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How Tbilisi Became the Post-Soviet Rave Capital

In recent years, many tourists have taken Georgia to their hearts. They come to this country for the wine, khinkali, beautiful views and friendly atmosphere. But Georgia is known not only for its hospitality, but also for its techno parties and raves.

In 2018, Georgians defended their “right to party” at a protest rave in front of the parliament and made it to all media around the world. Our writer Elena Gvarishvili spoke to the pioneers of raves in Tbilisi and wrote a guide to the best parties in the city.

Electronics without electricity | Rave at the parliament | ClubsFace control | Festivals | Map

“We were already making electronic music when there was no electricity in Tbilisi.”

Techno pioneer and musician Nika Machaidze, known as Nikakoi, recalls how he escaped behind the Iron Curtain as a 22-year-old boy a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union and discovered a wondrous new world. “I came to Berlin in 1994 and went to a club for the first time and saw DJs playing. It was incredible, of course,” admits Nika.

Nika Machaidze (Nikakoi) – one of the first Georgian DJs

Tbilisi in the 1990s was not what it is today. No restaurants, no parties and no beauty that today’s tourists are used to. Locals remember washing clothes in sinks on the street. “There was no real electricity, it worked only sporadically,” Nika explains. – But I was lucky, because the house we lived in was right next to the factory, which had electricity all the time. And somehow our house was also supplied without interruption. I remember we plugged in the first simple instruments and played music in my room.”

“My friends laughed at me then and said, ‘You managed to make electronic music when there was no electricity in Tbilisi,'” Machaidze smiles. Nika’s room became one of the first house techno clubs in Georgia. Together with her friends, they invented their first tracks, recorded them on an old computer and met to listen to them.

Nika believes that electronics and raves were a natural reaction to growing social inequalities, civil wars and the darkness that was around them. “A rave is originally a protest. In the 1990s, young people had a lot to cope with, but this culture helped them express themselves, hide and feel safe,” he says. – We didn’t have many listeners, but we did. Also, there was a crisis, there were a lot of empty, abandoned buildings or spaces with cheap rents where you could have parties and musicians would gather. Many people went there with enthusiasm, and the culture slowly began to grow.

Rave at the Parliament – 2018 Techno Protest

In Europe, the Georgian rave scene was particularly active four years ago, when tens of thousands of people staged a large-scale rave in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi on May 12, 2018, to protest police violence. Earlier, according to official readings, police raided several large nightclubs in the city because more and more young people were dying under the influence of drugs. Participants were brutally arrested, placed face down on the ground and taken to police stations, with a total of about 70 people detained.

“Listen. Where there is nightlife, there have always been drugs, right? – Nika Machaidze notes. – Everyone knew that, but at first no one in the government was concerned. But on that day, suddenly, there was”.

The musician says that on May 12 he simply walked past the Café Gallery Club, where the patrols had begun. There was a crowd, and the police took out the young people, rounded them up and sent them into police vans. “It was just kids being held randomly, and I took everyone I could find,” he says.

Dissatisfied with the actions of the special forces, citizens came to protest in front of the parliament building. Soon, musical devices appeared in the street and a big party began. Obviously, the authorities had not expected such a reaction.

Image from the documentary film about the 2018 techno protest at the Parliament in Tbilisi “Rave by the Parliament”.

“We had a colorful, calm and civilized protest for a few days,” says Mariam, one of the demonstrators. The protesters described themselves as “dance activists”: they believe that rave stands for peace, love, freedom, tolerance, unity, harmony, expression of feelings, responsibility and respect.

For the socially active part of the population, clubs have become a way to experience freedom and equality. In one of her interviews, Naja Orashvili, co-founder of the Bassiani club in Tbilisi, explains, “Our generation lived in poverty, in an environment of unemployment, we live in a homophobic and xenophobic society, so we rallied around the idea of equality and started a purposeful, important struggle.”

Image from the documentary film about the 2018 techno protest at the Parliament in Tbilisi “Rave by the Parliament”.

The rave in front of the parliament became a social phenomenon – as Georgians claim, many things changed afterwards. Giorgi Gacharia, the head of the Ministry of Interior and later Georgian prime minister, came to the protesters, apologized to them and promised to take care of the complaints.

“In the end, the government promised that the drug policy would change, although no fundamental changes have taken place so far. Under Georgian law, a person caught in possession of a single pill is sent to prison for a longer time than for murder or rape,” Mariam says.

Another consequence of the Georgian techno protest, which made headlines around the world, was the huge popularity of Georgian electronics both outside and inside the country. Filmmaker Stepan Polivanov made a documentary about these events, “Rave by Parliament.”

