The phenomenon of BalconyTV will be launched from high up on the city’s Petrograd Side this week.
Published: May 30, 2012 (Issue # 1710)
SERGEY CHERNOV Local musician Seva Gakkel (
l) pictured at the launch of BalconyTV together with the balcony’s owner, ballerina and actress Sofya Skya (
St. Petersburg will now have its own BalconyTV, the international daily online viral music show that features bands, musicians and other variety acts on balconies around the world.
The St. Petersburg page is already present on the BalconyTV web site, which boasts over 20 million video views, and will start being updated with material this Friday.
BalconyTV St. Petersburg was founded by musician Seva Gakkel, formerly cellist in the seminal rock band Akvarium and the pioneering TaMtAm Club founder. The long balcony where the show will be filmed runs around an apartment on the seventh floor of a building on the Petrograd Side, and was provided by ballerina and film actress Sofya Skya. Along with Gakkel, Skya will introduce the opening video when it appears on the Balcony TV website Friday.
During the launch party Sunday, material from which will be used to compile the opening video, Markscheider Kunst — one of the city’s best-loved bands — performed its Latin-tinged song “Babushka.”
The eight-member band — Gakkel’s friends from the TaMtAm era in the 1990s — performed, complete with percussion and brass section, colored by the evening sun on a classic white night, and sounded crisp and fresh in the open air high above old rooftops.
Gakkel said he came across BalconyTV by chance while surfing the web three or four years ago.
“I just followed a link, then another link… I don’t do that too often, but I watch live performances by bands that I don’t know in different situations,” he said.
“Then all of a sudden I found myself on [the] BalconyTV [website] watching the flash mob they did to the song ‘Always Someone Watching’ by a band called Alan Alda. It was on a balcony, lower than this one, maybe on the third floor, and there were couples dancing to the song. I liked the band’s music and tracked it down, and started visiting the site once in a while.
“At that time there were two balconies, in Dublin and Hamburg. Then I saw that a third balcony had emerged in Camden, London, and I began to get intrigued by the idea.”
Until December 2011, Gakkel was the art director of the St. Petersburg branch of the Moscow club Chinese Pilot Jao Da, which he quit due to differences with the then manager after working there for about two years.
“On the one hand, I had to look for a job, but at the same time I felt that I had to do something, to get involved in some process that doesn’t exist in the city and that would capture me. I’ve always been a supporter of all things D.I.Y., low-fi, unplugged, etc., and I saw that there was no such thing in the city and I could try to do it.”
By that time, BalconyTV existed in about 30 cities around the world.
“Balconies emerged in almost every European capital, on both coasts of the U.S., in Mexico, India and Thailand — and in [the Russian city of] Kostroma,” Gakkel said.
“It fired my ambition; I’d been observing it for so long and I should have been the first [in Russia], according to the logic of things I have done over the years. And suddenly I saw that I had missed the boat. I got in touch with the guy in Kostroma and he told me, ‘I am just about to come to St. Petersburg, I think maybe we should launch BalconyTV there.’ I thought ‘How is that possible? The guys from Kostroma will come and start doing it here?’
“I got motivated and started looking for balconies, and almost immediately I met Sofya — who’s the daughter of my good friend Alexandra Arzhakovskaya from many, many years ago — by pure chance in Moscow and told her this story. She said, ‘I have an apartment that’s being renovated and I don’t know when work will finish.’ I came here, saw it and thought ‘My God, I haven’t seen this type of balcony in this project; they were either tiny balconies or large open terraces, where they set up drums, a backline and so on.”
For Gakkel, BalconyTV is interesting as an alternative to the music industry and club scene.
“Working in a club for two years, I came across the dispiriting situation of the clubs being to some extent rivals, even Fish Fabrique, Zoccolo and Griboyedov, which have the same music direction and are on very good terms with each other, but are forced to compete,” he said.
“There are certain ethics. For instance, a band can’t perform too often. If they arrange a concert at one club, it’s impossible to play at another club the same weekend, because people will only go to one place or half of them will go to one place and half will go to another. It’s a business, and there are a lot of nuances to be taken into account. But I wouldn’t like to get involved in it.
Local band Markscheider Kunst performs high above the rooftops at BalconyTV’s local launch party.
“The main thing for me is to clearly understand what I’m spending my time on. You have to do something that will lead to something else, that will help to develop some direction or some trend. And I see this quality in BalconyTV.”
The advantage of BalconyTV St. Petersburg is that its location is outside the club scene, even if a couple of local venues do have terraces.
“This is a territory that is neutral, abstract, independent from the trend that exists in the city at the moment,” Gakkel said.
According to Gakkel, the benefit of unplugged performances lies in the fact that musicians who are perfectionist about the sound quality during concerts agree to casual performances on the balcony without demanding exhausting soundchecks.
“[The attitude is] ‘It sounds OK, let’s go!’ as was demonstrated by Markscheider Kunst today,” Gakkel said.
“It’s interesting for me. First of all, they’re my old friends, it’s nice for me that we’re launching this project with a performance by this band in particular, because it’s dear to me from some of my old adventures.”
Gakkel said he would consider inviting Markscheider Kunst for a full-fledged performance, beyond the context of the launch party.
“There are not so many things like that on the Internet, and they could be united in some niche,” he said.
“BalconyTV lets people visit the portal just to see what’s happened there, say, in the past month — either young bands and new names or bands you already know and are interested in. For instance, I came across The Buzzcocks performing on the tiny balcony in Dublin and Nouvelle Vague performing as a duo on the balcony in London.”
Gakkel said that through his involvement with BalconyTV, he has found that a team of old friends and young musicians whom he met as the art director of Chinese Pilot Dzhao Da has quickly formed.
“This is my know-how,” he said.
“I never hold any casting sessions or job interviews. It’s not a job, it’s a way of spending time, but one that demands a colossal expenditure of time.”
With Alexander Senin, a television presenter and former drummer with bands Kofe and Petlya Nesterova, as program director, Gakkel’s crew includes a number of young volunteers who act as camera operators and sound engineers.
Danila Kholodkov, drummer in the young local band Shokalsky Revenge, is the presenter.
Apart from the presentation video featuring Markscheider Kunst, test performances that have been filmed by several acts a day on Sundays since early May were shot in one take to comply with BalconyTV’s rules.
“We have been waiting for good weather; we signed an agreement with Stephen O’Regan, the project’s producer, and at last received confirmation this week with a date set for our opening show,” Gakkel said.
BalconyTV was founded in Dublin in June 2006 by filmmaker Stephen O’Regan and musicians Tom Millett and Pauline Freeman. O’Reagan and Millett shared an apartment and started hosting the show from their balcony there.
BalconyTV St. Petersburg will be launched at www.balconytv.com on Friday, June 1.