CTM in Siberia Hipsters on Lenin Street

Visitors to the CTM Siberia Festival: Electronic music from Siberia usually has a tough time of it in the analogue world
Visitors to the CTM Siberia Festival: Electronic music from Siberia usually has a tough time of it in the analogue world | Photo: Goethe-Institut Nowosibirsk

Novosibirsk is Russia’s third-largest city yet both geographically and culturally far off the beaten track. Even so, it now it experienced a very unusual premiere: Here and in Krasnoyarsk Berlin’s CTM Festival was invited by the Goethe-Institut to celebrate its first Siberian spin-off. By Jens Balzer

Late Sunday night we are standing in a former noodle kitchen that’s been converted to a club in a backyard near Lenin Square in Novosibirsk listening to a DJ from Hamburg delighting the Siberian hipster community with rugged, rasping electro beats. Previously a Lebanese laptop producer had played humming notes from all over the world blended with free-jazz motifs and ritualistic drums; later a techno DJ from Moscow will close the evening with a straightforward set. And the people dance and dance; they are still dancing undeterred as the day dawns over the taiga.

For two weeks, the Berlin CTM Festival celebrated its first spin-off in Siberia. CTM Siberia began in early September in Krasnoyarsk and ended now with a five-day festival in Novosibirsk. The two cities are separated by 800 kilometres, which, in Siberia, is a stone’s throw apart. Most of the musicians who performed came from Germany and Russia, especially from Siberia and Berlin. They played concerts, held seminars and workshops and played records. In Novosibirsk they not only played in noodle kitchens, but also in the theatre, at the philharmonic and in a panoramic restaurant on the roof of a skyscraper.

The Berlin techno pioneer and software inventor Robert Henke performed a complex and overwhelming laser sound art performance. A Karelian duo called Love Cult played nice, cool minimal electro-pop. Four throat singers from the Altai Mountains, who introduced themselves as Huun-Huur-Tu, growled traditional songs, sounding as if they came from a Norwegian black metal band.

The first festival of its kind

Since the late nineties the CTM Festival – initially called Club Transmediale – has connected advanced multimedia art with tastefully curated club music nights and all sorts of noise. In Siberia, on the invitation of the Goethe-Institut, the CTM makers gave a guest performance for the first time.

Electroacoustic experiments Electroacoustic experiments | Photo: Goethe-Institut Nowosibirsk Institute director Stefanie Peter got the idea of organizing a festival with contemporary electronic music and kindred styles when she went to some small concerts held by the local label Echotourist. For a few years the label run by the musician and video director Evgeny Gavrilov has issued freely flowing, melancholic electroacoustic experiments.

Among the artists of Echotourist and the associated, somewhat more rhythmic Klammklang label in Krasnoyarsk a kind of new Siberian school has emerged, which is gaining interest on the Internet forums of the global pop avant-garde. In the analogue world, however, electronic music from Siberia is not as popular; this is the first festival of its kind to be held here.

Out for a spin: Most of the DJs and musicians came from Berlin and Siberia Out for a spin: Most of the DJs and musicians came from Berlin and Siberia | Photo: Goethe-Institut Nowosibirsk Although with its nearly two million inhabitants Novosibirsk is the third largest Russian city behind Moscow and St Petersburg, apart from a few highly commercial bars of questionable tastes with small dance floors, no clubs and certainly no platforms for electronic experimental music exist. “The biggest problem in the planning,” says CTM organizer Jan Rohlf, “was to find spaces that were suitable.” So they were glad when the operator of the panoramic Ragu Bar restaurant offered her space for two techno and noise nights.

The climate hasn’t been as repressive in decades

Whether anyone would even attend such a festival was also not at all a sure thing according to Jan Rohlf, because so far there is no audience in Novosibirsk accustomed attending pop concerts. Midway between Moscow and Beijing, the city is simply too remote to appear regularly on the touring schedules even of the biggest mainstream acts. And the anti-art repression of the church contributes to the musical wasteland. Only recently a scheduled appearance by Marilyn Manson was cancelled under Christian pressure. Sometimes thugs prevent people from attending smaller concerts if they suspect that blasphemy or indecency will take place on the stage.

The climate hasn’t been as repressive in decades, a journalist complains as we walk with him through the city on Friday afternoon, which leads to more and more people who might form a critical or artistically interested public leaving the city to go to Moscow, St Petersburg or abroad.

The people are still dancing when the day dawns over the taiga The people are still dancing when the day dawns over the taiga | Photo: Goethe-Institut Nowosibirsk But there are other, more positive signs, like the hipster neighbourhood that’s recently been emerging on Lenin Street between Lenin Square and the Trans-Siberian railway station. The coffee shop where urban youth meets here could have been beamed over directly from Berlin-Mitte or Neukölln. The latest club music is played in the restaurants.

None of the people we converse with has ever been to Berlin or elsewhere on a techno rave. Here, too, the Internet is the main if not only source of aesthetic and stylistic inspiration. It is all the more eagerly that the people take in the concerts and especially the DJ sets of the CTM Siberia Festival. And as you move through this dancing Siberian crowd at dawn, it feels as if a placeless youth is discovering a musical language that could unite them to a collective. That’s a very good feeling; it’s a start. And we can hope that this is just the beginning.

Courtesy of Berliner Zeitung. This is a slightly abridged version of an article from the 23 September issue.