The Hospital Club is Russia’s cure to a global EDM pandemic!
Some of the biggest movements in musical history have begun in the lowly nightclub; where would the Madchester scene have been without the Hacienda and what would techno be without the Berghain or Tresor? Russia may not yet have the reputation for being a hotbed of activity on the global dance music scene, but recent years have seen some key players come from the country that has been, until quite recently, developing and evolving its sound behind closed doors. The point is that things have to start somewhere and when it comes to Russian house music, why shouldn’t that starting place be an independent nightclub in Khabarovsk called the Hospital Club?
The chances are that you’ve not yet heard of Khabarovsk. Luckily, there’s a simple geography lesson that’ll bring you up to speed – if you put your finger on a map of the world and move it east, keep on moving it east and then, just before you reach the most eastern point of Russia, about 100km North of Vladivostok, you’ll find yourself pointing at Khabarovsk. It’s about 7,000 miles away from the UK and while the city hasn’t quite reached the clubbing notoriety of Berlin yet, for the last decade, it’s been the only place for anyone living in far-eastern Russia to experience dance music in a quality, purpose-built, venue. With its exclusive, members-only door policy and the music programme to match, the Hospital Club has been on the lips (and in the tour diaries) of DJs worldwide for a while now.
Not to be confused with the UK drum’n’bass label of a similar name, the Hospital Club has been servicing the musical needs of far-eastern Russia since its conception in 2003. Beginning life as a way for brothers Roman and Vlad Gavrilyuk – the owners and resident DJs – to take the parties and gatherings that were previously being held in apartments and on the beach to a venue that was somewhat more private, the idea of an exclusive club for those who really cared about electronic music was developed and the Hospital Club was born. By the end of its first year, the Hospital Club’s status as the only place to see foreign DJs and hear the latest underground music in that part of Russia saw it take third place in a list of Russia’s best nightclubs – not bad going for a small city on the far side of Siberia.
The nightlife in Khabarovsk literally revolves around the Hospital Club; the guys have managed to keep it as a members-only venue and as you might expect, the crowd is musically clued-up, young and well educated. With its red and black, “modern-gothic” interior and strict door policy, the Hospital Club is seriously image-conscious and with all three floors of the club pushing quality house music through sound systems to match, Roman, one half of Gavrilyuk Bross, wasn’t lying when he said that the Hospital Club “has become so much more than a club, it is a brand – a way of life” for the club’s patrons. And certainly, for anyone who lives in that part of the world, Roman is right.
However, the club itself is just one arm of the venture and with the expansion of what is now, undeniably, a brand, the focus has been turned towards Hospital Club Records – the label run by the club and the imprint that will export the sounds of the Hospital Club worldwide. With early releases almost exclusively produced by Gavrilyuk Bross and the brothers calling upon long-standing friends of the club like the Futuristic Polar Bears and Barcelona’s GarcyNoise to handle the remix duties, the direction of their output is seeing a change and the release schedule now includes original productions from the likes of long-time house veterans, My Digital Enemy, and Defected legends, The Shapeshifters.
And just what is the Hospital Club sound? Well, if you look back at the line-ups the club has played host to, from Chocolate Puma and Sandy Rivera to My Digital Enemy, the Futuristic Polar Bears and Dirtybird’s Shiba San, it’s clear to see that the club is attracting house music in its purest sense and avoiding the EDM explosion that Western charts are currently seeing. Speaking to Kieron from My Digital Enemy who has been playing in Russia regularly over the last decade, he’s seen a shift in the direction of the music from the early days of progressive house being fronted by guys like Swanky Tunes and Arty, through to tech-house, and more recently, a move towards deep house. Sound like a familiar progression in taste? Sure, the Russian scene might not be pioneering a brand new, leftfield movement just yet, but they’re certainly keeping up with current Western tastes and this couldn’t be more evident than from the deep house releases that the Hospital Club is pushing out on their label.
The influence from the heavily established music scenes in Europe is undeniable and unsurprising, but as Roman and Vlad are well aware, it’s always going to be difficult for any independent newcomer to immediately compete with the big guns and take the industry in a new direction. But changing the industry isn’t what the Hospital Club is all about; sure, they take influence from current musical trends in the West, but the reason the Hospital Club has been so successful over the last decade is the fact they are doing their own thing and will continue to do so. Dance music as a genre is still a relatively young concept in Russia and with the first clubs opening as recently as ’93, we’re only just beginning to see the creative output of the first, young Russian DJs who have grown up with dance music. The Hospital Club joint venture as a respected venue and active record label serves as a focus point for Russian house music and a tangible way to measure the growth and development of what is, to the rest of the world, a new and exciting scene.
The Gavrilyuk Bross are as passionate about their craft as any other producers or DJs you’d care to name and perhaps even more so. Like any fledgling label or producer, the nature of the industry means that they’ve got a lot to prove in order to establish themselves and the Hospital Club as legitimate players on the scene – in the case of the Hospital Club, this will come from the stories foreign DJs take back home with them and the high quality of their releases.
As a record label, the Hospital Club is in its infancy and these early decisions are perhaps the most important, but listen to their current catalogue or any of the recorded sets from any of their weekly parties and the quality is consistent and flawless. It’s easy to see the direction they’re taking their sound in and one can only hope that they stick to their guns about keeping the Hospital Club doing its own thing and not pandering to the fashions and trends that the EDM scene seems to revel in.
Step by step and bit by bit, the Hospital Club is putting Russian house music on the map. When you put it in perspective considering the country’s size and the success that the Hospital Club has already achieved, it doesn’t surprise me that when I ask Roman where he sees Russian house music in five years, his reply is simply this: “Moscow, St Petersburg and Khabarovsk”. I’ll certainly raise a vodka to that – here’s to the future and another decade of the Hospital Club. Check the club out on .
Written by Simon Tillotson for Tilllate Magazine, back issue Jan 2014.