Backdropped against the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine, metalheads and manic moshers take centre stage in an ode to the musical dark arts
“One headbanger had his nose smashed,” begins Ira Lupu, an Odessa native and journalist. “He's bleeding – but here, people take fights as a sweet metal tradition, along with the Dionysian consumption of beer”. She’s referring to the Black Sea Metal Festival, which, alongside photographer Kristina Podobed, she captured in full swing. Taking place this past summer, and hosted by the Southern Ukrainian town of Ilyichivsk, the festival was backdropped against an ongoing, and uncertain, climate full of political unrest. “One might say that organising and attending festivals at a time of war is improper, thoughtless, reckless, dangerous, whatever. But polemics of that kind seem so dull and phoney when you really live during such things,” she continues. Through a sea of flowing manes, excruciatingly tight, black leather-clad bodies and regular intervals of maniacal moshing, the pair’s images depict a from-the-ground snapshot of this free spirited subculture. As we showcase an exclusive selection of images from their project, below, we get the low down from the inseparable duo about keeping your head up, letting your hair down and the (not so) joys of swigging pure chemical alcohol.
You photographed some real characters, but does anyone stand out for you in particular?
Ira Lupu and Kristina Podobed: There was a guy in a wheelchair at the festival who took part in the slams (spirit-rising fights under the stage). In Ukraine, people with disabilities prefer not to go out and wouldn't usually attend gigs. This headbanger seemed to be a true free spirit. He even fell out of his chair while slamming in the crowd but seemed perfectly happy.
Why do you think it was so important for this concert to go ahead at such an unstable time in the Ukraine?
Ira Lupu and Kristina Podobed: There are people who will find fault with holding a festival at a time of war. It may sound obvious, but when you’re actually living through it, you realize how necessary these events are. They keep people sane. Cultural events have even been organized in Donetsk, where military actions are still being held. Also, organizers of Black Sea Metal Festival, Igor Yevtushenko and Yuriy Stepanyshchev, explained that in doing so, they were supporting the existence of the entire metal movement. On the whole, a political theme was not evident amongst the crowd apart from a few wearing vyshyvankas – elements of traditional Ukrainian costume, which at the moment serve as a sign of supporting the unity of Ukraine. There was also a guitarist with the famous anti-Russian ’Putin-Huylo‘ line on his t-shirt.
How does metal music fit in with Ukrainian culture in general?
Ira Lupu and Kristina Podobed: It fits in like it would anywhere else. We still have uneducated layers of society that do not accept any form of non-conformism, but this happens everywhere. If you are a metal music fan with an unusual style, you can sometimes become a target for ridicule, but nothing more than that.
Your photographs really capture the grit and heart of the concert; can you tell us about how you went about photographing the event?
Ira Lupu and Kristina Podobed: Yes, that was the intention. When photographing events like this, Kristina prefers to just relax and enjoy the experience for what it is. She drank beer, danced by the stage, and simply enjoyed it all – while taking pictures of what she saw of course.
Lastly, could you tell us something that we wouldn’t know otherwise from the photos?
Ira Lupu and Kristina Podobed: The metalheads were really curious about Kristina’s film camera. One of the guys could not believe that she used analogue techniques and he gave us a rubber ring for swimming as a present. We were also offered pure chemical alcohol from the flask – which we accepted gladly.