Kharkiv is a major city in the north-east of Ukraine, known for its beautiful parks, that are blossoming in spring and snow-covered in winter, and impressive architecture, including the grand Freedom Square that has hosted concerts for hundreds of thousands of people.
Its dance music scene does not receive as much attention as Kyiv to the west, but in recent years a healthy community of artists and enthusiasts have been proving that Kharkiv is a hotbed for innovative sounds and electrifying parties.
One person helping to develop the scene is Monotronique, real name Roman Kurhan, a resident DJ at the famed Zhivot (Живот) club, teacher at the nearby DJ school in Kultura Zvuku, and purveyor of weighty club music that rattles soundsystems and blows minds on dancefloors. His productions can be heard on releases from labels like Livity Sound, Opal Tapes, and Banoffee Pies.
To guide us through the hotbed of talented artists from the region, Monotronique has made a mix of 100% artists hailing from Kharkiv. It’s a wild two hour ride through trippy electro, impactful sub-bass, propulsive techno, gliding house, industrial rap, and more, placed between spoken word contributions from local artists sharing stories and memories of the city.
This year, Kharkiv has been a site of international focus for distressing reasons: the Russian invasion and siege of the city. Earlier this month, following 82 days of intense conflict, Ukrainian defenders successfully drove out the invaders and reclaimed the city. Now Kharkiv is officially designated as a Hero City of Ukraine.
Read this next: Kyiv producer John Object on fighting for Ukraine
The war is still being fought; the damage sustained will be hard to recover from and the lives lost is irreparable. Monotoronique remains resolutely hopeful for the future and the potential for what Kharkiv’s dance music scene can grow to be. “I believe after the win we can grow even faster than before,” he asserts.
We spoke to Monotronique to find out more about Kharkiv’s unique music scene and how the international community can help Ukraine. Listen to the mix above and check out the Q&A and tracklist below.
What are the best clubs and parties in Kharkiv? Can you describe the atmosphere and sounds heard at these events?
We have a couple big clubs in a town with different sounds inside. First one and probably the most famous one is Zhivot (Живот) where I play regularly as a resident. That's the oldest club in Ukraine. Since 1998. I was 5/6-years-old when it opened, that's even hard to imagine. The slogan of the club is "Another club, Another Music". There's a basement with a main dancefloor (open regularly) and a chill dancefloor (open on big gigs, and it's not just chill and ambient, it's essentially just a second dancefloor). This place has always been the heart of underground music in the city and you always can find the best sounds right here (especially UK sound). That club never gets old.
The second club is a place called Kultura Zvuku. It's a multifunctional space with a club / DJ school, where I'm a teacher, and so is the curator of Zhivot — Asket aka DJ Blowder. The club focuses on a different kinda vibe. It's a blend of house, trance, breakbeat and tech. You can catch some headliners from labels like Ba Dum Tish, Timeless, Cartulis Music etc. It's a bit techy, a bit Frankfurt, a bit 90's kinda vibe in sound. But with some exceptions as well. Some nights you can catch some UKG, bass and even dubstep vibes. When I play there I'll try to balance it between some bass stuff and old, late-90's dreamy kinda vibes from my record collection, but definitely it's less heavy vibes than I play in Zhivot.
Also we have a big pre-party culture in the town and here we have a lot of bars where DJs can spin some records in the evenings. Places like Koktelka Bar, Myata Bar, Benedict Daily Bar and Ickpa can be a vibe.
A couple of them are special. First one is Kinoshiniki. It's a bar in an old cinema club that was open during the USSR era. Now it's a fashionable, moody place where I spin the most intelligent bits from my collection one Friday in a month.
The second one is LadyBoy. It's a new place where I played some kinda radio-type sets. I can start from downtempo and dancehall and change the vibe to Italo, freestyle and 140 bits. It's a cool place with loud music. That's the thing that you need before the club.
Other clubs that we have are: Moskvich Bar (currently renamed to Kharkovchanin Bar), where you can catch modern tech-house / house stuff; SVB, a bar/venue for rent where you can put on nights; LF Club and Venom Stage, where young DJs can practice their skills and put on their first parties, which a nice opportunity in the beginning.