More emotional than in Berlin. Which club to go to in Tbilisi

“The parties of Georgian musicians are very popular abroad, especially in Europe. Probably it is because of their own unique sound. At the same time, internationally known stars also perform here and have parties that can compete with those in Berlin. TheBassiani, one of the biggest techno clubs in Tbilisi, is as well known as the “Berghain”, it is already a landmark, explains local techno party representative Georgi Lomidze. – We have the same musicians and producers here as in Berlin. We are not worse either. Or maybe we are better in some respects – more soulful. Local electronica fans and clubbers in Tbilisi recommend a mandatory visit.

Meoba

Address: 23 Shota Rustaveli Ave

You can also warm up before a party in the club in the “Meoba” bar. A small place with very reasonable prices and a friendly crowd. Its main feature is the jukebox where you can play your favorite song for 1 GEL (0.37$). After a few glasses of “Kindzmarauli” and delicious fries, you can head to the club.

The highlight of the “Mioba Bar” is a jukebox where you can play your favorite song for 1 GEL. Photo: Meoba / Facebook.com

Dedaena

Address: Dedaena Park

Dedaena Park is home to the bar of the same name. “Dedaena” is the place where you can dance only to techno, and it also hosts a number of other club founders, music festival organizers, and the best partygoers in town.

“Dedaena Bar” is located in the park of the same name. Photo: Dedaena / Instagram.com

Bassiani

Address: 2 Akaki Tsereteli Ave.

Basiani” opened in 2014 and the club immediately became one of the leaders in the Georgian club scene. DJs attribute the success of the venue to the fact that it has something for everyone. In one room you celebrate the most authentic rave, while in the other you listen to a live lo-fi show in a relaxed atmosphere. Basiani residents DVS1, HVL, Function, Hector Oaks are also at home at German labels and European clubs. Connoisseurs of electronic music travel here to see one of them on stage.

“Basiani” opened in 2014 and the club immediately became one of the leaders in the Georgian club scene. Photo: Basssiani / Instagram.com

The rest follows the atmosphere Mariam and Giorgi talk about – sensual and friendly. Although “Basiani” is compared to Berlin’s “Berghain”, it’s much easier to get in, even if you have to wait in a long line. Filming is not allowed inside or outside the queue, otherwise you will be kicked out. The security staff may ask you for your passport and ask if this is your first time in the club, but almost everyone is allowed in.

Although “Basiani” is compared to Berlin’s “Berghain”, it’s much easier to get in, albeit with a long queue. Photo: Basssiani / Instagram.com

Khidi

Address: President Heydar Aliyev Embankment.

Khidi” was opened in 2016 and now competes with “Basiani” for the title of the most popular nightclub. Many locals prefer “Khidi” which they feel is more private and intimate. The name of the club translates from Georgian as “bridge” as it is literally located under the Vakhushti Bagrationi Bridge in a three-story building. Ambient, industrial, EBM and of course techno is played here. When the club is not partying, there are contemporary art exhibitions, performances and public lectures. And sometimes they run in parallel: on the first floor there is dancing, on the third floor there is an exhibition. Khidi” and “Basiani” used to host LGBT parties once a month.

“Khidi” features ambient, industrial, EBM and, of course, techno. Photo: KHIDI / Facebook.com

Café Gallery

Address: 34 Alexander Griboedov St.

Located in a small old mansion, at first sight it looks like a bar or a cafe. During the day you can enjoy a delicious snack and a glass of Saperavi here, not knowing that on weekends the cafe turns into one of the most popular places of Georgian nightlife. The club came under fire during the raids in 2018, causing some of its regulars to worry that its image would be ruined. On the other hand, the incident has had a positive impact on its reputation, and the willingness of visitors to come here has increased significantly. The café is less busy than “Basiani” or “Khidi”, where there are also many tourists. The cafe is mainly visited by locals and appreciated for its authenticity.

During the day you can enjoy a delicious snack and a glass of Saperavi here, not knowing that on weekends it turns into one of the most popular places of Georgian nightlife. Photo: Café Gallery / Instagram.com

Mtkvarze

Address: Nikoloz Baratashvili Named Left Bank.

“Mtkvari” is the Georgian name for the Kura River, on the banks of which stands an 1850s mansion that houses the Mtkvarze Club, which opened in 2012. Locals praise it for its bohemian atmosphere. The large, bright room with panoramic windows usually plays techno and house. There is a second, smaller, darker room for experimental music. The club also hosts festivals, exhibitions, public lectures, workshops and charity events, for example for refugees. “Mtkvarze” is popular because it not only provides a venue for musicians, but also reflects an active citizenry and contributes to the local community through its educational and charity projects.

