“What is KaZantip? What IS KaZantip?”
“KaZantip was astounding and unadulterated. The location is brilliant. I had an amazing time. I ran around in the Black Sea a bit, which seemed blue to me, but then again, I am completely colour blind.” Lenny Ibizarre
Chatting to Skrufff this week even more euphorically than usual, Ibiza icon and chill-out king Lenny Ibizarre admitted he’d been more than a little impressed by his first trip to KaZantip. But then he would be, given the Ukrainian Republic’s official freak friendly philosophy.
“Creative intellectuals are the most privileged class of the KaZantip society granted with preferences for getting minister’s portfolios, a legal right to jump the toilet queue and an entitlement to be nationally acclaimed,” Article Ten of the state’s official Constitution declares, “Freaks are considered to be the National Treasure protected by the Ministry of Culture.”
Fellow festival freak Richard Zijlma (Amsterdam Dance Event’s notoriously tousled haired guru who cannily qualifies as a National Treasure by being the only man on the beach who dares to wear checked grey shorts, grey socks and white trainers) agrees.
“KaZantip is a true experience,” he declares, “It’s a perfect way to enjoy electronic music and true beach life.”
But what is KaZantip? And why are freaks so revered? As the official website stresses it’s definitely not a festival (they prefer the term ‘project’) despite sharing more than a few similarities (http://KaZantip-republic.com/#/about/ ).
Firstly, it’s a three week long 24/7 nonstop music alfresco beachside event populated by hundreds of DJs, dancers, musicians and performers scattered across 6 dance floors, 30 bars and restaurants, two open air cinema halls and three kite surfing stations.
It’s also ‘an imaginary republic’ covering about two km2 of a Ukrainian beach, that caters to 100,000 or so party loving mainly Russians and Eastern Europeans who flock there each August, some of whom have been visiting for 19 years. It’s also largely devoid of ‘damn boring grown-ups’, they stress, instead being full of ‘cheerful bronzed lazybones, not really eager to say goodbye to their childhood’.
Plus not quite so bronzed lazybones such as Lenny, Kris Menace, Christian Cambas, Aaron Liberator, Patrick DSP, Dibby Dougherty-and Richard and I . . .
Located on the Western shores of the Ukrainian Black Sea, KaZantip is almost literally in the middle of nowhere, requiring a 100km dash from tiny (and decrepit) local airport Sebastopol, in the back of an (even more decrepit) 70s era Lada.
With facilities including old school French style squat as you go hole-in-the-floor toilets and a single bureau de change where they insist of selling cash without receipts, the airport itself is decidedly retro, as is my driver, who’s initially impossible to find, given that the placard he’s holding up saying ‘Mr Jonty Skrufff’ it’s written in Russian Cyrillic.
Several phone calls and much sign language later (he doesn’t speak a word of English either) I’ve found him and we’re on the way, driving across a sparsely populated bone dry countryside that takes 2 hours to cross . . .
“The main thing that stood out for me was the enormous lighting show they had. Each of the stages has huge, and I mean HUGE lasers and visuals. They can be seen from miles away.” Dibby Dougherty
Approaching after dark, the Republic suddenly appears on the horizon like a giant fluorescent fairground, as green lasers shoot beams, searchlight style off the tops of huge stages. The stages too are lit up luminously, and designed to look like croissants and Faberge eggs they glow with enticing intent.
Bordering the site is a small town, comprising low rise, prefabricated concrete structures, unpaved roads and bizarrely, at least one herd of 30 or so wild goats, who scavenge for scraps at the roadside in between menacing passing DJs who come too close.
Most of KaZantip’s visitors stay here in a network of private homes and basic hostels and with no five star accommodations within driving distance, DJs and invited guests make do too.
Exit Festival chief Bojan Boskovic (who is speaking at KaZantip’s fledgling conference, or ‘Summit’ as they call it) is one who’s surprised to have to share a sparsely furnished room with three others, while ADE man Richard is happy with his room’s micro-swimming pool and sauna, (which he also shares with three others).
Everybody’s staying just a five-minute stroll from the Republic, though, accessed via a meandering stroll down dusty alleyways and a mini flea market of food stalls and hippy shacks including one specialising in lap dancer gear.
Inside KaZantip, there’s a large expanse of dance floors, towers, gangways and sculptures, laid out (fairly) logically along the flat and very wide white sanded beach. Most of the structures are made out of concrete and metal and are permanent including new mega stages the Dark Side and the most impressive one: the Croissant, which includes a 15 metre swimming pool in the middle of its dance floor.
