Ukrainian underground scene is blooming like never before, and not only in Kyiv

    photo by onthegrid.city

    Let’s start with a video:

    Looks familiar to you?

    Yes, this is Zip during one of those gorgeous summer mornings at Kyiv’s powerful musical fortress Closer, doing what he does best – turning a 2-euros record into a 60-euros record.

    After the video went viral, the track almost disappeared from Discogs marketplace (the ID, by the way, is – MBG presents New Latin Age – Italian Voice), leaving people hungry for a repress or digital version. They are still waiting…

    But what if I tell you, that scenes like this are actually happening during almost every weekend in a whole country? Don’t believe me? So, let me take you on a tour…

    CHAPTER ONE: Kyiv, the most obvious one.

    Closer “Residential” crew – photo courtesy of Closer

    It will be the right way to start our journey from Closer – we, actually, already did that. The club is in its prime – names like Ricardo Villalobos, Moodymann, Helena Hauff, Richie Hawtin and Rhadoo already became a usual thing for its visitors.

    On the other side – guests like Reade Truth, Desyn, Truly Madly, Dorian Paic are keeping club’s main series away from the “mainstream of underground”.

    Because of all these huge headlining people it’s very easy to slip on the main thing that keeps the soul of the club – its crew of residents. Alex Savage, Bambu, Borys, Igor Glushko, Karine, Lobanov K., Noizar, Pavel Plastikk, Roman K, SE62, Shakolin, Spekulant, Timur Basha, Trippsy and Vova KLK (damn, that’s a wild bunch!) are always there.

    On warm-up or afterhours, on the bar, drinking, or at the backstage, talking about records… Some of them are part of Closer family since the beginning – others were smoothly transformed from club regulars into residents. They’re always holding up a decent spot at Closer’s festivals like Strichka and Brave! Factory but the main events for their showcases are widely known in narrow circles Residents Nights – series with a cozy atmosphere and always gorgeous musical selection, that makes them easy pick-up-favorites amongst the locals. “Residents Nights – it’s like you’re coming home and your mom already set the table with your favorite foods” – says Roman K, one of the Closer residents, – “there are no random people at the table, just the closest and beloved ones”.

    Beside his residency at Closer, Roman K also works at Closer Record Store (yes, there’s a record store in the same building) – a hot place, if you’re looking for records to surprise your listeners. “I shop every time I’m there” says Borys, another Closer resident and, probably, the best digger in their crew, “couple times in a month, I’m stopping by and could find something interesting for me. Usually, I buy up to 50 records a month (not necessarily there) and spend at least 2 hours a day searching for them (you can be exact here – time flies away invisibly). There’s a thought amongst some DJs in our city, that every great record is bought just after its coming to the store, but I can’t say, how many great records I bought there – many of them are just waiting for a right DJ. For example, I bought there one very rare Underground Resistance record, that came only on test pressing.

    It’s a usual thing for guests of Closer to stop and shop there – sometimes they are spending even more time at the store than their set lasts. There are often more people willing to play/listen to some records, than there are record players in the shop – the same thing is with DJ’s willing to play at Closer parties, but it seems, that it doesn’t affect their relationship: “We don’t have such thing as a competition or rivalry here,Borys continues, – look at me, for example – we are friends with Noizar, my most often b2b-partner, for years already. He’s a person, I’m talking about the music most – we evolved as DJs together. When we’re playing separately – we’re different, but at the same time, we have very similar views on music. How could there be any kind of competition between us or anybody else in our crew? There’s only a strong team of DJs, who motivate each other to become better and dig deeper.

    Besides its own series, Closer became a home for other in-house events, that also have shaped its unique vibe. First of all – LOW Party. Crew of Pavel Plastikk, Philipp Markovich, Olegue Zabava, Jazzmate & Shatalow is one of those rare things that are functioning in Ukrainian capital longer than Closer. Much longer – they appeared even on Kyiv’s underground predecessor of Closer – Xlib club and on February they celebrated their 10th anniversary with Andrew Weatherhall as a main guest. Calling themselves “The Main Disco Nights of Ukraine” on their facebook-page, they usually offer a mixture of disco, house, downtempo and Balearic tunes at their events with guests like Gerd Janson and John Talabot. And, of course, their home crew on support.

