When we started this magazine, we published a list of the best bands in Georgia but now, reflecting on that list, it seems dated and due for an update. For one, the country has completely changed. The country has gone from being described as the place that Russia invaded and which confused Americans due to the English-version of its name, to being a fashion and cultural capital. Over the past three years particularly, the amount of press that Georgia has received has been stunning. Much in the same way that our parents would reflect upon Italy and France with their innovative fashion, cinema, and exquisite culture, Georgia has become the last Shangri-La of Europe. It is where people think, love, live, and create in a manner that most of us can only envy.
During this period, instead of retracting and diminishing under the growing attention, the Tbilisi music scene has only grown and become more exciting. In part, this can be thanks to the worldwide recognition of the Tbilisi club scene, led undoubtedly by the famed Bassiani, as being one of the last vestiges of true club culture. Although Tbilisi’s clubs deserve every positive word they get, it is important not to forget the growing indie and hip-hop scene in the Georgian capital. What can be said about the city’s music scene is that over the past couple years it has grown exponentially while becoming increasingly more diverse. The result has been a music scene that is far richer and interesting.
We want to look at some of our favourite artists in Tbilisi. We didn’t include all the people we love nor were we able to reflect on some of the bands that broke up recently. It is hard to say exactly who our favourite artists are but we wanted to show a diverse group of Georgian musicians that we love. Make sure to follow them on social media!
PS. It would be unfair to write this article without acknowledging Sandro Tskitishvili, who has perhaps done more than anyone else to get Georgian artists’ names out there in the English media.
I’m not the biggest fan of indie guitar rock, I must admit. Generally speaking, the genre has grown nauseatingly white in America and Britain, however, these guys are fantastic. Co-founded by controversial writer Eko Deisadze and guitarist Vinda Folio, these guys make moody post-punk music that is sung all in Georgian. Unlike most bands that find inspiration in post-punk, these guys don’t wear their inspirations on their sleeves. It isn’t obvious that they’re fans of Joy Division or Bauhaus. Rather, they sum up that particular uncertainty and pensiveness of what lesser known bands of the era, like Crispy Ambulance (shit name, brilliant band) and Asylum Party, were capable of – all with a modern style.
For obvious reasons, the conversation regarding Georgian culture always seems to come back to the 90’s. Did Saaskashvili really do much good? Although everywhere was colder during the 90’s, weren’t people warmer? During this entire introspective conversation, there has been a surprising neglect in Georgian life in the 80’s. George Ergemlidze breaks from this. His synth-pop tracks hint to a past that Georgia never was able to explore, belonging far more in a John Hughes film than on stage with АЛЬЯНС or Кино on some Soviet teen show. His music is urgent, emotional, and part of a past that was only experienced through old tapes, non-existent memories, and imaginations. It is the sound of a fantastical past that could explain a very real future.
Clubbing in Tbilisi has always been a fun experience, minus that one time I ended up in the hospital and under investigation by police after being drugged in 2012. That said, the sudden hype surrounding Tbilisi’s nightclubs omits that clubbing didn’t emerge out of thin air. Rather, it would be smarter to think that a long-standing club culture help fosters a stronger counterculture that these Johnny-come-late journalists are only now recognizing. Gigi Jikia, aka HVL, is one of the many DJs that have been finally getting proper international love. One step into Bassiani and you realize his brand of techno is a natural fit for the setting. HVL is a constant presence at the club and was the first Georgian DJ to play Berghain in Berlin.
It would be near impossible to write a list of our favourite Georgian musicians without mentioning the Tato Rusia led hip-hop group MokuMoku. To understand their significance, you need to understand that this is the band that truly represents an evolving Tbilisi. These are not privilege guys that at 19 were sent packing off to Western Europe to get a degree and to come back to enjoy the benefits of capitalism in Georgia. Rather, they were living in the most marginalized neighborhoods of Tbilisi listening to bootleg tapes of Wu Tang and the Deftones. Mixing a charismatic frontman with a brilliant live band, MokuMoku make hip-hop that brings together all their influences for some serious vibes. Their track “Gas Station” is perfect for every Tbilisi walk home at 6am in the middle of July.
Now based in London, SALIO makes infectious 90’s-inspired pop music. A highly personable and charismatic vocalist, SALIO is the music that you imagine all the cool kids listened to 1997. Although far less avant-garde than the other acts here, her work merits attention because as much as we want to pretend that every kid is hanging out at Bassiani nightly, the reality is that pop music can be just as progressive as anything else. SALIO falls into a tradition of the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote, Sade, Quadron, and the Style Council in that she succeeds at making pop music that is refined, stylish, and enjoyable in all moments. She has already sang a duet with Joss Stone, so time will tell if she manages to break into the Western market.