Riga's changing underground scene

  • 2004-02-12
  • By Roxanne Khamsi
RIGA - It's early Thursday evening, and all the lights are on in the basement of Pulkvedis, one of the more established clubs in Riga. Miks Petersons has taken a break from setting up his DJ equipment and sits comfortably on a couch by the back wall.

If he looks at ease, he should. Petersons co-founded the popular Pulkvedis, short for "Pulkvedim neviens neraksta", or Nobody Writes the Colonel, eight years ago with his friend Girts Grinbergs.
Two years before that they opened the trendy shoe shop Carre, also in Riga's Old Town, and recently they launched the colorful, lounge-style restaurant John Lemon in the same area.
Petersons explains that he started Pulkvedis "first for friends," and that the space aimed to provide his social group with a place to relax and listen to their favorite music.
"In the beginning we didn't think about this being a business," he says when asked about its origins.
But a visit to the club - or bar, since Pulkvedis serves as a hybrid of both - reveals that Pertersons' low-key social space has evolved into a nocturnal hotspot for a young crowd eager to dance and meet new people.
Around the time that Pulkvedis opened its doors, a Riga-based DJ by the name of Kone was buying his first vinyl records and discovering dub music.
Dub music, he explains, "is basically reggae without vocals."
"It's very minimalistic with just one instrument playing after another. The same bassline is always present, but it uses this minimalistic sequence of instruments," says Kone, who by day goes by Jurijs Konradi and works as a Web designer.
Kone recalls the beginning of Pulkvedis and stresses that not all clubs have had the luck of remaining open for so long. The history, according to him, is as follows: One of the very first underground clubs, Panna (meaning "pan" in English) relocated and renamed itself as Metro, keeping its alternative edge. One of the cofounders went on to found Depo, one of the many venues where Kone currently works as DJ. Metro, in turn, was renovated and renamed M808, which recently closed.
The group that Kone founded with his friends in 1997, Varka Kru, now has six members who rap and spin records covering several musical genres. He points to other, younger troupes such as Bio.Codes, which includes DJ Brain, as grasping the right approach as well.
These DJ collectives make up the underground scene because they follow the unspoken rule of playing only vinyl records. Kone makes it clear that his crew differs a great deal from the commercial DJs who play European dance music on CDs at popular clubs such as La Rocca.
"For us, they're just like workers," he says.
The fact the he and Petersons can draw such distinctions in the Riga nightlife scene shows, perhaps, that a healthy degree of diversity has finally evolved.