In Georgia's capital city, dance music is the soundtrack to social change. That, Will Lynch found out, is why its club scene is among the best in the world.
Zenker Brothers played the last time I was there, and I don't think I've ever seen DJs so excited to get started. At dinner they'd been cool and collected—jet-set artists with anecdotes from around the world. But when they appeared in the booth that night, they gawked at the room like little kids, unable to hide their excitement. "It's got that smell!" Marco said, referring to the inimitable aroma of a true techno party. They started around 4 AM, following a live set from their label-mate Andrea, and went until almost noon, smoothly guiding the night from a heaving rave to a cozy afterhour. From about 10 AM on, only 50 or so people remained, frolicking in a milky bath of smoke and yellow light. The Zenkers dug into their breakbeats, and then moved on to tender cuts like Omar-S's "The Further You Look - The Less You Will See." Even the club's staff couldn't resist getting involved. By the time I went to buy a tote bag at the coatcheck, the girls who worked there had long since abandoned their post for the dance floor.
Over the last few years, Tbilisi, a city of steep hills and curvy streets at the border of Europe and Asia, has become a new hotbed for underground dance music. Bassiani has played a leading role in this, but it's only one of several clubs that would be exceptional in any city—there's also Mitkvarze, Vitamin Cubes, Café Gallery and its sister venue, Didi Gallery, plus one that's just opened called Khidi. As time goes on, more and more house and techno DJs list the Georgian capital as one of their favorite places to play.
What makes it so good? First there are the basics: smartly booked clubs with excellent soundsystems, passionate crowds and parties that go well past dawn. But there's also a more complex reality that is perhaps the scene's most important ingredient. History has not been kind to Tbilisi, "a city which has burned down 40 times in its history," according to The London Review Of Books, and for which the last 25 years have been particularly dramatic. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia's been the scene of two wars and years of abject poverty. And yet, over time it nurtured a devoted underground of DJs and promoters that, in the last few years, has flourished into something extraordinary, even more so because it represents such an exhilarating break from the past. 20 years ago Tbilisi barely had electricity; today, it has one of the best scenes for electronic music in the world.
Just like in Berlin in the early '90s or the UK in the second summer of love, raves in Tbilisi have a social and political element that makes them something more than just a way of having fun. They exist as proof of a new era in Georgia and represent the liberal, Western values seeping into its cultural fabric. In a place where anti-homophobia rallies end in violence and vegan cafés are attacked by sausage-wielding nationalists, techno clubs are symbols of progressiveness and tolerance, a refusal of their country's narrow-mindedness. As the social activist Paata Sabelashvili put it to me: "In Georgia, raving is a political act."
The next time I went to Bassiani, the scene was very different. The place was full from front to back, but everyone was sitting—some in fold-out chairs on the dance floor, others with their legs dangling from the catwalk and the kiddie pool. Cameramen stalked the edges of the room. A solid chunk of Tbilisi's DJs, promoters and club owners stood around chatting and smoking. Aphex Twin's "Xtal" played quietly over the soundsystem. Political activists sat in a row onstage, awaiting their turns to make remarks.
This was a gathering held by White Noise, an activist group devoted to changing Georgia's drug laws. Animated videos went over statistics all too familiar to this crowd: 112 people forced to take drug tests every day, often based on nothing more than "reasonable doubt"; those who test positive are given the harshest sentence possible, often crippling fines and jail time. The panelists shared their own insights and experiences. One of them was Beqa, a musician who became the figurehead of White Noise when he successfully beat a marijuana charge that would have put him away for seven years. Another was Sabelashvili, a gay activist and outspoken recreational drug user who's dedicated his career to making Georgia more tolerant—"My whole life I've been trying to legalize myself," he said.
Standing off to the side were the two 25-year-olds who run Bassiani, Tato Getia and Zviad Gelbakhiani. Neither of them was a political person before they started throwing parties, but now they say they spend more time on social activism than they do on their club. Getia, for his part, has spent quite a bit of time on TV talking about the country's drug laws, which he and others consider a human rights issue.
"I never would have seen myself being that kind of person," he told me. "It's because we've seen so many cases with our own eyes, so many injustices which we did not see before. For instance, a guy who was caught with 0.00009 milligrams of some substance. Since there are no minimum dosages in Georgia, it's the same as a big amount, so he faces five to eight years of prison. In the last couple of months, we have had at least two cases when the police have basically killed innocent drug users."
