For the last several years, electronic music in Armenia has been getting more and more recognized. Friday night clubbing in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is something that many young people choose over other activities. There are beloved DJs and sound artists you follow and track their gigs. Undoubtedly, Covid has hit hard, and the electronic music scene is still recovering from it, but it is obvious that the community craves gatherings, not only in-house but also open-air events. Rave culture is a demanded format and has been implemented by active players for a couple of years now.
One of the community pushers is DK.TSK, an event organizer, label, and community school for Ableton. The guys behind it actively support Armenian electronic music, helping new and established artists. Our experience during the latest DK.TSK rave was great overall, with electronic music, high mountains, and a chill community. There were outdoor and indoor stages, hundreds of people, friends, night-long campfire dances, morning yoga, rave tents, Mount Arakadz, abandoned Soviet buildings, and much more. Line up was diverse: 🔥
[Outdoor] Muffasa, Cast coverts (live), Èki b2b hael, Fluctt, T_ST, Yhii, Mikkkkro, Daao, Vazgen (live), FIX (live), Kokopelli, Yutani, GFRND, DJ Smithee, Lychee, HOV (live), Mycotrophic, Hare.oom ⚡️
[Indoor] TØtal, ÉLÉKTRA, DJ Grand Candy, Se<u, Pupylike, Gregor Thomassian, Dpnn2, Lucia Kagramanyan, Triniti, Vahgog, Sexy French Movements, [Bohemnots radio] live, Chemical Wedding, Duke, Kay, VHSound ⚡️
We enjoyed many great sets and live sessions and were able to talk to artists about rave culture in Armenia.
VHSound (Vardan Harutyunyan)
-Vardan, what brought you to music, particularly electronic music.
I have an academic background and studied at the Yerevan State Conservatory for 5 years as a composer. Back then, there weren’t many options for composers; you had to hire musicians to play your scores. So, I started experimenting with electronic music, including ambient, sound art, and experimental sound. This experimentation began with my collaboration with other artists, creating mixed media and sound installations. Afterward, I ventured into commercial music, playing in bands that ranged from rock to jazz fusion. Eventually, I explored club music.
At the time, it was experimental, strange, and interesting, especially considering that most clubs were focused on dance-oriented and beat-driven music. Our approach to beat music was probably more bizarre, which initially surprised the clubbers. Even to this day, it remains somewhat unusual. However, the audience has been more open to musical diversity, trying to enjoy and understand the music regardless of its beat. We, as artists, are also adapting, trying to cater to this broader spectrum, pardon my expression.
-Pardon my expression, too, do you consider music a product?
-I don’t consider music just a product; I see it as knowledge and art, of course. However, I admit that sometimes it has to take the form of a product. And it’s not merely about making money, but about making your music accessible to people who aren’t accustomed to experiencing music (and art, in general) as a non-applied, non-attached, decorative attribute, but just music, whatever it may be. To reach them, you have to create a product, because most people are accustomed to consumption. In this case, consumption becomes a lifestyle, a way of interacting with things, whether it’s information, food, or music. Rave culture, for example, is different; it’s more open-minded. Here, I feel free to play what I want because I know it’s a big gig with a large lineup, and I’ll be playing near the end when folks will be chill and relaxed. So, it doesn’t matter exactly what I’m playing, unlike the club mode, where it’s 2:00 a.m., and it implies I must hold the line.
-Tell me more, please, about the difference between rave and club formats, and what it was like to perform at both?
– Well, performing at a club often feels more confining. However, at a rave, you experience a sense of freedom and closeness to nature. It’s like being in a mini eco-village where people are more open to socializing. On the downside, we need to be extra mindful of environmental hygiene at raves. Though we haven’t encountered incidents yet, there is a significant risk of damaging nature during long and intense raves, often leaving the area looking like a dust bowl island after the event. But if we integrate certain norms into rave culture, we can foster a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature that extends beyond a specific event, ultimately becoming a lifestyle. This trend is visible not only locally but also seen worldwide.
But nature is not yet trendy in Armenia, perhaps because we are not urbanized enough, and the city-village distinction is not particularly emphasized. Our reality still retains a countryside essence on some level, fortunately. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many interesting areas in Armenia remained unused and abandoned. We now have the opportunity to breathe new life into them.
-What do you think is missing in rave culture in Armenia, what you personally need and perhaps even contributе to its emergence?