The large, bright hall of the club “Mktvarze” with its panoramic windows usually plays techno and house music. Photo: Mtkvarze / Instagram.com

Map of clubs and bars where parties take place

How to get through the face control

To get through face checks in Tbilisi clubs and bars, local partygoers are advised to simply be friendly and sober and avoid conflicts in line and with the face checkers themselves. The nightclubs of Tbilisi are gay friendly and the appropriate symbols and colors on your clothes will not prevent you from passing the face control. In this locale, black is preferred over all other colors of clothing.

Budget

Admission to parties usually starts at 60 GEL (22.06$). You can buy a ticket on the venue’s website or Facebook page or at the entrance, where it can cost 20-30% more. Usually there are no problems with tickets and they are always available. Beer costs about $6-9 in the bars, cocktails up to $35, water about $4.5. On average, locals do not spend more than 100 GEL (36.76$) per night in a club.

Problems with the police

Since the rave at the Parliament, there have been no more raids in the clubs, and the holidaymakers have not had any problems with the police for a long time. But just in case, Georgian ravers warn: the most important thing when confronting the authorities is not to resist. If you don’t have illegal substances on you, they’ll let you go almost immediately. Georgia has strict anti-drug laws and a repressive drug policy: possession of any type of illegal substance, with the exception of a very small amount of marijuana, is punishable by imprisonment, depending directly on the amount seized. Prison sentences can be up to six years for a small amount, up to eight years for a large amount, and up to 20 years for a very large amount.

Festivals

Several major music festivals are held in Georgia each year. You can already keep an eye on some of the biggest festivals scheduled for summer 2023.

Rokva

In the small region of Racha in the middle of the mountains, a big two-day Rokva festival takes place every summer. The program features around 50 Georgian and international artists playing electronic music on two stages. The organizers themselves describe the festival as “a musical adventure in the greenest of places.” Tickets range from 70 lari (25.74$) for one day to 150 lari (55.15$) for two days. There are campsites, bars and food trucks on site.

Organizers call their festival “a musical adventure in the greenest of places.” Photo: ShoTa TsereTeli Photographer – Videographer / Facebook.com

Komorebi 2023, August 4-6th 

The advantage of the three-day “Komorebi” festival is that it takes place in Anaklia, on the coast of the Black Sea. Last two summer it was hosted in Batumi. The venue was divided into indoor and outdoor areas, and guests could dance until dawn overlooking the sea. In 2023 ticket prices range from 90 GEL (33.09$) for one day to 250 GEL (91.91$)for two days.

  • Facebook page: facebook.com/komorebifest
  • Instagram: @komorebifest
  • 2023 dates: August 4-6th  
  • Headliners 2023: Anthony Rother, Aurumn Tree, Cozy K.
  • Headliners in the past: Digital Groove Affair, Yanamaste, Catnapp

Ezo 2023, July 7-8th

Georgian label Mzesumzira Records and artist group Mzesumzira Community hold the annual Ezo electronic festival in Mtatsminda Park, a mountain in central Tbilisi. It is a big local festival with two days of mostly local musicians, where you can meet almost all the inhabitants of “Basiani”. The organizers ask not to be deceived by the peacefulness of the park and be prepared for a noisy and lively open air. Tickets for the event cost 50-130 GEL ($17-46).

Ezo Festival in Mtatsminda Park, on a mountain in the center of Tbilisi. It is a large local festival with mostly local musicians performing over two days. Photo: Ezo Festival / Facebook.com

Tbilisi Open Air 2023, June 23-25th

“Tbilisi Openair is one of the biggest festivals focusing on electronics and rock. Many artists have performed here, from local techno DJs to Placebo and Morcheeba. The festival was introduced in 2009 as an alternative to “Eurovision”, from which Georgia was disqualified at the time. Usually around 45,000 people come to dance for three summer days.

  • Instagram: @tbilisi.open.air
  • 2023 dates: June 23-25th
  • Headliners: Tom Odell, Kaleo, Moderat, Bedford Falls
  • Headliners in the past: Alt-J, Franz Ferdinand, Placebo, Mogwai, Okean Elzy, Rhye, Tom Odell

Tbilisi Openair is usually attended by about 45,000 people. Photo: Tbilisi Open Air / Facebook.com

Echowaves

In the resort of Anaklia on the border with Abkhazia, the “Echovaves” takes place in the summer. For four days, people dance by the sea exclusively to techno. Mainly Georgian musicians play there, but there are always a few DJs from abroad. The festival had to close temporarily in 2020 due to restrictions on Covid, but is scheduled to reopen in August 2022. Ticket prices and the line-up will be announced at a later date.

“Echowaves” means four days of dancing by the sea exclusively to techno. Photo: Echowaves Festival / Facebook.com

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