Getia told me this at the traditional Georgian restaurant where Bassiani take their guest artists. An hour later, the Ilian Tape guys would be here, and this long table would be covered with classics of Georgia's singular cuisine—breads, cheeses and spreads with names like khachapuri, lobiani, mchadi and pkhali. Sitting across from me, the young promoters were backdropped by the mountains across the river, which were barely visible in the purple dusk. Gelbakhiani gazed calmly at his laptop. Getia was less at ease—he smoked cigarette after cigarette and winced every time his phone buzzed, as distressed by pre-party anxiety as he was by our topics of conversation.
"Say it was given to you as a question in a survey or something," Gelbakhiani said. "You're given some basic facts on a city: half the people are below the average salary, making 200 euro per month or less, and there is repressive police regime with a zero-tolerance drug policy, people going to prison all the time. Would you think there are some good techno parties going on?"
"The main danger for us is the political situation," Getia said. "If this zero-drug-tolerance policy will not change at some point, say in five years, I can't see any future, that's for sure." I noticed he was wearing a White Noise T-shirt, and he said he had to lead a televised press conference at 11 AM the next morning about the organization. The plan was to take a nap that night in Bassiani's office and sneak off while the party was still going.
Getia's probably right to see Georgia's drug laws as an existential threat, but for the time being, the scene is rolling with them extraordinarily well. Drugs have been almost completely eradicated from Tbilisi's nightclubs, but the people there don't seem to need them. They dance like crazy and stay past dawn with nothing more than, at most, a little bit of hash (typically smoked in a cut-up water bottle, as joints are considered too wasteful). They don't drink much booze, either, relatively speaking. Tea Kikvadze, who runs the club Vitamin Cubs, estimates the average nightly spend per person is about 15 lari, enough for two or three beers.
That this should fuel eight or more hours of dancing speaks to the enthusiasm of Tbilisi's crowds, something Western DJs always notice. "They were the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and receptive audience I've ever experienced," Bryan Kasenic, founder of The Bunker New York, wrote on Facebook after his gig at Bassiani. "The young Tbilisi scene is really in an incredible place right now. They were as responsive to the deep and weird psychedelic stuff as they were to the bangers that Marco [Shuttle], Wata Igarashi and I threw at them."
Bassiani is by no means the only place where you notice this kind of thing. Café Gallery, another leader in Tbilisi's scene, is the yin to Bassiani's yang, booking house DJs in an intimate space that's a café throughout the rest of the week. When I was there, Manamana, the DJ duo of map.ache and Sevensol, played all night. Long before the dance floor reached a critical mass—before all the food had even been cleared away from the tables—I noticed one guy who was entranced, eyes closed, lips pursed, bobbing his head and moving a raised hand to the beat, almost as if he were silently rapping. Mariam Murusidze, who books the club, told me he's there every weekend, dancing from the first track to the last, always alone, never having anything beyond the occasional beer. Later that night, in broken German (a common second language in Tbilisi), he told me this weekly routine is a "therapy" for him.
Indeed, there was something therapeutic about the party: a small and lively crowd under a single red light, bouncing around a packed dance floor that seemed to flex to Manamana's undulating rhythms. The night had a bittersweet final stretch, just as it had at Bassiani. As needles of sunlight pierced the darkness, the DJs moved from heartstring-pullers like Roy Davis Jr.'s "Gabriel" to more audacious pop fare. Eventually someone swung open the thick wooden blinds, drenching the room in sunlight in time with the opening chords of Black's "Wonderful Life." A few people in front sung along to the chorus—No need to run and hide... it's a wonderful, wonderful life…—while Café Gallery's most loyal dancer sat in the corner, watching the scene with an exhausted smile.
When I met Murusidze for coffee at Café Gallery earlier that week, a more tranquil scene prevailed. 20- and 30-somethings eased their way through the morning, writing in notebooks, reading paperbacks and smoking out the room's tall windows. Outside, traffic swooshed down Rustaveli Avenue, an elegant boulevard central to Tbilisi's geography and history. Beyond it, the Kura River churned. I asked Murusidze if she found it surprising that, given the upheaval of the last 25 years, her city should now find itself with such a strong club scene. She smiled, obviously fond of this topic. "It's a logical consequence," she said. "It was meant to happen."
Clubbing is nothing new in Tbilisi. Even in the bad old days of the '90s, as the country recovered from a bloody civil war, nightlife existed. "We had a very cool scene back then," Sabelashvili said. "There was nothing—no electricity, no gas, no heating, no personal security. There were gangs going around town and robbing people. But we clubbed."
