“Insane. There’s no other word to describe that country. That expression ‘From Russia with Love’ also now has a totally different meaning for me too.”
Six years after 300 delegates and 1,300 guests attended the very first Sochi Winter Music Conference (SWMC), numbers have swelled to 1 500 delegates, and 7,500 guests including Soundcloud new business manager Nils Westerlund.Nils, a Berlin based 20-something Swede whose floppy fringe haircut, designer spectacles and carefully ruffled understated attire apparently means he looks EXACTLY like a Moscow hipster, admits he’s thoroughly enjoyed the 3 day/ 3 night event.
“How much do I think Russians deserve their ‘crazy’ reputation? They do in full,” he says, “Vodka instead of water, I think that should explain most of it,” he laughs.
Googling ‘Russia, business etiquette and vodka’ suggests he’s right, with one site (suite101.com) advising ‘vodka is properly drunk in one gulp’ and another (worldwide-tax.com) recommending ‘do not under any circumstances present vodka as a gift as this is interpreted as a reflection on the poor quality of the contents of your host's drinks cabinet’.
SWMC co-producer (and champion vodka drinker) Mike Spirit is not so sure.
“Why do we drink so much vodka? It’s because Russians aren’t allowed to smoke like the Dutch so we drink instead,” he laughs. “If we could smoke legally, then the Sochi conference will become more similar to ADE.”
His reference to ADE (the Amsterdam Dance Event) is appropriate, as both events combine a daytime program of clubbing related panels and seminars and a nighttime smorgasbord of all night parties and each attracts A List DJs, music business types and party mad revelers. Unlike ADE though, SMWC’s clientele is currently mainly domestic though with Nils from Soundcloud and myself and Richard Ziljma from ADE invited along this year, Mike stresses the plan is to become a lot more international in future years.
“We’re attracting more delegates and presenting more and more interesting reports, lectures, round-table discussions is increasing too. It’s also funny to see when public discussion can suddenly turn into real business agreements,” he notes.
And as the business portals recommend, business means business- and vodka- which is not so bad given that a recent US report on death rates discovered that teetotalers die significantly younger than both moderate and heavy drinkers.
“One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health,” Time magazine’s John Cloud suggested, “Nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves to join the party.”
“Moderate drinking is not only fun but good for you’.
Strolling into the foyer of Sochi’s Marins Park Hotel (the base for the event) on the opening Thursday night, it’s clear that fun the order of the day as a heaving bar packed with DJ types and stunningly beautiful uber-flamboyant girls, throbs with energy. While the men favour ultra masculine designer gear or simple jeans and T shirts, for the women it’s (almost) all about impact: six inch stilettos, micro-minis, thigh high boots and fur stoles.
A significant number, however, don’t and it’s these women who more often than not turn out to be either famous DJs (such as Nastia Beauty, whose boyish short hair and low heel boots emphasise her individuality) or high level ultra-chic media types such as NightParty.ru editor Katya. Soundcloud’s Nils admits he’s impressed.
“Many men are really manly macho types and the girls are quite the opposite,” he notes. “It's like an exaggerated version of Poland,” he suggests. “Many people also seem to be married- and at a very young age,” he continues, “there are a lot of golden rings on the don't touch me finger.”
Relocating to the opening party later Mike Spirit and Nastia provide an impromptu workshop in vodka drinking, knocking back five or so shots before Nils joins the fray. ADE chief Richard and his strange Dutch sidekick are also representing in the roped off VIP section while the dancefloor heaves as DJs drop dreadfully cheesy disco mash-ups the worst of which involves Stars on 45. It doesn’t really matter though as vodka and barriers dissolve everybody’s boundaries.
Day one proper of the conference begins with a presentation by various Russian officials and suited types. Sochi’s due to host the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the Black Sea resort is buzzing with energy as well as money and new projects pouring in. Inside the conference hall, the atmosphere is also impressively alert as a packed crowd listen avidly to a succession of presentations.
Almost all are in Russian (save for Nils’ Soundcloud and our ADE panel) though most people appear to have a strong grasp of English. Debates between panelists and the audience are impressively passionate, though we’re asked a few unusual questions including the weirdest (presumably from a Skrufff reader) ‘are you worried about microchips and the New World Order? (‘yes’).
Friday night’s when the serious club programme kicks in and we disco-hop around town catching local heroes including Io (who’d fit into Berlin’s Panorama Bar perfectly) and Nastia who drops a similarly polished tech-house set, also at Berlin Bar. A Moscow crew headed by DJ Rust) provide a similarly proficient soundtrack at the after-party at Nebo, which is great apart from a short disruption as a fight breaks out on the dancefloor.
It’s the first of three such incidents we encounter during the trip (bouncers fight clubbers at the entrance to my gig at Los Palmas the next nights and Nils almost gets battered by bouncers at another club) though speaking afterwards Mike Spirit downplays their significance.
“Let’s start from the first. It’s a fight with one of Russia’s best known house DJs — DJ Kolya,” he explains.
“It happens every year and everybody is always ready for the ‘show’ — some people even wait specifically for this fight,” he smiles.
“The charm of this fight is that it’s not too hard. People just slightly hit each other and they’re best friends the next day. It’s actually quite a sweet thing, you know,” he insists.
“The fight at the club you were playing at was just an ordinary club fight between accidental idiots. Unfortunately these things happens all over the world and we can’t kick out all the idiots with just one button. By the way, Sochi is a hot city near the Caucasus — peppery temper! But I think there are more fights in one night at Ibiza than in Sochi for the whole conference.”
“As for Nils’ fight, I’m not sure exactly what happened, I heard that security threw him out after they caught him feeding beer to goldfish in a fountain, that’s quite a sweet thing to do, isn’t it,” he laughs
Nils himself downplays the incident, cryptically advising ‘don't touch goldfishes just because they are cute’.
“And don't you dare let a crazy guy from the Netherlands feed them with beer and then get blamed for it either,” he adds, “Stay away from those fountains.”
Moscow producer/ DJ Artem (who doubles as Minister of live acts for Kazantip’) also downplays Nils’ security breach and praises the event overall.
“SWMC is always impressive, it’s great to have a lot of friends and professionals collected in one place,” says Artem. (Click here for Artem’s band: http://www.kooqla.com )
“I’d also like to answer this question of whether Russians are crazy, we’re not,” he insisted. “We’re actually just so friendly and love to make new connections all over the world so we look crazy.”
“I think that Russians are quite ordinary compared other nations,” he suggests. “In terms of football we’re much calmer than the British: In terms of booze we’re much calmer that Czechs and the Irish: In terms of women we’re much calmer than the French and Spanish: In terms of trance we’re much calmer than Dutch,” he laughs,
“So we’re not so crazy. You just saw Russian club culture at its finest during conference. And when we all come together a huge splash of energy is born — and that is really crazy, I must say. But we can’t hurt anyone — even little lambs.”
The question I’m asked most frequently throughout the conference is what do I think of it and my response is always that I’m impressed. It’s clear that SMWC has attracted and even created a genuine community of like-minded committed club people and there’s a confidence permeating many conversations that’s infectious and inspiring.
Almost everybody’s also extremely friendly and hospitable- and up for a party, meaning the entire conference offers non-stop opportunities for adventures and fun. Roll on 2012, SWMC IS crazy!
Click here for DJ Artem’s band Koogla: http://www.kooqla.com
http://soundcloud.com/nils-westerlund (Nils Westerlund)
http://www.amsterdam-dance-event.nl (Amsterdam Dance Event)
Article by Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff