Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant, Moscow
Arma17 was a Moscow institution, frequently cited as a standout gig for DJs, and by all accounts a jewel in Europe’s clubbing landscape. Having seen their second site closed down last year, the collective behind the club have focused on taking their experience to various unorthodox locations around the city, and the world.
One of their various projects is Outline, a flagship festival which last year took over a man-made island, and this year inhabited the brutalist ruins of an industrial site with its loosely techno-centric music policy and liberally-minded crowd. Teaming up with film collective Stereotactic and visual studio/production company Sila Sveta, Outline takes the form of one continuous, 24-hour party, times became warped across its duration; whether the sun is coming up or coming down becomes a technicality, the entire site one living, pulsating organism.
A thrilling snapshot of a dedicated underground community within a city marred by an often unfavourable international reputation, here are a few of the factors which made Outline such a remarkable achievement.
This year’s location was a disarming, beautifully-dishevelled ruin of industry in East Moscow. Announcing itself with two domineering, red cooling towers, the Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant may lie near something so everyday as a bustling shopping centre, but it felt blissfully isolated and, in a sense, entirely unconcerned with the 7,000 or so punters about to enter; piles of rubble and equipment lay carelessly in corners, relics of the site’s industrial past haunted the occasional wall and backrooms were filled with a procession of dingy mattresses and strange, scrappy murals.
The festival was split into a series of easily-defined stages: the MAIN room, a cavernous warehouse and the event’s most conventional clubbing space, welcoming Nina Kraviz and Atom TM + Robin Fox live; the DARK room, a beautifully-preserved, almost claustrophobic concrete box; the DEPO, a square, outdoor framework at the festival’s outskirts where the crowd engulfed the artist; the WOODZ, a diminutive, organic area under a canopy of greenery and fairy lights, and the beating heart of Outline; and the SUN stage, which welcomed an array of live acts into Sunday’s bleary rays and pummelling storms.
The site was dotted with visual art installations – an eerie room full of candles and crows, a ladder to nowhere, an endlessly tumbling waterfall in skeletal form – and traversed by a series of long-disused railway lines, which led a natural flow between areas. This was also the plant’s swansong – later this year, the site will be demolished to nothing.
The dark arts
The opening evening brought a showcase of dense and potent sounds into the festival’s best indoor space, DARK, from two of the UK’s finest live acts. First up, Andy Stott gathered a huge crowd in amongst the hard lines and unforgiving angles, as a backdrop lit up in subtle squares of colour like an altar behind his bobbing silhouette. Rather than overwrought light shows, the space’s original lighting fixtures, neon striplights and panicking emergency lights, throbbed and swelled like a meltdown. The set consisted of deep, sticky bottom end junk punctuated by slamming snares, offbeat jungle with missing fills rendering it more primal, sparser and more mindfully brutish, the power of the rhythms causing ceiling detritus to dislodge from above and gather in my hair.
The crowd was mysteriously sparser for the set which followed: a magisterial display of storytelling schlock techno from Demdike Stare. Against a graphic backdrop of video gnarlies, anatomical body horror montages and ancient iconography, Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker worked horrid miracles around the consistent structure of a grunting kick. The narrative was both visual and audible, as the pair wove wicked fictions around harsh sounds and mutant, misanthropic dub.
Exiting the wombic space just after 3am, the sun had begun to come up and the air was pale. No one had warned me that this would happen. It felt strangely symbolic – music wouldn’t get darker all weekend.
The festival organisers took great satisfaction in utilising Outline as a showcase for artists from the thriving Moscow underground. So as well as Nina Kraviz’s borderline religious greeting onto the MAIN stage on Sunday morning, backed by a huge wall of entourage behind the decks, this was a great opportunity to become exposed to some local talent. Philipp Gorbachev, whose The Silver Album made such an impact last year, played a typically eccentric and well-attended live show with The Naked Man live band on Sunday evening, while after Heatsick’s display of bizarro lo-fi synth action under a ferocious 5am sun, the locals took over, impressive live sets from Freska and, particularly, respected Moscow artist Alex Danilov, followed by a DJ set from Arma17 stalwart Abelle taking Outline deep into its second day.
There’s a reason some people are considered leaders of their field, and both Ben UFO and Ricardo Villalobos provided emphatic proof why they’re two of the best on the planet at what they do.
Coming off the back of a disappointingly linear live set from Russian duo Poima, UFO’s 4am (but almost daylight) set amongst the shrubbery of the WOODZ stage was immediately tasked with bringing a slightly muted crowd back to life. His reaction was to cease the 4/4 journey in its tracks, allow a brief flicker of silence, then delve headlong into 20 minutes of slamming percussive rhythms. His set gradually segued into a wave after wave of undulating, sharp UK techno.
No such challenge faced Villalobos, who stepped up to the decks around at least an hour later than billed following a superb and engrossing, afternoon-spanning set of unfurling house rhythms from Sonja Moonear. He was on stunning form – this is his natural environment, and it showed. A row of heads, perhaps those moving into their 20th or so hour on site, bobbed from low to lower around the booth, as the crowd swelled and seethed to an endlessly cyclical exercise in deep and shuffling minimal with slippery vocal snippets which disappeared, only to return 10, 20 minutes later, like delayed echoes. He gradually drifted into earthy bass tones and joyous carnivalesque sundown sounds. Camisra (Tall Paul)’s late-90s UK classic Let Me Show You has never felt so surreally euphoric; Floorplan’s Baby Baby so gloriously spiritual.
The overwhelming attitude emanating from much of this crowd was one of gratitude; of appreciating so much global talent descending upon Moscow, and of the efforts of the organisers for making this unique event a reality. Attendees were liberally-minded, elated and fully committed to the party. Little things, like spotting someone stood in front of the decks for most of Ricardo Villalobos’s set gleefully holding a dictaphone up, bootlegging the experience, retaining the memory, emphasised that sense.
Outline is a very special festival, realised by an important community at the heart of Moscow’s clubbing life. The people who attend Outline fully, unreservedly recognise this, and respond accordingly. The festival officially ended at 10pm on Sunday, but when we left in the early hours of Monday morning, there was still a large and devoted crowd losing themselves to the sounds of a;rpia;r in the pulsating woods, showing no intention of leaving. They’re probably still going now.
All Photography: © Camille Blake