Above a tree canopy sits Club Matryoshka, a music space that opened to a select few last month. Bordered by mountains and surrounded by lakes, the imposing structure built from wood and stone stands out.
Inside, walls creep up from a red carpet. It has open spaces to meet and mingle and secret areas for more intimate interactions.
Club Matryoshka is unlike any other bar. It has no cover charge, overpriced cocktails, or annoying strobe lights. Most of all, it can’t be found on any street in the world, but in a private Minecraft server created by musicians in Manila looking for an alternative space to share their work.
The club has all the pleasures of going out—hanging out with people, listening to good music, “drinking” your potion of choice—but without the inconveniences that come with it like traffic and a head-splitting hangover. Just own a computer and have a decent internet connection, and you’re good to go.
Indeed, for people who are sick of the physical demands of clubs in real life, freedom is found in the virtual.
“I see the potential in how [Club Matryoshka] can bring more people together in music,” musician Jorge Juan B. Wieneke V, known as similarobjects, told VICE. “It’s slowly becoming a commune of some sort, and we’re looking at it as immersive avenues to release music, hold concerts, [and] host international acts without the hassles and constraints we experience in the real world.”
The music producer and head of the BuwanBuwan music collective created Club Matryoshka with fellow musicians Ahju$$i, Cavill, and dot.jaime. The name is a reference to Russian matryoshka dolls, which are mimicked in the virtual establishment’s seemingly never-ending rooms. The club’s facade, on the other hand, is a mashup between Berlin’s Berghain nightclub, Alcatraz, a museum, library, and dungeon.
The Club Matryoshka homepage is hosted inside similarobjects’ website with a nondescript landing page. Like any other club, this one is very exclusive. Anyone who wants to enter must fill up an application first. The form, though short, is as eccentric as the club itself. One question asks applicants to answer in Pig Latin, while another requires a haiku.
“We want to make sure the people are there both for the experience and the music primarily, so this form is designed to weed out the clubgoers,” Wieneke said.
Like a “real” club, you have to line up before you get in. Waiting for the results of the application for the soft opening took a couple of weeks, according to some attendees. Those who made the cut were sent a digital pamphlet with instructions on how to get in the club, including an invite to a server on the video chat platform Discord.
Then they waited for an official invite, sent via email.
Inside, Club Matryoshka is an introvert’s dream—a virtual world filled with digital renders of objects, characters, and places. Like other Minecraft servers, structures are shaped using materials in the game, which are painstakingly collected by creators over a period of time. The server Club Matryoshka is in is set to Survival mode, which means players are susceptible to hunger, weariness, conflict, and even death.
“We made it in survival mode because I wanted the experience to be more personal for me,” Wieneke said. “Seeing something come out from nothing is a beautiful experience in itself… hours have really been put into it despite it being virtual.”
Voice channels on the Discord server work as guides to where players can go. Each main room has its own channel where musicians perform simultaneously. The music is played live by the club’s real-world resident DJs who are also part of the game, including Wieneke.
Those who want to step out of the club and socialize can easily switch to a different Discord channel.
The response has been positive.
“I did not expect it to be a fully interactive gig,” said Diego Avanceña, who attended Club Matryoshka’s soft opening with his girlfriend.
Remington Chan, another attendee, was surprised at the meticulous preparation that must have gone into the virtual club. “The world they built was great, and the club looked super cool inside too. You can see that effort was put into building the place,” he said.
“The whole experience felt very strange, like a glimpse into living in a virtual world that went on even without me being in it,” Iñigo Olondriz, who was also there for the opening, told VICE. “I look forward to future events and experiments like this and taking the live music experience to the next level.”
Club Matryoshka surely turns the club experience on its head. Everything that you would expect from a club is present: random restroom conversations, intoxication, and good music.
But how do you act in a virtual club?
“At first people were so restricted and disciplined, [then] it slowly went from 0 to 100,” Wieneke said.
After being given the tools to have fun, things started to pick up.
“People started throwing different kinds of potions at each other,” Wieneke said. Among the “potions” thrown were night vision potions that allow characters to see colors more vividly, ones that impair vision partially and make them slower, and leaping potions that make them jump higher.
Club-goers were also allowed to craft in-game, a Minecraft feature that lets users create new tools.
In Club Matryoshka, anything is possible.
“People have a lot of preconceived notions on how to behave in the club in real life: what to do, what to wear, how to approach people, and the list goes on,” Wieneke said. “I wanted to partially break those stereotypes with this project, create new ways to enjoy music socially, and create safe spaces even for people who've never been into clubs, people who prefer to stay indoors or stay online.”
Club Matryoshka hasn’t been open again since it launched, but Wieneke said another event is in the works for later this year. The application form to be part of the waitlist is still up online.
“I just want to change or create a new culture of experiencing music, putting it in [a] place where it can be given justice and where it can be digested properly, and not limit ourselves to anyone’s expectations,” Wieneke said.
While Club Matryoshka may not be “real,” the musical performances, interactions with people, and overall experience definitely are.