Summer season highlights 20 years of Kazantip Annual rave republic on Crimean coastline prepares to mark two decades of hedonism
Up to 50,000 revelers are expected to descend on the Crimean seaside resort of Popovka this July and August for what promises to be one of Eastern Europe’s largest ever beach parties. Ukraine’s Kazantip rave festival will be marking its 20th anniversary this summer, and many of those who fell in love with the event over the past two decades are expected to attend the jubilee celebrations. For just over two weeks starting on 31 July, the beachfront panorama of the normally peaceful Popovka village will be transformed into the self-styled Republic of Kazantip – a super-chic world of free love, hedonistic excess and plastic yellow suitcases. Nudity will be the norm and sleep strictly optional as the youth (and the young at heart) of the former USSR let their hair down around the clock to a soundtrack of non-stop techno trance.
Big name DJs expected for jubilee festival
This is the oldest and best of the many rave festivals to have sprung up across the former Soviet empire since the end of the Cold War. As Kazantip’s international reputation has grown over the intervening years it has managed to attract a string of leading international clubland names as headliners, including the likes of Paul Van Dyk and Carl Cox. This year’s DJ line-up is being kept strictly confidential until the very last minute – as it is every year – but devotees are counting on some very famous faces indeed as they prepare to mark the festival’s jubilee in style.
Still chic despite decades of commercialization
Despite enjoying considerable mainstream recognition in today’s Ukraine, the Kazantip festival remains very much a child of the early 1990s post-Soviet counter-culture. It has succeeded in maintaining a semblance of its original alternative ambience, despite what has admittedly been two decades of slow but steady commercialization. Nevertheless, despite its self-consciously non-conformist stance, Kazantip has grown into a considerable industry which generates millions in annual revenues. This success has inevitably encouraged all manner of copycats and spin-offs. Such is the commercial appeal of the Kazantip brand that this year a second and apparent rival Kazantip festival appeared online, featuring the same name and branding as the Crimean original but scheduled to take place in Portugal. Luckily for the proprietors of the original Kazantip, the event is synonymous with Crimea and so few genuine disciples are likely to have been confused by this Portuguese pretender. As if to stress this point, the people behind the Kazantip brand have issued a series of statements advising clubbers to ignore the Portuguese festival while reminding them that Kazantip has always been a Crimean event and will always be held in Crimea. This is true enough, but it should also be noted that in its early days the festival was often forced to change location and move from place to place along the Crimean coastline as its initial excesses led to local opposition.
Epitome of post-Soviet counter-culture
The name Kazantip actually comes from Cape Kazantip in eastern Crimea – the location of the original early 1990s festivals. The exact site of the first Kazantip was an incomplete and derelict Soviet-era nuclear power plant. The Crimean Nuclear Power Station was 90% completed before construction work was halted in 1987 in the wake of the Chornobyl disaster, never to be resumed. This deserted and imposing location lent an iconic ambience to early Kazantip festivals, creating a backdrop of monumental post-industrial decline which chimed perfectly with the bitter disillusionment of the early post-Soviet years.
Location problems: chased along the Crimean coastline
As the event grew and matured it became too large for its original surroundings and was eventually forced to move to a more suitable location following clashes with increasingly exasperated local residents and the Crimean authorities. Kazantip has in fact been obliged to relocate on a number of occasions over the past twenty years – nearly always due to the opposition of local residents. Allegations of lewd behaviour and drug abuse have also dogged the festival and attracted the attention of the authorities, straining relations between festival organisers and the Crimean police force on a number of occasions. Thankfully, for the past five or six years a balance appears to have finally been struck, allowing the festival to maintain its outsider aura without disrupting the daily lives and insulting the sensibilities of Kazantip’s Crimean hosts.
Belarus girls offered free Kazantip visas
The organisers of Kazantip like to portray their annual event as an entirely separate republic which lies beyond the confines of modern Ukrainian society. According to the festival’s literature, the Kazantip Republic is a more tolerant, open-minded place where national boundaries have no meaning. In honour of the festival’s 20th anniversary, the Kazantip Republic has even unveiled its own foreign policy – offering free ‘visas’ (entry tickets, in other words) to all Belarus ladies who wish to attend this year’s jubilee celebrations. This novel promotion was presented publicly as a gesture of humanitarian aid from the Kazantip Republic to the people of Belarus. When quizzed as to why they had extended this offer to Belarus ladies but not to the nation’s men, Kazantip’s current serving head of state President Nikita the First responded by explaining that Belarus men would be better off fighting for freedom back in their homeland. This kind of disco diplomacy may not win the Kazantip crew many friends in Minsk, but it is very much in keeping with the irreverent tone which the festival strives to achieve each year.
Kazantip remains some distance from the status of mass market summertime disco destinations such as Ibiza, but it has earned a degree of clubland credibility over the past 20 years and remains one of the most internationally fashionable brands to have emerged from independent Ukraine.
Savvy clubbers aim for opening night excitement
Despite this year’s slightly truncated programme (two weeks instead of the usual three), few partygoers will be able to last the whole distance. Most visitors tend to choose two or three days during the festival, with the most popular periods being the traditionally grandiose Kazantip opening and closing ceremonies. While even today’s sanitized version of Kazantip is probably not for the faint-hearted, it is nevertheless one of the most original and exciting events taking place in Eastern Europe this summer and is well worth considering for anyone interested in exploring Ukraine’s counter-culture.