In a cavernous space below Dinamo Stadium lies the realm of Bassiani. I found myself there for the first time only a few months ago. I make my way underground via a set of wide concrete steps. I descend the stairs with overwhelming anticipation and imagine the moment I actually enter the club about which legends have been circulating for months. As I navigate the steps, my mind is clouded with doubt – we Georgians love exaggerated evaluations. Foreigners have probably already seen something “exotic” like this before – what special thing takes place underneath Dinamo? Bassiani, at various times, has been called “a creator of exemplary culture for the world stage,” the “Berghain of eastern Europe” and “one of the planet's best clubs”, by world-famous techno-artists. Yes, having arrived here by the hundreds, the majority of guest artists were unable to publicly hide their astonishment the next day. But comparing it to Berlin’s Berghain, itself considered the center of the world techno stage?
I am thrown back to my childhood memories. Here, at the club, where I now hear the heavy throb of electronic music, I attended swimming and water polo classes that time.
The dance floor, where up to a thousand club-goers congregate now, used to be a large swimming pool. The hall that I must pass after the wide concrete steps, used to be a men’s changing room, the place where I had my first erotic visions.
Crammed between visions of the past and present, and the throbbing sounds coming from a distance, I follow a dark corridor and enter the dance floor.
In existence now for almost a year and a half, Bassiani has hosted some of the most famous and important electronic artists in the techno world – Ben Klock, Roman Flügel, Marcell Dettmann, Shackleton, Legowelt, Function, and others. Special parties put on by the most prominent record labels were hosted here – Giegling, Lobster Theremin, Northern Electronics, Ilian Tape, and Ostgut Ton – which itself is the label for Berghain.
Naturally, after having entered the dance floor, my expectations were through the roof.
Whoever has attempted to describe something grandiose in text is familiar with how difficult it can be to describe something so large… So large that you could refer to it as monumental in non-banal epithets. I strain my eyes while trying to take in this vast, dark concrete space that holds upwards of 1,500 people. To put that to scale, most of the world’s most famous clubs often only have a capacity of 800 people. I follow the thin rays of light spilling onto the dim concrete walls and ceiling, and realize that my body is beginning to warm from the soles of my feet upward, as the drugs and alcohol surge through me. This warmth, like bullets fired from the stone floor through the sonic vibrations of the bass, courses throughout my entire body and I become giddy.
I get the sense that the abnormal energy exploding inside my body will gradually smash me down, leaving the last drops of my blood and sweat on the dark concrete floor below my feet. But these feelings are fleeting. “This is Bassiani!” I think to myself, as I spend a few inseparable hours taking pleasure in the unbridled euphoria surrounding me.
If we analyze the reasons why this repurposed concrete cavern has acquired the function of a completely new socio-cultural space and movement within Georgia, and one that has set itself apart from the usual clubs – not only from an entertainment perspective, but also because of the profound intellectual and emotional link that it has with so many people – it becomes more understandable.
Let's begin with the fact that the dark, minimalist lighting at Bassiani creates a total pitch-black space! In an era of lost privacy, lost individualism, and complete transparency – when everyone's eye see everything and the mind of everyone thinks about committing acts favorable to the eyes of everyone else, almost no one can see you at Bassiani. You don't think about how you appear, what you're wearing, how expensive is your watch, how you're dancing. Even if you were to desire it, it is difficult to show-off and difficult to be fake.
The darkness provides the precious means to attain complete equality, leaving you with only yourself and honesty. We as people are truly freer when we are alone, whereas we evaluate the freedom of another when we have the possibility of reveling in our own freedom.
I'm not surprised that Bassiani is one of the most peaceful, safest places in Georgia. As it is a place where we, the most laid-back hipsters and the most unruly gays, can have a good time in front of one another, allowing each one of us to enjoy a few hours of unmitigated happiness. This includes the hipsters, who, at Bassiani, are freed from their fake routines, their strictly established images, and their experience of a privileged existence. The lusty gay couple in the middle of the dance floor, they too are liberated from the repressive, disapproving eyes of society at-large. Almost no one can see them here.
These acts of freedom experienced in the shadows and darkness, and later on, in the glare of the morning light, will certainly repeat in life beyond the club. Pleasure has a repeating characteristic, and then a withdrawal, like the first good sex. This gives Bassiani the function of an emancipator movement of sorts. In fact, the significance of Bassiani as a movement increased when it became the main meeting place and support center for the ‘White Noise Movement’, a movement that rallies against the sadistic drug policies that exist in the country today. There exists no argument that will help the government see the error in its ways or the inevitability of changing its existing politics.
