Despite the ongoing war with Russia and a looming threat of danger, the Ukrainian capital is regaining its energy: bars are open, daytime parties are back and optimism is in the air.

Despite the ongoing war with Russia, Kyiv’s electronic music scene is slowly coming back to life. It’s the fifth month of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the beginning of the war, the Ukrainian army made a great effort to protect Kyiv and repel attacks from the north.

Around the start of April, Russia ordered some of its troops to leave Kyiv’s outskirts in order to regroup and attack Ukraine from the south and the east. But even with no Russian tanks on the streets in Kyiv, the feeling of safety is lost due to the constant threat of rockets.

Every day sirens remind people of the looming danger. The threat of a second occupation attempt is real. On June 26th, Russian forces fired 14 missiles at the city, striking a residential building and a kindergarten in a central neighbourhood. Martial law, which forbids men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country, remains in place nationwide.

Despite this, many of Kyiv’s residents have returned home. The city is alive, particularly culturally. Cinema and theatres have reopened and concerts and art events happen weekly. Electronic music is also back, though mostly in the form of fundraiser events and smaller bar gigs. Nighttime events are impossible because of the curfew, which lasts from 11 PM through 5 AM. Daytime events have become the norm as the need to come together is stronger than ever. Music and socialising combine with a greater purpose of collecting money for the army and humanitarian groups.

On June 18th, the Strum collective organised a party to raise money for local producer Distortion (UA), who was wounded while serving on the front lines. The crowds at these events are mostly made up of young Ukrainians from the scene, many of whom are cultural workers and activists who have spent the war effort volunteering and fundraising. Some were based at clubs like Closer, Otel’ and (AKA K41), which were repurposed as volunteer bases and shelters. Kyiv’s club scene has never been as socially conscious as it is today. In mid-May, after two months of operating as a volunteer base, Closer reopened its café, Savage Food, and its outdoor dance floor, Lisnyi Prychal.

The latter celebrated its nine-year anniversary earlier this month. The daytime event included non-dance DJ sets, a live jam and an art exhibition. Closer’s record store and DJ school have also reopened, as well as a new shop selling second-hand instruments and DJ gear. “We’ve opened for a non-dance music format,” cofounder Sergiy Vel told Resident Advisor. “Music is always the best inspiration and our experienced artists collect many kinds of music. We also reopened the DJ school, as it’s an essential component of our activity. We’re not ready to broadcast dance music yet.”

Public opinion on electronic events is split, which has led to many arguments in broader Ukrainian society. While some believe it’s essential to try and find some light in the darkest times, others say it’s inappropriate and should be left until after the war. The perennial stigmatization of electronic music and its association with carefree hedonism hasn’t helped.

There have been misunderstandings and encounters with the police, who have raided Otel’ multiple times even though the club was closed. Local promoters have been focusing on art and education as well as music. Art-Weapon, which took place on May 14th and was the first major event in Kyiv since the war began, exemplified this mixed format.

Several similar events followed, such as Na Chasi on June 25th at Nyzhnoiurkivska Str. 31, the cultural complex home to Closer, Otel’ and other spaces. (The second Na Chasi event was announced earlier today, July 11th.) “Considering the war started in 2014 and for the past eight years Kyiv has become one of the iconic spots for electronic music, I don’t see parties as inappropriate,” DJ and promoter Daniel Detcom, who is currently serving in the Ukraininan army, told RA. “However, in my opinion, people should act more responsibly, stay relatively sober and always keep in mind the possibility of an emergency.”

One local promoter Rhythm Büro, believing the end of the war is near, has even confirmed a new date for its festival, Natura, in August 2023. “I cannot blame others for hosting parties if all needed security measures are taken,” said cofounder Igor Glushko. “We have to realize that for many people it’s a job, and there are no alternatives when it comes to being able to feed their families.

For attendees, parties are a well-deserved chance to find psychological relief. Many organisers are doing events for charitable causes, which is a noble thing to do. We, as Rhythm Büro, decided we wouldn’t be doing anything events-wise shortly, but this is our personal choice, and we don’t want to force it on others.” He added: “The possibility of clubs reopening will depend on the general consensus of physical safety in a given region. While there’s still a risk of possible missile hits and a nighttime curfew [in Kyiv], it’s not the environment in which nightlife can bloom. However, things can change quite rapidly. We all hope positive change arrives soon.”

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