The classic bunker club Griboyedov will celebrate its 16th birthday with a party this week.
Published: October 17, 2012 (Issue # 1731)
SERGEY CHERNOV / SPT
Former Dva Samolyota drummer Mikhail Sindalovsky pictured outside the club he co-founded 16 years ago.
The city’s club scene has passed through some drastic changes since the 1990s, but Griboyedov club — which celebrates its 16th birthday this week — has remained one of its best loved historic hangouts.
Griboyedov first emerged amid the ruins of Ligovka — the largely neglected area close to St. Petersburg’s infamous Ligovsky Prospekt — in October 1996, and was run by Dva Samolyota, the band that at the time was one of the trendiest in the city and responsible for many art initiatives on the local club scene.
In addition to Dva Samolyota, every decent local band — including Tequilajazzz, Kolibri, NOM, Kirpichi, Markscheider Kunst, Prepinaki and Leningrad — performed there.
Griboyedov was commemorated alongside fellow alternative club Fish Fabrique in an early Tequilajazzz song. The two clubs contest the title of St. Petersburg’s oldest surviving club.
Fish Fabrique was launched in 1994 and had its heyday in a different location on 10 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa, before moving into its current location in 1998. Griboyedov, however, has remained at one and the same site since its opening on Oct. 18, 1996.
“I am glad for them but they were a bit underhand about it,” said Mikhail Sindalovsky, the former Dva Samolyota drummer and Griboyedov’s co-founder.
“When Moloko [underground rock club] had to move to a different place, it renamed itself Zoccolo, it’s more honest that way. [With Fish Fabrique], the former owners parted ways; they moved to a different place but still kept the name.”
Griboyedov, whose full name is Culture Club Griboyedov, was — and to an extent remains — an unstoppable creative process, featuring exhibits and art shows as well as concerts and DJ sets.
The club is named after Alexander Griboyedov, the author of verse comedy “Woe From Wit,” whose profile appears on the club’s logo. Oriental motifs in the club’s interior design pay homage to the author, who was the Russian ambassador to Persia, where he was killed when a mob stormed the Russian embassy in Tehran in 1829.
The interiors were mostly designed by theater artist and interior designer Mikhail Barkhin.
Originally, Dva Samolyota started out as art directors before the opening of their own club Griboyedov. The group spent several months organizing events at Nora (Burrow), a basement dance club in the former Sever movie theater.
“It was Petrovich (Alexander Fomin), the drummer with the band NEP, who somehow got the former film theater,” Sindalovsky said.
“They made a concert hall out of the main room, a smaller club called Gora (Mountain) in place of the former projectionist’s booth and there was a basement called Nora, which we helped to renovate. One day Petrovich met [Dva Samolyota bassist Anton] Belyankin and said, ‘Would you like to be in charge of culture programs at this Nora?’ Anton came to us, we discussed it and decided to get involved. “
But after a few months, the team of bartenders who owned the place thought they could manage on their own. However, its popularity declined and Nora soon folded.
The historic movie theater was demolished in 2006 to make way for the new Obvodny Kanal metro station.
“It seemed that it lasted for a long time, but now I realize that we were there for less than six months,” Sindalovsky said.
“We got money from what was made at the door and used it to pay bands and DJs, but at some point they made us pay for cleaning and the sound system,” Sindalovsky recalled.
“Then they said, ‘Dva Samolyota walk around drunk all the time, there’s no sense in having them, we know all the DJs and bands ourselves,’ so laid down such conditions for us that we would inevitably leave. But at that time our friends had already found this location for Griboyedov, and we haven’t stopped since then.”
Griboyedov’s location, a Soviet-era bunker, was not entirely original — due to the techno club called Tunnel that formerly existed in a similar bomb shelter on the Petrograd Side — but was still a novelty.
“It was a time when you could rent a bunker, and this one belonged to the Bolshevichka clothes factory, which is now defunct,” said Sindalovsky.
“It was rented for 49 years, but was bought out long ago. The permits for construction [of a restaurant above ground] were obtained later.”
Sindalovsky is the only Dva Samolyota original member who has remained with Griboyedov, with his job title as “general producer.” He is also a shareholder in the club.
Despite having settled in Tel Aviv, Israel, two years ago, he continues to work on developing the club via Skype or during his visits.
Belyankin and Dva Samolyota’s keyboard player Denis Medvedev have since drifted apart, with Belyankin co-founding the popular indie bar Datscha in 2004 and then moving on to launch Fidel and later two more bars.
Mikhail Yegorov, the guitarist with the band Kolybel, is now in charge of the club’s music program.
In 2003 and 2007 Griboyedov was subjected to raids by assault rifle-armed OMON riot police, which left some clubgoers beaten and humiliated. During a 1997 raid, members of the public were driven out of the bunker and forced to lie down in the snow around the club.
