Ira Lupu

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, or How Two Quarreling Nations Found Love at a Shipyard Party

VICE Germany
November 2015
Read in German

There was a storm warning for that November night in Ukrainian port city of Odessa — but those who gathered for a musical event hosted by the local underground art platform Система (Systema), didn’t really care.

Seething white waters of the Black Sea were bumping themselves into the concrete foundation of a currently inactive shipyard area. Meanwhile, in one of the decaying wooden annexes there, nearly 400 young people were dancing with the same chthonic energy.

Built in 1896 as a gala hall for fleet officers, the 2-floor annexe became a rattle-box for that night , all throbbing from banging Funktion-One beats, and purple rays out of its windows. But, as Systema’s Vanya Samokrutkin and Lesha Mykhailov put it, that was no ordinary rave party. “All our events — this one, or Systema’s showcase we’ve done in Kyiv recently, or any other — has nothing to do with casual 48-hour partying to a number of monotone electronic patterns”, the organisers tell. “Systema’s podcast series contain mostly unique stuff composed by musicians from all around the world, with style palette ranging from pure techno or house to the most experimental subgenres. Thereafter, tonight we have live sets from Russian and Ukrainian performers with expressively artistic approach. So it’s all more about contemporary sound art.”

The party was headlined by producer Pavel Milyakov aka Buttechno, a king behind neoteric Muscovite label John’s Kingdom, Dmytrij Wulffius aka Ziziphus, a new prince of vibrant Crimean electro, and supported by a bunch of other notable experimental and sound art acts. Yet relaxed Odessa is not the place where people like to get too highbrow. Among the audience, there were few steady and cerebral listeners but mostly ever-thrilled Southerners who simply craved for good old Dionysian booze & dance. It was fun to observe a girl wearing a wild imitation of iconic rave outfit and unsuccessfully trying to adjust her dancing moves to a hazy, rhythmically patchy opening set by another John’s Kingdom artist P (Pyg System). Also, there were some tough bald guys in training suits who were so amazed to see the whole sabbath so their eyes turned into red squares. But why not? According to art-loving Samokrutkin, that was part of the night’s alchemy: “To me, the slight inconsistency of the musicians’ exquisite style and some visitors’ mainstream taste made the whole happening a real avantgarde”.

In the end, all the inconsistent universes collided, and even the aforementioned bald guys felt the party turned into an ecstatic blast. Buttechno’s phantasmal tunes and whip-like snares, Wulffius’ sweat-squeezing electro wave, P’s mysterious rustling, Kirk Blunder’s festive progressive-fusion-electro-funk, Bryozone’s enchanting vocals and tender flexi-house vibrations, Potreba’s fluid industrial motives and P.M.’s archaic tribal wafts. All the sonic splinters fell into one sonic collage, and all the hungry spirits bouncing in this old weird warehouse had surrendered to it.

At some point, the police came to the shipyard because somebody have vomited in the closed area of it. And I can’t disagree more with the vomiter because most parties make me really sick. But this night was like a sheer lucid dream. I wasn’t high, but at some point things have escalated to such a liberating extent that I can’t remember much more than the mere sounds, the blurred floating faces, the holographic view of red and green lasers cutting the air, and those cold and salty splatters of broken sea waves all over my face.

And yes — the political thing. All the Systema people, the artists, the visitors are relatively apolitical creatures, but the zeitgeist enforces me to write about this. It would be quite vulgar to call the event ‘a musical unity’, but maybe it was — as guys from territories involved in rather serious on-going conflict (Ukraine, Russia, Crimea) gathered together just to play and hang out peacefully. Yet it was not that easy to gather. Organisers had to draw up special notarial invitation for Russian musician, without any guarantee that Ukrainian customs would finally let him in. And Crimean artists had to make their problematic journey through the border that didn’t exist even two years ago, when Crimea was an undoubtful part of Russia.

Despite “certain hostility” (as proclaimed by media) that appeared between common citizens of Russia and Ukraine, no one from the audience had any problems with such an international line-up. At the party, I’ve met my classmate who is now a famous pro-Ukrainian, anti-Russian activist, and even she didn’t find it discomforting to dance to the music of a “hostile country’s” musician. The stinging moods of enmity and rejection have now settled between two countries of a very close historical background. But in this boiling cauldron, Systema’s night of youth craze became an island of peace and sheer (yet a bit drunk) human adequacy.