As for promoters, we have: Lozh (Ложь) - a techno party curated by Asket (Zhivot) and #BSKD (Nechto Records); (o)Soznanie - an industrial techno / electro / experimental party series (also based at Zhivot); Badman Sound - bass-oriented parties (based in Kultura Zvuku); Modern Stalking Audio, which is based in different venues and brings some future beats; System B Promo - a 200 BPM+ party with a Hi-Tek sound; Tysk (Тиск) - a label night with bass stuff on board. Their last guest was Plastician. And a lot, lot more.
What are some of your favorite memories associated with Kharkiv's music scene?
There's a lot really. But I can pick out a couple of special ones.
The first is about a party called YAMA. It's late-summer/early autumn open-air parties on Mondays. It's located downtown the city at a most expensive building in USSR called KHATOB (Kharkiv Theatre Opera And Ballet). And it's called YAMA (which means hole) because it's a rave in an orchestra hole in the backyard. It's hard to imagine, but you can see it in video below! That's not my favourite set, because the table was uncomfortable, shaking, and some records skip, but it is what it is. Also that was my first vinyl-only set ever! This party it's a vibe you can find only in Kharkiv.
Another one is every Zhivot club birthday party. Around 800 people just raving on two dancefloors. Absolutely stunning vibes every time!
Third one is probably Plan B festival. when the whole city takes part in the fest. The year when they brought The Bug was crazy. I played at Zhivot x Progress Bar label night alongside DJ Lycox, Kablam, Crystallmess and James Massiah. That was heavy.
Another gig when the whole city is a festival is Kharkiv Music Day. From daytime locations with jazz, classical and pop music to late-night club nights with electronic sounds. It's a good tradition.
Bonus one: free entry events with Armin Van Buuren and Queen. The latter is now on YouTube. More than 350,000 people were there and 10 million watched on TV. Both sets were on our square. The biggest square in Europe.
Who are some of your favourite artists from Kharkiv?
There are so many talents in the city, really. In my mix you can hear it yourself.
How has the music scene in Kharkiv changed and evolved in recent years?
A few years back, around 2009 to 2014. the city was home to drum 'n' bass and dubstep with a couple of promoters that brought top headliners at that time. A couple of years ago the main sound was probably techno. Things that I pushed there as a DJ is forward-thinking music. That's gonna be everything from grime and UK techno to baile funk and Rhythmic Noise. It's pushing some younger selectors and freshman audiences to bring, and find, some more new genres and sub-genres, cause it's always cool when people can't describe what they heard on dancefloor, they just feel a vibe.
Also now we have many more young DJs and promoters, because of the Kultura Zvuku school. I can try my best to teach some proper basics to the students. For example I have a couple of students from Brussels (BE) and Washington (DC) and they are promoters and residents in their local clubs now. I think things like that pushed the scene forward and educated the audience. So I believe in a bright future.
Are you in Kharkiv now? How has the city been impacted by the Russian invasion?
Right now I'm in the West of the country. It's safe here, but safety is relative right now. But I want to come back to the city as soon as possible, cause my parents and grandma stayed there. Like a lot of Ukrainian people, they don't want to leave their home, and for the old people like granny that's physically tough.
About the Russian invasion impact... it's horrible. As you can see from the pictures it's a different city now. They destroyed a lot of warm-hearted places for the people. Lots of people lost jobs, lots of families were forced to split for safety. Some people lost their homes. Lots of fear and tears. It will never be forgotten. But people stay strong and brave. I believe and I know - Kharkiv shines bright again soon!
Yeah, that's right. The music scene can do lots of things.
You can donate directly to Ukrainian funds like savelife.in.ua - which helps the army. hvisthub.com.ua - where you can help the animals. Also basic funds like shop.tabletochki.org - they help children with cancer. tvoya-opora.org - they help hospitals with medicine right now. These help the Ukrainian army, people and animals directly. Also Kyiv Angels, Closer and Detali aka Port Frankivsk.
