BRUDNIY PES Ukraine party – photo of a crowd of people dancing and shouting outside, surrounded by clouds of smoke.
Brundniy Pes Festival. Photos: courtesy Harry Pledov

How the Ukrainian Rave Scene Is Surviving the War

“Nobody knows when the war will end, so we can't be sitting at home scared for our lives all the time.”
Tim Fraanje
Amsterdam, NL

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

In recent years, Kyiv’s vibrant and progressive dance scene earned the city the nickname  “new Berlin”. But Russia’s invasion of the country on the 24th of February, 2022, deeply challenged the city’s nightlife industry – just like most other areas of life in Kyiv.

When the club Closer, one the city’s most famous venues, celebrated its birthday in October 2022, a number of international DJs made their way to the Ukrainian capital to show their support. But for the most part, Ukrainian artists and party people have only had each other to rely on to keep the scene alive. Amazingly, the war hasn’t stopped the scene from thriving, and many Ukrainian DJs and promoters have managed to make the most out of the dire circumstances.


Musician and event organiser Harry Pledov was one of the first people in Ukraine to throw a large-scale cultural event after the invasion. At the beginning of the war, he dropped his day job to help with the manufacturing of bulletproof vests, but has since gone back to music.  

“We’re part of a cultural front,” says Pledov, discussing his involvement in the second edition of art festival Art is a Weapon, which takes place on the 25th of February, to mark the anniversary of the Russian invasion. The first edition, which he launched in May of last year, was the first major festival in the country since the start of the invasion.

“It was an interdisciplinary event with art, music, theatre, and film mainly featuring work by young Ukrainian artists,” he says. “Those weren’t really parties yet, we would have gotten a lot of hate for that and I wouldn’t have been ready for it either. But as the war drags on, everyone understands the importance of partying.” 

In recent months, Ukrainian people have started going out to cinemas and restaurants again. “We need to keep remembering what normal life feels like,” Pledov says. 

Last summer, his label Polygon and two other organisations, SVYST en Grvgrv, launched the first electronic music festival since pre-invasion times, Brudniy Pes (Dirty Dog). The festival – which featured many experimental artists –had to be held during the day, given the 11PM curfew that’s been enforced in the city since the start of the war. It lasted two days and all proceedings (about €2,500) were donated to the army.


“It was really huge, we gathered 2,500 people,” Pledov says. “We had b-boys and some professional teams of graffiti masters.” Now, he’s focusing on organising smaller parties for 500 to 600 people about once a month, but that comes with its own challenges. “We can experience power cuts for 12 hours or more,” Pledov says. “And many rental companies – for lights, for example – no longer exist.” 

BRUDNIY PES Ukraine party – Dj set with one man spinning and one singing, both wearing white shirts, surrounded by a crowd of people jumping up.

A DJ set at Brudniy Pes. Photos: courtesy of Harry Pledov​

All the parties’ proceeds go towards the army, but the parties’ purpose is bigger than that. “They provide people with energy,” Pledov says. “Energy they can convert to volunteering, for example.” Besides, some of the DJs in their lineups are actually soldiers back from the front. “Sometimes, they go back fighting afterwards,” he says.

According to Pledov, the war has given the Ukrainian electronic music scene a huge boost. “International DJs no longer dare to come because of the shelling,” he says. “And we’ve gotten rid of anything related to Russian culture – the songs, videos and movies that were popular. We now see it as our mission to fill that gap with Ukrainian culture.” One of the projects the label launched in this spirit was a digital album compilation, Volunteers, released on the 3rd of February.


As well as becoming more focused on local talent, the scene has become less commercial and more collaborative, too. Artist Ruslan Pylypenko, also known as RUSIIICK, is one of Pledov’s most frequent collaborators. Before the war, he used to mainly sing in rock bands, then Pledov asked him to MC once: Now he runs his own party collective. 

“Nobody knows when the war will end, so we can't be sitting at home scared for our lives all the time,” Pylypenko says. Last summer, he worked together with Pledov on the Brudniy Pes festival. Just like all other events he’s organised recently, the festival is not commercial – the entry fee last year was about €5 per day.

According to Pylypenko, the scene has changed a lot during the war – especially since most parties take place in the daytime. “Everyone is sober,” he says. “You only have five hours to party, you meet some friends and listen to some music, then the party is over and you have to go home.” Curfews aside, people want to be ready to take cover. “It’s wartime,” he continues. “You have to stay focused and sober, because the bomb shell can strike anytime and nobody knows what will happen.” 

Music tastes have changed, too. “Years ago, Kyiv looked like Berlin – dark clubs, dark rooms, down music,” Pylypenko continues. “But now, because it's daytime, because it's not time for drugs and alcohol, it's becoming more Ukrainian.” British sounds like breakbeat are popular, too. “People want something new and UK music is more uplifting,” Pylypenko says.


This change in taste has also been noted by DJ Ihor Zadorozhny, who often plays at Pledov's parties. “Before the war, most people listened to tech house and techno,” Zadorozhny says. “But all the famous DJs who played those genres left when the war started.” 

Zadorozhny plays a lot of breakbeat and drum'n'bass, and has been able to perform much more. “First it was just my hobby, now I understand that it had to become my life,” he says. The departure of big names in the scene left an opening for him and other upcoming artists to make a name for themselves. “The type of music we play also sounds like war,” Zadorozhny says. “I play a lot of neurofunk and hard drum'n'bass, which feature metallic sounds, machines, explosions.”

Zadorozhny has been in the army for 14 years and recognises the rush of the battle in his favourite music. In the first weeks of the war, he was called for duty to defend the town Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv. Irpin became one of the fiercest battlegrounds in the country, and Ukraine eventually won.

“That was a very serious battle, with mines and artillery,” he recalls. When he came home and learned his wife was pregnant, he chose to leave the military. Now, in addition to DJing, he runs the Ukrainian chapter of the High Reliability Organisation Council (HROC), a healthcare-focused think tank affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defence. 

Zadorozhny thinks people aren’t going to parties to escape the psychological impact of the war, but to reflect and process their experiences. “No one will be surprised if this takes another ten years,” he says. “And after the war, it’ll take a few years more for us to celebrate our victory.”