– I envision raves becoming more than just a typical weekend activity; I’d like them to be a lifestyle and a way for people to improve their coexistence. In the city, communication tends to be more practical and rational, constrained by obligations and requirements. However, in natural and non-artificial spaces like this, people can truly connect and get to know each other beyond their functional roles and cognitive profiles. Here, they see the person within.
NODE (Vardan Sargsian, Ani Yeghoyan)
The underground duo consists of Vardan and Ani. They are frequent guests at Bohemnots events and are known for the combination of dark synths and vibrant vocals. They met in Dilijan, during LSD jam sessions. Another underground group where Vardan plays guitar. The duo did couple more sessions with LSD then finally became NODE.
How would you describe the current situation with electronic music in Armenia?
There’s so much happening now, with numerous events taking place over just a couple of months, and the lineups often seem almost identical. Ideally, it would be fantastic to play only once a year and make a living from it (laughs). I believe that more time is needed to fully absorb and appreciate everything that’s going on. Nowadays, we attend events not only for the music but also to reunite with our friends. Additionally, it’s crucial to feel completely satisfied when performing. That incredible feeling during my last performance at Bohemnots was all that mattered to me; I felt great on stage.
Does stage matter?
No stage doesn’t matter, atmosphere does!
How would you describe the rave culture that is developing in Armenia?
“I think the term ‘rave’ is often misused these days. Many people have no idea what it truly represents. To me, a rave is an anarchic movement that stands against something. It’s not merely a regular event; it’s about people coming together, bringing their own equipment, occupying a space, and listening to music while having fun. It’s not primarily about money. Nowadays, people just go clubbing until the morning and call it a rave, which, in my opinion, doesn’t fully capture the essence of what a real rave is.
What should be done about that misconception?
Nothing (laughs). You are cool, they are cool, everybody enjoys what they like.
Vazgen (Vazgen Harutyunyan)
-How did you discover music as a medium, as a method of self-expression, or at least as one of them?
– I became interested in music around the age of 15-16. Before that, music was merely a background for me. However, something switched at that age, and I gradually came to realize that I simply couldn’t live without it. You might say it was love at first sight – or rather, love at a thousandth sight. This newfound passion brought me into the world of music production.
– What is the role of music in your life, if we consider it as a tool? How do you implement it?
– For me, music is the most direct way to communicate with people. Unlike other forms of media, such as linguistic structures, cinema, literature, or poetry, which pass through various layers before reaching actual perception, music, at its core, is simply a mechanical oscillation of waves that directly reaches your senses without any intermediary agents. This makes it easier to receive the initial information. However, how you interpret it later becomes a separate question. In contrast, other media work the other way around: first, you interpret the content, and that shapes your perception.
– Music is more of a rational or irrational realm for you, which part of you resonates with it the most?
-It’s somewhere in between, I believe, a collision point of both. Music is a combination of art and science, utilizing basic math and music theory, built upon patterns and pillars. When you put all these blocks together, it becomes something larger, akin to a constructor. The question then arises: who can construct a better whole? And that’s where the realm of irrationality comes into play.
– What would you say about the Armenian rave culture in general, and about your experience of playing and being here particularly?
– Rave culture has seen significant development in Armenia over the last 2-3 years, especially concerning the increase in the number of participants and those showing interest in the subject. Speaking from my own experience, it has been truly fantastic here. However, as an organizer, I must admit that no event has passed without encountering some technical problem, and that includes this one.
– The problem in the first place maybe the lack of appropriate infrastructure.
– Exactly, if you have no options, you have no choice.
Freedom is eXpesive a.k.a. FIX (Narek Barseghyan, Vardan Paremuzyan)
We have been playing in Bambir for years now. Over time, we accumulated a lot of music that didn’t quite fit the format of the band. As a result, we started pursuing side projects. Our bassist, Arman, got involved in cinema, Arik began teaching and founded the Tmbata band, while Vardan and I decided to explore new horizons.
During our tour in the US in 2016, we had a couple of gigs in clubs, with just the two of us and a bass player. At that time, we went by the name “Crisis Of The Genre” and even released an album in New York. However, shortly after, we realized that our dynamics worked better in a different direction. So, starting in 2018, we embarked on the project called ‘Freedom Is Expensive.’ Our first album had a more dystopian theme, similar to Orwell’s ‘1984.’ We conveyed the message that hope can be dangerous, and action is essential.
Is the album dark?
