Ninety-nine percent of modern Russia is one big, messy festival of repression. The rest of it? Well, it's kinda the exploding climax of a people reared on a drip-feed of nothing, then suddenly given access to all the milk and potatoes they could ever dream of. Moscow's ultra-wealth is a phenomenon: An absurdity akin to the Premier League bit-parters who fertilise their gardens with pulped jewels.
Since Russia's basically built on twin towers of luxur€y and p:(verty, the concept of The VIP has become a national obsession. It's either that or the gutter. And, of course, The Nightclub has become the ultimate murky pageant for unfulfillable aspirations, forced smiles, showing off and networking; all lubricated with cocktails starting at a tenner.
As you can tell, I'm a big fan of all this "psychoanalysing the nation" bullshit, BUT I also like being in rooms full of well-groomed Russian women. So, in the name of getting to the heart of the modern Russian psyche, I spent every last penny I saved from re-selling my North Korean holiday snaps on the ultimate night out in VIP Moscow: a place where mortals from outside the oligarch Slavosphere are rarely deemed rich enough to tread. It was transformational.
First stop was the Lookin Rooms. I wasn't convinced it was going to be the example of Muscovite high culture that the local cabbies had promised me; more likely just some two-bit peep show. But what the hell, huh?
Oh righhhhhht!!! I get it; two-bit peep shows ARE Muscovite high culture these days. How do you feel about that, Tolstoy? "Man never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style," you say? Stoic words my friend. Though I'm feeling a little coerced by that sign reminding me to "BE COOL" whilst I guiltily stare at that Ukrainian immigrant's bottom.
This picture sums up the evening's dynamic: Attractive women ignoring badly dressed, but not entirely unattractive guys, to pose for the nearest camera. In fact, as I found out over the course of the evening, in this town, the camera possesses magical powers. Meanwhile, this shady dude in the suit lingered, pawing at a phone credit machine he presumably mistook for a real girl's clitoris.
Of course the proper interpretation of the Lookin Rooms moniker is that this is a place for looking, gazing and being gazed at. Of course, that gaze is reflected back at you infinitely by parallel mirrors and then recorded by the endless procession of Instagram-ers and buzzing venue photographers. All this attention clearly proves that you are A VERY IMPORTANT PERSON. Me especially.
It was a certain type of heaven, I guess.
This girl was on her own and trailed me half-way across the venue so she could ask me to take a picture of her, even though she had no idea who I was or where it would end up. Hope you like VICE x
Jay Kay/ Totally Enormous Something Dinosaurs also broke into a "time of my life" leer as I passed by with the camera. Four seconds earlier, he'd been leaning against the back of a sofa asking his mate to pass him a bowl of nachos. See! Camera Is Magick!
To be honest, after a couple of hours gyrating in this place, I was pretty much having a great time. A large part of me wanted to chuck away the camera, pull on that M&S suit I've only been able to wear at funerals, and start telling all the prettiest girls that I was Hugh Grant's brother, in town for very important business.
So I pulled myself free, knowing Moscow still had so much more to offer...
Up the road we encountered this. On first glance it looked like some kind of weird kid's birthday party, but actually it turned out to be something even weirder.
It was an Orthodox Christian biker rally! (Obviously.)
In Russia, it's totally not weird to express your love of God through heavy-vehicles spray-painted to look like Warhammer; motorcycles installed with loud dynomax exhausts; a barely disguised hatred for non-White, non-Christians; or an ultra-conservative belief in a global Jewish/ Muslim conspiracy to wipe out Russia! Go Russia!
This elder was stood at the edge of the road, waving on the convoys of Orthodox motorbikes and Hummers that kept doing laps around us. I had a nagging sense that I knew what was going on here, that I'd been here before. Hold on a minute, Sergiy The Soviet Terror Priest... could it really be you???
Sadly it wasn't Sergiy, just an identical bearded fat man with similarly insane religious convictions. I walked the streets a little longer, questioning my own faith, when I encountered this mise-en-scene. It reminded me that I needed to see more impossibly attractive women and drink more alcohol.
So I headed off to Gaudi, which, I was promised, was the most incredible club in all of Moscow. Unfortunately, to get to Gaudi you had to walk down this long, foreboding, kinda shortcut-to-Auschwitz-y back alley. "Arbeit macht frei," I muttered under my breath, knowing that to make it through the night, I'd have to WORK IT.
I found some respite in this very large sign that said "VIP' outside the club. I knew this would be the real deal, as it's the exact same sign Putin hangs on the walls of the Kremlin to welcome visiting overseas dignitaries.
Tonight was a big night for Gaudi, as they were hosting the biggest stars seen in Moscow since like, ever: it was Jared Leto's brother, and Jared Leto's brother's mate! In the Moscow VIP hierarchy of VIP importance, this registered at the level of Very Fucking Very Important V.I.V.I.P. When word came through from a bulky Russian bruiser on the front desk that we'd been granted permission to hang out with Jared Leto's brother and Jared Leto's brother's mate, I felt like I was finally unlocking a door to a V.I.P. otherworld.
