Moscow underground club NII reworks deep house: event review

NII has hosted global luminaries like Jus-Ed, Stanislav Tolkachev, and is home to music collective John’s Kingdom and label Gost Zvuk, two Moscow projects gaining global acclaim. Tonight, however, is a bread-and-butter night: the Haipim party featured Moscow DJs who have been crafting their house sound around the city for years.

HYPE AT NII w/ Lipelis, Fstep, OL (Buyanov), Zhilin, Khizhnyakov, Is My Lover (Khmelevsky), April 2nd, 2016 – Facebook event

Moscow has seen its share of dance music epicenters over the years. Propaganda is the regular mainstay, a Russian Fabric around for 18 years now. There was Vanilla Ninja, a bottle-service operation where the rich and beautiful danced to underground sounds. Arma, having survived many moves, remains a warehouse sanctuary that favors minimal à la Villalobos.

And now there is Nauka i isskustvo (“Science and Art”), or NII abbreviated, as it’s called by locals. It must be said, first of all, that founder Alexander Savyer prefers it not to be referred to as a club – it’s also an art gallery and experimental concert space. Suprematist paintings sparsely adorn the walls. An Arabic-English bilingual chart of fish species hangs by the bathrooms, which are freshened by Zara Home essential oils. This could be a club, or the home of your uncle who’s a museum curator. With this quasi-institutional approach, it’s no surprise that the space was the graduation project of Savyer for his art degree at the British Higher School of Art & Design.

Savyer opened the night with his house project, Is My Lover, at 11pm. Next up was Oleg Rozov, alias Fstep, who has been playing regularly at strongholds like Smena and Powerhouse and brought a veteran’s patience to his set. He’s set to release God’s Son EP from Kiev-based producer Pahatam this month on his label, Capital Bass, born out of dubstep parties he started throwing in 2006. After him, Oleg Buyanov alias OL went on, continuing the night’s coherent stream that cruised from smooth house, electro, visceral acid, to soundtrack. As a producer, he’s been releasing consistently on labels like Wilson and Fine Grains. He also co-founded Deficit Records store, arguably Moscow’s leading DJ-oriented record store. All together, the DJs ended up featuring a diverse selection of respected house labels from the world over like Fit Siegel, Cajual, Peacefrog, Wilson and Dockside. Partygoers appreciated a judiciously paced emission of vocals to release the mood. At peak time Lipelis played Parris Mitchell’s “All Night Long (Emotion II Emotion Rework)”, one of the night’s many purposefully timed, let-loose moments. The DJ and producer recently saw a big moment in his career with the release of his disco edits EP last August on New York label L.I.E.S.

The NII selectors do not constrain themselves by format or genre when it stands to transfer or even enhance the mood, a philosophy that can be witnessed in the below video from NII’s New Year 2016 party as DJs Anton Lymarev and Sasha Foux cross from Russian nostalgia-pop to Detroit house:

The crowd convened at peak hours and dispersed later, ebbed and flowed, but there were always dancers on the floor, guys and gals.The Haipim night was not one of the specially curated, headline parties that NII specializes in – for example, Jus-Ed’s three-hour deep house set in February – but rather an ordinary night of the club’s DJ regulars. When Jus-Ed had his first encounters with Russian deep house, from signing Anton Zap and Nina Kraviz, to playing in Moscow clubs, he expressed surprise at the feeling in the genre emanating from this country. The Detroit house godfather’s relationship with Moscow continues with this new generation of artists based at NII. In a soulful genre that has over time been beset by caricatures, this group of self-appointed aficionados is not complicating things and going with their instincts.

As to musical influences, Savyer, who used to play in local punk band Midnite Cobras, cites DJ Rashad as an inspiration for OL, Vtgnike (pronounced “Vintage-nyke”) and himself. He was one of the Chicago-based footwork and juke proponent’s biggest fans in Russia and managed to bring him to perform two times before the artist’s untimely death in 2013. (OL and Vtgnike also released their Province album in 2012, an exemplary of Russian juke music.) One hallmark of the NII programmers is their eagerness to research and choose for themselves which overseas music acts to bring over. They’ve rarely been big stars, but rather purposefully picked emerging artists, often with a lo-fi or non-obvious style. ngly (of L.I.E.S. and Russian Torrent Versions), Delroy Edwards, Patricia, and Florian Kupfer have all played at the club within its first year of existence.

NII’s founders. From left: Sergey Starykh, Ildar Zaynetdinov (Low808 of Gost Zvuk), Marina Verkhovova, Alexander Khmelevsky (Is My Lover aka Burago aka Savyer), Pavel Milyakov (buttechno of John’s Kingdom). Credit: Maria

About NII’s music direction, Savyer said, “We have a certain approach to techno, we have a certain approach to house. We have our own feeling for what we believe is most interesting, what sounds right, what’s most faithful […] There’s no overall strategy […] We’re not trying to create a trendy place.” Perhaps that very nonchalance, present in many other cult underground clubs, is precisely what has made NII undeniably trendy among Moscow’s youth and intellectuals. The club’s sound veers towards lo-fi and an emotional restraint that makes the rare moments of release all the more satisfying. At times the sleepy hits and unstructured emissions lead one to wonder if their statement is more artistic or due to economic limitations, whether lo-fi in the end enhances or detracts from the feeling in their music. One feature is clear – the NII programmers hunt tirelessly for inherent value in music, not making a big deal about the context surrounding it.

Savyer is also not worried about what parts of the scene NII’s collaborations come from, as long as “we share common views.” Explaining the rise in underground clubs in Moscow, a city previously known for its strict “face-control” door policies, over the past few years, Savyer says “the people living here realized there was tons of real potential and we have to do our own thing.” Personally, he has been throwing parties at different clubs in Moscow for several years and was tired of running into horrible conditions, namely unfriendly club staff or rough treatment of artists, and decided to create his own space, initially just for friends. Perhaps that’s why one party-goer referred to NII as “the kind of club Moscow deserves.” Savyer takes pains to make sure people feel comfortable there, even asking me if I felt welcome in the space.

January 2015 party
The crowd at a January 2015 party

Even though many would consider NII to sit firmly in the underground, Savyer sees the scene more holistically. “It’s hard to say, actually. On the one hand, different cultures should be preserved and you should do your own thing, stand out from the rest. On the other, there shouldn’t be this idea of different cultures in the first place, we all belong to one big culture.”

With such an inclusive approach, it’s no wonder that NII managed to gather club-goers and music lovers across all different scenes in Moscow. When the club announced a fundraising party LIFE on March 4 to help it pay its rent and stay open, hundreds filled the club and its small courtyard to show their support. The party ended up going for a second day due to the crowd’s demands.

A 7.5-hr audio recording of the event is on YouTube. On the Facebook event wall, attendees post actively, sharing photos and asking for track IDs.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 5.01.53 PM

Such enthusiasm for house music in the capital city has been building for a long time now. “Before, we didn’t have access to a lot of things,” Savyer says. “People were always hungry to learn about what was going on outside. Opportunities appeared, people started studying things and are now constantly gaining new knowledge.” As long-time former outsiders, Moscow musicians take the liberty of developing their own approach to the genre and have now become active contributors to house music.

House from Moscow


Lipelis Edits (L.I.E.S.) on Discogs

Nina Kraviz – Voices (Underground Quality)


Nina Kraviz @ RTS.FM – 31.10.2009

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