    Next is Parental Advisory. This series started in late 2017, founded by Sergen Makaren and S. A. Tweeman (he’s also responsible for Kyiv open-minded queer-friendly party Veselka, “rainbow” in Ukrainian language). Usually it’s a blend of house, techno, electro, acid and some broken beats with acts like Steve Murphy, DJ Octopus, Roza Terenzi, DJ Normal 4 as a foreign guests and artists like Bejenec, Youngg P, zolaa., as Ukrainian support. Also PA keeps their podcasts series alive, filling it only with sets from their parties.

    the multicultural THP crew became famous in Kyiv after their unforgettable Sunday daylight sessions could be found in Closer’s calendar even with two series of events – THP Sessions (coming on Fridays) and Social Spot (coming on Sundays, always starting at 4:20 PM). Trippsy (Lithuanian guy), Haathi (Indian guy) and Puoro (Ukrainian guy) are devoted to long vinyl sessions with – as they’re saying – “devastating breaks, shimmering minimalistic sounds, deep techno grooves, and wicked basslines”. If we’re talking about some notable guests – here are Slow Life crew, Lazare Hoche, TC80, Leo Pol, Route 8 to name a few.

    The newest addition to Closer’s calendar is a Groove Operator series. Events, created by a duo of Kyiv’s producers Pahatam (also known as O’FortyFour) and Koloah (also known as Voin Oruwu and Tropical Echobird). First Ukrainian booking of Gene On Earth and parties with Yoshitaca and Youandewan quickly became a fresh addition to Closer’s roster, taking the route from friends of friends’ party (first installment) to fully packed club, dancing to the live performances of Koloah and Pahatam duo (first anniversary of Groove Operator series).

    Are there any other activities in Kyiv, beside Closer? Does the city that gave us Benjamin from yoyaku (if you didn’t know – his father is from Kyiv, yes) has something more to offer? Of course, it does. Criminal Practice, for example – DJ’s and producers crew/party series/podcasts collection/record label at once. The crew of Hopper Field (who has recently started his own label – Tetratonic Records), Roma Khropko (formerly known as YvesSaintRoman) and Ghetto Sunrise started their work in 2017 and now are running their series mostly at River PORT – another Kyiv’s notable location. With one of the most interesting Kyiv’s guests (Rudolf C, Phil Evans, Manuel Schatz, Kashawar to name a few) and notable podcast series, that already has 50+ parts, they’re also shaping that unique sound of Kyiv, continuing what Kiev House label started to do a few years ago. Sounds that can also be found on the first release on their label contains two tracks from their crew, one from Kyiv’s wonderboy Sasha Zlykh and one from Dnipro-based producer Grec.

    Also worth mentioning are two series that now could be affiliated with River PORT as well. First of them is Techiya – a project by the duo of Kyiv-based DJs Alex Slog & Gash that focusing on deep sounds and long sets. Second is RFRSH crew, containing Olesia Elfa, Bru, Trey & Dolu and mixing minimalistic, trance-y and breakbeat-y sounds in their events. Once these two groups even collaborated – and Santiago Uribe was their cherry on top.

    What about some producers here? THERE ARE A LOT! A lot – even besides those already mentioned above. Our first stop here should be iO(Mulen) – the undisputed king of Ukrainian minimal and tech-house. Becoming well-known because of his Mulen Records, now his empire of labels deserves a separate tour itself. He already landed his long-awaited new 3-parts album on Mulen Records this year and continues to fill his labels with sold-outs. Last year he made some parties here – there were a few Mulen Nights at Kyiv with guests like John Dimas and Nima Gorji. This year, it seems, that Ukraine for him is more for rest and studio work. And he’s totally OK with that.

    If we’re talking about iO(Mulen), we also have to mention Silat Beksi. 2019 is a great year for this producer so far – 5 releases already have seen the wax. And for his label too – Modeight has two updates in its collection – one by Silat Beksi and one by Romanian duo of Incolor and Paul K.

    The Rawax family connections are also strong here. This is a label that has added iO (Mulen) and Alex Pervukhin to their roster earlier this year (in addition to Lumitecc, Animous, and Vualitron that were already there) have announced one more release of Ukrainian producer Brother G who is also a part of a family for years.

    One of Kyiv’s new blood – Vladimir Gnatenko, who was a part of first-ever Ukrainian Boiler Room x Cxema broadcast, added his name to French Twig label’s roster on a split EP with Yotam Afialo from Israel – this release already received good press from artists like Andrey Pushkarev and Borys.