Overlooking everything is an accessible (by foot) tower while stretching out into the Black Sea via a narrow gangway is the O2 stage, where each evening one DJ spins a sunset set to the thousands scattered along the beach.
“The vibe reminded me a little of the old and early Ibiza days, but what also struck me is that KaZantip is less about the DJs and what music they play and more about just hanging out. It feels a little like a hippie festival, but without the hippies . . .” Kris Menace
Though a few hippies certainly are around (Lenny for one) KaZantip’s actually less chaotic and considerably more organised than its reputation suggests and with 10 or so stages offering music all night (and some all day) squabbling with DJs over set times is more of an issue than actually finding out where you’ve got to play.
Headliners over the three weeks include Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos though as Bojan from Exit points out in his summit speech, ‘you guys are lucky, because people come for the event not specific DJs. That’s every promoter’s dream.” Kris Menace (one of the few other big name jocks on the bill) agrees.
“KaZantip really isn’t about the music anyway, I found out,” he repeats.
“People rarely know anything about whichever DJ is playing and randomly walking around.”
In fact the busiest stage throughout is the medium sized Kiss FM stage where local heroes like Spartaque and visitors including Christian Cambas, James Harcourt (and me), spin generally harder types of tech-house. The Croissant stage, though spectacularly designed, requires effort and determination to find it, so while Guy Gerber’s Arma 17 sponsored set is packed in Thursday night, Bomb The Bass struggle with less than 50 or so devoted fans (including a delighted Patrick DSP).
“The beach was very nice, and trust me, being from Greece, my standards are pretty high for that.” Christian Cambas
“It was great to step on white sand everywhere you went and they really nailed it with the location,” Christian continues, “I spent one whole day on the beach just drinking and eating, but I can't recall where.”
The beach is certainly VERY nice and definitely KaZantip’s strongest selling point. With ash white sand and various bars and stages set back from the edge, all sorts of sounds and styles are on offer whether it’s Berlin style deep house and techno to euphoric trance and/ or disco.
Lenny Ibizarre has been invited as a personal friend of KaZantip’s enigmatic, (though apparently unapproachable) President, though like Christian finds himself irrevocably drawn to the seaside.
“The Bubble Bar had me in a vice for days.” Lenny chuckles, “From Russian mobsters to kafkan lobsters, we all got down and dirty!”
The Bubble Bar he refers to is at the top quarter of the beach and it’s fair to describe its catchment area as the elite end. Though there are no VIP areas at all at KaZantip, subtle nuances remain and the Bubble Bar’s core come from one place: Moscow: or more precisely Arma 17.
Long recognised as Russia’s most credible (and indeed fantastic) club, Arma 17 attracts both the movers and shakers of Russian nightlife and its most beautiful girls and the dancefloor around the Bubble Bar is full every day of bikini clad lovelies shimmering to deep house.
Lenny says he ‘met’ three (‘they were all called Maryna, which made things easy’, he laughs) though apart from a consistent stream of sometimes topless girls dancing on small podiums, the vibe is more about chatting, drinking, hanging out and/ or swimming.
More than a few girls also dance- for hours at a time- on the balls of their feet, as if they’re wearing invisible six inch stilettos. Chris Menace is not impressed, though not because they’re standing on the toes.
“The girls there are not really my type,” he asserts, “But that’s because I don’t really like nail polish, particularly on toes and they were all wearing nail polish,” he grumbles.
Further up the beach, towards the White Bar and Kiss FM stages, the vibe is more rough and ready (though friendly) and it’s here where Dibby Dougherty ends up spending more of his time.
“The beach is beautiful, the vibe there is unlike anywhere else. I watched the sunset and swam a lot, the water was crystal clear and the whole beach was litter free too which you wont find in many party locations,” he says.
Dibby’s main gig has been at the Croissant stage though like most DJs he ends up playing several impromptu sets at the bars and micro-stages scattered around.
“We did an after-party at Banana Bar outside the Darkside stage the day after,” he enthuses, “We played for hours and hours, everything from old disco records to modern techno, and were forced to stop at sunset as they wanted to put on some chill out music even though everyone was still partying like it was 1999.”
“I was lucky enough to have the locals point out to me a lot of the local traditions and history of the event. Such as the daily ‘clapping for the sunset’ on the bridge to the H2O club/stage.” Patrick DSP
With astonishingly beautiful sunsets a near certainty throughout August KaZantip has long marked each nightfall by turning off all systems except for one, where carefully selected DJs play ambient, chillout and ‘balearic’ style music for the entire crowd scattered along the beach.
During the time I’m there, Moscow’s Mike Spirit and Lenny both do sets and I’m honoured on my second day to be asked to fill in last minute when the scheduled DJ doesn’t turn up.
Readily agreeing, I’ve got just enough music to cover the two hour slot and finishing with Coldcut’s Autumn Leaves (the Irresistible Force Mix) and Vangelis’ Blade Runner Love Theme I surprise myself by being genuinely moved by the magic of the moment, feeling my eyes tearing up as the sun sets.
KaZantip- NOT the New Ibiza
“KaZantip contains less posh bullshit factors than Ibiza, it has WAY better music, and they can do what Ibiza cannot: Party outdoors on the beach all night long, baby. And that, my friend, is the killer punch.” Lenny Ibizarre
Though as his chosen DJ name suggests, Lenny can almost always be relied on to defend Ibiza as the best place on Earth, on this occasion, at least for August, he’s not so sure.
“Would I advise other DJs to come to KaZantip, absolutely,” he smiles, “And what better way to avoid Ibiza's oversaturated August Razzmatazz?”
Irish newcomer Dibby Dougherty is even more outspoken.
“I'm not keen on Ibiza, it seems to have become like Brighton with better weather,” he confides.
“I'm sure there are awesome parties there if you look hard enough but money seems to have destroyed that Island and I wouldn't care less if I ever went back- unless Space gave me a ring,” he laughs.
“KaZantip has everything you could want in a festival/holiday away. Amazing weather, fantastic stages with uber cool music, crazy people dancing naked or wearing alien costumes.”
One of the most interesting areas, that’s also new this year, is the Faberge stage, where for the first time a program of live acts perform, programmed by Moscow DJ R-Tem. A small but well designed space that’s open to the elements, it’s somewhat away from the main flow of tech-trance revellers but a decent enough crowd of a couple of hundred or so assemble for Brit contenders Fenech Solar, who put on an, in the main, impressive show.
Extremely tight and well rehearsed they deliver a catchy stream of sincerely delivered Therapy! meets Coldplay meets U2 style pop- electro-rock, that’s only slightly undermined by the fact they’re wearing colour coordinated designer stage costumes. The crowd likes them anyway.
At the other end of the Republic meanwhile, London acid techno legend Aaron Liberator and Canadian techno type Patrick DSP discover unexpected action hanging round the Shit Palace toilets as the sun rises the morning after their sets.
“The highlight for me was joining in a Soviet Union workers exercise regime with 50 or so inebriated ravers at 8am in one of the venues that also serves as a toilet . . . surreal!” Aaron confides.
“Who does aerobics in the toilet with a DJ booth?” Patrick concurs, “A lot of people actually. I don't think I stopped laughing for the whole time I was there.”
KaZantip: the Future?
With loads more permanent infrastructure and stages added this year, KaZantip appears to be in a state of transition with moments when it seems like not quite enough people are on site. Experienced visitors say many adopt 24 hour party/ dancing/ beach sessions sleep the next day cycles, and it seems clear that the event could comfortably fit in several more thousand people each night, with no danger of over-crowding.
And with KaZantip lasting for three weeks each summer, , more and global clubbing travellers are almost certain to turn up in future years, as well as DJs clamouring for a set.
“I would definitely recommend it to friends, it's ideal for a holiday in my opinion since there are a lot of things to do there and a whole bunch of DJs to see,” says Christian Cambas, “And as far as recommending it to fellow DJs, I would say it is a must, because I don't think there's anything like it in the world.”
“It's a very unique experience,” Aaron Liberator agrees, “You are well catered for with accommodation next door to the festival and for us Europeans it is cheap enough to not break the bank. But most of all its just plain good fun,” he says.
Dibby Dougherty is even more excited.
“Since I have got back I haven't stopped singing its praises, I will go back for sure and stay longer next time. I highly recommend it to everyone, go there and let loose.”
“I would recommend that you should have played or seen KaZantip at least once in your life. It’s quite an experience,” Kris Menace concurs.
“Though if you are a fancy picky superstar DJ, don’t go there, you won’t enjoy it. But if you are a DJ who loves to have new experiences, have fun.”
Patrick DSP has the last word.
“I think the event definitely has huge potential, particularly with next year being their 20th anniversary,” he says, “Let’s just hope that the techno tourists don’t scare away the locals in the future.”
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff
Article by Jonty Skrufff
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