It’s midnight in Tiraspol, the capital of the unrecognised republic of Transnistria: a sliver of land between Moldova and Ukraine
People dance in every free corner: despite the purple and red lights, it’s still dark and the crowd
Just two years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine a venue in Transnistria full of people searching for non-commercial electronica
Just two years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine a venue in Transnistria full of people searching for non-commercial electronica. “We wanted a place where we could play what we like and do what we want,” Bolduryan says.
Bolduryan and Grekov are in their 30s, and both born and raised in Transnistria. Bolduryan became interested in electronic music as a child after hearing house on music TV channels. Grekov fell for trance in high school when his sister’s friend introduced him to electronica and shared mixes of famous DJs.
But like many young people from Transnistria, the pair emigrated to Moscow in the late 2000s.
In 2011, the future founders of Zvuk created a promo group, Airventis, and organised the first party in Transnistria with a Western, electronic DJ: Dave Kurtis, a house DJ from Dusseldorf. For the local audience, it was something inconceivable but interesting. Several more events with foreign artists followed the first party. When the project gained its audience, the promoters started looking for a permanent place
After saving up, the pair opened Zvuk in 2019. Within a year, it had matured from a bar and hookah lounge to a club with non-commercial electronic nights on weekends. Zvuk’s residents play tunes that are almost impossible to hear in elsewhere: deep and tech house, various styles of techno, and experimental electronica.
Now, a DJ community is forming around Zvuk, friends of the owners and a few local DJs who wanted to play non-mainstream electronica. This time, the talent is Transnistrian, rather than brought in from abroad. But
One of the students is 23-year-old Ekaterina Karp, Zvuk’s only female DJ so far. She started listening to electronic music when she was nine. She didn’t realise she wanted to perform until she attended an electronic party in Moscow. When she came back to Tiraspol because of coronavirus she decided to learn to mix at the Zvuk’s DJ school. “Nobody imposes anything on you here,” she says. “You’re absolutely free to play what you want.” Now Karp is honing her DJ skills at the Zvuk’s pre-parties. She is grateful for the opportunity to play in her home region for the people who appreciate electronic music, she says.
Zvuk has also begun to collaborate with other rising techno projects such as Darkness, created by 33-year-old Andrey Sayinchuk. A dental technician by day, Sayinchuk is also one of the project’s most visible DJs. He was inspired to start throwing gigs after a trip to Berlin’s techno clubs, and after trying a host of different venues, the project eventually ended up at Zvuk. The audience of the Darkness’ events grows, attracting more partygoers. “Some people don’t understand what’s going on, but the vibe of the parties blows them away,” Sayinchuk says.
Darkness also films live sets in the scenic parts of the region to introduce the locals to techno music and draw the attention of the international audience to Transnistria. It is an effort to shine a spotlight on a place that is often shunned by the international community, or dismissed as a “strange” Soviet-style enclave. “A lot of people don’t know what Transnistria is,” says Sayinchuk. “Through electronic music, we want to show there are people here who live and breathe music, just like anywhere else.”
Sayinchuk still hopes to host a festival which will bring foreign artists to Transnistria, but money remains just biggest obstacle. Darkness doesn’t bring in enough money to organise an international event. Living in a republic that remains unrecognised by most of the world, meanwhile, means that it’s also hard to find sponsors, particularly corporate backers.
“A lot of people don’t know what Transnistria is,” says Sayinchuk. “Through electronic music, we want to show there are people here who live and breathe music, just like anywhere else.”
But it’s also difficult to find funding at home. Transnistria’s population is constantly shrinking, with just 246,000 people of working-age registered as living in the republic. Only half of the working age population is employed, according to official statistics. The remainder either work in insecure, “off-the-record” jobs, or work abroad. While there are no exact statistics, but money transfers registered by Transnistria’s Central Bank suggests that more people are leaving the country in a bid to send money home: remittances skyrocketed to $105 million in 2019 from just $45.5 million in 2016.
For those who stay, the average monthly salary lingers at around $285, leaving most with little disposal income for entertainment. Tiraspol’s cultural life is also left to stagnate. The capital boasts a few clubs, a dozen cafes, and only one movie theatre.
Under such circumstances, it’s difficult for music projects like Darkness and Zvuk to stay afloat. But the fact that the club survived its first year even amid coronavirus restrictions remains a good result for the owners. “Investing in Transnistria is a long shot, but we make art, not money,” Zvuk’s co-owner Bolduryan jokes.
The founders of Zvuk hope that life will get back to normal after the pandemic is over. People will forget their problems and allocate more time for personal enrichment. “I still like what is happening, though,” Bolduryan says. “There are more parties, people’s perception is changing. I want the culture of house and techno music to build up here, because Berlin is too far.”