    Another Ukrainian producer, Kirik, who’s standing behind Crocus, Memory Remains, Uzvar and Razom labels, and Yellow Wax series, also started side-label Colors Of Crocus. The first release was his own, with a remix from Alex Pervukhin, on the next one guys changed their roles.

    With the city that is often associated with its main river, that’s a usual thing, that water also becomes a part of their parties – River PORT is almost on the Dnipro river, LOW Party with their legendary boat events in the past. Even Closer’s summer place on that video with Zip here is called “Lesnoy Prichal” (“forest berth” in Russian). The newest addition to the city’s ‘water places’ is Debarkader club, that has just started working, but already added names like Luca Piermattei, Orson Wells and Silat Beksi to their events. This place is curated by the very talented DJ Rustam, that recently came to Kyiv from Odessa. By the way, Odessa…

    CHAPTER TWO: Odessa, the seaside one.

    PORT 1-year anniversary – photo courtesy of PORT

    The ‘Sea-City’ is proudly holding the second spot in our trip here. With its own Closer – PORT, Odessa often gets, it seems, annoying comparisons with Kyiv (like the one you’ve just read). However, its own scene seems independent and quite interesting itself, without any comparisons. Mainly, because of work that formations like FEELEED and Reset did and continue doing.

    PORT club history started 3 years ago, when FEELEED crew was tired of what the city could offer them for parties. “We were making parties in Odessa for 5 years before that, training our residents, – says Rayo, part of FEELEED crew, – sometimes, at very posh places. It was very hard to find a proper space, there also were very high demands from owners. At that time my life was split between two cities – Odessa and Moscow, where I was part of legendary ARMA17 crew also – as a manager and resident. That was very hard – imagine, that you have to work 48 hours at ARMA17 and then fly to Odessa for 24 more hours of work. Luckily, during that time, we’ve built our strong community, that allowed us to start thinking about our own place – you can build a club, but it will be useless without great community.”

    PORT was found near the city port and was used as a ships repair location at first. Then it became just an empty warehouse – seems great, right? So it started working and the crew of Eric, Ja.sha, Kolford, Plato, Rayo and Yate with their FEELEED series became a center of its life. Yate also owns the place, but it seems that they’re developing its art part altogether, without any conflicts – like a proper working strong community. “Don’t make me describe our music, – says Rayo, when I asked about their motto “project for those, who don’t need a press release”, – I never liked to do that. And that’s really tough work, when you have more than 200 different guests during all these years.” Guests like DJ Masda, Shonky, Cab Drivers, Nicolas Lutz and many-many more. Some of them played here 10-12-hours sets with great pleasure. Those are easily the most notable ones.

    Another notable crew with business at PORT is Reset. After its relocation from Kyiv after 2015/2016 season (rare moment – successful relocation not INTO, but FROM Closer), the crew of Islam (Se Is), Vasil and Valeria continued doing their parties in Odessa. TC80, Francesco Del Garda (recently came back to play a 21-hours (!!) set), Etienne, Martyne & Bodin – their schedule from that season at Closer looking still fresh and interesting in 2019.

    But three years here have added even more interesting names, like Z@p, Evan Baggs, Onur Ozer, Yoshi or even DMX Krew – that video from summer terrace opening party at PORT with him, Omar and Christian AB looks familiar, right?


    CHAPTER THREE: Lviv, the hidden one.

    ZAVTRA crew at work – photo by Alexandra Liven

    A city without a proper club has learned to live without it years ago. Almost 20 (yes, twenty!) active promo-groups are making parties every week in all possible places – from defunct factories and cinema halls to botanical gardens and city landmarks. Beside widely blooming techno, d’n’b, breaks and even psy-trance scenes, house parties feel very well nowadays there.

    This chapter has to start with ZAVTRA crew. The team of producers and DJs Alex Pervukhin, Lstn, Ocean T and Zbaraski is the core of house life in the region since 2012. To be honest there wasn’t a great house scene established there, at that time this city was known mainly because of its non-house events. As the crew behind the now-defunct website zavtra.fm they had a bold statement “We’re listening to the music, that you’ll listen to tomorrow” (“zavtra” means “tomorrow” in Ukrainian). They also started monthly parties at the now nonexistent Propaganda club in Lviv until its closure at the beginning of 2014, this started their connection with Ukrainian electronic scene. “At that time Lviv was kind of this ‘new kid at a party’: a bit confused but very open and hungry for new stuff at the same time, remembers Ocean T, – I guess most of us felt that we were really missing out on something big that was going on in Kyiv and the rest of the world and we really wanted to be a part of this new wave of so-called ‘electronic renaissance’. So our main mission was to show this ‘new kid’ around and play him every record from our bag.”

