights and so on. That is what determines the pricing policy of the club. The high cost for air tickets is one of the greatest problems in our business. There are no cheap options: no direct flights and poor flight schedules, all of which create a lot of inconveniences,” notes Tato Getia.
Admittedly, BASSIANI’s communication with the audience is a bit cold, but at the same time very diligent. BASSIANI always informs its listeners of the upcoming artist in great detail. They do this by sharing the artist’s music and preparing the audience for the next night. BASSIANI cares about its listeners and never enters a discussion with the audience. It completely bans TV and selfies taken with artists. ‘Don’t walk’ - says the BASSIANI stamp under its beautiful helmet logo. BASSIANI loves offline media and frequently allocates funds for printing posters and tickets. The team refuses to hire a security service. Instead they handpick people who protect their guests from any troubles. This ensures that the guests feel comfortable at all times.
“The state should never interfere in the field of electronic music. This is not the wine business, which needs subsidies,” says Zviad Gelbakhiani. In fact, the government should stop funding certain privileged groups and festivals, because unhealthy competition ruins everything,” he adds.
Gelbakhiani believes that the electronic music business is profitable and can already support itself independently without outside help.
“If the state is willing to do something good, it can reduce taxes, wage a good advertising campaign for the country, and bring in some cheap airlines, so that more tourists can travel to Georgia. In a city with a population of just over one million, the local audience is hardly enough,” he points out.
The BASSIANI club also acts as a human rights activist, and criticizes the state’s policy in this regard.
“We have to wrestle with the police every weekend. They want to get into the club and ‘examine’ the crowd inside. We are forced to pull some strings and call our acquaintances, who then instruct the police to leave us alone,” says Getia.
He notes that one of the most important values that BASSIANI espouses is freedom.
“We believe in the freedom of choice. If a person chooses to take drugs, it’s their choice, and we have to respect this choice even if it’s harmful to them. No one should be persecuted or punished for the personal choices they make if it doesn’t negatively affect others. BASSIANI supports the right to freedom,” Getia emphasizes.
The BASSIANI team set a goal that aims to put Georgia on the world’s musical map and gain international recognition. The team believes that Tbilisi clubs have the potential to become a prerequisite for the development of tourism in the country.
At the end of the conversation, I asked Gelbakhiani if he thought that BASSIANI had reached its zenith.
“We are reaching the zenith. BASSIANI is developing every week. It exists for people, for Tbilisi and for all of Georgia…”