Brave! Factory Festival harnesses the energy of Kiev’s underground
Trend-spotters can’t have missed the recent cluster of articles presenting Kiev as an untapped frontier in DIY music and culture.
Read a little deeper and a familiar narrative emerges: faced with the corruption of their political leaders, a new generation has fought to find their own sense of freedom and identity. Progressive and Europe-facing, Ukraine’s young artists, creatives and promoters have, over the last few years, nurtured an underground clubbing scene that’s taken root in the country’s many abandoned spaces.
As such, the first Brave! Factory Festival offers an immersive snapshot of a homegrown scene gaining momentum. Organised by the team behind Kiev’s Closer parties, one of the main engines powering the Kievan cultural surge, the festival married a DIY sensibility with ambition, demonstrated by an electronic music line-up which brought international draws together with Closer residents and Ukrainian acts.
They couldn’t have had a better location for it. Taking place on the site of a decommissioned, Soviet-era rolling stock factory, its sprawl of outbuildings, warehouses and the salvaged detritus of heavy industry, it offered an evocative backdrop to a marathon party where beer was cheap, crowds were preternaturally cool and – judging by the uneven terrain – ankles were an afterthought. Or, as one German artist on the bill put it, “Like Berlin in ’93.” We know brand managers who’d give their Paccbett socks for such a validation.
Admittedly, Crack got thoroughly lost trying to locate the Truba stage where Laurel Halo was scheduled to play; a tube-shaped, corrugated garage set at the foot of a barely lit path. Still, once inside the sound was rich and full, augmenting the ASMR vocals and explorative synths of tracks like Jelly, providing an accessible weight and depth. Despite the baldly experimental tack that Halo has taken on Dust, the crowd were on-side, many of whom sitting cross-legged and strung out on the drift of alien sine waves.
This luxuriant, contemplative experience turned out to be a rare exception on a bill that generally favoured more robust textures. Nastia – one of the few Ukrainian techno artists to break out on a global scale – attracted a large crowd at the huge Angar stage (‘hangar’ in Ukrainian, they weren’t kidding) with high-BPM, aerodynamic techno. Also charged with filling the expanse was Robert Hood who drew on the high energy gospel-inflected edits that have recently become his DJ calling card, alongside well-timed drops of Spastic and Strings of Life. Judging by the sea of smiling faces, it was enough to imbue the most spiritually bereft with a little piece celestial joy.
As daylight broke over the site, many turned to Jus-Ed and Lawrence to help ease tired limbs into a new day. A stripped back and deep set, tracks like the Melchoir Productions Ltd. remix of Mandingo’s Universe II took on an almost restorative quality in the milky light. During these quieter hours, the festival gave rise to a surprising intimacy – there was no overcrowding and queues were non-existent. Indeed, the balance of genders meant many were happy to wile away hours dancing by themselves, with familiar faces (and outfits) cropping up time and again. And you tended to notice the outfits: give or take the odd A Cold Wall coat or statement designer piece, this is fashion free of diktats – a woman in a silk dressing gown, men in workwear complete with hardhats and, most strikingly, a multitude of Matrix-style teeny-tiny sunglasses.
Closer residents Noizar and Borys know this audience well, delivering a roiling, agile set on the tiny daytime stage that took in moody techno, bass and electro. The broken-back rhythms rhymed with the mid-morning energy levels, and when sun broke out over the girder-flanked stage, the effect was transportive. Londoner Jane Fitz was charged with keeping the mood going, albeit switching gears into energy-giving, bass-laden tech-house. Like Noizar and Borys, Fitz is also a regular at Closer and it showed in the way she steered into stranger textures without letting the energy dip – much to the delight of the increasingly wiggy dancefloor.
By 6 p.m., the sun dissipated into a bleak, relentless downpour. While the organisers were quick to react with makeshift weatherproofing of the outdoor stages, it felt like an apt time to leave. Still, we were in the minority, with much of the crowd committed to braving it out in ponchos. It seemed that, for many, the festival was too good a party to cut short. Certainly, despite the occasional teething problems (more and clearer signage, please) Brave! has the potential to be a real outlier in the jaded electronic music festival circuit: a grassroots proposition that captures the energy and enthusiasm of an underground scene gaining traction, harnessing ambition and creating something truly exciting. We can’t wait to see how it grows.