By the mid-2000s, things had only partially improved, but a tight community of venues, DJs and promoters had emerged. "There was a club called Gvirabi," Murusidze said. "That's Georgian for 'tunnel.' Another one called Berlin. Plus bigger commercial clubs like Adjara Music Hall, which had good things sometimes. M.A.N.D.Y. played there. We still had electricity problems then, and the power went out in the middle of their set, so everyone started singing. It was amazing, actually—they sang 'Body Language.'"
Power outages were only one of many challenges facing Tbilisi's music scene. Given the state of the country's economy, it was hard for promoters to afford international acts and for punters to afford nights out. Still, a community took shape. Matthew Collin, a political reporter based in Georgia with an unlikely specialty in dance music (he wrote, among other books, Altered State: The Story Of Ecstasy Culture And Acid House), described the scene then as "a little pocket of bohemian enthusiasts doing what they loved in what was almost a total vacuum."
Presiding over this scrappy community was Gio Bakanidze, a local DJ who introduced Tbilisi to the deeper sounds of the day—minimal, deep house, techno and so on. He was a mentor to many in the city, including Murusidze, who got DJ lessons from him at the age of 15. In 2010, Bakanidze died suddenly in car accident, and Tbilisi's music scene has been paying tribute to him ever since. Vodkast, the city's main record shop, is named after a podcast series he began shortly before his death. The city's best electronic festival, a self-described "tribute to our dear friend and a pioneer Georgian DJ," named itself 4GB.
By the mid-2000s, underground dance music had some real momentum in Tbilisi, but peace and stability were fleeting, threatened by a pattern of events all too familiar in the former USSR. Ever since the Soviet Union's collapse, Georgia has struggled with Russian-backed separatist groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 2008, the conflict boiled over and Russia invaded Georgia, beginning what's been called the first European war of the 21st century.
The Russo-Georgian War lasted only three days but threw Georgia into a tailspin that lasted much longer. Like every other aspect of life in Georgia, DJ culture took a hit. Loud, a record store and DJ school that Bero Beridze, now the proprietor of Mitkvarze, had opened a year earlier, closed, and so did his nightclub, Switch. Commercial dance music events continued in Tbilisi, sometimes propped up by the state, while underground events were thin on the ground. But Tbilisi's scene is nothing if not resilient, and slowly but surely a new era took shape.
"It was kind of getting ripe," Murusidze said. "Something was boiling, something was getting started, and then suddenly it was here. Café Gallery's been here for six years now, Mtkvarze is just a bit younger, we built up this culture of partying in Tbilisi. Then Bassiani came, and they also played a very important role, because they had a vision of what they wanted to do, and they said, 'We're going to make this happen in a very organized and professional way.' They set the standard for the rest of the city."
"Bassiani is like a big black pearl in our new era," said Alexander Bagration-Davidoff, a journalist who wrote an article about the club for the Georgian edition of Forbes. "When I went for the first time, I was totally sober but I had this cultural, emotional shock because I didn't understand that in Georgia it was possible to make such a high quality product." It's hard to overstate, he said, the effect of seeing "world-class quality" of any kind in Tbilisi, especially something as culturally contemporary as a techno club. "When I told my editor, 'Let's write about Bassiani,' he immediately said, 'Yes!' Because it's the most successful start-up in Georgia, even Forbes can see that."
"The club scene's development over the past five years has been vertiginous," Collin, the reporter and rave historian, told me over email. "This coincided with the emergence of a new generation in Georgia, young people who came of age at a time when the country was trying to make a definitive break from its Soviet past. Every Georgian government for the past couple of decades, however flawed, corrupt or imbecilic, has generally looked west rather than north to Moscow."
Perhaps no one played a more decisive role in this process of Westernization than Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's flamboyant third president. Today his reign is remembered with ambivalence, not least because it was his administration that enacted the country's zero-tolerance drug policies. But in some ways Saakashvili left Georgia a better place than he found it. He tackled corruption, got the electricity back on, and did what he could to push his country into a new, brighter era.
As Collin put it, Saakashvili "understood the power of culture to help shape new realities." Pop music was central to his platform, sometimes to a comical extent. In his book Pop Grenade, Collin describes a surreal concert near the border with the separatist territory of Abkhazia, one of many so-called "Misha gigs"—state-sponsored music events with a political objective. For this one, Saakashvili had booked the disco group Boney M near the border with Abkhazia, essentially a combat zone, in an effort to make life in Georgia look appealing to the separatist rebels.