“They used to come and hit the person who opened the door on the head with a rifle butt, charge in and shout ‘Down on the floor, bitches,’” Sindalovsky said.
“They used to beat everybody who thought about it for too long with rifle butts. But when we generated some publicity [about the raids], they stopped making people get down on the floor.
“The last time I saw them was about five years ago. They came with sniffer dogs, video cameras and some women, and behaved in a more humane way. They asked to switch off the music, put everybody against the wall and checked to see if anybody had drugs or was underage. They didn’t seem to find anything bad.”
Although the name Griboyedov can be translated as “mushroom-eater” and can be seen as a reference to the hallucinogenic mushrooms that grow in the forests near St. Petersburg and that were very popular at the time, Sindalovsky insists that the club was strictly anti-drug.
“I heard that drug-dealing was burgeoning at dance clubs at that time,” Sindalovsky said.
“We were strictly alcohol-based, it’s always been more profitable and safer for us. People who turn up in an altered state of mind are turned away at the door. We like people to arrive sober and happy and get drunk at our place.”
In 2006, Griboyedov’s bunker expanded to feature Griboyedov Hill, a restaurant with a stage for jazz and quieter concerts, which was later augmented with an outdoor summer bar.
The downstairs concert room can hold between 200 and 300 but sometimes attracts more, according to Sindalovsky. “Up to a thousand people can pass through the club during a party, with people coming and going,” he says.
Sindalovsky, who compiled a series of CD compilations called Griboyedov Music, featuring the most interesting bands that have performed at the club, continues to follow the local music scene, but is not too impressed by its current state.
“When something emerges — projects such as 5Nizza or Krovostok, or at some point Mumy Troll and Zemfira — people start talking about it, no matter if you like it or not,” he said.
“A friend gives it to you, you hear it on the radio, it’s played at a café or somebody sends you a link on the Internet. It’s gone totally stale now for some reason. I thought that maybe it was just me being callous, but I’ve asked young people, and it’s the same [with them]. But I am talking about St. Petersburg. Maybe the home of underground and rock and roll culture has moved somewhere else, to some different places.
“I think that first of all, any creative work, be it musical or visual, stems from the difficulties of life,” he said. “At least people can get a job and rent an apartment now.”
Sindalovsky argues that a new local music explosion is possible if the situation deteriorates.
“But it will be done by young people, not by old farts,” he says.
“I think that’s normal. There have been many young punks who became monsters, made money and died in due course.”
Sindalovsky says that the mentality of aspiring musicians has changed since Griboyedov’s early years.
“I haven’t heard any interesting new names for a long time, it’s mostly commercial projects,” he said.
“All the musicians want to make some dough, they start a project and want to sell it. If it’s a good group, they’ll tell us ‘we don’t want to play in such a small room’; if it’s a bad group, we don’t need them. They have a problem with goal-setting in their creative work and life in general. If people decide to devote themselves to music and don’t have any other job, they struggle.”
Some of the older bands that started out at Griboyedov and have become popular since then are also reluctant to play at the club for low fees.
“Take [ska-punk group] Leningrad. It emerged in 1997, I witnessed it with my own eyes,” Sindalovsky said.
“Seryoga [Leningrad’s frontman Sergei Shnurov] used to come to every gathering with a guitar and sing. They would come to other people’s gigs and say, ‘Can we play a song? We’ve written a new one.’ They were bursting with enthusiasm. Try to call the respected Sergei Shnurov now and ask him not even to perform but merely to come to a birthday party and toast the club from the stage. He’ll say, ‘I’ll come,’ but he won’t. Nobody is interested in anything except money.”
The club scene itself has changed irreversibly with the opening of large venues such as Glavclub, Zal Ozhidaniya, Kosmonavt, Avrora and A2.
“They take a calculator and work it out,” he said.
“To bring such-and-such a band we need to sell such a number of tickets for such a number of rubles. They multiply the figures and see whether they can afford it or not. If we invite that band to perform at our club even at an afterparty, they say: ‘We can’t, because the 200 people who will come here [to Griboyedov], will not go there [to the large club], and we won’t make the money we want.’ It’s the musicians themselves who say this.”
Dva Samolyota will perform at the club’s birthday concert, although with only one original member, Anton Belyankin, on vocals and bass.
Griboyedov’s 16th birthday party will take place at 2a Voronezhskaya Ulitsa at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18. Dva Samolyota, Multfilmy, La Minor, Markscheider Kunst, Kirpichi, Kolybel, Gruppa L’ETO, Psikheya, Mister Maloy Limonady, Figa, Prepinaki Canoe and Simba Vibration will perform. www.griboedovclub.ru