After 25 years of conflict, Georgia has achieved a state of relative stability, and the benefits are nowhere stronger than in the capital.
In Tbilisi, a young but clued-in techno scene is flourishing, and at the center of it all is Bassiani, a club in a decades-old Soviet-era athletic arena. Though it was created less than two years ago, it’s already spoken of in the same breath as many of the world’s long-established clubbing institutions.
But not everything is rosy in Tbilisi. Here, club co-owners Zviad Gelbakhiani and Tato Getia explain the lengths the club must go to to provide a safe all-night experience amidst tragically oppressive drug laws and culturally entrenched homophobia.
The techno scene in Georgia is still very young. Though we’ve had tech house and minimal scenes in the past, the techno scene as it exists now only came about in 2013. When thinking about partying in Georgia, it’s important to remember that we have faced four wars in the past 25 years. The scene here is different from London and the European capitals. The reason it feels like the early ’90s here is because we’ve gone through times of war when there was no time for partying. Previous generations only had guns and heroin. The new generation is up for this—up for raving. Our generation is young: all 20 to 30-year-olds.
The idea behind BASSIANI was not to create a club with just the best sound system or lineup, but to create a space of equality and tolerance for people of all sexual, ethnic and religious backgrounds. We launched the club in 2014. After a long and tiresome search, we seized on an opportunity to move into the basement of a national football stadium, the Dinamo arena, that was originally built in 1932. It was once a swimming pool. All it took was one look for us to say, “This is BASSIANI.”
The club’s musical direction is dominated by techno, which has become a music of protest here. In its year-and-a-half existence, we’ve hosted many of the international circuit’s significant names, and Function is also a resident, but we also feature a dedicated crew of residents that have put in the work from the local scene, ZITTO, HVL, NdrX & Kancheli. The parties end around 9 or 11 a.m.. Explaining what makes BASSIANI unique as one of its owners is difficult. There’s an energy that you can feel that comes from a crowd that’s out there expressing their emotions while trying to feel something real.
We throw a monthly party at our venue called HOROOM, which is done in conjunction with a LGBTQ civil rights group in Georgia. The baseline level of homophobia in our society is quite high. In a sense, the dance floor at BASSIANI during these parties becomes a platform for victory over hatred, but also as a way of bringing people within that scene onto our dance floor to interact with this music and to create a space where they can do what they like.
Unlike similar queer parties in other cities, HOROOM is not just a gay men’s party, but instead invites the entire LGBTQ community to participate. These parties are not exclusively queer—we also invite supporters—but we have to utilize strict door policies to ensure the safety of our guests. We privately invite every single person who attends HOROOM. This means more than just face control at the door; we require people to register on our website with their full name and a link to their Facebook page. We then have someone who verifies these accounts. It might seem strict, but we are this way because we want BASSIANI and HOROOM to be a truly safe space for the LGBTQ community in Georgia. We also use this same system for pre-sales at BASSIANI, to implement face control before people even get to the club. You need to bring a matching ID to get in if you’re accepted.
Nightlife in Georgia still has some fundamental political issues working against it. Even though the crime rate is very low, the government insists on maintaining a repressive and ineffective zero-tolerance drug policy. Suspected drug users face humiliating human rights abuses from the police. Last year, on June 17, Levan Abzianidze died after the police took him to a narcotics center and forced him to drink a fatal amount of diuretics.
In Georgia there is no distinction between small quantities and large quantities of drugs or between possession and distribution. A small amount of ecstasy is prosecuted the same as a large amount of heroin. We don’t advocate drug use, but this is a problem that affects our scene and even influences tourism to this country. Drug users, and not dealers, currently face harsher penalties than rapists under our local laws. The department of internal affairs parks their cars outside of venues, and there is a risk of arrest just for attending a party.
We stand with another club, Mtkvarze, to resist the country’s drug policies, which infringe on the rights of the people on a daily basis. We actively support the “White Noise movement”, which fights for civilized narcopolitics in Georgia. Today there is some talk of rethinking these laws, which would be unthinkable two years ago.
Georgia is trying to attract tourists as it moves towards entering the European Union. Clubbing is one of the most evolved fields of culture in the country and it can play a major role towards achieving both of those mentioned goals. However, the drug policies that currently exist also seriously hamper this process. Every major political party has promised to reform the drug laws, however nothing has happened since they were first put into place in 2003. Now that the elections have happened on October 8, we are hopeful that the laws will be changed sooner rather than later.