"This is a kind of disco approach to conflict resolution," Saakashvili shouted to Collin as the band played. "By doing this, we hope that we'll lure out people from their trenches, force them to drop their Kalashnikovs and come here and dance with the others, and understand that nothing is as nice as peace, nothing is as nice as reconciliation."
He went on: "This place was only famous for killings, violence and crime. Now it's getting some new thing, you know, it's looking much more colorful, much less violent—just normal. And being normal is such a novelty here."
Misguided as such efforts may have been, Saakashvili was right in thinking that Western pop culture could galvanize Georgia's population, especially its young people. Tato Getia, the Bassiani co-founder, describes the day he got his first two CDs as a turning point in his life. "In the '90s, the poverty was beyond anything," he said. "We had power a couple of hours per day; water too. It was like another world." When he was 12 or 13, his family moved in with his grandparents and his uncle, who happened to have a good music collection—rare in a city with no internet or music shops. "When he moved out, he left me two CDs: Red Hot Chilli Peppers Californication and Radiohead's OK Computer. And that's how I knew about music for the first time." For young Georgians, modern music from the West was a titillating beacon of life elsewhere, a transmission from a world vastly different from their own. To some extent, it still is.
"Our former president is not really a popular person, but he did a really good job," Bagration-Davidoff told me. "He turned Georgia toward the European side, the American side, and away from Russia. That was our only way to survive. If we'd gone with Russia, we'd have disappeared."
This pro-European perspective only got stronger over time, thanks in part to the war with Russia in 2008, which Collin says "highlighted the cynical brutality of the Kremlin regime" and "helped to intensify this process of disconnection." This played a big role in bringing about Tbilisi's current club scene. "Consciously or not, because of what was happening politically, many young people increasingly looked west for cultural inspiration," Collin said. "At the same time, there were young Georgians who had lived abroad in places like Germany and brought their formative experiences of techno culture back home with them."
One such person was Murusidze, who left Tbilisi for Berlin at the age of 16 as an exchange student. She became steeped in the city's club scene, checking out places like Berghain well before the expat surge that came a few years later. Meanwhile, some friends at Berlin (the club in Tbilisi) had started putting on a small festival in Georgia. They asked Murusidze to help book it, which she did from abroad. When her exchange program ended, she decided to stay in Germany but continued booking techno parties in Georgia. Sooner or later, Café Gallery started throwing parties. After a while they hired Murusidze, by then a streetwise promoter, to book the club for them, bringing her back to Tbilisi.
"Places like Café Gallery and Mtkvarze were crucial in amassing an audience of open-minded people," Collin said, "as well as simultaneously making the connection between liberal, progressive thinking with underground techno."
For sure, the clubs feel like liberal oases in an overwhelmingly conservative city, perhaps most notably when it comes to sexuality. "People say Café Gallery is a gay club but that was never intended," Murusidze told me. "It turned into this because of our face control"—that is, door policy. "Somehow the environment was created here where all kinds of people felt absolutely secure and absolutely free to do whatever they liked to do. And that's why then people started going, 'Ohh, gays are going there,' because Georgian society is still pretty much homophobic. So this is like a big deal, you know. It just became popular for people who wanted an island in this traditional, conservative, narrow-minded society, which unfortunately is still the case. They needed a place where they would feel good and free, and where they would just go out and just wouldn't think, 'Oh my god, now if I would kiss my boyfriend, some Georgian macho guy would come and beat me up in the middle of the club.'
Though Bassiani and Café Gallery work hard to make their clubs safe—the former with an elaborate online membership system, the latter with a classic door selection—they admit it's not possible to limit their crowds entirely to people with tolerant, liberal views. But both insist that it's important, and even healthy, to have a plurality of backgrounds and value systems on the dance floor. Many young Georgians mix with gay men and women for the first time at nightclubs, and, ideally, come away from the experience with a more open-minded worldview—one of the many ways these clubs nudge Georgian society toward something safer and more inclusive.
Still, the city's prejudices sometimes reveal themselves. On one of my nights out, a friend and I struggled to make our way to the toilets, where a scrum of people waited for four stalls, many of them entering in groups to smoke hash out of water bottles. Holding court over the scene was a tall, broad-shouldered man who joked with everyone who squeezed by him, not always in a friendly way. He turned to my companion and barked, "Where are you from?"
