Sasha Mademuaselle picked up a camera at the age of 17 to take pictures of her friends at parties. With time, her interest in capturing the messy fleeting moments of youth did not fade. Instead, it evolved into continuous visual research that spanned several years, culminating in a striking, extensive series of visual portraits of Russian youth. Over the last decade, she has documented the wildest parties in Moscow, the thrills of the sweaty dance floors, the ecstasy of music — and the shifting landscape of Russian club culture.
“Truth is, it takes me a while to get in the zone to shoot. I spend a long time observing, finding interesting characters, and only after that do I go up to them to shoot. I am still quite intimidated by people. Sometimes I need a drink to overcome my shyness,” Mademuaselle admits. She always seems to be at the centre of the action — but at the same time her photography cuts through the mayhem to flash out moments of stillness and pure emotion. Her nightlife files are a fascinating testament to the style, joy, and self-expression of Russian youth in a new millennium.
Mademuaselle started taking pictures at parties during the era of nu-rave, “all neon leggings and glo-sticks”. She then became an official photographer for Solyanka club, the ultimate youth destination from 2007 to 2013. Solyanka was home to a mix of creative industry professionals and wild party kinds (with some people qualifying as both) with nu-disco and carefully curated electronic music playing at its parties. After it closed, the nightlife started shifting more towards heavier and darker techno music, and an authentic Russian take on witch house and gabber (played at VV17CHØU7 and Skotoboinya respectfully). The number of young party-goers grew exponentially — for a lot of Russians in their late teens, clubbing was becoming a regular pass-time rather than a novelty. In the next few years, a huge brick building, a former gas plant of Arma17 and Rabitsa with its courtyard and weekend-long parties, became staples of Moscow growing and increasingly diverse techno crowd — both have now closed.
In the last decade, night gatherings reflected young Russians’ search for identity, from the sound and style which emulated western club culture, to authentic initiatives such as Bol’ festival, which showcases the most innovative voices in punk, noise, and rap. And then there’s the Russkiy Attrakcion collective, who reclaimed ordinary and ugly vodka bars and pelmeni joints as party locations.
“Back when I got invited to continuously photograph at Solyanka club, it turned from a hobby into something bigger. Now, 10 years later, I think I’ve managed to capture my generation”, Mademuaselle says. In the last decade, the landscape of Moscow nightlife kept changing while she photographed new nights and new faces. But certain wild things remained the same: recurring yet continuously unique like the very experience of youth.
“I always want to capture a certain moment of madness, which I think is possible only when you’re young, do anything because you can, and aren’t afraid of anything,” she adds. “Perhaps that’s the reason why it grips me so much — generations change but I keep going to parties and photographing 18-year-olds.”