Legendary Club Fish Fabrique Comes of Age

Legendary Club Fish Fabrique Comes of Age

Published: August 29, 2012 (Issue # 1724)


Pavel Zaporozhtsev, owner and co-founder of Fish Fabrique, pictured in the club’s courtyard Sunday.

St. Petersburg’s pioneering rock club — and the oldest surviving in town — will mark its 18th anniversary this week with a concert by pop-rock band Polyusa and a party.

Once the people who ran it referred to Fish Fabrique as an “educational” club, but now describe it as “historical.”

Originally, Fish Fabrique was launched with a concert by local alt-rock band Tequilajazzz on September 2, 1994, and took its name from Berlin’s club Fabrique and the nickname of its former co-owner, Oleg “Fish” Labetsky.

Located on the fifth floor of the now-legendary building located at 10, Pushkinskaya Ulitsa, which was occupied by artists and musicians while it stood empty waiting for full-scale renovation work, the club became an instant hit in the local underground music scene.

“There was a saying, ‘Where’s the deepest underground in St. Petersburg? On the fifth floor!’” recalls Pavel Zaporozhtsev, the club’s owner and one of its founders.

The club faced almost no competition because there was only one other club, the legendary TaMtAm. Because TaMtAM had only evening concerts, its clientele would continue on to Fish Fabrique, which held all-night parties.

“There was no concept of DJs then, people just had fun to a tape recorder,” Zaporozhtsev recalls.

Fish Fabrique, which has become affectionately known as Fishka (literally “chip,” but also a slang word for “something special”), immediately became a popular hangout with expats and more sophisticated Russians. Zaporozhtsev recalls one OMON riot police raid on the venue.

“They burst in and made everyone line up, but it turned out that out of 100 people only two or three were Russians; all the rest had Western passports,” he said. “[The police] didn’t know what to do and left.”

He says that the club became a hangout for expats and Western visitors partly because there were no other such places in town where they could find anything similar to clubbing.

Fish Fabrique is proud to have held Russia’s first Halloween party — put together in the former venue by a group of the club’s American friends, including Christian Courbois, the founder of WestPost postal and courier service.

“People had no idea what Halloween was,” said Zaporozhtsev, recalling a man who came in a three-piece suit because he thought it was appropriate attire for a Halloween party.

During Fish Fabrique’s first winter, the water pipes exploded in the basement and the staff had to carry 20 plastic canisters of water upstairs every day for the bar and toilet. Although the building’s electricity had been cut off, Zaporozhtsev remembers bribing an electrician, who connected the club with the electrical system of the next-door building via the attic.

But the stairs were lit by candles to prevent visitors from falling and injuring themselves.

Building materials had to be purchased from construction sites, because stores did not sell them at that time — just several years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When the building TaMtAm was located in was seized by a developer and the club closed, Fish Fabrique inherited its table football, which had been brought from Germany and — according to Zaporozhtsev — was the first one in the former Soviet Union.

Denis Kuptsov, then the drummer of the ska-punk band Spitfire, and Labetsky himself contributed to the venue’s alternative designs, which can be seen in Alexander Bashirov’s 1999 feature film “The Iron Heel of Oligarchy” (Zheleznaya Pyata Oligarkhii).

With Bashirov starring as Nikolai Petrovich, who comes to St. Petersburg to organize a revolution against the oligarchy, much of the film was filmed at Fish Fabrique’s old premises and featured some of the bands who performed there, including Tequilajazzz and the all-female indie pop group Kolibri.

When they launched the club, its organizers focused on fun rather than money, according to Zaporozhtsev.

“We were a group of friends, we had a lot of German friends and did everything together, plastering and painting walls all together,” he said.

“The monetization of the country has happened since then, and you really have to work hard to survive. I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing or a bad thing, that’s just how it is.”

Zaporozhtsev admits that much of the city’s nightlife has recently moved to Dumskaya Ulitsa, where German entrepreneur Anna-Christin Albers and Dva Samolyota rock band singer and bassist Anton Belyankin launched the indie bar Datscha in 2004, spawning many similar bars on the same street.

“Once there was Fish Fabrique, Griboyedov and Moloko, and then came a decade of slackening, nothing was happening at all,” he said.

“And then, about five years ago, there was a new breakthrough, suddenly a lot of things started to happen.”

Despite being wildy popular hangouts, the Dumskaya Ulitsa bars largely lack live music.

“Historically, [the defunct bar] Cynic started all this,” Zaporozhtsev said. “Why bother with bands and a PA system, who needs that? Bring a load of beer and turn the music up louder.”

Fish Fabrique has held hundreds of concerts by every remotely well-known local band, not to mention bands from the rest of Russia and abroad.

“Everybody has played here, except for maybe [stadium rockers such as] DDT and Alisa,” Zaporozhtsev said. “But even their musicians have performed here with their solo projects.”

After continued attempts to evict the artists residing in the building at Pushkinskaya 10, City Hall finally came to an agreement with the squatters, splitting the building between the city and the artists before it was finally renovated in 1998. Fish Fabrique was given a smaller room in which the bar and a stage were set up.

The interiors were designed by Rechniki (Rivermen), the underground art group of squatters and metal sculptors.

“They welded everything from iron: The tables, chairs, trees and the bar,” Zaporozhtsev recalled.

“The city installed new water pipes in the building this summer, and we found many interesting artifacts [in the basement], such as metal gears, everything that was left over from when the club’s interior was being created.”

An interesting fact about the bar is that St. Petersburg’s former mayor Anatoly Sobchak threw a closed party there for the artists of the Pushkinskaya 10 art center in February 2000, just days before he died of a heart attack in Kaliningrad.

The bar, which has a capacity of about 100, expanded in 2010 and now also has a bigger room — called Fish Fabrique Nouvelle — right across the courtyard. The new room holds about 150.

“The two rooms are equally popular,” said Zaporozhtsev.

“There’s a certain contingent that doesn’t accept the new aesthetics and goes only to the old bar, and there’s a newer bunch of people who only go to the new room. That was the idea — to have diversity and a small courtyard in the middle.”

Zaporozhtsev said the organizers used to describe the club as “educational” because it introduced new music and a new way of spending time to locals.

He said that Fish Fabrique had seen five generations of concert-goers during its 18-year existence.

Fish Fabrique’s legendary cat Fishka, who was with the club for 13 years, died of old age but had given birth to nearly 100 kittens, which were distributed among musicians and regulars. Yevgeny Fyodorov, the Tequilajazzz frontman who now fronts a new band called Zorge, owns one of Fishka’s offspring.

“They went all around the world; I know for sure that seven went to Finland, four went to Germany and a couple went to France,” Zaporozhtsev said.

The club’s new cat, Rusya, was adopted from a pet shelter, has no tail and has been neutered.

“But she catches mice, she knows her job well,” he said.

Fish Fabrique’s 18th anniversary party, featuring a concert by Polyusa, will be held at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 1 at Fish Fabrique, 53 Ligovsky Prospekt. Tel. 764 4857. Metro Ploshchad Vosstaniya.

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