An Interview with Campbell Bethwaite: Secrets of Moscow’s Nightlife
Did you know that some of the keys to a successful nightlife project, aside from an intricate design of the club, may also include a circular amphitheatre bar along with an elevated Go-Go dancefloor? The reason behind these details answers the question: why do people go to Moscow’s nightclubs? Campbell Bethwaite proposes a solid answer: people go clubbing only to see everybody and be seen by everyone. I completely concur, that’s one of the quintessential raisons behind Moscow’s nightlife, that’s exactly what the creative minds behind these projects here in Moscow do best, show you for show and show for sure. Imagine kissing your Valentine and knowing for sure that no matter where in the club the kiss takes place, chances are everyone will be looking. Clubs that uphold these key elements seem to be the most successful in this luxurious sector.
Good old DyagileV and First Clubs were some of the pioneers of this design element, then came Opera, We Are Family, Famous, and now we have Posh Friends, Playhouse & Imperia Lounge carrying the flag, encircling their club with a natural flow of exposure. It’s February in Moscow and the city still feels empty. Slowly everyone is returning from their vacations and getting into the first working quarter of 2011. Nightlife is kicking in after a pretty bland winter holiday session, it’s as if during the holidays nightlife wasn’t needed much. Perhaps that’s why everyone went to Dubai, Bali or the Maldives to enjoy a perfect vacation and peace from the hectic Moscow and its nightlife. Nothing major is opening up on the horizon, but as spring swings around be sure to find something new and exciting within the luscious nightlife of this city.
I had a chance to interview an exceptionally creative mind, an ex-pat nightlife veteran and true hard-working entrepreneur, one of the main partners and creators behind the Garage Club, Campbell Bethwaite. Garage is a unique place with roots dating back to Moscow’s nightlife beginnings. The place is comfortably situated on Brotnikov Per. 8 near Metro Polyanka. It has a good friend of mine on facecontrol, Mark-Vahtang (ex Pacha, Rolling Stone), and a really creamy crowd. Garage has all the western touches and divides its night into House Music nights and R’n’B & Hip-Hop nights, almost always functioning as a perfect after-hour party spot. Without further ado, lets dive right in.
Miguel Francis: What brought you to Moscow and were you involved in the nightlife sector before?
Campbell Bethwaite: I arrived in Moscow in 2006 with an investment bank from New York. It was one of those chance opportunities, and I jumped at it. After a year or so of banking in Moscow I realized there was more opportunity in Russia than simply finance. And yes, previously I had extensive background in restaurants, nightclubs and hospitality and so when I had the chance to join with the previous owners of the legendary Garage Club, and this happened right about when they lost their original premises on Pushkinskaya in 2009, I seized the opportunity in opening the new Garage Club.
MF: How did you start in the nightlife industry?
CB: I always had a passion for the hospitality industry. From flipping burgers in McDonalds at age 14, then later an undergraduate degree in tourism and hospitality after which I worked and managed bars and restaurants in Australia, the US, Canada and Russia. Moscow has the most dynamic and overthe- top nightlife scene in the world, so it suggested an obvious return to this industry. Besides, my other major business is hospitality-related: Moscow’s Suites Service Department.
MF: What is your musical background? Do you play anything? What do you listen to?
CB: While I love music and in Moscow I enjoy listening to both “crap whisky pop house” and R’n’B (Garage specialty) I generally try and stay out of the way of our musical director DJ Davlad. I can also bash away at the piano and clear a room pretty quickly, I’ll sing enthusiastically but not particularly proficiently! (Laughs)
MF: Do you think Moscow’s nightlife is a bit polluted with this heavy glam and sometimes unnecessary posh?
CB: You see, it really depends on your perspective. Moscow’s nightlife has evolved considerably over the last five years. Back then the only real selection was between the Nuevo Russian glam and student grunge. These days there is a much greater diversity of venues, styles, musical tastes and prices. Given the concentration of wealth, the disparity of income, and the youth underemployment there will always be both the supply and demand for the glitzy clubs, over the top atmosphere and Barbie doll girls.
MF: As a nightlife ex-pat veteran that you are, what place would you suggest for some of the less “experienced” ex-pats to visit over the weekend?
CB: Well let’s break it down. After a dinner there are some great pre-party places bars such as Luch, Sinatra, Strelka. And then if you want to hit the top glam clubs Imperia Lounge and Posh Friends are hard to beat, and of course there is Soho Rooms. After-party Moscow goes to Garage and for those who have access Krisha Mira. For a great night out without having to deal with the glamour, Rolling Stone, Solyanka, Arma 17 and Discotheque are all great places to find different music and a fun crowd.
MF: As a Moscow club owner and an event producer, do you find it difficult to juggle between being a businessman, working within the nightlife scene as well as being an avid club-goer yourself?
CB: The biggest challenge is having business that operate both during the day and the night. I don’t get much sleep. Within the nightlife context, there is the perpetual challenge of being able to be at one place at one time, with so many events happening in Moscow and four great parties at the Garage.
MF: Oh you have no idea I am all into quantum physics right now trying to figure out how to time travel, be at different places at one time and increase the time within your day by slowing down everything else around you. (Laughs) Aside from that what are some of the pluses and unique perspectives in being involved in Moscow’s nightlife business sector for a foreigner/ex-pat?
CB: It’s a fascinating and dynamic, high-profile industry and it’s a lot more complicated than most people believe. The ups and down of dealing with promoters, alcohol distributors, face control and the perpetual phone calls at 5 a.m. with drunk friends trying to get into your club are all a part of the job, so it’s not all beautiful women and unlimited cocktails and partying all night long. (Laughs)
MF: In that case, do you feel you are a Muscovite by now?
CB: I work every day at my understanding of the Russian culture, language and Moscow’s unique idiosyncrasies, but many days it feels like I have a long way to go. Moscow is certainly already home.
MF: It’s been great talking to you Campbell, thanks for all the input and all the hidden secrets! One last question: I have a lot of friends from the West, asking me constantly before their experience of Moscow’s nightlife if it’s dangerous out there. Would you say that Moscow’s nightlife is dangerous and what tips can you suggest to foreigners that have yet to experience the nightlife out here?
CB: I would say that Moscow’s nightlife is no more dangerous for your average club-goer, than any other major city. The same mix of alcohol, ego, and conflicting temptations are here in abundance. My advice to anyone is to keep your drinking under control, keep a smile on your face and don’t get involved in situations that could become complicated. Moscow’s nightlife is unique, vibrant and seriously happening, so I would encourage everyone to check it out. Thanks for having me Miguel, it was a pleasure.