It is absurd to arrest people based on the recreational use of illicit substances – without which, the international club industry simply could not thrive. One of the primary aspects to the club experience is reveling with a surge of energy, and giving and receiving this energy to others, along with empathy – it is a manifestation of love without all the hang-ups.
It is also a renewal of the layers of dormant fantasy which everyone needs to see at some point in order to completely and truly perceive themselves. For many, emerging from the club is a symbolic exercise in renewal, a restart, a psychological Ctrl+Alt+Delete of the soul. And if some people need certain substances in order to achieve these experiences, it shouldn't be a problem for the government, should it? The music at Bassiani stifles the every day cares of the average Georgian citizen – it is the most important attribute of the place, and it binds the aforementioned good things together and comprises them within itself.
Whatever kind of listener you may be, whatever genre of music you may have listened to, if you've experienced the heavy beats coming out of Bassiani’s Function-One speakers, the strongest sound system that exists in Georgia today, it becomes clear that techno is music for the weightiness of the soul. You can't entertain yourself with it like some primitive entertainment. You must listen to it, physically sense the vibrations, think about your joy or pain, grow serious, and release a reciprocal vibration into the space.
This is a kind of intellectual and physical interaction, an internal rebellion, which flows as an effective cure into a person's tired soul or mind against the backdrop of total darkness and solitude, and a smile of happiness spreads across your face.
This smile, this mercilessly exposed, honest emotion, is the thing that they say drives foreign guests the most crazy. The famous techno-artists that play at the best clubs in the best cities in Europe are unable to hide the culture shock after a gig at Bassiani – neither in public posts nor in private conversations. It is probably not surprising that after interacting with an imperturbable, standard, statistical European listener living in complete social comfort and luxury, the foreign artists can spend a night receiving real emotions, pain, and happiness at Bassiani. Here, where people, tired of everyday absurdities, receive and experience this music of spiritual weightiness, internal conflicts, and rebellion in the most intense manner. Accordingly, they express emotions most intensely as well. For the artist however… well, what greater joy can there be than receiving twice as big emotions as blasted from the sound system?
It is 10 in the morning. Gigi Jikia (aka HVL), one of Georgia’s most dramatic musicians, hammers-out his final composition. Something wonderful, something completely devoid of any superficiality and decoration, that which possesses a completely human warmth and sadness, literally spills into my soul from the musician's fingers. I draw in from the pleasure and the music stops. Suddenly bright turquoise light shines down on us from the dark concrete ceiling and daybreak has come to Bassiani – we figure - it is already morning.
I emerge from the club directly next to the Deserter's Market full of new thoughts. The city has become a cacophony of sound, laborers drag away heavy objects, a greengrocer with blackened eyes separates coriander and dill. Today, thanks to all-encompassing social indifference, she will feed a starving family. The streets are already deafening from the sound of cars. “Do you want a taxi?” a driver shouts. I don't want one. I pull my hood over my head, put on my sunglasses, and follow the road home on foot, all the while summarizing the night in my mind.
What must we do for each person bustling about the chaotic streets so that they too can experience the same caring warmth and euphoria that made us dizzy the previous night? What must we do so that each one of us experiences this empathy and pleasure – not only in the old pool at Dinamo, but together here in the street?
The contrast between a night at Bassiani and a day in Tbilisi is stark – there is only one solution: either a complete capitulation or a purposeful fight for freedom.
However pathetic it must sound to some people, it's a fact that this space has become something real in our culture through its own monumentalism, darkness, music, solitude, the emptying of sadness, evoked euphoria, and recurring acts of freedom – not as the only possible fight for freedom, but as the biggest and strongest battlefield. “Bassiani is the best thing that happened to Georgia,” was the announcement made a while ago by one famous label. What does this label representative know about the “best thing that has happened to Georgia”? Did he read it somewhere? Research it? Ask one of us? Likely none of the above. He probably just felt it directly through the emotions blasted into the club space.
The emotions of a person alone in the dark, without a mirror (yeah, you won't see a mirror at Bassiani, not even in the bathroom), left in solitude with only the pulse of heavy music, provides the most honest environment to search out new forms of communication, to feel the freedom of one’s soul and body, and appreciate that of others. The main thing is to take with you a cultural process oriented towards equality and freedom outside of the club, from the night into the light of day. A process I would humbly call the Bassiani of our time.