“Are you sure this is it?” I asked my bleary-eyed Georgian cab driver. It was seven in the morning and we had just pulled up to Dynamo, Tbilisi's massive soccer stadium built by the Soviets in 1931; the legendary techno club Bassiani was supposedly tucked beneath it. The driver nodded, and I warily got out of the car. I started circling the stadium until I heard, to my relief, the thump of techno music. I followed it to find two bouncers who looked me up and down and said something to me in Georgian. I showed them a QR code that had been emailed to me hours before by Bassiani’s owners Zviad Gelbakhiani and Tato Getia. They silently nodded me through.
I walked down into the depths of the dimly lit stadium to find people passed out on beat-up leather banquettes, as security guards shined flashlights in their faces to make sure they were conscious. I followed the music into a huge room, where the U.S.-based DJ Matrixxman was playing in a cloud of smoke to a crowd that sounded gleefully out of their minds.
Welcome to Bassiani.
The club first opened in 2013 in the city center. The five cofounders, all 24 at the time, realized there was a massive void in the Georgian electronic scene. "No one was doing any techno parties," Zviad explained. "Even a few years ago, we were the first." After the immense success of their first party, they decided to open up a permanent space. But it wasn’t without struggle. “Most of the spaces available in the city were government property, and all our requests were declined even though the buildings hadn't been used for many years."
As luck would have it, one of their clubgoers was the director of Dynamo stadium, the home of the Georgian national soccer team. The director let on that the venue’s old basement swimming pool was vacant. “The pool hadn’t been touched since the Soviet times," Zviad said. They were sold the second they saw it. "My friends remember swimming there when they were younger, and now they’re partying there."
Bassiani is open one night a week, and the door operates on "face control," according to Zviad. “We have to struggle in order to keep the vibe right inside. We don’t care about nicely dressed or cool people, we only use door policy in order to avoid aggressive people,” he explained, noting that Georgians “really like to drink.” While Bassiani is often compared to Berlin megaclub Berghain—the ultimate compliment in the club world—the founders maintain their place is completely different. “We are trying to keep a kind of freshness to the club,” said Zviad, who goes to Bassiani every weekend and stays until noon the following day as a matter of quality control.
Bassiani is also booking bigger DJs who regularly sell out other venues, such as Marcel Dettman. “There are some DJ's that did not know about Georgia, and if it wasn't for Bassiani they have never came,"" Zviad said. "They don’t even know where Georgia is on the map. When they come here and realize the sound system, DJ booth, and crowd are all perfect, they’re shocked."
But Georgia’s own influence on the international scene is also growing. The resident DJs who started at Bassiani three years ago are climbing the ranks. Last weekend, their resident DJ played at Berghain. “All of our friends and colleagues went to Berlin to see him play," Zviad recalled. "Berghain has never seen that many Georgians.”
For the cofounders, ultimately their club is a haven of freedom under the strict Orthodox Christian Church in post-Soviet Georgia. “LGBT inequality is huge here, and the drug policies are as harsh here as they are in the Philippines," said Zviad. "There are many struggles here. So for us, Bassiani is a way of escape, to have a life here.”