Project

24 Hour Party People: The Rise of the Kyiv Raves

American photographer Sean Schermerhorn dropped out of college and went to Ukraine looking for a big adventure. Giving English lessons for a living, he explored Kyiv's underground parties and documented them on film.
Sean Schermerhorn

Photographer, non-professional DJ, and restaurant worker living between New York, Kyiv, and the rest of the world. Studied philosophy at college, but chose traveling over a formal education.

At one time I was really into film photography and took my camera everywhere with me. For the CXEMA parties (pronounced /shema/ – Editor’s note), one of my close friends started to organize parties, he asked me to take photos and we put these online to capture the memories.

They are random moments that express a cohesive and wonderful whole, great memories. They are all Kyiv party photos, not just CXEMA party photos. There is a lot of pictures with kids kissing: I like to think they met that night and fell in love. Some people are dancing very funny, because LOL. There are a lot with a cool style because especially in the beginning of the CXEMA parties, a bunch of young people seemed to come out of nowhere with the freshest style around. There is one picture I like with a cop car – a party got busted then and we had to go somewhere else.

There is a lot of pictures with kids kissing: I like to think they met that night and fell in love.
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Kyiv ravers are the best and the most original, their innocence is so sincere. If you go to New York, Paris, London, Berlin – many kids look bored at the parties. They are focused on, or being consumed by, their party supplies, or criticizing the DJ, or trying to look cool instead of just listening to the music. Kids in Kyiv are just so stoked to be there, to be able to dance and rave until dawn.

The fashion at these parties is rather 90’s inspired and referenced. It could be because there are many young people without much to do, it is not easy to find a good or meaningful job at this time in the country. Dancing to techno is a great way to forget the days troubles.

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I lived in Ukraine for three and a half years. The food in New York is better, but when it comes to parties and fun – I prefer Kyiv. In Ukraine’, there is something really peculiar among young people: many tend to think that in the West shit is really, actually, authentically cool. Their own interpretation of that thing, or idea, or concept and how they imitate it themselves is much more original and ultimately much, much cooler than what’s already been done in the West. There is a big DIY ethos, not because it is particularly fashionable, but because it is essential.

The food in New York is better, but when it comes to parties and fun – I prefer Kyiv.
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The most surprising thing was that young people were so cool, cultured and educated. I had expected to meet a few track-suited vodka drinkers. In my first week there I met people who knew and cared more about my local culture than I did because of blogs and the internet. I never expected to fall so deeply in love.

I had expected to meet a few track-suited vodka drinkers. The most surprising thing was that young people were so cool, cultured and educated.

A message for the readers: if you want to experience the “last rave” in Europe, book yourself a ticket to Eastern Europe. Berlin, New York, London, Paris are long dead and burnt out. Look around at your local scene – there is probably someone busting their balls just to bring a little bit of greatness to it, so check that out and make things happen. Ukraine and CXEMA have their cool, but I’m sure in each corner of the globe there’s plenty of cool and greatness to be found and made.

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