Icarus’ fall: clubbing in Kyiv and other thoughts.

Art & Culture
Written by Borut Viola

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in his painting ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’ (c. 1558), recounts in the Greek myth of Icarus who, out of pride – and human curiosity – dies in defiance of fate and nature.

Bruegel does not focus on the exceptional nature of the event or the character, who is seen in a corner of the painting drowning in the middle of the sea, but on the everyday indifference of the people in this scene. A farmer continues to plough his field, a fisherman sits with his rod in his hand, and a shepherd looks in another direction.

The underlying meaning is that in the extra-ordinariness of events we human beings continue our normal – and often banal – daily lives. We must move on.

Pieter Bruegel


I arrive in Kyiv at midday and am greeted by a beautiful sunny day, lots of people swarming into the train station, lots of traffic between cars and taxis and that peculiar skyline of huge buildings that reminds me a lot of the emoji I have on my phone, the ones representing hospitals, banks and supermarkets. It took me almost 30 hours to get from Madrid to here but it was all part of the experience, the sleeper ride akin to Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Let’s definitely not complain.



As soon as I arrive in Bodil, the neighbourhood where I will be staying these days, the people, the shops and the general mood confirmed what I had read in the description of the hotel itself: a boutique hotel with a focus on design and with ‘a New Yorkish atmosphere’ or as is often the case, a feeling of internationality. I could be anywhere: London, New York, Copenhagen. That I am in Kyiv is reminded at check-in when they show me the bomb shelter.

I downloaded an app on my phone that warns you when there is a risk of bombing but so far no warning. The week before I came I had received many alerts and I must say I was a little worried. I go out for a walk and go to Kontraktova Square, I see people everywhere; in bars, groups of friends, photos and dances for TikTok or what have you, teenage girls trying to sell me bracelets with the Ukrainian flag. Like Piazza San Marco in Venice or Plaza Mayor in Madrid all is normal except that immediately I get a warning about a possible rocket over the Kyiv area and head for my hotel shelter. As I arrive I am alone and sit down on my bunk, I confirm to my partner that I am safe and wait for the alarm to go off. Once outside again everything is as I had left it.



Everything is normal.I meet up with Davide, an Italian journalist based in Ukraine, and we take the metro to Maidan. It is as I left it two years ago, three weeks before the Russian invasion. Traffic on the street, lots of people minding their own business and blue and yellow everywhere. In one particular spot in the square, they’ve’ put up a Ukrainian flag for every soldier who died. So many that I cannot see the ground where they are rooted. The roar of a Lamborghini distracts me from the disturbing thought and we continue our walk. We end up at the bar of my hotel where, among other things, I tell Davide that I am not the first DJ to come and play in Ukraine. Alinka, Miss Kittin, Pablo Bozzi, Marc Romboy and others I have surely forgotten came here before me. Interstellar Funk was supposed to play on New Year’s Eve but Russia thought that instead of celebrating 2024 with fireworks it was better to bomb a foreign city, so Olf spent the night in the hotel shelter.



Why did I want to come here? This is the question I’m asked in the preceding weeks and not without reason. Of all the places you can go to DJ, why one where there’s war? I am here because I believe that this was the simplest and most instinctive way to show my support for Ukrainian people, whether they are the ladies I have met on sleeper cars during train journeys or all those who belong to ‘my’ community: people who often recognise themselves in common values of tolerance, inclusion and also in the music we listen to. I am here because I want to try to understand things a little better, question my beliefs and show empathy for those who suffer injustice, those who have war at home but do not show it.

I am here because in the end it is not very difficult to do so, you just have to have the intention. I have always wondered how I would have reacted to the great social injustices that have passed through the generations before mine. I would never been a Freedom Rider to get beaten up in Georgia or Alabama by the police and the Ku Klux Klan in the 60s. Would I have become a partisan in the Italian resistance in the 40s? I don’t know. Nor would I have gone on a rave in Tuzla during the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 90s. With hindsight it is easy to condemn injustice but who knows how we, with our infallible certainties of today, would have reacted in those contexts.

