The pair join Knockdown Center’s Tyler Myers to discuss the makings of Wire Festival, a two-night event that reimagines the future of entertainment and activism
After years in Georgia’s electronic music scene booking festivals and clubs—that’s Europe’s Georgia—GeGa Japaridze and Téa Abashidze saw opportunity in New York. In 2019, they founded BASEMENT. If it’s not already the city’s preeminent venue for techno, it’s on every shortlist to rise to that reputation.
Above BASEMENT is Knockdown Center, a 50,000 square-foot space that began as a glass factory before transforming into a door factory. Now, the site hosts a diverse range of events and exhibitions spanning music and art, aiming to create a radically cross-disciplinary environment that supports and strengthens the creative community.
In collaboration with Knockdown Center, Japaridze and Abashidze look to expand their vision with Wire Festival, a two-night, two-stage techno event that brings legendary DJs and emerging artists together. Their approach to organizing a festival is unique—to supplement sets across two days, Wire is hosting panel discussions with artists and organizers, hoping to address difficult topics and enact change in the industry: Should DJs be political? How does one establish a career DJing? What is the impact of the 21+ age restriction at clubs? Wire aims to “connect and uplift the international underground, forge bonds and provide the opportunity for mutual education and frank discussion.”
Alongside Knockdown Center director Tyler Myers, Japaridze and Abashidze joined Document to discuss the reemergence of nightlife, the challenges of organizing Wire Festival, and the importance of building a safe and equitable community in creative scenes.
Peter Miklas: When you came to New York, were you surprised that a club like BASEMENT didn’t exist?
GeGa Japaridze: We were surprised that clubs were closing at 4am. In Europe, I never considered that to be a possibility. And also, the infrastructure in the clubs—some of them didn’t have a proper sound system, or proper lighting, or the management structure was just not in place. And something we encountered too often [was] harassment toward girls, or queer people. Totally unacceptable.
Peter: Have you noticed any differences in how people are going out now, compared to how they were going out before lockdowns? Do people want a different experience now?
Téa Abashidze: Because we were in lockdown for so long, sitting at home doing nothing, and we couldn’t release the energy, now people really are more motivated to go out and dance, to release and express themselves. I feel like people want to go out and party more now, even more than before the pandemic.
GeGa: And a lot of new talents have emerged during this period. They’ve never had any platform, they’ve never played for an audience. Now that the pandemic is ending, they’re exploring the scene in a different way.
“To have a club means to make a space, and that is a political act.”
Téa: Their motivation is really insane, it’s on another level.
Peter: Are you seeing any difference in how those DJs are playing sets, or the type of music they’re playing?
Téa: I’ve noticed the BPM—they’re playing faster sounds. We were so inactive during the pandemic, now we have to be active and dance fast.
Peter: At one point, there was a plan to add a second room at BASEMENT. Is that something you’re still considering?
GeGa: The initial idea was to open the second room pre-pandemic, but we didn’t have enough time. We were only open for nine months before we had to close down. But yes.
Téa: It’s very important [to us] to have two different sounds. If you want to change the sound, you can just navigate between the two rooms. House music and techno in the same club.
GeGa: It can be electro.
Téa: Or it can be disco.
GeGa: Anything that resonates with techno.
Peter: How similar is creating a club environment to organizing a festival? What have been the biggest challenges in putting together Wire Festival?
GeGa: There have been a lot of challenges with the visas. A lot of the talent didn’t have visas, so they had to reapply after the pandemic. And there are certain situations overseas where DJs still don’t want to get a visa. It’s expensive to get the visa, and because they’re for three years, some have been wasted due to the pandemic.
We see the festival as the conclusion of a year of events at BASEMENT. At Wire Festival, we’ll be talking about a lot of challenges of organizing these events, what we have to tackle to improve the scene, and how we can better support and grow the community.
Tyler Myers: This is where the themes that Téa and GeGa have selected for the panels come into play. As they’ve programmed events and gathered experience in our country, there are things that pop up—every cultural presentation has the distortions of the political lens through which it is enacted.
The difficulties with the visas warp the kind of music that we as a venue are able to present. I think the ticket-buying public thinks of programmers or bookers as just sitting in a room asking themselves, what would be cool? It’s very difficult for a mid-tier artist in particular, who’s on the radar enough to be discovered by US immigration, but maybe doesn’t have the support or the administration or the money to do the visa process, to be able to play here.
There’s a gap between being able to fly under the radar as an undiscovered or underground artist who doesn’t have a lot of popular acclaim yet, and [being] somebody who would need six bookings in a two week period in order to justify it. That affects what we’re able to book, and it affects what music the public is able to experience. I’m glad there’s going to be a talk as part of the festival to try to pull that apart, because I don’t think the party-going public understands the impact of the political environment on the music they have access to.
“It’s very important [to us] to have two different sounds. If you want to change the sound, you can just navigate between the two rooms. House music and techno in the same club.”
Peter: Do you think it’ll become more common for clubs and events to engage politically? Should they?
Téa: Yeah, I think they should. It’s not just, come, dance, and leave. There are lots of other things that clubs can do for and with the community.
GeGa: Another question is, do musicians need to be involved politically? This will be another topic of discussion. We’ll be talking about DJs trying to be silent, especially Russian DJs, choosing not to say anything about the current situation, for various reasons. So we’ll be talking about whether musicians, venues, or individuals generally need to be political in these crucial moments.
Téa: There are two opinions. Some say that artists should only play, and clubs should only put on shows, and that’s it. Others think, because clubs and artists have such an influence, they can raise awareness. This will be one of the topics of the panel discussion, whether artists should be political or not.
Tyler: In my view, from the administrative and business side, a club is already always political, because we’re choosing to hold space for a certain kind of person. We’re choosing to take responsibility for a certain kind of presentation. On a very microscopic level, I have a strong relationship with our police precinct, and we work really hard to protect the space that we make. And that’s not easy, it’s not easy at all. But to have a club means to make a space, and that is a political act.
Peter: How did you choose Bassiani and Possession to be involved in Wire?
Téa: There are lots of collectives we really appreciate and love, but there’s not enough space to invite them all. This will be an annual thing, so we’ll invite a couple collectives for next year as well. Bassiani is very close to my heart because it’s a Georgian club. And I really like what Possession does in France, because they’re very vocal. They’re activists, it’s not just a party. They’re very political, always supporting the LGBTQ community.
Peter: What are some of your plans for the future? What are you excited about?
GeGa: Wire will grow in different directions. It’s not just going to be two days—for next year, we’ll most likely have a daytime portion, and hopefully expand the panels. A lot’s gonna happen.