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Near the Opera, city centre drinking and walking a
Photography Nazar

These photos capture the club kids of pre-war Ukraine

‘All that mattered was making it to the party and looking cute’: Nazar Koplak’s images capture the carefree, rebellious spirit of the country’s DIY scene

Nazar Koplak’s analogue photographs – taken between 2016 and 2017, when he was 19 years old – paint a portrait of Ukraine’s pre-war electronic music scene in Ukraine. “Before the war, everything seemed carefree,” he tells Dazed. “I felt free hanging out with my friends for days, there was something special about it – like we were fulfilling each other without any sense of materialism.”

Koplak, who is now 25, has since moved to the UK and become an active part of London’s techno scene. His images capture the free, rebellious energy of the underground music circuit in his hometown of Lviv, Kyiv, as well as the abandoned spaces in surrounding areas. On the surface, these photos are reminiscent of memories that many young people with a passion for music might recognise, although they are now suffused with melancholy and loss. Here, Nazar shares some of the context and memories behind them, as well as his thoughts on London.

“The electronic music scene was rising in Ukraine, as well as unemployment levels… some of my friends did these underground parties called Hypno House in Lviv (which started as a house party, a few of my photos are from there). Sometimes they were held in a cave, a few times in a forest, once in an abandoned factory... it was something new for me, something I'd never seen before – the people, the energy. It was a good time. They were mainly playing old school house on vinyl and nobody was really listening to that outside of Lviv. There was something special about it, it wasn’t just about the drugs and partying itself, it felt like a “movement” of a Ukrainian mentality – rebellion. It felt like a rebellion against the regular music scene and life in general.

“Old school house made me feel something different, it has some kind of soul to it. It felt like something coming from the heart, pure positive energy. Frankie Knuckles said it's “a spiritual thing; a body thing; a soul thing” – and it felt like it.

“Something about it felt genuinely underground, it wasn’t for the money but the experience. It was different to what I’ve seen in London since – the crowd was a lot more open, the vibes were very positive, it was much more connected. Especially the group of friends I had, we were partying a lot every day. Completely lost in the days, losing count of them... it was so carefree, all that mattered was making it to the party and looking cute, pulling outfits…

“The raves were always in different secret locations, like under a bridge or a skatepark in Kyiv. Growing up in Lviv, there was an underground house scene. But in Kyiv, they had experimental techno parties. It was mind-blowing at the time. I hear a lot of experimental music in London but it’s different.

“When I tried ecstasy for the first time, it felt mystical, magic. The crowd in Kyiv was something else, everyone was dressed in a specific way: 90s sportswear, 80s gabber, tracksuits with a hint of chic. You could say it was a reworking/revival of those eras, but it had never been seen in Ukraine before. It reminded me a little of what the 80s in the UK or ‘summer of love’ must have felt like. Everybody in Ukraine was there, even if you were rich nobody was posing at these parties, everybody felt equal, maybe because there isn’t a lot of money on the whole. Because most people can’t afford designer clothes, the designer clothes were second-hand or thrifted. It felt like an actual rave, in the sense of it being a rebellion or protest.

“I miss that feeling of the rebel underground… The rise of electronic music and the wider scene influenced the way young people were dressing, with sportswear from 90s. The style was all based around rebellion. It was an escape from the Ukrainian post-Soviet mentality – conservatism in reaction to the failure of the USSR. Realness. It feels different doing these sorts of activities there, you’re not accepted by society so you go there to differentiate yourself: ‘I’m not like them (i.e. society at large)’.”

See all of Nazar Koplak’s images in the gallery above. Find him on Instagram here.

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