A thinking man’s venue

A thinking man’s venue

A2, a new club in an old factory on the Petrograd Side, aims to attract a hipster crowd.

Published: October 10, 2012 (Issue # 1730)


British instrumental band 65daysofstatic performs at the opening of A2’s smaller room, which has a capacity of 1,500, on Sept. 14.

The opening of new venue A2’s main room Saturday turned into near-chaos when thousands turned up to see French musician Yann Tiersen and formed a nearly half-kilometer line to get into the show, which started with a huge delay.

The 5,000-capacity room was packed and Tiersen later posted a photo of the crowd with their arms raised on Twitter, adding “You all look good,” while many visitors complained on the club’s blogs about having to wait.

“We offered our apologies,” said art director Claire Yalakas. “There were a number of problems, one of which was an electrical problem that caused the delay of the soundcheck, after which Yann rehearsed for two hours, and people could not be let in into the venue. I wouldn’t say it was a standard situation for an opening, but can you tell me about an opening where nothing of this kind happened?”

Saturday saw a number of big concerts happening in the city at the same time, including hugely popular band Leningrad, Afrobeat legend Tony Allen and a semi-reunion of the city’s favorites Tequilajazzz, so getting an estimated 4,000 for a Tiersen concert was a surprise for the organizers.

“To be honest, we didn’t count on getting that many people at the show,” Yalakas said. “We thought that we would get about 2,000 at best, selling not very expensive tickets, because his music is oriented toward young people in their twenties, who are not a very well-off section of the public. But we wanted to aim at this kind of audience, because Tiersen occupies a very good niche, which implies a certain pop sound, but he retains his intellectual background. We thought it was a good combination for the opening and that we’d get a crowd that we’d be able to serve easily and well.”

Located in an industrial area on the Petrograd Side, the reincarnated A2 has little in common with the 300-capacity club of the same name that its team ran several years ago on the second floor of a former Soviet consumer services center on Razyezzhaya Ulitsa.

But curiously, Tiersen was one of the last artists to perform at the old venue, which existed for two years before closing in early 2010. Back then, a long line also gathered outside for Tiersen, and the interior was overcrowded. The difference was that only 400 people came to see the show in December 2009.

“It was much colder outside, but no one complained,” Yalakas said.

A2 is owned by Natalya Leushina and managed by Alla Pelsitskaya, the same team who were behind the former A2 and Kosmonavt, which was sold earlier this year and is now co-owned by the NCA concert agency. Yalakas is art director in charge of live shows, while DJ parties are the responsibility of dance promoter Nikolai Toper.

“It’s because there’s a good team that I started to work at this venue; I honestly didn’t plan on ever becoming an art director with any club again, but it can be a very interesting experiment and very good experience,” said Yalakas, a concert promoter who was art director for a number of clubs including the now-defunct Red Club.

“They are good and reliable partners who are great to work with. Natalya likes experimenting and adrenaline. She built one club, then another and now a third, which was probably the most nerve-racking construction process and is the most difficult club.”

The club occupies a portion of Lenpoligrafmash, a massive plant built in 1890 on the bank of the Karpovka River on the Petrograd Side and officially specializing in printing machinery.

“It looks ruinous but it has very large and beautiful spaces,” Yalakas says.

“When we went there for the first time, it looked very appealing, because it had a glass roof and large windows, but unfortunately our construction workers walled up some windows by mistake, which we plan to undo later. The interesting spaces gave us some ideas.”

The original plan was to call the venue “Fabrika” (Factory), because of its location, Yalakas said, but the idea was eventually dropped.

“The name would have been very appropriate, but unfortunately it’s too overused,” she says.

Work started in March and the club’s smaller room, which has a capacity of 1,500, opened on Sept. 14 with the post-rock festival Astral, headlined by the British instrumental band 65daysofstatic.

“Everything was done in record-breaking time; if you visited the place in June, there was a hole filled with water in place of the large room, with no walls, no roof, nothing. Before that there was a large workshop with a glass ceiling, which was of course highly dangerous, because everything was black, covered in cracks, and it looked as if everything would fall apart if you touched anything. But it looked very picturesque.”

Yalakas says a number of international artists with whom she negotiated in June declined to appear because of uncertainty over whether the work would be finished on time.

“Big acts set up their tour schedules well in advance, so it was not possible to make a full schedule for the large room,” she said. However, the venue did manage to get some international acts, including Garbage, who are due to perform at A2 on November 9.

“Right until the very last moment, many people said we wouldn’t open,” she says. “Basically, everything is finished, but it doesn’t yet look cozy enough, because we had no time to complete the design, which makes our designer sad, but I think everything will be great by New Year.”

By booking bands such as Garbage, A2 puts itself in competition not only with Glavclub, which until recently claimed to be the city’s largest club, with a capacity of 2,000, but also with local sports arenas that play host to bigger international pop and rock bands.

“We’ll even have Scooter [on Nov. 30]; it’s interesting to give it a try, although the audience [of the German techno band] is different from what we initially had in mind,” Yalakas said. “But perhaps there are not so many acts that can fill a 5,000-capacity venue here, so it will be interesting for this kind of audience.”

DJ parties — most famously The World of Drum Bass planned for Oct. 20 — draw a different kind of public from concert audiences, Yalakas admits, but are necessary for the venue to survive.

“It’s the most commercially profitable thing for the club, because the revenues that DJ parties bring in are much, much bigger than what we can get from concerts,” she said.

Tiersen fits the paradigm of the artists toward whom A2 is oriented, according to Yalakas. “The acts that the club books on its own are oriented toward a young and intelligent audience,” she said.

“Essentially, a standing venue can’t be oriented toward older people, who need some comfort; people who are able to stand for two or three hours on their feet are usually not very old, which imposes certain limitations on us. We can’t have a good jazz concert or some other kind of adult music. We hope to draw a hipster crowd, and Yann Tiersen is one of their idols.”

Yalakas cites U.S. hip-hop artist Madlib (due Oct. 16), British electronic musician Alex Clare (Nov. 6) and Icelandic experimental pop band Mum (Dec. 2) as some of the most interesting international acts who are confirmed to perform at A2 in its first few months.

“There are a lot of negotiations going on, and many contracts yet to be signed,” she said.

A2 is located at 3 Prospekt Medikov. Metro Petrogradskaya. Tel. 309 9922. www.a2.fm

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