You get the feeling you’re in for a big night as soon as you exit the taxi outside Closer. Climbing the graffitied staircase that leads to the Kyiv club evokes a childlike sense of adventure; not least at tonight’s Masquerade, an annual marathon session where everyone hides behind a face mask in celebration of the crew’s eighth birthday.
Many of the mystery figures inside will stay glued to the wooden dancefloor from Saturday night until the final glimmers of the party on Sunday evening. It’s not entirely an endurance test: while the main room is all whistles and whooping, the cushion-filled ambient floor has a similarly meditative vibe to Glastonbury’s Green Fields.
Closer is the most celebrated nightclub in eastern Europe’s feted scene, and Masquerade is one of its most anticipated nights of the year. By mid-morning, the music downstairs becomes a kaleidoscope of 90s US house, timeless Detroit techno and head-twisting acid via ultra-intricate, psychedelic minimal house – styles that Closer helped popularise in the Ukrainian capital.
Foraging through a crate of records by the front row of dancers are Ricardo Villalobos and Zip, who influenced the team behind the club long before its inception. Closer art director and resident DJ Timur Basha sums up what they taught them: “Nothing is important. No philosophy, and everybody is welcome.” Tonight, Zip hands over to Basha to close things around 17 hours into the party.
Other recent guests include Laurent Garnier, Helena Hauff, and Moodymann. The tiny club can’t match the fees paid by bigger places, but its reputation for a feverish crowd and warm atmosphere draws heavyweight names. That’s how Villalobos became an annual fixture at Masquerade. (Closer’s cultural standing has been strengthened thanks to its two summer festivals, Strichka and Brave! Factory, which are the biggest of their kind in Ukraine.)
Saturday nights such as this often have an open-ended finish, with the DJs encouraged to go as long as the vibe holds. “But we never finish when it’s empty,” says Basha. “If we finish on a high, people say, ‘We want a bit more’, and we say ‘OK, come next time.’”
Closing duties at the extended nights are usually handled by one of the residents, a group of 13 Ukrainian artists who have collectively shaped the club’s musical identity. For regulars, these locals are as much of a draw as the stars that fly over for the weekend. It’s a close-knit group that’s steadily built over the years. At first, says Closer co-founder Sergey Yatsenko, they only had four DJs: Basha, Vova Klk, Bambu, and Shakolin. “Then every three or four months we added someone, because we heard some interesting Ukrainian artists.”
Basha and Vova Klk spun at the first Closer party in a disused restaurant in January 2012, which wasn’t much more than a small gathering for friends: 80 people came, and entrance was free to anyone who clicked “attending” on Facebook. After a few more successful nights, they found an old ribbon factory in Podil, where they’ve stayed for the last seven years. “Renting was quite cheap as nothing was here,” says Basha. “No heating, no proper windows, no proper floor, no proper walls. It was absolutely unusable. We had to do everything. This is one of our favourite things to do: to come to an open space and invent the idea.”
Today, the sprawling building encompasses an all-hours gallery, a clothing shop, a tea garden, and a vegan and vegetarian restaurant where guests refuel on the cheese-filled bread khachapuri, smoothies in hand. Leaving the party gets even harder in the summer, when house DJs lay down subtle grooves on Lesnoy Prichal, a sunny outdoor terrace primed for tireless after-hours sessions.
The rest of the ecosystem comes alive during the week. While a team of artists prepares handmade installations for the parties, vinyl geeks dig in the record shop run by Shakolin. There’s also a furniture shop, live music venue, theatre, tattoo studio and radio station, while the club room doubles up as a space for jazz concerts, exhibitions and lectures. “We tell people who come to the concerts about the parties, so they can get acquainted with electronic music,” Basha says. “And we tell people who come to the parties about the concerts, so they can get acquainted with jazz. It’s an educational process. It’s not a club – this is a cultural centre.”
While the club is inclusive, it maintains strict standards on who can enter. Long-term staffer Inna Shchupko greets every guest as they reach the top of that staircase. As the door manager, it’s her job to decide who gets in. Inside, she can be seen reprimanding anyone who defies the photo ban, an anti-Instagram stance that’s commonplace in many of the world’s best dancing spots.
Some have described these protective measures as elitist, but Shchupko argues that they’re essential for maintaining the right atmosphere. “We’re all friends here,” she says. “When I see someone for the first time, I need to understand why they’re here. It’s not about dress code or music education – if I feel that you’re a nice person and your heart is open, I’ll always invite you in.”
Like many other scene-defining nightclubs, Closer has endured unwelcome attention from more than just the odd boozed-up tourist. When a series of armed police raids targeting the venue found some guests in possession of personal quantities of amphetamines and cannabis in 2015, a court hearing ruled that the club was enabling drug trafficking and dealing. A protest rave followed, akin to one in Tbilisi in 2018 when interior ministry special police units carrying automatic weapons raided Bassiani and Cafe Gallery. Closer appealed and the decision to close the venue was overturned in a higher court.
Nevertheless, Kyiv’s electronic scene is thriving. “Five to seven years ago, I could name you every [electronic] artist in Ukraine,” Basha says. “Now there are so many, and the scene keeps growing. I think we impacted this.” Fifteen minutes from Closer, an underground techno club has appeared that Shchupko likens to Berlin’s Berghain.
In famously volatile clubland, some would say a new space opening around the corner might be cause for concern, but Basha insists his sole focus is on his own hangout. He’s not kidding, either: five years ago, he and Shchupko moved into neighbouring lofts inside the complex. For them and so many others, Closer is much more than just a club. “Nothing is important,” he repeats. “I am here and I don’t need to look to the outer world. It’s our little utopia.”
Five key tracks from Closer, chosen by staff
Baby Ford & Zip – The Riverbed
Inna Shchupko, door manager: “The Perlon guys are our guides. Dandy Jack, Ricardo [Villalobos], Zip, Baby Ford: we wanted to invite them all to our parties when we started. The first time Zip came to Kyiv was in August 2014, and after a long afterparty, I remember he was sat on the floor of my loft, just like an old friend. I was so happy because Zip was my favourite artist.”
Timur Basha & Alex Savage – Chiochups
Alisa Mullen, PR manager: “This is a remix of a hip-hop group from Kyiv called Chio Chups Clan, who have performed live at Closer. It was recently released on Clommunity, the record label founded by Closer. No genre borders, only music and feelings matter. The second release is coming out really soon, and I’m so glad to see our talented producers coming through like this.”
Model 500 – The Chase (Smooth Mix)
Sergey Yatsenko, co-founder: “Model 500 made their first appearance in Ukraine at Brave! Factory last summer. For me, the festival is a chance for us to host parties and live concerts that can’t normally be heard in Kyiv.”
Z@p – Out of Control
Alisa Mullen, PR manager: “Z@p is part of a new wave of DJs from Uruguay – last time he played at Closer was with DJ Koolt, who is another important member of this scene. They’re doing a crazy South American take on electro, techno and tech house that I’m really impressed by at the moment. In the last year, it’s caught on in Kyiv and influenced many promoters and young producers in the scene.”
Inna Shchupko, door manager: “The final track played by Karine & Shakolin during their closing set on the Monday morning at Strichka in 2018. Strichka is like our own very big house party, with so many details that remind you of home. So of course, our residents are always an important part of it.”