Whenever I visit a new city and delve into its nightlife, I feel the same butterflies in my tummy that I felt when I visited music venue Nighttown in Rotterdam as a teenager. It gives a sense of freedom: I can go wherever I want and be whoever I want.
Just as in Nighttown’s basement, most clubs – much to my delight – still play techno. This genre of music, which originated in Detroit, used to have the Berlin-based club Berghain as its primary sanctuary until very recently. Nowhere else does one find such a diverse and wildly enthusiastic crowd, and it’s not unusual for parties to go on for over 24 hours. A perfect spot for insomniacs and dancing freaks, where nobody really cares what you look like.
The club is a temporary safe haven for a wide array of eccentrics. A new member of the family, de School in Amsterdam, has even formulated its house rules with this in mind: “We expect our visitors to be open towards others, regardless of their origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and age.”
Of course, even more majestic dance cathedrals are always popping up. My first encounter with Bassiani, a nightclub in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, was unforgettable. The techno music was of unrivalled quality, the sound was crisp and clear, and the crowd was going wild inside the catacombs of the football stadium built in 1931 by the Soviets. Bassiani also provides a safe space for the LGBTI community, which is not something to be taken for granted in Georgia.
It is no surprise that in a country where owners of vegan restaurants have had sausages chucked at them, a safe haven like this has come under attack. What’s more, the owners have spoken out in favor of a less rigid drug policy. This hasn’t been without consequence. Last month, the policed raided Bassiani. The club’s owners were carried off, visitors were led outside with automatic rifles pointed at them, and the club was locked.
The authorities probably had not foreseen the reaction brought on by the raid: a crowd of young people, DJ’s included, took to the parliament building and started dancing there. They simply would not stop until finally, on Sunday evening, the Minister of External Affairs apologized.
The rave-olution is proof that, to young people, club culture provides something of much more importance than just hedonism or fun times with friends: club culture represents freedom and tolerance. It’s no coincidence that Bassiani was named for the 13th Century Battle of Basian, which was crucial in Georgia’s obtaining independence.
Georgia is at a crossroads, faced with two options: conservative and closed off, or open and tolerant. The raving youngsters have made the second possibility somewhat likelier.