I am here because, in front of this normality, there are layers of complexity. Just talk to people who live here and you realise that complex reality is so nuanced. Nuanced because your mother tongue has always been the Russian language and yet you continue to speak it, even if it is now the oppressor’s language. Complex because you hold values of respect, peace and inclusion but you support the army on the front line financially. Complex and nuanced because you see children with their parents strolling in the park, teenagers making videos with Britney songs, drinking speciality coffees and brunch and any moment you may end up in a bunker, with your daughter or your dog, waiting for normality.

Underneath this normality, I have never stopped seeing that there is suffering that I have not fortunately experienced. Sharing my normality with them was the most beautiful and empathic thing I could do, as well as the hardest and most difficult to accept.

gender war is wrong


Our scene, the clubbing and electronic music, the one that recognises itself very much in the political origins of Disco, Techno, House I believe is a minority. It is logical and natural that it should be so, when a niche movement becomes mainstream (from music played in ballrooms to DJ sets on beaches, Olympic openings, weddings there are obvious differences) many things are lost, majorities become minorities, everything is diluted, especially when the dance itself is a symbol of escapism. I am myself part of this mega cauldron called the ‘music biz’ and honestly I don’t shy away from it, I just try to analyse the complexity and keep a personally acceptable line with my values.

I do believe, perhaps with a somewhat naive approach, that you can still convey an empathetic and political message with what you do. That’s why I went to Palestine to play at a festival, EXIST, which celebrated and empathised with the existence of the Palestinian people and its young citizens. That is why in Hamman, on a terrace/rooftop, I played music for from all walks of life. That is why in front of the deaths in the Mediterranean and our indifference I dedicated a record a few years ago. That is why I am in Kyiv today.


So many little Icarus I tried to watch.

Dance is an archaic, simple and effective act that is in us all, from the time we try to stand upright at just a few months old and move by clapping our hands. Dance is a form of socialisation. Dance unites without speaking. Dance is escapism, escaping a reality that worries you, alienates you or does not accept you for who you are by excluding you.


That is why I have come to support those who have suffered and had a life of limitations and fears. For one evening we got lost in music and that was it. I have no videos to show, no special moments to emphasise, but rest assured that all together we did something beautiful.
I thank K41, the most beautiful club in the world that at least needs another article as long as this one or longer to explain what a magical and beautiful place it is, for inviting me and all the people involved, both those who work there like Garik, Darina, Dima, Tanya and those who came to dance like Yulia, Serhii, Ilja, Vartan, Nastasia, etc.

I hope that this story of mine will persuade those who feel like taking the risk and going to visit Kyiv but equally, I understand those who cannot.

Another interpretation can also be given to Bruegel’s painting. Not only that the everyday is often stronger than the exceptional, but also that our individual self-interest makes us lose touch with the extreme. In these years I don’t understand where the line is between an interest in what is happening in the world and an interest in how we are perceived. I often ask myself: how engaged are we in battles that surely affect us closely but that our Instagram stories don’t help solve? Or maybe we often just want to be seen as involved and pissed off? If you are not angry you are not paying attention, right?
When I first came here the city was at its hype ‘Kiev is the new Berlin’ peak. From 2021 all you needed was a COVID-negative passport and you could dance to the best techno in the world, played by the best international DJs in a beautiful, cheap European capital. Half the world was in lockdown and here everything was normal. We all had a ‘Kiev family’.

Three weeks later with the Russian invasion, real and virtual mobilisation was through the roof and if you were liberal and socially engaged stories and posts on the subject were your bread and butter. Then slowly everything became normal. I suppose the carnage of 30,000 people in Gaza may have deflected the attention of many in the last 6 months but I don’t see how support for the two causes can’t be interlinked. If we find ourselves in the principles of unity, inclusion, mutual respect and empathy let us try to save the foundations of this community.

Because if nothing matters, there is nothing to save.

Borut Viola