Actually, it was one of the weirdest, most awkward interviews ever. I had no idea who this guy was and for some reason I'd become a bit confused and convinced myself I was meeting Jay Leno's brother and not Jared Leto's, which made the whole thing make even less sense to me.
I had no questions to ask them so I told them a bunch of lies instead. I told them I was a famous DJ from the UK who had played the same venue last night and that it "went off". Jared Leto's brother said he'd wished he'd been in town to see it, that he loved UK Grime AND UK Bass and that we should hook up and do a show together next time. I felt like I was in one of those "Morrissey meets Franz Ferdinand" style features in the NME, except we were two nobodies in a dimly-lit back room in a former Soviet slave factory on the outskirts Moscow, desperately trying to convince each other that someone, somewhere gave half a shit about our whole sorry existence. Call me DJ Bad Vibes.
I tried to steer the conversation back to something more conventional and boring, to give me some space to try to think up how to get out of the situation. I can't remember how or why, but soon Jared Leto's brother was talking to me about using his music to give all the girls in the venue "facials". I asked him to clarify what he meant and he said, "I'm going to cum on all their faces. Wooooo!"
Then we took the above picture to represent what that would look like :( :( :(
Anyway, luckily their PR person cut it short so I didn't have to – after all, they had a show to do! This is what it looked like. My set the night before was better, FYI. It went off.
Honestly, I have about 500 different caption-worthy pictures from this ridiculous club. With each click of the camera I started to love it more and more. If I told you there was a place on Earth where a member of Powerman 5000 can be caught seducing high-heeled women who literally coo in his presence while he's showing them some iguanas on a sofa covered in silvery tin foil, you'd think I was just playing silly buggers. Well, here's the fucking proof, doubting Thomas.
This guy was like a mix between the Terminator T-1000 and David Sylvian. But with a girlfriend that hot, you can't even take the piss out of him.
The problem with everyone looking so effortlessly perfect is that it makes it kind of easy to be unfairly mean when the glamour credentials don't quite add up. So, I'm just going to leave it at this: fake tattoo sleeve = FCKU.
Hanging out by the caged woman, we met another Moscow archetype: a Russian lad visiting from the suburbs making a lot of effort to dress like the posh hardmen he saw in the Russian version of Sink The Bismarck. When we whipped the camera out, he locked his arms into a passively threatening bulldog pose to assert his masculinity. Russia is really, you know, patriarchal and stuff. #AnthropologicalInsightOverload
Still, the night was young and one more venue remained unticked on our itinerary, the most decadent and exclusive nightclub of all: Rai. We hitched a ride across town past the Kremlin with an Armenian taxi driver named Armen (which is funny because imagine if people from the UK were also called things like Engl or Scotl).
To guarantee entry into Rai (English translation: "Paradise") I had to make arrangements days before. If not, "Face Control" would have kicked me right out. "Face Control" is the relentlessly cruel practice of letting some Siberian bouncer arbitrarily decide whether or not you're allowed in to the club based on how good looking /well-dressed /seemingly affluent you are. It's little customs like these that keep Moscow's current obsession with ostentatiously displaying your wealth afloat. It basically means that it's simply impractical to have a night out unless you're prepared to dress like an overstated twat. It's for this reason, after three months of living in Moscow, that I feel compelled to dress head-to-toe in nothing but Prada.
Anyway, I was promised paradise and you know what? This place did not disappoint.
Look at it! It's like a level out of Prince of Persia! Honestly, I'm never setting foot in The Alibi ever again unless they install a giant elephant's head and at least one rope ladder.
PERFECT! A large, scary snake, some women with nice legs and some vacant looking fat men with assets that outstretch half of South America's GDP.
This is IT!
This is literally IT!
To the girl on the right, whoever you are, wherever you are: I Love You. I'm sorry I spent the last thousand words or so making fun of everything you hold dear. I take it all back; provided you'll take me back to whatever palace you sleep in at night.
I was getting pretty delirious by this point, I felt like I had entered a world that I never wanted to leave. As I marvelled at big, scary Vishnu sliding down the wall, I realised that the life of a Moscow VIP really was either heaven, or just a real-life version of a really, really good computer game.
I looked up and saw this caged girl, who seemed to love rock and roll.
Oh look, a floating bondage bed. How tired. I bet the owners only have people having sex like, three nights a week.
But her. God, her. I wish this tasteless situation hadn't blown my mind so much, but it did. Sorry women, sorry conscience, blame it on the environment.
Crestfallen, confused and exhilarated, I returned to the street. Outside at 5AM people vomited over the banks of the Moskva River. All in front of that massive gold church that Stalin blew-up and turned into a public swimming pool before Putin came over all nostalgic and built it again.
So, depressingly, VIP Moscow turned out to be the best night of my entire life. Every club in the world is basically one, big glamour-parade where people go to escape the drudgery of their daily lives: but this one is turbo-charged with the kind of women who turn back into shadow and gold at dawn and petro-dollar-bought giant stuff.
So, fuck you hipsters. I'm a VIPster now.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_hoban
Previous excursions into the night: