In the summer of 2021, Ukraine’s authorities finally eased quarantine rules. That gave the green light to major festivals: Ostriv, Rhythm Büro: Natura, Brave! Factory, etc. But another player has entered the scene in Kyiv: the founders of the Georgian techno-club Bassiani are going to hold a two-day festival ISKRA. And they say, ‘ISKRA isn’t a guest. It’ll stay here’.
The festival will take place on the territory of the Soviet sanatorium Khvylia and start with football matches on 23 July. The line-up includes 45 foreign and local artists, such as Jeff Mills, Lena Willikens, DVS1, Bassiani’s residents (HVL, Zitto, NEWA, Kancheli, and NDRX), and an impressive group of Ukrainian artists.
The organizers promise to offer guests a completely new experience and clear the way for local artists to gain international fame.
Ania Belous met with Bassiani’s co-owner Zviad Gelbakhiani and ISKRA’s communications director David Chikhladze to find out why they opted for Kyiv, what they think about the competition on the local stage, who helped select the line-up, and what to expect from the first festival.
Ania: How do you like Kyiv? Have you tasted borscht?
David: It’s a good question. (Laughing) I like Borshch magazine.
Ania: I’m kidding. First of all, I’d like to ask you how Bassiani’s team got through one and a half years of quarantine. As far as I know, you haven’t thrown any parties since the beginning of spring 2020, and they’re still banned in Georgia.
Zviad: It’s true; the club has been closed since March. We had hard times. But we got financial support from the mayor of Tbilisi who helped us survive. The club is closed now, and we don’t know when it’s open. It all depends on the COVID-19 situation.
David: Note that the club industry was at the top of the list for quarantine restrictions in Tbilisi. For a long time, we’ve had no parties in the city, but now everything is—gradually yet slowly—starting to open.
Zviad: We’re talking about street parties.
David: We don’t know when clubs are open.
Ania: When did you get the idea to organize the festival? Did you come up with it before or in connection with the pandemic?
Zviad: We came up with the idea to organize a big event outside Georgia a long time ago. But we had no time to make and arrange our plans, as we always have a lot of other work. Therefore, I’d say that the quarantine gave us an opportunity to come up with something for Kyiv. We came here and spent a lot of time getting ISKRA ready.
Ania: Why did you opt for Kyiv for such a big event?
David: We were thinking it over for a long time. Kyiv is the point where eastern and western cultural experiences meet. It’s not only a geographical crossroads but also a kind of cultural melting pot.
We—people with a post-Soviet and post-socialist experience—consider the idea of the transformation period to be important. And, as it seems to me, it’s a great place for the birth of new cultures. Kyiv is part of the post-socialist and European scene and the place where many roads cross and where different people can meet and get their experiences.
Ania: What was the most difficult thing when organizing such a festival abroad?
Zviad: We faced bureaucracy. Compared to Georgia, Ukraine requires more time to register a company. We had difficulties with that, but everything is alright now. Ukraine is gradually making such processes simpler for non-residents.
David: All this time Kyiv has been amazingly hospitable towards us. We feel the support of the electronic music community and everyone around us.
Ania: You’ve probably been to the main clubs and parties in Kyiv. How would you describe the local scene? What new things can you offer?
David: I’m sure each scene is unique. Of course, each place has some basic trends: mainstream, alternative, and underground. But each has its own spark. And I like yours. (Laughing) It’s great here!
I visited various parties in Kyiv, and it was always a lot of fun. I love Tbilisi the different way, of course. But Kyiv ranks among the best scenes in Europe. People know how to dance here!
Ania: Zviad, would you add anything?
Zviad: We have our own Tbilisi experience that we plan to combine with local artists and local culture. It’ll be an international festival for local guys. 95% of our team is locals. If we compare ISKRA with other festivals, we’re more like a crossroads of different cultures than others. I don’t know whether it’s an advantage, but that’s how it goes.
David: I think we can offer Kyiv more internationalism. It seems to me that it’s difficult to find a European electronic scene representative who hasn’t heard of Bassiani. And Bassiani’s decision to go beyond Georgia is a big event not only for Tbilisi or Kyiv but for the whole of Europe.
Zviad: I agree. I remember what the press coverage was like during the protests, and what they’re saying about ISKRA now. The world’s major media follow us and cover our projects.
David: Everyone’s saying about that. I think it’s a great opportunity for Kyiv to come into the spotlight at the international level.
Zviad: The biggest portion of our line-up is Ukrainian artists. We didn’t want to invite foreigners who would crowd out local DJs. We aim to make ISKRA a ‘very Kyiv’ event—just like Bassiani in Tbilisi at the beginning. With its identity that’s known all over the world.
David: It’s exciting for us to discover new people, places, and parties. We’ve met many local artists who just blow our minds. Kyiv has so much to tell the world about. First of all, it’s music.
Zviad: When we started our journey, Tbilisi had no stage; there were separate clubs. Great artists refused to join in. This is what we want to help Kyiv with.
We’re not saying that only ISKRA will bring Kyiv to a new level. This process must involve all players. I know that many people will come from Berlin and other cities around the world to visit ISKRA. Many of them plan to visit Kyrylivska, Closer, and other clubs. And we’re happy to be a part of this scene, as you can’t do big things on your own.
David: We’re not going to compete with anyone. On the contrary, we’re willing to make the community stronger, bring people together, share our experience, create something new, and do incredible things.
Clubbing isn’t McDonald’s. If the city and its inhabitants want to make sure everything works out, they must give feedback and take part in creating the festival.
Zviad: I think we have about five Georgians in our team —and two hundred Ukrainians.
Ania: If ISKRA takes place next year, will Kyiv host it again?
Zviad: It’s a Kyiv festival that’s being organized in Kyiv and will exist in Kyiv only. With a 99% probability, next year it’ll be held in Khvylia again, as this location is simply amazing.
David: ISKRA isn’t a guest. It’ll stay here.
Zviad: Definitely not a guest.
David: ISKRA will become part of Kyiv, and it’ll stay here.
Ania: Who helped you select the line-up? It has high-profile international figures, but at the same time, there are many local performers. Many of them are well known in Ukraine, but not all of them are known abroad.
Zviad: We usually form line-ups ourselves. But this time the guys from 20ft Radio helped us. They gave us their list. We went over their list; it was cool. We had a kind of collaboration.
Ania: What should we expect besides music? You’ve already announced the discussions. Also, I’ve heard about art installations. Could you tell us more about that?
Zviad: We want to organize not only a techno or house music festival. It’ll unite many different activities: football tournaments, all kinds of sports elements, panel discussions, art installations, and more.
Dana Kosmina and Alina Kleitman are making their installations. We’re delighted that they’ve joined our project.
David: ISKRA isn’t just a dance event. Of course, it’s a dance event as well. But it’s a multi-faceted festival and a celebration of culture that comprises many components, such as discussions, sports, and art. It offers various activities that rhapsodize over the local culture.
Ania: Please tell us more about sports. It’s all clear about art and music. But what does sport have to do with it? Why?
David: We’re going to have a football tournament with eight teams from the electronic scene. There’ll be the following teams: Bassiani, ISKRA, Veselka, 20ft, Kultura zvuka, and others. We’ll play football matches before the festival starts, and we’ll raise money for charity.
It seems to me that sports and similar activities are what bring people together within the community. Parties are perfect for meeting people, but we can offer many other levels of communication and community building. That’s why we’ll have a football tournament. We’re happy with this idea and urge people to join our team in every possible way!
Ania: I’ll root for Veselka’s team.
David: By the way, all of the teams will have both male and female players. I think it’ll be an interesting experience, and I advise everyone not to miss the matches.
Ania: ISKRA will take place at a Soviet sanatorium Khvylia. Why did you choose this location?
David: It wasn’t that easy to make a choice.
Zviad: We want to provide a unique experience for all guests of our festival. The sanatorium’s area enables us to add sports, discussions, etc. We didn’t want to copy and paste something that already existed on the Ukrainian stage. We know Brave! Factory, a great festival with its vibe, Rhythm Büro: Natura that takes place in nature, and many other festivals. Their projects are great, but we want to create something new.
Ania: Let me clear up the question. This is a Soviet sanatorium. Your interviews and announcements convey quite a lot of ‘post-Soviet’ or ‘rising from the Soviet ashes’ vibes. Don’t get me wrong, but in a sense, it’s reminiscent of post-Soviet fetishism.
David: No, it’s more about accepting and understanding your culture. The sanatorium concept is quite interesting. It’s a place for the working class where its representatives can have a high-quality rest. It looks like a Western hotel, but at the same time, it’s something unique.
It’s about spa, sports, and nature—all together. People lived like that, and they liked all of that. We’re trying to rethink this culture and find a way to use this place today. That’s interesting to me, and I hope it’ll be interesting to our guests as well.
Ania: Many of us, including me, spent a part of our childhood in Soviet sanatoriums.
David: And did you like that?
Ania: Yes, I did.
David: Then why not try looking at it from a different angle?
Ania: I liked the mud baths.
David: We have a salt room! It’s insanely interesting. It’s a room with a lot of salt that somehow heals you.
Ania: Do you think that it’s a common history that unites Ukrainians and Georgians?
David: Undoubtedly. It’s a huge common background. That’s why we decided to hold a discussion in particular.
People who went through post-Soviet and post-socialist changes and then invented their own approaches in the cultural industry need to communicate more.
It’s extremely interesting to hear about the experience of Kyiv, Belgrade, and Baku. It’ll be an important conversation, as it’s a cultural dialogue that can make the community of all these cities stronger.
Ania: We know that the club Kyrylivska has planned to hold a special two-day event and open new locations on the dates of your festival long before you’ve announced ISKRA. Do you know about that?
Zviad: Of course, we didn’t. We’re here not to compete. July seemed like a perfect option to us, as it doesn’t concur with two major festivals: Rhythm Büro: Natura and Brave! Factory. There are many other events and clubs. So, it’s impossible to take everything into account. We talked with Closer and Kureni. And we were sure that Kyrylivska would hold its regular klubnacht.
We even planned to shift our dates, but Jeff Mills and our other headliners can only arrive on the announced dates. Fortunately, Kyrylivska’s founders met us halfway and managed to postpone their event.
Why would we do that on purpose? That’s crazy. If we had known about that in advance, we would have avoided situations like that.
Anya: Whom do you recommend listening to at the festival?
Besides, I like the music by Vera Logdanidi. As you can see, I’m more into Ukrainian artists.
David: Don’t forget about the team from Tbilisi if you want to listen and understand what Bassiani is. I guess the best way to understand that is the music by Zitto. You’d be amazed by the raves at Bassiani when he plays! People literally go crazy, and it’s fantastic.
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