“Techno is for thugs”: Nikita Zabelin exports Russia’s hidden talent

Original by Interview Russia. As told to Tim Aminov

Some call him the frontman of the Russian techno scene. He himself calls techno “music for thugs.” Nikita Zabelin is the man behind Techno Makes Sense, Russia’s foremost techno collective throwing parties around the country. A meeting with Nina Kraviz at Outline 2014 and subsequent release on her трип label raised his international profile. His weekly Resonance radio show aims to highlight music by Russian producers and serve as a beacon for the scene in a vast country divided by haphazard infrastructure. It celebrates one year of parties, radio shows, and musical exchanges this month, as well as announces the launch of its label that will deliver Russia’s best techno to the world.

resonance 1yr
What’s Russian for “skymiles”?

AMINOV: Nikita, your radio show, Resonance, has been broadcasting on Megapolis 89.5 FM for a year now. What has this show meant for you and listeners?

ZABELIN: Resonance answered a lot of questions I’d been having for the last decade. What’s the nature of Russian electronic music? Does it have specific traits at all? And what makes a Russian artist in particular? I found the answers to these questions, but new ones have taken their place. For example, how do we solve the legal issues? […]

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Five artists released on solid European labels this year. Vladimir Dubyshkin from Tambov saw his track pressed on Nina Kraviz’s трип (the year’s number one label according to MixMag UK). PTU is a Kazan-based duo that also was signed to трип and will play this summer at our big party in Barcelona with me, Nina, Bjarki, and others. They also just played at our UNIT party in Rodnya. Evgeny Chizhkov, a family man and loving father, just released in Spain on ATT series. We’ve broadcasted over 50 episodes and featured over 100 new artists. The event collaborations with Rodnya have allowed us to gather 48 artists from 25 cities and 8 countries to meet and share stories. Applications are still open, in fact.

AMINOV: How do you plan to grow Resonance?

ZABELIN: The first step was laying out the structure between the artist, listener, promoter and club. That’s how the parties and radio show were born. Now the whole outfit works well. The next step is creating within the country some local, but scalable projects to develop electronic music culture. We’d ideally like to see a healthy, growing scene. As to expanding internationally, we’ve got some special news!

After broadcasting for a year we’ve gathered some great music that’s been tested out not just in Russia, but around the world as well. We’re announcing the launch of Resonance as a label. It will be the final delivery channel of the current Russian electronic music wave to both East and West.

AMINOV: How important is this for Russia right now?

ZABELIN: If the promos we receive in our email are anything to go by, then very much so. Our follower base in social media networks keeps growing, as well as interest from regional clubs in partnering with us for events.

Can acid bring couples closer? PTU, a husband-and-wife duo, express themselves in Kazan

AMINOV: How long have you been throwing parties in Moscow?

ZABELIN: Three years. First it was at a club that’s now closed, then following the great rule, “If you want something done well, do it yourself,” I continued throwing events, in different places to gather a wide audience and spread our sound. The UNIT parties at Rodnya became a sort of calling card. We’re celebrating the 10th party edition at Rodnya on April 1st, the day before my birthday.

AMINOV: What does throwing events mean for you?

ZABELIN: It’s our way of overcoming the vacuum of information. Right now our club and music scene is small enough that any isolation within it is suffocating, even deadly.

AMINOV: You’re turning 29 soon. What do you think, out of 100% of what you could have accomplished by now, how much did you get done?

ZABELIN: Only a little. My heroes already ceased to live by this age.

Zabelin took a risk launching the Resonance radio show on Megapolis 89.5FM, exposing himself to attacking microphones in the studio

AMINOV: Can you tell us a bit about your values and principles?

ZABELIN: As Danila once said, truth gives power. Inside each one of us is a core, a solid plank, and each time you make a decision, with all the obligations it then ties you into, you lose some of yourself or what might have been. I don’t let myself say, “I cannot,” because that’s a passive position, as if some external circumstance prevents you from taking action. “I choose not to” – now that’s an active position already. By rejecting a possibility, you assume all the responsibility and risks. You answer to yourself, first and foremost, for the consequences of your decisions. One must take responsibility for their actions, especially when they affect others.

AMINOV: How did you start developing musically? What were some of your defining events of the past five years?

ZABELIN: I picked up a guitar at 11. At 16 played for the last time with my rock group at Ural Rock Festival 2003. At 18 started DJing and throwing my first parties. Paused at 21, got bored. At 23 performed with Techno Orchestra (the first Russian experiment in this area). With them I also made my first release. But I didn’t take it seriously then. At 24 I visited Berghain for the first time. Got inspired to write my track Tranquility then, Cio D’or ended up charting it and that made me consider things more seriously. At 26 I moved to Moscow with this single goal in mind.

As a former resident at Club Monasterio, I discovered Moscow nightlife. That’s where we began developing the dark side of techno in Russia, and something worked right. The трип label then became my launchpad into the international music scene. … Then my name appeared in the lineup of Outline Festival. The ARMA17 team’s work is impressive in both scale and smoothness of operation. Then performed at Tresor in Berlin and at the трип party at Concrete in Paris and thereby left my mark in music.

Many critics would be content to label techno as “music for thugs.” Zabelin went one step further

AMINOV: What was your life like before moving to the capital city? What did you do in Ekaterinburg and St. Petersburg?

ZABELIN: I love Ekaterinburg a lot and would not exchange it for any other city. It’s a stark city full of contrasts. It was in fact planned as an experimental city of the future for the USSR. The consequences of this experiment remain evident to this day. This incredible architecture leaves an indelible mark on the fate of its residents. It’s impossible to exist rationally in Ekaterinburg. Maybe that’s why so many interesting creative figures have emerged from there, in music, fashion and design.

AMINOV: How do you collaborate with other cities in Russia?

ZABELIN: Since I myself grew up in a city in the regions, I know, understand and participate in the work of musicians all around our country. I had questions and project ideas but unfortunately couldn’t find enough interest. Talented people live in these Russian cities and the world has no idea about their existence. My goal is to improve this situation. Russia is a chaotic country, there’s little sense of community. To change the situation, the basic, fundamental task is to set up communication. Everything began with the Techno Makes Sense tour that traveled to six cities, from St. Petersburg to Krasnoyarsk. The initial goal was just the tour itself. It went much better than expected and led to a series of parties in Moscow. This year we’re launching a new project that will hopefully help organize the cultural scenes in major Russian cities. The first city on our list is Ekaterinburg.

Zabelin plays his co-production with Philip Gorbachev (right) at Arma’s 8-Year Anniversary on 23 April 2016 in Moscow. Credit: V. Onischenko.

AMINOV: I trust that Europe also figures in your plans?

ZABELIN: Europe is a different story. Europeans look at Russia with interest and apprehension, because they don’t know what to expect. This gives advantages and disadvantages. The upside is that all doors are open to us if we want to present something; the downside is that we’re different from them and they don’t let us in until they’re sure we share the same views. I love Europe and have been to many of its cities. And it’s worth developing as an artist there. As to cultural projects, they can manage them fine on their own.

AMINOV: How do you plan to contribute to Russian electronic music?

ZABELIN: It’s not about the music. It’s about living in such a way that your children and grandchildren will want to hear your stories.


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