The Extraordinarily Successful Louis Gouend

Selection_004Louis Gouend has been working in the Moscow club scene since 1993, and has now earned the status of Moscow expat personality. Many of us know him for the positive and creative person that he is. In this interview with Moscow expat Life, Louis tells the story of how he got to where he is now, and how he keeps going despite everything.

“How did you get to where you are now?”

“I’ve been here for twenty years, although I feel like I’ve been here for one year, because I am still learning. I was originally sent to Leipzig in 1993 after school in the Cameroons. My goal was to study automatic control systems. When I arrived I was a bit shocked because the conditions were not very good. I wanted to go back for the first few months, but my father told me to stay put for a year, after which, he said, I could move on somewhere else. But after a few more months I changed my mind. I realised that I like this country, I like the people, I like the girls, I like the facilities because everything was very cheap, just after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“I was on a four-year degree course, studying automatic controls applied to electrical appliances. At this time, I was part of group of young guys who were interested in having a good time, in having a rave, in dance clubs. But I really wanted to come to Moscow, and I came here in 1998. I started studying for a master’s degree in Moscow Technological University. From time to time I organised parties for my friends at the university. They were pretty much free-for-alls; anybody could take the stage. If somebody could sing, or dance, or tell stories, please, they could take the stage. I myself liked to dance and really got into that at the same time as studying. In fact people told me that I should dance for a living, that I should be a professional dancer.

“That was in 1999, and the first club in Moscow opened. I went to see them and told them that dancing is something I do, and I’d like to work there. They told me to come to a casting interview, and they accepted me. I started a part-time job there for two days a week. I got into the inside of this business very quickly. I helped them keep the performances new and fresh. I was the best dancer, a lot of people went to the club just to see my performance. I started to teach some of the clients who were interested in dancing. One day after 6 months, I went to the director of the club and I said that actually, I want more money. He said: ‘let’s do it in a different way. I’ll give you a budget, and you organise all the dancers,’ so that’s how I became chief of all the dancers. I then became art director of this club. After two years, in 2002, I moved to open a new club called ‘A Priori’, where I was promoter and art director. I was number two after the general director. But I was only there for a year because of a conflict with the owners. Owners often have one mission in life, whilst art directors and the creative people, another. Sometimes I am very stubborn and won’t give in. If I feel it is right to go on the left side of the street, and people tell me to go in the right side, I am not going to go on the right side, I don’t care what they say. So I moved again, and decided to open my own Events company. By that time I had some money, and I also bought a cafe in Byelorusskaya. I became a businessman and got married. Unfortunately, things worked out bad for the marriage and the business. Everything crashed, and I went back to the club business, but this time to the strip club business.

I was one of the founders of the Safari Lounge Club, and I worked with Night Flight a couple of times of year with birthdays and New Year. I did that for five years. After Safari, I went to Club XIII, where I worked as Art Director for four years. Then I went back to ArkA club, where I had previously worked and which closed down and then reopened. In 2009, Gary Chaglasyan who I had known for a long time, called me to work in Pacha which opened in 2008. Gary also owned Club XIII. I worked with him for four years and left last December. Two years ago I opened a Go-Go Dance Club. I think that Go-Go is a new dance style in Russia, I am sure that in 15 years, Go-Go will be like what hip-hop is now. After our course, girls gets enough skill to work in clubs as Go-Go dancers. But we don’t just teach dancing, we show them how to make costumes, how to do makeup, how to look after their hair; we have a full programme to help create really good dancers. It is not just for girls who want to work in clubs, it’s for any girl who wants to be more visible, more attractive to men. The school is called the Louis Studio, and now we are trying to expand, and are opening a school for art directors. I am also opening a school for models. I don’t want to work any more, I want to teach this business, because I have a lot of experience.

At the same time, I am doing competitions, PR shows and marketing for clubs, cafes, hotels. I help them understand what partying is all about, how to make their places attractive and so on. I am travelling all over the world right now, finding out how it is done is other places; I am trying to develop this school. It is very important to see how other people are doing this.”

“What has changed in Russia in your business since you started?”

“Before the Soviet Union collapsed, clubs in Moscow were not developed at all. The club business only really started in about 1994. Even at that time, you had two kinds of clubs: very rough places and elite clubs. I was always lucky to be able to work in the elite clubs. The elite clubs didn’t charge entrance fees. Why? So that they could choose the guests. At that time, the people who went to clubs had a lot of money. The normal price for a table was between $5,000 and $10,000, and the tables were busy. At that time, Russians were open to anything that was new. We were one of the first clubs to bring in DJs, we were the first club to do Halloween, and people loved that. Now those times have gone, everything that could have been brought in to Moscow is here. People now have the money to be able to travel all over the world, so it’s difficult to surprise them. Now you have to be really creative.

“Back in the mid-nineties, everything was cheap. We could afford to make really good shows for very little. So we had low cost origination and people who wanted to spend money. We were making very good money. Now it is difficult, very difficult just to get $5,000 for a table, which was previously the lowest price. Clubs don’t have money any more; you can get money only from the bar. Now all the artists are incredible expensive. Costumes are expensive, lighting is expensive, everything is expensive. Without money you cannot hire good staff. No longer are you alone, there used to be only one or two good clubs in Moscow, now there are six or eight amazing clubs, and the competition is very high.”

How do people treat you, a black man in Moscow?

“Sometimes I think I am the only black guy in Russia (laughs). It is really difficult for black guys to live in Russia. In Europe, since the Second World War, people have got used to seeing and living in the same places as black people. But in Russia this process only started after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As one of my friends told me: ‘Louis these people are very strange. You can live with the same people for 10 years, but every time they see you they will always be surprised to see you.’ Even now, being black is still very exotic in Moscow. Black people are not here because they cannot make money anywhere else. It is easier for them to make money in Europe. The social and political situation in Russia is very difficult for black people. For all those black people who are doctors, lawyers and economists, they go to Europe, Canada and America, and have more possibilities than here. For me it is different. I have a business in which I feel completely at home in.

“In general though, as more Russians see more and more black people, Russians are becoming a bit more tolerant, so things are getting better slowly. People who want to have a quiet life, in a country where the government takes care of them, those people go to live in Europe. Here you can only be a fighter, and a good fighter. To be here you should be very politically correct, because you can create serious problems if you don’t behave yourself in the right way. Being at the top, and always in the camera’s eye, like I am, is very difficult. I’m not saying I don’t have problems. I do, but I can solve them. If things were really difficult for me here, I would leave. I have two educations, I have a master’s degree in technology and science, and a degree in economics, and I speak English, French and Russian. I know I can leave whenever I want, but I want to live here. I really want to do things here.

What is your secret?

“When people look at me they see somebody who is still young, at least not old. Why? Because I am positive. It’s very important to be positive, and it’s very important to do what you like to do. When you walk, you have to walk in a way that is in harmony with yourself. Then people who accept you surround you, and you are calm. I am trying to turn all the negative things into positive things. My work is to create ways of making people happy. I am searching for new ideas all the time, and this is keeping me in a good positive mood. So of course, if somebody wants to party, just call Louis. If you have a café, bar restaurant and you have problems, please call me!