Capturing the dark side of China’s underground club scene

Capturing the dark side of China’s underground club scene

Into the night — Photographer and dancer Sergey Melnitchenko goes backstage at a nameless Chengdu city nightclub in his Behind The Scenes photo series.

When Sergey Melnitchenko first arrived in Chengdu in 2015,  he was making ends meet as a model and dancer. It was only when he got a job as a performer in one of the city’s nightclubs, though, that he decided to pick up a camera and start shooting.

Inspired by the seedy backstage life of the venue, Sergey began taking photos of the other performers – a process that introduced him to singers, dancers, clowns, magicians and transvestites.  “I realised how many great things were going on, and that’s how the series Behind the scenes was born,” he explains. “There’s no falsehood – it’s not a scene, it’s their everyday life.”

Originally from Mykolayiv city in Ukraine, Sergey spent four months working in the unnamed club, which he says was “more like a huge bar with a stage.” According to him, the Behind the scenes photo series was an attempt to capture the club’s “invisible side”, where there is “more burlesque” than on the stage. “The concentration of sexual fluids is more powerful than oxygen,” he says, of the venue’s heated backstage atmosphere.

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Due to China’s ban on strip clubs and sex work, Sergey stresses that employees were limited strictly to dancing, drinking and playing games with customers – though that didn’t stop things from getting sordid. “The only thing that I didn’t like was a show where a Chinese girl started to put a beer on herself, and then visitors could come and pour beer on her,” he remembers. “Every visitor tried to do something more disgusting than the other. They poured beer on her tits, tried to pour it in her ass or on her vagina – so it was really ugly.” Aside from that, he insists that the atmosphere in the club was fun, “friendly” and welcoming.

After two years, the performer and model is still living in China – and while he still works mainly as a dancer, photography is slowly becoming a bigger part of his life. “Everything (inspires me),” he says. “It can be as movies and music, so it can be alcohol and porn… The only thing that I like now is that I’m trying to work in different styles. I don’t restrict myself to one kind of photography.”

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