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I’ve seen a lot of reports from the UK recently about pubs and other live music venues closing down to make way for blocks of flats, or commercial buildings, or something else. Apparently pubs are becoming less and less financially viable, people are going out less, bands are playing less, etc.
That’s not a good thing.
So I started thinking about what venues we have in Moscow, and decided to share some of them with you to give you an idea about what it’s like in the former USSR.
We go out quite often to see live music, a few times a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But we do try to get out and support the live music scene in Moscow.
Now, a lot of people who haven’t been to Moscow can’t quite believe that the music scene here is like everywhere else. Believe me, it’s normal here. Not really different from where you are. There are bands and venues – put them together and you get gigs. It’s as simple as that.
What gigs do we usually go to? Music that we like, mainly rockabilly, rock and roll, punk, psychobilly, and of course variations of them.
So, back to venues. One thing that always surprises me here is the range of venues for live music. There’s everything here. Let’s start from the biggest.
Yes, we have stadiums that seat 80,000 people, and there are many famous bands/singers that come here and use these stadiums for concerts. And they’re often sold out. Bands like The Scorpions, Metallica, Muse, Guns and Roses, etc.
Some people like stadium concerts, and often it’s the only chance you’ll get to see your favourite band. Especially some of the 80s legends.
But it’s not for me.
Then we have smaller venues, but still quite big – holding a few thousand people. Although there are quite a lot of venues like this in Moscow, they’re also not my favourite because you can’t really see much if you’re short – like me – and not right at the front.
Here’s our favourite Russian punk band, FPG, playing in a popular venue in Moscow, Glavclub. Capacity of this club is 3000 people, and there are VIP sections where you pay more for the pleasure of ordering drinks and food from your seat.
Another popular place is the Glastonberry Pub, which isn’t technically a pub (I think), but there’s a bar area with tables and chairs downstairs, and then upstairs there are 2 different halls for concerts – one ‘small’, one ‘big’. I don’t know the capacity for these halls, but we’re probably looking at several hundred people in each.
Some other mid-size venues actually used to be theatres. The one we went to see Skarface in, has some beautiful light fittings.
I love going to these places because they don’t make too many changes to the original building or interior. I often take photos of the chandeliers – here are some more.
And here’s a club, Mona Club, in which there was some really comfortable seating, where we sat back and relaxed while we watched a punk group from Russia, called ‘Индульгенция’ (‘Indulgence’ in English). Of course we didn’t sit all night in the comfortable white seats, we did get up and stand in front of the stage for a while on our old legs.
But what I really like are the small venues, where you can see the band, dance a little if you want, maybe even sit comfortably while you drink. Something like a bar or pub, or even a small club.
Moscow has an abundance of these smaller venues – and we go to them often.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
There are tons of pubs – ‘Irish’, ‘English’ and others, in Moscow. And there you can often find live music, all styles (except maybe punk, hard rock and other ‘alternative’ styles). You can certainly find rock and roll, rockabilly and 80s cover bands. These places are good if you get a table, otherwise you could be standing for a couple of hours holding your drink – not always the most comfortable way to spend an evening. And there’s usually a lot of dancing there, too.
Another very popular kind of venue these days are ‘craft pubs’ – or beer pubs. I hate them. You can choose from 250 or more different types of beer and they all taste like my socks would taste after running a marathon (which I’ve never done, but just use your imagination). They never have any ‘normal’ beer, and I usually find myself in a very bad mood when we go to one of these places. Plus, this is the view we had of the band last time we went to a beer pub.
At least we had a seat (yes, we’re old!), but that was only because we know the band and sat at their table.
One of my favourite places for live music has closed now, Schwein Bar. It’s been closed since last December and is greatly missed. It was open for 20 years and then, for reasons unknown to us, it just closed with no warning. Not even a goodbye party.
Schwein Bar was a German style Russian bar. Plenty of vodka, and plenty of pigs. Take a look.
And not to mention, plenty of concerts!
The smallest one
One of the smallest bars in Moscow is the Bourbon Street Bar. It’s open 24 hours and we’ve spent a lot of time in this place over the years. Most Friday and Saturday nights they have concerts, and they’re always free. It gets a bit cramped in there at times, but everyone’s happy when the music’s blasting and everyone’s dancing and/or drinking.
Our friends, Alligators, have played in this bar often, and we try to go along to support them when they do.
There are a lot of other great live music venues in Moscow that I could write about, but I want to tell you about my new favourite place for concerts.
But wait, before I do, just let me tell you about one more place first.
The first bunker
Back in 2014, some friends of ours were playing in a place in Moscow, and we decided to go along for the show. We’d never been to this place before. It was quite far from the centre of Moscow, and after a long metro ride, we took a bus for another 10 minutes, then walked 5 minutes down a lonely road until we found the place.
I think it belonged to a motorcycle gang. It looked like an old mechanic’s shop from the outside. It was strange, and we approached it with caution.
Through the entrance and down some steps. Then a big heavy door. It was an old bunker. A real one. A bunker made into a bar.
It was one of the best places I’ve been to. Smoking is banned in bars here in Russia, but in this place there were ashtrays on the bar! There were several rooms, one for the bar, one for the music. Some toilets. Some strange looking containers, who knows what they were for.
It was unusually decorated – gas masks as light shades.
We watched our friends’ concert, and then we stayed even longer, and drank and talked and enjoyed being in this very unusual place. We left at about 5am – walked back to the metro and got one of the first trains back home.
Olivier and I talked about this place often because it was so unusual and so unexpected. We never went back, and now it, too, seems to have closed down.
The new bunker
But, never mind, now we’ve found another bunker, and much closer to home! It’s called ‘Bunker 47’ and it’s only 2 metro stops away!
It’s under a huge office building (I’ve actually been inside this building – I had a student there a few years ago). From the outside of the building, you go down some steps to the door and ring the bell. Someone then opens the door remotely, and you go inside.
There are about 3 more small flights of stairs to go down before you’re in the bunker. There’s a cloakroom which looks like it’s in some kind of machinery room.
Then after you leave your winter coat (like all places in Moscow, the cloakroom doesn’t operate in summer) you go a bit further and you’re in a room with a low ceiling, some tables, a small dance area and a stage.
If you want a drink, or something to eat (there’s a kitchen, we had fish and chips last time which was quite good), there’s another room off to the left, which is the bar, where you can sit comfortably and eat and talk, and still hear the music from the concert in the next room.
Like most of the live music venues we’ve been to in Moscow, the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is friendly and cool.
So, are music venues closing in big numbers in Moscow as it seems to be in the UK? I don’t think so. Or, if they are, something new quickly replaces them. There are plenty of empty buildings here which are turned into temporary ‘clubs’ for a while, until they’re either shut down or just closed by the owner. But I don’t think that there’s a lack of places for bands to play their music, on the contrary, I think there are a lot of them – but there’s always room for more!
And what about the live music scene where you live? Are there still plenty of venues for bands to strut their stuff in your town? Or is the live scene disappearing? Let us know in the comments.
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