    After Propaganda club became a part of history, later that year they were called to launch Underground club – still working, but just as a place for events, not as a club with community like Closer or PORT. Also they helped to organize Cxema Backstage events in their city – the first ever sidekick of Ukrainian’s biggest rave, the latest installment of that just took place at Berghain. In 2015 and in the year after that – as an encore. Nowadays, they are mostly known for their Apollonia-like all-night-long b2bs and not really active as a crew, driving mostly their own projects. All of them are widely spread in the regional scene and becoming a valuable part in the city line-ups just as well as in the nearest cities – Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk and Ternopil are also on the grow. “Looking back now at how things have changed since 2012 I can say that the impact of our activity was huge,Ocean T continues, – you can really feel that the awareness and appreciation for quality underground music have spread far beyond a small party of 20 people. The community of local DJ’s has also grown, and I’d really like to believe that what we did back then and what we continue doing now has inspired this new community.”

    That first Cxema Backstage actually has changed a lot in the city. Parties became at least a few hours longer and also Hypnohouse was born. In early 2016 ZAVTRA member Zbaraski received a call of unknown-then Hypnohouse founder DJ 69, that was inviting the crew to his vinyl-only party, because of their sets on Cxema Backstage. Guys took that with a lot of skepticism but eventually responded. After an emergency re-schedule of the first party and now-legendary improvised pre-party (to fill the empty night) that was held in one of the apartments in the city center, rumors spread in the city and instead of a little party for friends the first Hypnohouse event had a huge crowd who danced at the cinema hall of Lviv Film Center. After that, there were three years of banging regular parties with guests like And.rea, Mutual Attraction, a bunch of Closer’s residents and a great selection of local DJs.

    Hypnohuse 2-years anniversary at Lviv Film Center – photo by Max Dutka

    Now Hypnohouse took a break from events, establishing its record label, that will try to keep the spirit of those parties on releases. The first one is in the making – a compilation of foreign guests such as Dawl – the Tone Dropout label hero and Fede Lijtmaer – producer from Uruguay, that, as became known after first talks has Lviv roots (his grandpa actually was from there). The Ukrainian part of this release will be represented by Trippsy from THP crew with his first-ever track on wax and Ukrainian producer from Crimea, Wulffius – another part of that Boiler Room x Cxema event. “I like this wonderful process, when you’re in full control of your label, – DJ 69, head of Hypnohouse says, – you’re finding new artists, making new connections, listening to a lot of great material, then – taking the best of it for yourself. Making these mixes of already famous and just starting names… (like we did on our first compilation). That is inspiring as hell, knowing that your music could be played anywhere on the Earth and become a part of history. Unfortunately, currently there are no producers in the Lviv region that could fit our sounds, but I’m hoping that our launch will inspire some of them to move towards Hypnohouse side in the near future.”

    There’s also another house label with its own party series that established in the city. Alex Pervukhin’s Laconica, that took two spots in the Trommel top 100 tracks selection in 2018, is already known as the finest place for deep selection as label and party series together. Stacking his label only with tracks by himself and his ZAVTRA partner Ocean T so far, Alex is doing similar things with their parties, inviting to play only those guys he has business with – like Quentin from Recordeep or Bernardo from Hubble Recordings – Alex has touched both labels with his releases already. All of these DJ’s make a perfect musical fit, transforming every night into a long deep journey, which is the essence of Laconica.

    Another city series that is mainly orientated on great line-ups is Dzvin. The creation of the duo of Lviv DJs Lstn and Nani in late 2017 after a kitchen talk (literally!) about a lack of interesting names for them at local parties. Since then there have already been 5 installments with a rare Ukrainian appearance of Io (Mulen), a Rawax Showcase and the best local support this city can offer. Its irregularity with dates, strictly non-photo policy, delicate promo, lack of standard place for next event or even a page on Facebook or Instagram (and there will never be one) makes Dzvin more like a secret series for friends, their friends and those who care, dig and seek. On the other side – this introversion always makes it impossible for random people to find and became a part of the event. And also these posters…

    “Dzvin series posters” – authors Eugene Shylov, Urek Savter

    Lviv, in comparison, for example, with Kyiv, has a small number of good producers, but there’s no problem with great DJs here. One of the best in the region, when it comes to deep house, is Mike Trofimov. With his friend Roman Kapiy, he’s a co-founder of Abend project – a series of parties and video podcasts with quality deep selection. They are only getting started, but their first event has already united almost the whole city when headliner Andrey Pushkarev had problems entering Ukraine (the day before his set at Closer was cancelled because he was denied permission to enter Kyiv). As was seen later, that situation with almost everyone from the city community, waiting at the airport for Andrey, and solving customs problems in the morning made that March night even better. According to the guys there’s more to come (parties, not problems, of course).

