Kyiv rave scene: everything you need to know about Ukrainian nightlife

In 2014, the world started talking about Ukraine once again. We became known for the Revolution of Dignity, the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the fighting in the East. We were associated with currency depreciation, coups, blood, war, and lack of money. The ‘Ukrainian crisis,’ ‘Ukrainian conflict,’ Maidan and the fugitive Yanukovych appeared on the pages of British, German, French, Italian and Belgian newspapers. European journalists were interested in seeing which path we would choose: an imperialist-totalitarian or a civilized-democratic one. Would we remain part of the post-Soviet space, rotten from the inside, or would we side with Western values? 

At the same time, well-known European media outlets such as I-D and VICE argued that the Kyiv rave scene began to develop because of the tragic situation in the country. In their opinion, Ukrainians fled the war in frantic dancing, loud electronic music and flashes of light. Read our article to discover if this is true and why Kyiv is called the ‘new Berlin.’

‘KaZantip,’ ‘Torba Party’ and how it all started

In the Middle Ages, ‘rave’ meant ‘to go crazy’ or ‘to behave crazy.’ Later, in the 1950s, it was used to describe the crazy parties of the beatniks (a literary youth movement — ed.). In the 1980s, the term acquired its current meaning and began associating with DJs, abandoned houses and drugs. So when did raves appear in Ukraine?

Crimea, 1993. Mykyta Marshunok gathers windsurfers at Cape Kazantyp. When they saw an abandoned nuclear reactor, they immediately decided to hold a grand rave at the site. The funds to realise the idea appeared only two years later, and in 1995 the first ‘Atomic Party in the Reactor’ took place in the turbine room of the power plant. Ravers lived in the open air in tents, climbed around the reactor, ran away from the police, and ate ‘jet’ apples that grew nearby. Such parties took place every summer until 2000.

Later, due to constant conflicts with the government and an increasing audience, the magical republic of complete freedom ‘KaZantip,’ along with its trademark yellow suitcases, moved to the village of Popivka, where it was held until the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. It was the largest and the most famous rave community in Eastern Europe.

The ‘Republic of Kazantip’ was an actual state within a state headed by President Mykyta I. It had its own Cabinet of Ministers and embassies in various cities of Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. Each city with an embassy hosted two parties a year: in the summer, before the festival itself, and in the winter, on New Year’s Eve.

At the same time, from 1995 to 1997, Kyiv hosted the legendary ‘Torba Party,’ which brought together all lovers of electronic music and wild dancing: from the ‘cultural elite’ to ‘hopniks’ (members of a subculture of young people of lower-class low-income backgrounds, primarily millennials — ed.) and bandits, and sometimes just random passers-by with ‘Torba’ flyers. House and trance were the most commonly played genres at these raves, but there were also many more exotic and sophisticated genres: jungle, hip-hop and rare electro.

‘Torba Party’ was the first Kyiv rave and launched the development of VJing in Ukraine. It was not just a dance and music party but something much more: art performances, design works, and video installations. A camera filmed the guests and broadcast them in real-time on a big screen, and various visual effects were superimposed on the video. ‘Torba’ is a synergy of different art forms; this was its innovation.

Musician Vasyl Tkach compares ‘Torba’ to the first ‘Warehouse’ parties in Chicago or the first Dutch raves in terms of significance.

A new Berlin?

‘Some people like it, some people are offended by it. I think it’s inappropriate to call Kyiv the ‘new Berlin.’ Yes, we have a lot of decent parties that are known all over the world. Perhaps some clubs are similar to Berlin. But this is our authentic rave culture. And it develops completely differently than in Berlin,’ says cultural critic Marharyta Chernysh.

But this stereotype did not appear out of thin air.  In 2007, a club called ‘Khlib’ (it translates as ‘bread’ from Ukrainian — ed.) appeared in Kyiv, in a basement on Kyrylivska Street. No advertising and promotions, almost no interior, a simple drink list, bare walls, and an atmosphere of close parties — all of this is about ‘Khlib.’

It was impossible to get there just like that. There was no one ‘leftist’ there — you had to know someone who could explain everything and help you get to the party. It was a mysterious and enigmatic atmosphere, relaxation, a sense of complete freedom and underground bands, which made ‘Khlib’ famous. This club broke the stereotype of ‘nightlife’ in Ukraine as an alco-party with a sexual sequel. No one took photos or videos, and everyone behaved freely but followed a simple rule: do not restrict freedom and do not disturb others. The club’s founder Vitaliy Bardetsky brought this concept of simplicity, privacy, relaxation and respect for each other from Berlin.

‘Khlib’ is considered the foundation for the formation of the Kyiv rave scene, which has gained momentum and international recognition since 2014.

The current scene

‘I’m sure that the events of 2013–14 and the subsequent war significantly impacted the development of the electronic scene in Ukraine. In general, every rave has origins in some kind of crisis in the nation/politics/complex historical realities of the country,’ Marharyta Chernysh says.

According to the cultural critic, most commercial clubs closed during the revolution, and young people seeking hedonism and escapism sought refuge in the rave. Also, amid the crisis and unemployment, people began to look for new ways to make money. Then, one of the biggest rave parties, ‘Cxema,’ (it translates as ‘scheme’ from Ukrainian — ed.) was launched. It is the largest rave festival in Ukraine, which started as a small underground party.

‘However, despite its size, ‘Cxema’ always promotes equality, and people continue to come there to find escapism, hedonism and themselves. The success of this rave is based on integrity, sincerity, and commitment to the principle,’ Marharyta says.

In addition to ‘Cxema,’ there are many large and small projects in Ukraine. For example, the cultural expert cites the story of the ‘Rhythm Büro’ rave, which began with parties in secret locations in abandoned warehouses in Kyiv. The first party was held after the Maidan, in 2014, on Independence Day. What’s interesting about ‘Rhythm Büro’ is that they announce the venue only on the day of the party, and you get the coordinates in your email.

The ‘Closer’ club has also gone from private parties to large-scale projects such as the ‘Strichka’ (it translates as ‘ribbon’ from Ukrainian) and the ‘Brave! Factory’ festival. This festival is not only a party held in an abandoned factory but also a real art object with exhibitions, installations and unexpected artistic solutions.

‘The organisers pay great attention to the art component, working closely with artists and media artists worldwide. As a result, the plant’s territory turns into a rave with artistic elements during the event. Also, one of the most popular raves now is Kyrylivska (named after the street — ed.), but the club has no name. There is quite a strict face control, and not everyone gets in. By the way, this club is often compared to Berghain in Berlin,’ Marharyta adds.

So, starting in 2014, a wave of techno, raves, dancing, revolutionary upsurge, and rebellion swept over Kyiv. Foreign media began to write about our scene on a massive scale, foreign DJs and clubbers came to Ukrainian parties, and Ukrainian musicians were invited to foreign clubs and festivals. This is how Ukraine became a real international rave phenomenon with its unique style.

‘I like to compare raves to shamanism. A DJ is a shaman who has complete control over the audience. Because the raver community is very open, people quickly find an opportunity to isolate themselves from the outside world’s problems. Rave ignores the established order in the world, no matter what age, gender, or social status you are. That’s why it unites people, and raves are often called islands of freedom’, Marharyta notes. 

The Ukrainian moment is about freedom, even when someone tries to destroy you. It’s about catching the rhythm of life in the flow of sounds. It’s about complete freedom and the opportunity to be yourself.

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