The sun was softly coming-up over the unforgiving cityscape of Kiev's dusky high rises. I was sat with my new friend Roma on a half-finished bridge over Dnieper River, looking out on the city. It was the end of the night and we'd decided to go for a walk after partying at CXEMA, Kiev's foremost underground techno rave. Roma is part of the CXEMA crew. At their first party in 2014 just a 100 people went. This one had a 1,000 in attendance. I asked why the bridge, which could've been decades old, remained unfinished. Roma's response was simple: "this is Ukraine".
Eight hours earlier, at the beginning of the night, I'd found myself stepping over a disused railway line on the edge of the Podil district of Kiev. I was drawn in by the heavy drone of Kiev's rising techno pioneers. Previous CXEMA raves had been held at a vacant office block, a skate park under a bridge and at inactive factories. This one was on the third and fourth floor of a former ship building workshop in the city's dockyards.
As I entered there was something appropriate about the setting. The heavy electronic soundscapes from Ukrainian DJs Voin Oruwu, Wulffius and CXEMA resident Borys had a probably unintentional yet apt homage to the former glory of the location itself, the sounds and repetition of the men and machines that once worked there.
There's probably a part of CXEMA which is about reclaiming industrial spaces. In a country beset by a prolonged economic downturn, it makes sense for the youth to look back to the city's productive industrial past for answers. But CXEMA isn't nostalgic, rather forwarding thinking, born out of the 2014 political unrest that caused the widespread shutdown of Kiev's nightlife. The founder of CXEMA Slava Lepsheev tells me "the nights are even better now than before the revolution and things are changing because of what young people are doing."
Slava has been DJing in Ukraine for fifteen years, but because of the revolution he saw nightlife all but disappear. There was nowhere for people to party in Kiev. Government curfews and the obvious suspicions the authorities had with large groups of people congregating didn't exactly create the ideal context for a thriving club scene. But young people will always want to party, perhaps even more so during times of instability and when the future is uncertain. And this is why Slava created CXEMA.
To get around the bureaucratic barriers that can make it difficult to throw loud late night raves, Slava hosts CXEMA in a different location each time, away from the centre of Kiev. This also avoids any unwanted attention from drug law enforcement police that have been known to disrupt nightclubs in the city centre.
They have now grown in popularity but as Slava says, "it isn't about making money." CXEMA is about Kiev's brash and fashionable youth coming together to express themselves. They are finding an identity in the music and the rehashed 90s branded sports gear and fur coats they like to wear.
The Euromaidan uprising in 2014, in which over a hundred people died protesting against the government, has also played a part in forming Kiev's post-revolution identity. Some of the CXEMA crew took part in Euromaidan, including one of the organisers Nazariy who told me about the effect it has had on youth culture. "The Euromaidan brought people together and created a community, but once it finished we wanted to continue that. This is what CXEMA is about. The rave is political even if people don't realise it themselves, it's about community".
During the night I spoke to a number of Kiev's young ravers in the smoking area. There were many contrasting opinions about the situation in Ukraine for young people and what to do about it. But what was obvious about the ravers at CXEMA was that they didn't want to be anywhere else but Kiev right now.
A few people at CXEMA told me that before 2014 they'd wanted to move to other European cities. Yet now, even in spite of all what is going on in their country—a war in eastern Ukraine, a collapsing currency and political corruption—they wanted to be in the Ukrainian capital, part of the emergent youth culture that CXEMA is creating.
CXEMA is also of course about showcasing really great techno music. I spoke to CXEMA resident Igor Glushko about techno in Kiev. "In Ukraine some say the people like techno because it's a form of escapism; I think it's just the most functional form of music to dance to. You can see that at CXEMA, the crowd is always really responsive and enthusiastic." Igor also co-runs Rhythm Büro, a night in Kiev which is beginning to attract international artists like Steve Bicknell who played at their most recent party in March.
The DJs who play at CXEMA are almost exclusively from the city itself. After their recent successes, CXEMA had also upped their game in terms of production. I walked into the main room and hanging from the roof was an intense light show which, coupled with the home-grown techno music and repurposed industrial space, created the sort of raw raving experience that has come to be expected at Kiev's most progressive night.
On the Monday evening after the night, to help take stock, the CXEMA crew took me to a basement bar that their friend had set-up. They joked how they can now drink somewhere which isn't owned by an oligarch. They told me that part of what CXEMA is about, and what young people in Kiev are doing at the moment, is creating a DIY culture. They enthused long into the evening about other nights being set-up in the city, the growing importance of fashion and the visuals arts, as well as a political magazine created by one of the CXEMA crew.
After the night I'd spent raving at CXEMA, as I sat above the Dnieper River, I could see three unfinished bridges not including the one I was resting on. Kiev's youth are frustrated with political corruption and with things not getting done, part of reason protestors ousted President Yanukovych in 2014. Roma told me he took part in Euromaidan because there was some hope. He feels not much has changed. But instead of waiting for bridges to be built, Kiev's youth are now building their own. With CXEMA creating a community of people who love techno and fashion, going to parties and reclaiming their city's forgotten spaces.