Heading east from Berlin, last summer I undertook a pilgrimage to Eastern Europe’s newly christened Techno Mecca. Deep amongst Kiev’s concrete forest of Soviet brutalism, a raw homegrown rave scene is putting down roots, thriving in a city that’s witnessed two separate revolutions in under ten years.
For the countless Kievan youth born in the post-Soviet 90’s, the thundering techno can offer a weekend of absolution and escapism, insulating them from the crisis and conflict that’s ripped Europe’s largest country apart since the recent 2014 revolution. My last few days in the sprawling Ukrainian capital fell over a weekend and it rapidly became a rush to take advantage of the collapsed currency and a weekend full of raves before my uni term began.
A 15 minute, £1 uber ride away from central Maidan Square there’s an abandoned checkpoint in the Tatarka hills, barring entry to a small crumbling industrial complex in the midst of a wooded dell. Head through the checkpoint and into the factories you sense the vibrations of a serious sound system, deep in the belly of one of the surrounding delipidated buildings.
Here you’ll find the home of underground Techno club and centre of contemporary culture Closer, but also up in the loft – Mezzanine. At the top of the graffiti scrawled staircase, its decaying post-industrial location fuses with a subdued, wooden barn reminiscent aesthetic, complemented by the strictly minimal selection of sounds. It’s the place to level out, have a few drinks and get your head right before heading downstairs.
In contrast Closer is known for its raves that stretch from midnight Friday into hazy Monday afternoons. There’s plenty to explore; from the memorizing lights and natives competing to be Neukölln’s next top model in the main space, to the deep lit chill rooms and outside the sprawling, multilevel wooden veranda set amongst the Tatarka hills. At one point, in true Kievan style, a climb on to the spine of the crumbling factory’s sheet metal roof became a legit spot to take in the morning air.
Permanently settling in 2014 following nomadic roots, Closer has survived recent court battles with the local authorities, continuing to operate and thrive under the ethos of “bringing people closer with music”. After ending up there a few times, you observe that the place really starts to create a distinct vibe and come into its own about 5/6 in the morning . It’s no surprise that the Friday to Monday, any hour techno produces its own resonating gravitational pull, attracting those that consider no sleep and endless after parties a perfectly reasonable weekend pursuit. Sleeping is cheating.
“During the revolution of 2013-14 all our nightlife stopped, and I realised I miss good parties,” says DJ, promoter and Cxema founder Slava Lepsheev. “I also saw that this whole new amazing generation emerged, and they have nowhere to go.”
Since Cxema (pronounced Skhema) emerged in 2014, it rapidly gained a reputation beyond Kiev. Translating as scheme or gamble, the night is the result of communication and collaboration amongst a range of creative young Kievans, including architects, designers, artists and art critics.
These various cultural mediums are linked together under guiding mutual preferences for: “spacious dance floors, best local musicians and DJs, quality sound”, rather than commercial profitability. This allows Cxema to retain its raw and authentic vibe, even after featuring in the likes of VICE and it’s fashion and music subsidiaries i-D + THUMP, it’s non-commercial approach and focus on providing a unique space of fresh freedoms mean Cxema is still an underground night.
For Kievan locals born in the 90’s growing up to the sounds of techno, there’s a soaring demand for massive events amongst this Post-Soviet generation, with Cxema carving its own niche in the vacuous nightlife void that’s stalked Kiev following the revolution.
There’s no shortage of locations in post-industrial Kiev vying to host raves capable of meeting this demand. Cxema is held roughly every 6 weeks, keeping it fresh by switching to whatever semi-legit location’s available, bouncing from office blocks, to garages, factories and old cinemas. This is necessary to avoid being shut down, with Closer recently under threat of closure following a series of police raids. Due considerably to the high levels of moral panic raves generate amongst the staunchly conservative elements of Ukrainian society.
Saturday night I donned my €1 Adidas jacket and headed over to the skeletal arch of the Podilskyi Metro Bridge, construction began the same year I was born and it remains incomplete. This has to be the most dramatic of Cxema’s locations, a grimy, graffiti scrawled skatepark wedged deep under a motorway overpass. Once over the half pipe, the cavernous space becomes a kaleidoscopic whirl of wavey 90’s sportswear, an ocean that continues rhythmically heaving long after the suns risen and torched the serene waters of the oozing Dneiper outside.
Late in the morning when the Cxema crowds begin to disperse, many casually dismiss sleep and instead another after party at Closer entices those with the stamina to see Sunday through. Bearing in mind a Monday afternoon flight, I beat a lunchtime retreat from the Techno, seeking to regain some basic motor skills before my Sunday night motive – Keller Bar. Not far from Closer, it’s a tight, moody locale, with a capacity that can’t reach more than 150 people.
Arriving in such an out-of-the-way, intimate space as a bunch of gringo tourist on a Sunday night, you get the vibe you’ve crashed a private party. Later after a few conversations opened by Cxema chat and where to find other raves in Kiev, what I had first put down as cold stares turned out to be stern stoic facial experssions masking severe sleep deprivation, many had been on the sesh since Friday … but Sunday exposed the true techno zombies.
The perfect place to level out after a long weekend, the night was still gaining momentum when suddenly the music shutdown around 2 and everyone piled onto the terrace outside. I was left lost when fireworks started to illuminate the nights sky above me, till it was explained that it was a special night, someones birthday. Despite uni term and lectures looming just over the horizon, when the sound system roared back into life I half deluded myself into believing I could commit till close without severe repercussions for the London flight.
In the end I was rewarded, having left before dawn I still had time for one last gourmet meal, gorging on Georgian food and wine before contemplating my frayed nerves on that final flight home.