So it's hardly a surprise for a country as big as Russia to have one of the finest underground clubs in the world: Arma17. There are clearly enough people in a city like Moscow to support something like it week-in and week-out. What's perhaps most striking about Arma, then, is how long it took to materialize.
"We'd already been doing parties for a few years by 2008," explains Natasha Abelle, a resident DJ and one of the main creative forces behind the club's artistic direction. "[But] we weren't able to find any place which could meet all of our demands. Clubs [in Moscow at the time] were mainly focused on short-term profit goals, rather than a sustainable and consistent music policy. There were [only] private clubs with super strict face control, oriented on a richer and luxury type of crowd. We were also looking for venues with high quality soundsystems. And to find all these in one place—it was really impossible."
Abelle claims that opening the club was a tough sell to the Moscow people at first—"they were not used to such a concept"—but trawl through the RA archives, and you can tell that the "art-space Arma17" was quickly embraced. The descriptions of the events get increasingly more positive as April 2008 leads up to July 2008: "After such parties as Cocoon, Renaissance and Matinee this club seems like Home for hundreds of clubbers in Moscow," reads one user's take on things. "This party will be the last in Arma17 space in this summer. In September Arma17 will become a club with a significant name."
And so it did. As it happens in the dance music world, the DJs who returned home from the club began to spread the word. Finally, they said, Moscow had a space with all of the elements for a great club in place. Finally, there was a Russian space that wasn't so..."Russian." Abelle agrees: "We were looking to the international examples. From the very beginning we wanted to become part of the international scene without any 'Russian' or whatsoever flavor, with our own vision, our own musical policy and individuality."
The sensibility of Arma is a key factor to consider, namely because in January 2009 the original location of the club was destroyed by a fire. Today the parties are held in a location nearby, but the idea behind them remains the same. Quality music, quality sound, quality people. "What we really like in Arma crowd that though being high-demanding, our people are minimally conservative. This is exactly the most advanced part of the club community which is always ready to develop. Definitely they have their favorites as everywhere, but they extremely open to everything new and thus expect a lot from artists," explains Abelle.
That's a give-and-take scenario of course, but when quizzed about their favorite clubs in the world, Arma is not far from the top of the list of those that have played there. After his set at one of RA's 10th anniversary tour dates there last year, Marcel Dettmann said that it reminded him of Berlin's E-Werk in the '90s. "The sound was great, the stage was cool and the crowd was good." When I spoke to a:rpia:r's Petre Inspirescu in 2010, it was the first place that he mentioned.
The connection between the Romanian crew and the club is a strong one. Rhadoo has put together a rare remix for Arma's young label's third release. The imprint's previous two releases have been diverse affairs—compilations featuring a variety of artists that have either played at the club or have residencies there. Thus far, there's no defined sound that you can pinpoint exactly. "Being the club label gives us a possibility to slightly extend the musical borders and do not stick to just one sound, as a lot of regular labels have to," says Abelle.
Even so, you can hear the organic strain of minimal techno put forth by the aforementioned Romanians as well as the slightly skewed take on deep house of fellow Russians like Anton Zap (who had a track on their first release) as the predominant themes thus far. Andrey Zots' forthcoming 12-inch with the Rhadoo remix might almost have you believe that you were listening to an early Cadenza release.
What the future will bring is anyone's guess. When asked to name some of the label's "key artists" Abelle asks me to quiz her again two years from now. It's clear, however, that things are opening wider and wider as time goes on. Look over the lineups from the past year, and you see names like Atom TM, Monolake, DJ Sprinkles, Actress, Kode9 and Moritz Von Oswald Trio all make appearances. And Abelle lets slip that one of the next big projects from Arma will be a full-scale music festival in Moscow. With lineups that often include more than ten international artists, the mind immediately wanders to what that might mean.
The artists (and public) around Arma can only benefit from such constant exposure to outside influences. And it'll be interesting to see which artists emerge from Arma's stable to be regarded on the same level as many of the internationals that they bring in. Resident DJ Alex Danilov's deep house tracks on the label's second release wouldn't be out of place on Smallville, a label he recently played with at the club. Piticu's "MKE" is a twisted minimal techno track that somehow jacks. But perhaps talent-spotting is besides the point. As Abelle explains, "We wanted to share unique moments and sound that exists in Arma." Or, taken another way, she wanted to help bring Arma's Russia to the rest of us.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1206 Mix: Arma
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Filesize: 106.9 MB
01. Latecomer - Close Up
02. Jeefo - Limonada
03. Piticu - Arzi Unde
04. Area feat. Keter Darker - Bourbon Skies (Vakula Remix)
05. Alex Danilov - Deep S
06. Alex Danilov - Down S
07. Djungl - Rakatakata
08. Anton Zap - Fidget
09. Jeefo - Attack
10. Andrey Zots - Ty El (Rhadoo Remix)
11. Area feat. Keter Darker - Bourbon Skies (Version D)