Best Bet Music Festivals in Russia
The modern history of Russian music festivals is a turbulent one, with many sudden success stories and an equal amount of devastating fiascos. For example, when it looked like Moscow finally had its very own A-grade techno festival in Outline, it was shut down by city officials on the day of launch last summer. The uproar among the new generation of ravers was significant – the reasons given for the cancellation were pretty dubious – but ultimately not enough to #SaveTheRave. On the other hand, several successful festivals continue to lure thousands of Russians to Moscow’s biggest venues and rural sites beyond the capital, for weekends of camping, dancing and no-fucks-giving.
The festivals range from small, intimate affairs to grandiose EDM festivals like Alfa Future People, which has been run by the financial firm Alfa Bank since its inception in summer 2014. The choice of location was a bold one: a huge field near the tiny village of Bolshoye Kozino, right on the Volga river. The remote setting means getting there is an adventure in itself and once you are there, temperatures drop dramatically each morning. Still, 30,000 people showed up the first year and that number has been rising ever since.
The concept behind the festival was to put on something more meaningful than your average fists-in-the-air EDM tear up. There are several technology tents, where you can gawp at 3D-printers and test out cutting-edge water purifiers. There are also countless fitness and sport zones. Musically, it’s home to several scenes: from very small techno ones to flashy ones reserved for the chart-toppers.
All eyes are naturally on the main stage, since it looks right back at you: set designers take great pride in re-modelling the head-shaped stage with pulsating eyes each year to give the likes of Martin Garrix and Hardwell a cooler playground. The festival just wrapped its fourth edition, survived the muddiest summer in recent history and has no plans of slowing down. There are still several issues present – like the scammers who rent fake apartments on Russian social media site Vkontakte to unsuspecting ravers – but at the same time, the real villagers are always there to help, providing beds and parking spots.
The summer of 2013 went down in Moscow history as the busiest festival season yet, but things did cool down a bit with several big festive initiatives subsequently shutting down or considerably lowering their spending budgets. As such, seeing a new festival rise above the economic struggles is always impressive, even more so when they tap into Russian ingenuity. Take Synthposium, a four-day electronic music festival held in Moscow, featuring some of the most experimental electronic artists from Russia and Europe. With talks and performances by the more avant-garde class of electronic music performer, Synthposium offers an intellectual dimension to rave culture.
You haven’t been to a rock concert until you’ve been to a rock concert in Russia; it’s an experience like no other.
The 2017 line-up features local artists like Denis Kaznacheev and SCSI-9 alongside visiting dignitaries such as Felix K, Max Cooper and Throwing Shade. Including equipment expos, lectures and installations, Synthposium aims to stimulate both body and mind, claiming to explore “a new interdisciplinary culture formed at the junction of electronic music and technology”.
Synthposium evokes memories of another festival from 2017: Geometry of Now. Curated by innovative producer Mark Fell, the event took a derelict power station in Moscow and transformed it into a den of musical ingenuity for one weekend in March. Featuring a lineup to make any electronic music nerd drool, it also hosted lectures, performances and installations from an incredibly diverse list of artists with an ideological congruity that transcended style and sound.
But Russia is nothing if not a complex diorama of musical influences, traditions and innovations, and for every Geometry of Now and Synthposium, you’ll find a Nashestvie. Pure escapism is often necessary and this guitar-heavy event is the closest Russia has come to matching Glastonbury’s levels of mud-based debauchery. Launched in 1999, these days it’s held near the city of Tver, where more than 200,000 people from all over the country gather to spray themselves with paint, eat tons of pirozhki and shashlik and listen to hours of Russian rock.
In case camping isn’t your idea of fun, and you don’t feel like paying 10,000 rubles to a tractor driver to save your mud-stuck car (that happened this year), you may want to check out another mammoth rock event – Maximum radio station’s Maxidrom. It has been happening in Moscow on and off for the last 26 years. The line-up consists of local and foreign rockers, from Rammstein to Agata Kristi, but recent years have seen the addition of a DJ-curated element. Mark our words: you haven’t been to a rock concert until you’ve been to a rock concert in Russia; it’s an experience like no other.
Slightly different are Moscow’s Afisha Picnic and Saint-Petersburg’s Stereoleto festival. Some dismissively think of them as being overrun with hipsters, but thousands of Russians have loads of fun there, listening to Kasabian, UNKLE and other major acts; drinking super-expensive smoothies; and lying on deck chairs in the VIP area. Imagine Coachella without Kendrick Lamar or Radiohead and a higher probability of rain – that's Afisha Picnic, one of the biggest fests in Russia. It is the popular choice yet it still manages to harbour the odd surprise and this year the Russian rapper Hasky delivered a memorable performance that showed not even a bullet could slow him down. Factor in the hip-hop newcomers on show at Bol Festival and Scriptonite’s main stage headline set at TBRG OPEN FEST, and you can see that hip-hop’s Russian rise is all-but inevitable.
It wouldn’t be fair to omit mention of the punk fests that take place in Moscow’s suburbs. You’ll likely need a local escort to reach these – most punk and hardcore festivals are illegal in Russia and as such take place in unkempt forests that are as far from a police station as possible. Check out the flyers in Moscow basement craft pubs if you don't want to miss next summer’s best violent punk party!