Not dark but rather realistic. It describes our reality. But there is always a solution. If you understand it is already your first step. The second one must be healing. This album is your face-to-face meeting with reality. The second part of the album is called “Freedom Is A Choice”.
Is it though?
There is always a choice. Of course, we live in a mostly predetermined world, but there is always a choice.
What are the influences for FIX?
Different periods of music, rock, electronic, modern avant-garde music, drum and bass, grange. We let the music determine itself. Also, live sessions shape us. We prepare a lot so we can create songs on the spot during our lives.
Do instruments determine your style or vice versa?
Both. In electronic music, we invest a lot of time in finding the most suitable and proper tools, and they, in turn, shape our style. For instance, using distortion overdrive on guitars imparts a distinct character, but when I connect MIDI and incorporate other sounds, the whole composition takes on a different identity. Furthermore, the context matters as well, whether it’s a studio recording or a live session. A 5-minute studio track might transform into a half-hour set during a live performance. Thus, it’s a dynamic interplay between instruments and style that defines the final result.
Do you think rock bands like FIX are suited for raves?
I think it suits them perfectly. Of course, rock is not as popular as it used to be, but still, there will always be genres more popular than others. And young blood will always be the avant-garde, the pushers, bringing in new directions and new ideas. There will always be Kandinskis and Triangles that nobody understands at first, but later they will. This kind of event should be more frequent, and people who don’t understand or accept it can visit to experience it firsthand. Because only when they experience it can they truly understand. Of course, progress may be slow. In the 90s, they said rock was going to fade away soon, but it didn’t. Hip hop got luckier; it had its Renaissance because it was real.
So what is our “real”?
Our real is that we are doing it well (laughs).
muffasa (Narek Simonian)
I have different monikers, and today I go by Muffasa. My music style leans towards Drum and Bass and Dub music, deeply rooted in Jamaican and African influences. Additionally, I enjoy playing Breakbeat House, which happens to be my favorite genre.
My journey into DJing started by accident. Back in 2011, during my time in the army, I accidentally played the second player while another DJ was already mixing, creating a spontaneous mix. This experience had a profound impact on me. After my service, I decided to study DJing in more detail, diving deeper into the subject. The more I explored and honed my DJing skills, the more I realized its boundless possibilities. I was initially drawn to classical hip-hop, but throughout my journey, I discovered numerous new genres and found my unique style.
My collection includes an extensive array of music from Africa and Japan, and I particularly appreciate eclecticism in my mixing. I find it fascinating when a track remains abstract and doesn’t neatly fit into one or two genres. This approach allows me to create diverse and captivating mixes that resonate with my audience.
Do you play tracks of Armenian artists?
Yes, I do play tracks of Armenian artists. I not only play them but also actively listen to their music. I follow artists like Merouj and Dave N.A. I’m particularly fond of Artyom (mveq/mixtinct) and can listen to his tracks for hours. In fact, I included a couple of Dave’s tracks in my set today.
When playing tracks from Armenian artists, I always ensure to test them on different sound systems. It’s essential to check how the sound ranges work and provide valuable feedback to the artists. This feedback helps them understand what elements of their music are effective, especially during open-air events where the dynamics can be very different. Supporting and collaborating with local artists is vital for promoting the vibrant music scene in Armenia.
Can you see any changes in the music scene?
Yes, there have been noticeable changes in the music scene over the last three years. One significant change is the increased accessibility of music and information. With technology and the internet, music has become more widely available to audiences worldwide.
Like in any industry, there are also trends in the music scene that come and go. However, to be relevant on a global scale, hard work and dedication are essential. Armenian artists have a lot to offer, and being part of the global context requires continuous efforts to stand out and make an impact.
The music community is undergoing development, but it appears to be somewhat fragmented due to different parties operating within their comfort zones. This can slow down the growth of a larger and more cohesive community. However, on the positive side, people in the community support each other. There is a willingness to help and collaborate, whether it’s sharing equipment or performing gigs to support fellow artists who are doing something good.
This support and camaraderie within the community can contribute to the development of a healthy and flourishing society. It fosters a sense of unity and shared purpose, ultimately benefiting the music scene as a whole.
Photo by Arman Harutyunyan
Text – Ani Mardoyan, Vahram Akimyan
Photography – Arman Harutyunyan, Eliza Mkhitaryan (header), Ani Mardoyan, Vahram Akimyan
Special thanks to Hovsep (Bobes) Aghjian
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