Read this next: A list of ways you can support Ukraine
Also as music labels and agencies you can sign more Ukrainian artists right now. Because when we win the war it will help Ukrainian musicians be more representative on the worldwide scene. Promoters can book Ukrainian DJs and musicians. As a music buyer you can buy some Ukrainian releases, because lots of musicians lost their gigs and daytime jobs (as I have for example), so we need your help right now.
The main key is give light to the situation and support Ukrainian musicians and people in general.
What would you like to see happen in the future for Kharkiv and its music scene?
I believe after the win we can grow even faster than before. I believe Kharkiv's music scene can bring some new things to every level of the scene. More people on the dancefloor, even more than before. Proudness for local musicians and DJs even moreso than before. New places, new faces, new goals and unity as before.
Can you tell us about the mix you’ve put together?
This mix is very special for multiple reasons. The selection is Kharkiv producer's music only. This is the first time our scene is being represented on such a big platform and I'm absolutely grateful and excited to make this.
This mix is very important on both sides, as worldwide as locally. Because in the worldwide media, if it speaks about the Ukrainian music scene, it mainly only speaks about the Kyiv scene, which is okay cause Kyiv is a capital. But this mix is a fact: Kharkiv has something to say. We have our unique vision of the music, scene and industry. This mix is the manifesto of that. I hope you can feel the vibe of the city and dig the massive sound that we have here.
I want to say a big thank you to Mixmag for giving me the opportunity to make this ambitious project. It can't happen without you and your support. Thanks for that unique chance.
Kharkiv, very soon we can shine and dance again! Slava Ukraini!
Monotronique - ? (Unreleased)
Motorpig - Vtoma (Unreleased)
Undrejground ft. Iamnotsemi - Films (Unreleased)
Eel Kid - Radiator song (Unreleased)
Saxr - ? (Unreleased)
Yamachina - I. Raptile (Unreleased)
Dirty Mechanics - What Did You Do
Against - ? (Unreleased)
Vincent Inc - Kyoto Disco
Evil Iseeshine - Pretty Bitch (Unreleased)
Monotronique - Real Talk (Unreleased)
Kryvyi Rih - Ostannia Machina
Mr.Cruel - Beyond Death (Unreleased)
De Leu - My Guide
DEEJAYRUST - Sky Walker OG (Unreleased)
Phloem - Jambo (Unreleased)
Ole Sobolini - ? (Unreleased)
Nail - Pandemic Insurgent
Minianimal - Bonka (Unreleased)
Yaroslav Lenzyak - Field of Dreams
Yansima - Toko Pa (Unreleased)
Hidden Element - What The Story, Mother (Unreleased)
Kanzuyg - Somebodys Watchin Me (Unreleased)
Mark Yo - Roxen2 (Unreleased)
Mute - Hound (Monotronique Remix) (Forthcoming Low Hut Recordings)
Trecut - Rolo (Unreleased)
Eazy - Àñèä (Unreleased)
Zaiets - Samurai Code (Unreleased)
Dmdv - Bouquet (Unreleased)
Komponente & Kurilo - Àntagonist
Djust - Stugna (Unreleased)
Letov - Enema Techdozer (Unreleased)
Youngg P - Ruacana (Unreleased)
Estus+ - ? (Unreleased)
Panghoud - ? (Unreleased)
1-2 Selekta - Dubvibe (Unreleased)
Hockins - Fat Boy (Forthcoming Banana Club)
Monomonster - Funky (Unreleased)
Sumbur - For Fks Crew (Unreleased)
Nikitah - Deep 9 Low (Unreleased)
DJ Blowder - Acid Hell Trax (No Hell Voice Mix) (Dub)
ENEM - Cingua (Unreleased)
Parking Spot - Bubbles (Unreleased)
OLAF - I (Monotronique Special) (Dub)
Cya - Just Being Alone (Unreleased)
DJ Sacred - Drop Bitch
Monotronique - Mantra Riddim (Unreleased)
Insect Controller - Generation
#BSKD - Nobody Listen To Demos (Unreleased)
Isaac Knife - ? (Unreleased)
Enformig - ? (Unreleased)
Monotronique - Zhivot (Anthem) (Unreleased)
JayJoe - So Good (Ambient Mix) (Dub)
Monotronique - ? (Unreleased)
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Editor, follow him on Twitter