When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Drug-Free, Imported DJs, KGB Spies: A Singular Rave Scene In Minsk

Techno scene in Belarus faces a youth tempted by emigration, pricey vinyls and the KGB lurking in the shadows. But the nights in Minsk are still something truly remarkable.

Techno and electronic music do not have it easy in Minsk
Techno and electronic music do not have it easy in Minsk
Jan Vollmer

MINSK — There are two men outside the "Re:publik" Club. They were there last night too, soon after midnight. and again at about 4 a.m. If this weren't Minsk, you would be forgiven for thinking that they just want to sell their stash of ecstasy. But no one deals in front of clubs here because even simple marijuana possession could get you five years in prison. No, those two guys are mostly likely with the intelligence services. The KGB probably.

While these would-be KGB guys look on, two girls try to get into the club without their ID but do not stand a chance. No one wants trouble with the authorities here.

Techno and electronic music do not have it easy in Minsk. Pavel Ambiont, organizer of the "Mental Force" Festival, says "you have to have good connections if you want to organize any larger party." Techno and its rough, dark and straightforward or broken rhythms are a perfect match for the surreal concrete landscapes of Minsk, Moscow and Kiev. The formerly utopian behind-the-iron-curtain architecture now has a distinctly dystopian feel to it with its large, dilapidated plants and warehouses, featuring wide windows and broad staircases.

Igor, aka DJ "Radiokoala", and Masha, a photographer, are standing outside the club, not far from the KGB guys. Masha, who grew up in Minsk but lived in New York for the last few years, says that most of her classmates have left Belarus to seek their fortune elsewhere. Igor seems to regret that he stayed: "We are on the periphery of everything, no one knows Belarus, never mind Minsk."

More improvised than Berlin or Moscow.

"We usually do not have any trouble at techno parties that would require police intervention, unlike at punk or hardcore events, " he continues. "With electronic music, the trouble is rather getting the permit in time to have them in the first place. Many of the raves are held illegally in venues in the suburbs or in forests."

Although Belarus only has a population of 9.5 million, the techno scene is surprisingly lively and spread out. Even in towns such as Gomel in the south or Grodno in the western part of the country, which only have a few hundred thousand inhabitants, you will find at least 600 people at a rave. There are even sub-cultures within the electronic music scene, ranging from live performances, such as Igor's electronic collective "Grave Board Clan," to classic DJs like Morgotika and ambient labels like Ezhevika.

Everything is a bit more improvised than in Berlin, where techno locales has been part of the tourist itinerary for a while. The "Mental Force" Festival is a huge event for people like Igor because the organizers fly in international stars like Atom TM and Ben Frost. "I rehearsed for 20 hours for my gig at the festival," says Igor. "The sun set in the window right behind me during the last set I played yesterday evening, and it felt as if someone was putting on a light show, just for me."

Ben Frost is standing splay-legged on stage, bending over his equipment, his long hair shadowing his face. He looks like a tattooed version of the God of Thunder and his sounds really do sound like Thor were spinning the discs. In contrast to his Belarusian colleagues, the Australian apparently does know what a performance needs to be successful. When he hosts an event in Berlin, you will find men in their early thirties, who have stayed young at heart and have 250 vinyls at home, listening attentively to the tunes while stroking their beards in concentration. No one in Minsk can afford to buy vinyls, but the girls in their early twenties, who are occupying the front row, are waving their arms in an ecstatic fashion while he plays.

Pavel Miliakov, aka "Buttechno," has just arrived from Moscow, where he manages the "Nii" Club together with a few friends. "Nii" stands for "nauka I iskusstvo" (science and art) and it is the only club in Moscow that is not just interested in making money but whose managers actually care about the music that is played in their club. Pavel tells a visitor from Poland that "sometimes, when we book someone to play jazz at the club, we only have 11 people on the dance floor."

Pasha Dankov, aka "Morgotika," is one of maybe three people in Minsk who can actually make a living off producing electronic music. "It is doable but I also have a collection of 800 vinyls," he says. Pasha organizes parties such as "Mechta," meaning "dream," one of the largest raves in the country. Danka notes one difference with rave scenes elsewhere: "Here, people only drink, which is why the parties do not last as long as they would in Berlin or Moscow where people take drugs."

Meanwhile, in the wee hours of the morning, a slender young woman named Xosar is now spinning the records. While strobes flash like a lightning storm, she plays the hardest beats of the night and the crowd is heaving. The girls in the front row are keeping up, wearing concentrated expressions on their faces while doing so.

When it finally is Pasha's turn to man the tables, the sun has risen above the concrete landscape, with its meadows and trodden paths, weaving between the old warehouses. When Pasha ends his set with "Maze" by "Actress' the couples kissing outside have vanished. Even the guys from the KGB have finally gone home.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

Keep reading...Show less

The latest