"Germany," he said.
"You don't look German."
"Well, my mother is Romanian."
At this the man's face turned cold. "Roma?!" he hissed.
All good now. The guy smiled and outstretched his hand. He asked us if we liked Tbilisi. We said yes. His face went dark again. "You wouldn't if you lived here," he said. Why? He looked me right in the eyes. "Because it's another planet."
Indeed, Tbilisi is an isolated place, and many of its music scene's problems stem from this fact. Take, for instance, the availability of consumer products. If a DJ requests, say, an E&S mixer, getting one might require a trip to Berlin. If a needle is dead, it might be impossible to find another one. This past New Year's Eve, Café Gallery hosted a three-day party with the extended Giegling crew, including their décor guy. "He told me he needed 15 power strips," Murusidze said. "For some reason, we couldn't find power strips anywhere in the city. So two Georgian guys spent a weekend making them by hand." She shook her head as she thought about it. "Imagine it: Funktion-One sound but no power strips."
This isolation causes Tbilisi's artists to struggle even while their nightclubs boom. One balmy afternoon, Murusidze brought me to 11th Floor, a cluster of studios in what was once the Ministry Of Construction. The building still smacks of Soviet bureaucracy. Through a dreary marble lobby, a tiny wood-paneled elevator slowly lifts you through the shaft—a note, handwritten on the wall, states what number to call if it finally breaks.
The hallway of the 11th floor, dimly lit with colored lights, leads to a string of artist studios. The biggest belongs to Nodrex, a local DJ known as NDRX. It was him who originally got his foot in the door here—his studio, a deep and wide space with a striking view of the city and the mountains beyond, was his grandfather's office in Soviet times. As the sun set over the Caucasus, Nodrex played dark and languid records—slo-mo techno I didn't recognize, and then Gigi Masin's Wind. The group of friends chatted slowly, letting long silences fill the conversation. A hot breeze drifted in from the street below. Nodrex poured everyone an odd schnapps he'd gotten from a friend in Tel Aviv. We had a few rounds, some of us mixing it with instant coffee.
Sitting on the floor, we talked about the problems Georgian artists face. Records and DJ gear are hard to afford, especially with customs and shipping costs—for instance, it would cost around €600 to ship 20 kilos of records from Amsterdam to Tbilisi. Zurkin, the gifted DJ who runs Vodkast, says a good chunk of his shop's records are brought over in someone's hand luggage—typically Murusidze, who works at the shop pro-bono, like all the other staff.
International gigs are elusive, partly because it's very difficult for Georgians to get travel visas to most European countries. For places like the UK, the process is prohibitively expensive and highly selective. This means most DJs can go abroad neither to play nor to be inspired by events in other countries, an experience that's vital to so many people in electronic music (even Getia and Gelbakhiani see UK festivals as out of reach). Dance music is an international community; for a DJ, to be stuck in one's own country is an enormous cross to bear.
One person devoted to shifting this imbalance is Tea Kikvadze, who, together with her husband, runs Vitamin Cubes, an outdoor club in the woods by Turtle Lake. Like the other underground spots in Tbilisi, Vitamin Cubes makes international acts the backbone of its program—this summer's lineups included heady favorites like Mike Servito, Mike Parker, Nuel and Neel. But it also makes a point of highlighting local DJs.
"We push our local artists because in the long term only booking international artists won't work," she said. "We have two directions while making the lineup. The first is similar to other clubs, with a few DJs playing each night. The other is showcases, where we invite parties from other cities—STAUB, nov29 etc. They stay for ten days, do workshops, work for local artists, observe the local scene, give advice. They really spend time with the artists here, they travel around Georgia. It's good for us. They are giving us perspective and exporting info about Georgia."
In cities like London or Berlin, young DJs and producers are naturally exposed to the inner workings of the music industry, and can learn the ropes with relative ease. In Georgia, that kind of osmosis doesn't happen on its own, which makes programs like Vitamin Cube's essential for local artists.
"Georgian artists don't know how to promote themselves," Kikvadze told me. "Only 2% of Georgian artists have info about themselves online. They have no connections, and of course it's really expensive to leave the country. To get an idea of what's happening in European clubs, you have to listen to podcasts, best-case scenario a recording from a club. We started a podcast series, mainly for local artists but also for other artists who have been in our clubs, where we do interviews with international artists specifically asking questions to get valuable info for our local artists and clubs."
