- In terms of electronic music, Eastern European cities have recently begun to steal the limelight from their western counterparts. But St. Petersburg, Russia's cultural capital and the birthplace of Russian clubbing culture, is not somewhere we hear much about. While the country's recent economic difficulties have helped engender a thriving DIY scene in Moscow, St. Petersburg hasn't always fulfilled its great potential, due to a lack of venues and, more recently, an overbearing craze for hard techno.
OFF, the latest project from Roots United, the crew behind Present Perfect Festival, suggests a new current for the St. Petersburg scene. Held at ArtPlay, a former factory in the city's Novocherkasskaya district that opened its doors in October, the first edition went down in February, with Legowelt, Inga Mauer and Silent Servant among the acts. The lineup on Saturday was more diverse, with Rush Hour darling Soichi Terada lining up alongside Luca Lozano, DJ Normal 4 and house duo OL and Sil, who run popular Moscow store Deficit Records.
Standing in the queue under something between rain and snow during the coldest April since 1966, I was reminded of winter parties I'd been to at Nobel, another local factory-turned-club. But as soon as I entered ArtPlay, the comparisons stopped there. The first OFF party had featured two dance floors set over one level; this time, there were three dance floors set over two levels. But instead of the usual main room/second room layout, all the spaces had a similar buzz and vivacity about them. Unlike at the February opening, overcrowding was never an issue. Exploring the venue was like walking through a maze, with long corridors and staircases emblazoned with red, blue and white light installations that snaked between chill-out rooms and the smoking area. The way the space was broken up made the night feel like a series of intimate raves under one roof, rather than one 2,000-capacity event.
In Room Two, which hosted Terada, model flamingoes adorned the stage, basking in the neon pink light. The Tokyo native's live performance was the standout of the night. Making his St. Petersburg debut, he treated the crowd to 2015's Sounds From The Far East compilation in its entirety. But it was during his and Shinichiro Yokota's "Got to Be Real" that the set's most unforgettable moment occurred, with Terada suddenly bursting into improvised song.
Room Three's decoration added a playful, Haçienda-style touch, with a yellow siren and a large fence railing in front of the booth. In here, Ural native DJ 1985's mishmash of '90s hardcore and jungle was a pleasant surprise, followed by Luca Lozano and DJ Normal 4's wicked three-hour back-to-back to close. They leaned heavily on breakbeats, chucking in the odd cheeky classic for good measure ("Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," Fatboy Slim's "Right Here, Right Now"). It was a killer end to a night that helped crystallise the distinctive enthusiasm and relaxed nature of clubbing in St. Petersburg, a scene in which Roots United are frontrunners. It was the best party I've been to in the city.
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