    Lawrin – another great Lviv-based DJ and, probably the city’s best-kept secret. Until recently his appearances on Lviv parties were very rare – he could be heard at Kyiv or Odessa events like Cxema or Techiya much more than at home. Now the times are changing it seems, and he’s delivering his smooth blend of deep and minimalistic house and techno (more techno, actually) in Lviv more. His djing skills are more than great – it could be easily heard on his mixes. They are always vinyl-only and really rare – every new one immediately becomes big news in the city. Lviv version of “DJs DJ”, no less.

    With a city’s permanent lack of great places for parties, there’s one organization that, it seems, has no problems with that. Night Ambassadors is an organization, that, besides its own events, focused on deep house and disco music, sometimes helps other city groups like Abend, Laconica or Dzvin in the organization of their parties. Museums, botanical gardens, and city landmarks have already heard the sounds of N-A. Good organization skills and recent creation of Night Ambassadors X sub crew (of Alex Pervukhin, Nani & Fat8) took that team to another level – May’s party with Leo Pol at defunct tram depot was the first event on city house/techno scene that collected a “magical” number of 1000+ people – first after that Cxema Backstage in 2016. And, it seems, that the next 1000+ event will hit Lviv much closer than in 3 years…

    CHAPTER FOUR: Kharkiv, the eastern one.

    One of the nights at Kultura Zvuka – photo by Dima Kot

    A city that seems much quieter than it is in real life – main treasures of it are just a little bit deeper, than you think. you can find party series (that are still in the city or have relocated many years ago), talented producers and DJs, clubs with its own community – it seems that we have full complex here.

    Let’s start with the music – Kharkiv became a home for a very talented musician Yaroslav Lenzyak years ago. With his Soblazn Music label that started its history in 2016 focuses on microhouse, minimal techno, and experimental electronica. Previous to that Yaroslav hadalready showed his skills on Mulen Records. For him and his label this year was nice already – mentions on Deep Down, WaxAtLast and Mama Recordings for Mr. Lenzyak and 15 (mostly digital) releases on Soblazn. There is more to come.

    Another city’s place of power is what Kultura Zvuka did – like PORT or Closer they have built their own community and like Lviv guys schooled it with constant education through parties, lectures and other events. “We started in 2017, when our records and hi-fi equipment store has opened,Komponente, booking manager, Kultura Zvuka label co-owner and Tvir label owner says, “It was natural to make some lectures, vinyl picnics… Some of them were transformed into parties that we held right at our shop. That’s how the community was founded – there were more and more people at events. At some point we decided not to stick to some specific place, but do our parties through the whole Kharkiv. That process has led us to our own DJing school, music production school, booking agency and club with a studio”. With its “warm” Void sound system inside and great schedule filled with minimal, techno and breakbeat DJs like Alec Falconer, Bodin & Jacob and Benjamin Stager it seems that Kultura Zvuka did its maximum for the city. For now.

    Recently Kultura Zvuka crew has also launched their own label. On a first compilation (there will be only compilations in a near future) we can hear Berlin-based duo of Klein and Melchner, superhot names like Harry Wills and Luca Piermattei and the home team of Kurilo and Komponente. The label is planned as a business card for the Kultura Zvuka community, with artists and sounds that could be found in a club just as well as on releases of the label thus transforming the club’s schedule into a potential wax roster.

    How will a new label affect another creation of Komponente? Label Tvir, that was a little quieter recently, already had names like Evdokeem, Lumitecc, Vid Vai and Tommy Vicari Jr. in their roster? “Tvir is now into its period of transformation, – he answers, – there’s much more than just a label for me, I put my soul into it. Currently, I’m more into producing, but we have a couple of releases planned this year. Follow the updates – there will be more soon.”

    You heard the guy – follow the updates.