Murusidze says there's a deeper cultural factor at play here as well. As she put it, growing up in a dictatorship "lessens your sense of self-efficacy"—that is, the proactive mentality needed to make things happen on your own. Someone raised in a competitive environment like the US is more likely to understand the kind of aggressive self-marketing that, even in dance music's so-called "underground," is instrumental to success.
"Today we have many good clubs and parties in Tbilisi," Kikvadze said. "But if we want to keep the scene going, we have to develop our own scene, our own artists. It won't work to book international acts forever."
Given the incredible challenges it's overcome, Tbilisi's club scene might seem invincible. But in fact it faces a number of grave threats. Young people see full clubs and think that means easy money, which could lead to too many clubs opening, thereby spreading the city's audience too thin. And although things have been stable for a while, Tbilisi is as vulnerable as ever to the forces of global politics—consider the fact that Turkey, an unavoidable layover for flights to Georgia, was recently the site of a military coup and terrorist attacks at Atatürk, the very airport most DJs pass through en route to Tbilisi. And as well as the clubs have weathered them so far, Georgia's drug laws could eventually stamp out the scene. With every young person they imprison, bankrupt or generally demoralize, they chip away at it a little more.
I got the full story on that particular battle from Paata Sabelashvili, the political activist, whom I met one night at a wine bar just off Rustaveli Avenue. With him was a 17-year-old art student named Lasha, whom he'd recently helped with a drug charge. They made for a dynamic duo: Lasha in a purple suit, Sabelashvili with skulls on his windbreaker and weed leaves on his fanny pack. The three of us took a table in the attic of the narrow, two-story bar and spoke for a while about the various causes Sabelashvili has championed over the years: first prevention and awareness for AIDS and hepatitis C, then gay rights in Georgia, now the drug laws. These days, he's a kind of fixer for anyone who's gotten busted in Tbilisi. While we spoke, he was approached two or three times by people who recognized him—some asked for advice, other filled him in on cases involving them or their friends.
One recent incident had taken place at this very bar. Police, acting on a tip from an informer (a relic of Soviet times), walked in and asked for six people by name, eventually finding hash on one of them. Sabelashvili is well-versed enough in Georgian drug laws to know how to deal with situations like this—for instance, he's discovered that the "narcologist" who administers the urine test has no authority over the suspect, who can delay the test indefinitely by refusing to urinate. Not many people know this, so Sabelashvili often has to take matters into his own hands. "I break in," he said. "I'm not actually allowed in the police station; I have no right to be there. So I just burst in and yell at the person, 'DON'T PISS!!!!' And then they kick me out."
For most Georgians, to be caught with even small amounts of drugs would be a life-changing catastrophe. This summer, White Noise publicized the case of Kote Japaridze, who was caught with two grams of MDMA and faced a jail term of up to eight years (in the end he got one year, plus five years of probation and a $13,000 fine). His bail was set at the equivalent of $10,000—roughly triple what the average Georgian makes in a year. "What should one do?" Jeparidze says in a video produced by White Noise. "Sell the house? Become homeless? And at the same time serve a term in prison?" All too often, this is exactly what happens.
So why do people continue to indulge? "I mean, they're gonna bust you anyways," Sabelashvili said that night. "So at least you will live your life free from fears. It's very important for your integrity, you know? Anyway, that's part of what makes the rave so precious for us. When we rave, we rave, because we remember what awaits us outside. This is why we rave so hard."
A few days later, just as the Zenker Brothers chose their last records, Sabelashvili and I stumbled out of Bassiani and into a brutally sunny Saturday morning. Naja Orashvili, one of Bassiani's co-owners, led us to her VW Beetle and drove us to The Open Society Georgia Foundation, where Getia had his televised press conference. Down a marble hallway, past a number of unnervingly clean and well-rested people, we found Getia in a room with linoleum floors, fluorescent lights and a handful of journalists and TV cameramen.
It was a funny scene: Getia and two other guys sitting at a table with mics in front of them, one with a provocatively wide-collared T-shirt, all three with tired eyes and that light film of sweat you get from having been in a club all night. And yet, they were clearly serious, speaking about a social injustice that hurts them and their community. In that room and in Tbilisi in general, there seemed to be an understanding that, whatever you thought of them and their politics, these 20-somethings were ambassadors from Georgia's young population, and deserved to be taken seriously. Like all of Tbilisi's ravers, they were pushing their country into the future.
This article was amended on August 18th to better reflect the connection between former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and the country's drug policies.