New East Digital Archive

Nighthawks: the revellers of Almaty’s fierce new techno scene come out to play

The club scene in Kazakhstan’s cultural capital Almaty is young but on the up, with nights at Vzletnaya helping to set the scene. Yura Matsiyun’s rough and raw photos capture the moment

3 August 2018

Vzletnaya, a club in central Almaty, holds a special place in the hearts of techno fans in Kazakhstan’s most populous city. Set inside an abandoned factory, decorated with chandeliers, lanterns and more crimson neon than a red light district, the renovated industrial venue would not look out of place in a city like Kiev, Krakow or Belgrade. Yet in Almaty, it is a musical anomaly. First launched in 2012 as a minimal techno night, the club is now a much-loved fixture in a city that eschewed underground electronic music until recently. Until 2016 it moved from one unusual location to another: from the roof of a shopping mall to a scenic spot near the mountains. Two years after opening its permanent space, it is already something of a veteran in Almaty’s growing but uncertain DIY clubbing scene. It’s true that Central Asia has no Berghain or Bassiani but this hasn’t stopped DJs flocking to this far-flung outpost.

“We’ve hosted well known names such as Kaitaro (Tokyo), Tomash Ghz (Berlin), Sepp (Romania), Nikita Zabelin (signed to Nina Kraviz’s label Трип), as well as many other Russian DJs like Sofiia Rodina, Abelle, Anushka, and our friends Timur Basha and Bambu from Kiev,” says Nikolay Shkoda, the Creative Director of Vzletnaya. But the music isn’t the only draw. According to Shkoda, Vzletnaya offers both techno and freedom: “When I talk about freedom I am referring to an unspoken trust in all our visitors until proven otherwise. We have no tolerance for xenophobia, homophobia or sexism and we don’t impose any codes of behaviour. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not for the sake of, say, security. Very few clubs in Almaty are as inclusive.” The proof is in the fact that “a lot of people who go, can’t go back to the city’s commercial clubs,” he adds.

Yura Matsiyun is among the club’s regular visitors. He moved to Kazakhstan from the Belarusian capital of Minsk two years ago for work and in that time has found a second life moonlighting as a photographer. “I began photographing the city and its inhabitants with a Canon EOS 3 film camera. For me it was a slow and meditative type of photography,” says Matsiyun, who first visited Vzletnaya shortly after relocating to Kazakhstan. It was the club that made him feel most at home. “Almaty has all the features of a big European city — cafes, restaurant, clubs, malls, events — but in small numbers. Minsk, due to its geographical closeness to Europe, has more places worth visiting and a more active cultural life. Vzletnaya is a special venue for Kazakhstan — a slice of the underground European scene on the edge of the Great Steppe.”

His series Nighthawks is a devoted to Vzletnaya’s dedicated partygoers, taken on a Fuji Instax Wide instant camera. The combination of the instant camera and flash worked best to convey the atmosphere of the club. Describing the title of the project, he says: “The people all look like rare nocturnal animals, caught with a camera in the deep forest.” Judging by these photos, it would seem that Vzletnaya mainly attracts the city’s young, creative inhabitants. In actual fact, the venue is unique for the variety of people who frequent it. “They can be musicians, lawyers, designers, bankers, fitness trainers, teachers, directors, businessmen, oil industry workers, barmen, hairdressers and many others,” Shkoda explains. “Of course, they have a lot more in common — techno has this way of uniting people.”