Poor But Cool – Political Critique

Frank Hoffman, journalist at Deutsche Welle and witness to the emergence of Berlin’s techno culture, once asked Slava Lepsheev whether he realized he was a revolutionary. Lepsheev protested: he did not see himself that way. Nevertheless, it was Slava who created Cxema (pronounced “Skhema”), the series of techno events which serve as spaces for Kyiv’s audiovisual and bodily revolution. Cxema was born in Ukraine in a time of disillusionment by the Maidan, the country’s militarization, increased panic about impending war, counterrevolution, and economic crisis. Raves became spaces for revolutionary pathos to maintain its validity despite the passing time, and – on the contrary – to grow stronger and reach increasing numbers of people. As it repeatedly brought together up to two thousand young progressives on a single dance floor, in the dreamy mood of total freedom, Cxema offered a space radically different from its surrounding reality.

Ukraine’s poor-but-cool symbol, designed by Vova Vorotniov

Initially, what connected us was having no money and having the same friends. The only person that everybody knew was Vova Vorotniov, a graffiti artist. Vorotniov designed the symbol which integrated separate groups of party-goers into one movement, while defining its bounds and political meaning. Vova’s t-shirts said “poor but cool,” with two Chanel logos in place of the double O’s. Poverty, a particular sense of style, and a love for techno joined within a coherent symbol through which young people saw themselves as members of one community. The symbol let them forget the shame they felt about not having money.

Photo courtesy of Sean Schermerhorn

The poor-but-cool youth culture in Kyiv took shape even before the Euromaidan, as with how Sergey Klimko and some of my other friends from the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv ran a DIY club at no. 31 Nizheyurkovska Street (NY31). The small building with a cul-de-sac, surrounded by mountains and woods, developed into a platform of the Center’s alternative activities, including film screenings, DIY culture festivals, radical exhibitions and almost weekly dance parties. It was there that artists and activists, intellectuals and subculture representatives, electronic music scene members and simply cool people, would meet for the first time.

Poster of one of NY31’s events

Once the hangar closed and Kyiv’s Maidan protests erupted, the poor-but-cool community went into temporary hibernation. First, it had lost its place in urban nightlife, and second, the revolution kept changing Kyiv’s political contexts daily. Notably, I went to my last rave before Cxema’s creation straight from Maidan on the night of November 29th-30th, when militsya troops brutally crushed a student protest. The revolution reached its next stage.

Hangar with graffiti by Vova Vorotniova

After the revolutionary events, I agreed to Slava Lepsheev’s proposal and went to work behind the bar at his parties. I had…

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