The techno festival on the city’s peripheries is emblematic of Russia’s post-Soviet generation making their mark through movement
8am on a sweltering Sunday morning and nine hours into Outline festival I find myself wondering around Red Square in awe of Moscow’s monuments and buildings. Feeling physically and existentially miniscule, these cathedrals of industry remind you of the uncanniness between Russia and the rest of Europe; the major difference is that this city has vast, undeveloped swathes of land on its outskirts that in London, would be overdeveloped in a second. Seeing Moscow with your own eyes is both inspiring and bizarre. The inner city is mechanical and elitist, while in its peripheries a collective dream is trying to shake off Russia’s negative global image and restructure its outdated culture from within.
The suburbs and deindustrialised areas of the major cities in England are rapidly being reterritorialised and gentrified, however as Outline festival shows there’s still enough refuge space for the young and liberal minded in the East. Situated in the Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant a 20 minute drive away from the centre, Outline offers a picturesque image of a post-Soviet and (perhaps) post-capitalist utopia: DJ booths made from a disused rusted iron depot, a stage hidden amongst foliage with train rails protruding, huge hangars encapsulated in darkness where clubbers can exit public view and an unprecedented amount of access around the disused factory. The remote location of Outline began to allay my fears of not belonging within Moscow’s inner city constructs.
"Outline offers a picturesque image of a post-Soviet and (perhaps) post-capitalist utopia"
Since the threat of a renewed Cold War from the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s relationship with the West has been under intense strain, and through the western media the pressure on the country is exacerbating: with citizens openly intimidating a publicly gay couple in Moscow, Ghanaian-British footballer Emmanuel Frimpong sent off and fined for swearing at Russian crowds for racial abuse and the Alexander Litvinenko inquiry re-entering public consciousness. From the outset it’s clear Outline is not part of mainstream Russia. Its organisers, Arma17 – a legendary nightclub that shut its doors last year – and international creative agencies Stereotactic and Sila Sveta owe their reputations to collaborating with artists outside the country, and bringing alternative culture to a new generation of liberal minded internationalists.
Through Outline’s eclectic lineup of homegrown and international artists, the ethereal surroundings and perhaps most importantly the anti-surveillance, seemingly sponsorless nature of the weekend, this was such a refreshing atmosphere compared to the energy drink-indebted European club circuit. Contrary to the Western media’s desire to parallel all Russian activity as a KGB hangover, Outline’s security never pervaded the sense of unity of the crowd once you passed the entrance barriers, only intervening asking people to descale precarious roofs and vantage points. In stark contrast to America’s EDM circuit, not once did the branding spectacle overshadow the experience save for a few roving cigarette vendors.
For Stereotactic chief Sergey Shirokolov, the uniqueness of Outline festival is a point of pride, not just its difference from the rest of Moscow nightlife but also how it differs from living in Russia in general. For Shirokolov, the main point of the festival was to "combine the main principles of living day to day...living in a global context to get our audience to see its better sides but at the same time we spread our ideas on what can be changed in our own city and lives."
The candid nature of our exchange was a great testament to people living in Moscow wanting to modernise themselves, and without the sense that the West is simply imposing its moral duty on the rest of the world. Ultimately Shirokolov wants people to feel as free as possible, something that he feels is achievable with Outline, at least for the festival to imbue a sense that freedom is possible.
I had spent most of the first day with Steven Warwick of Heatsick, touring the stages while the big hitters of Atom TM, Andy Stott, Demdike Stare and Egyptian Lover fuelled the opening hours of revelry. While catching up with each other we were approached by a young Belarusian student who had traveled with a friend from Minsk from one of the five bus tours organised by the festival, surprised that westerners found themselves in Moscow. She was a genuinely savvy individual who had been travelling around Eastern European clubs for new music, had a lifeplan to become an architect and despite the language barrier was open and engaging, especially upon discovering she had met Heatsick.
Earlier, Heatsick and I had been discussing the implications of his homosexuality. The first time he performed in Russia, he made sure he wasn’t drawing attention, but now felt more comfortable. However, our conversation with our new friend had quickly turned cold talking discussing same-sex marriage and gay rights, which was a sticking point for her, a partying orthodox Christian. There was no ill will in this moment that I was merely a spectator to, but it felt as though while some aesthetic elements of Western culture had been embraced by Russia, some moral standpoints were still being shunned.
The international connection for Outline’s lineup is, according to Shirokolov, like no other nearby, the festival unrivalled in its programming power compared to other Russian dance events. Perhaps a sticking point for people like myself coming from Europe, is that the majority of international names that I caught are embedded in the festival circuit. However, Abelle and Nastia (actually a Ukrainian), the wonderfully mad racket of Philipp Gorbachev and The Naked Man and Russia’s biggest techno export Nina Kraviz all made sure there was at some representation of their music.
For Outline though the main priority is to bring the party atmosphere to Russia, as "most of them never experience this even at European festivals. Only here they can feel like at home along many of their friends hanging out here." Coming home, my slight disappointment in not finding too many unique Russian gems was greatly outweighed by the fact that really those that deserve most recognition are the people coming to the festival and making this manifestation of freedom a reality.
It would be too easy to point out the differences between this festival and one in Western Europe, such as a less ethnically diverse crowd, no overt pansexuality at play, but in the society they live in Outline is probably one of the queerest events in the conservative confines of Russia. I found myself as beguiled by the Outline’s defiant existence as I did the McDonald’s outside of the Kremlin, or finding a tshirt of Putin roundhousing Obama (see above); Russia seems locked in a lingering ego war that had would welcome some aspects of Western culture, and reject others.
Like Outline’s two previous sites, The Karacharovsky Plant is set to be demolished to usher in what’s set to be new apartments; much like in the UK the autonomous zones are getting harder to come by and the global underground will always share common causes. The weekend was a reminder that the millennials in Moscow are living through fascinating times, their cosmopolitan existence a direct opposition to Russia’s proud nationalism.