Interview, photo: Ljubov Dzhuzhynska
Translation: Elena Savlokhova
Rostyslav Rusakov, co organizer of HEDONISM festival and UBK project.
Promoter, traveler, musician, journalist, hedonist.
Every person has a rock bottom. What does your look like?
Immediately I thought about the bottom of the Dnepr River at Hedonism Festival. The only associations I have right now are festival-related. But I’ve been to the Ganges – the only place where I was physically ill because of food and not because of the corpses that were floating in the river. A psychological rock bottom is probably when you don’t want to do anything, strive for anything, move or develop yourself. It never happened to me though. But if one day it suddenly does, then it shall be the end of everything.
What cartoon or film reality would you like to live in and why? What character would you be?
“South Park”. I’d be Kyle. Just kidding. Let’s pick something more philosophical. I’ll go with “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” by Peter Greenaway. It’s a very peculiar film piece: contradictory machinations, a paradoxical reality. It’s one big supper of a very weird company, a reality without any sense of time and absurd discussions at the table. It’s a film that you need to dissolve into to feel the atmosphere. It’s very dope. By the way, Jean-Paul Gautier designed the costumes.
What superpower would you like to acquire?
Levitation but that’s too obvious. I fly in my dreams anyway and I’ve been on 150 flights within the last few years so it’s no fun anymore. Yesterday I’ve dreamt about not needing to sleep. I want these standard 8 hours (that have been reduced to 4 lately) not to be wasted on sleep. I agree that there has to be a regeneration switch but I don’t want it to last that long. I want the regeneration to last only an hour.
What was a significant turning point in your life?
This morning at about 9:45 the radio “Voice of Donbas” rang me up to ask stuff about the festival. They’ve warned me in advance but it completely slipped my mind. So I wake up from a studio call that was on air. It’s a radio that broadcasts on the territory of Gorlovka, Schastye, Avdeevka, and Donetsk. So they ask me in Ukrainian: “ Tell us about your Hedonism festival. From what regions are your artists? Invite some guests from Donbas etc.” I think today the consciousness of Donbas had a little cultural explosion when they’ve heard about Westbam, Sevdaliza, Kiasmos, ISHOME. Regarding significant turning points in my life I would say it was the year 2006: my first independent journey and simultaneously my first festival Opene’er in Poland. Consequently it became the first festival among the 70 festivals to come, which I visited in the duration of 11 years. Then I moved to Berlin and volunteered in a Buddhist temple, which was located in Berlin’s most crowded district Friedrichshain. The just then opened Berghain was located a mere 500m away. These are paradoxical life intersections. I have no clue how this happens. Moreover, I’ve managed to witness the last Love Parade in the history of Berlin and it was the second day of my arrival to the Buddhist temple. Prior to that I was getting my third higher education diploma, was working on a dissertation in a law postgraduate course on the topic of “Using media and the Internet in an election campaign”. I already wrote it as well as three scientific articles but it wasn’t pleasing to me so that’s why I went to hang out instead – to escape the boundaries and to reformat my consciousness. So I’ve lived in Berlin for a few months and upon my arrival to Kiev I went to graduate school, wrote a statement about and indefinite academic leave, crossed the road and got a job at my first event agency, which gave me a starting point and basic knowledge and experience of event organizing. I worked at two places half a year each. These are the only jobs I’ve had as an employee. Afterwards I’ve realized that I had to take matters in my own hands and create something from nothing. That’s when I’ve started working on cultural projects and did my best to get both pleasure and minimal income for a modest lifestyle.
What moment from your life would you like to re-live over and over again?
The first sailing among the Greek Islands is a drug by itself. My first visit to New York, Seville, Bilbao, Marseilles, Porto. I want these flashbacks to come back into my life again and again. Everything becomes blurred with time and you get used to things and with each time you kind of know what to expect again. But the very first trips are fantastical. My first trip to Sri Lanka in Asia or my first full-fledged hitchhiking trip from Panama to New York in the duration of two months. I’d love for that to be on loop or to experience it in a different incarnation. My first magic mushroom trip in Amsterdam was either way unforgettable. My second mushroom trip in Paris on the Day of Taking the Bastille when we saw Sarkozy. We were walking by with a girl at the time of a military parade and past us drives a car with Sarkozy standing on top. We weren’t hallucinating, it was reality. My first punk gig. My first punk rock party in Davka in September of 2001. The first Nirvana song I’ve ever listened somewhere around 1996. These things are very important: music, smells, traveling are the things I associate with the most. First sex would be too obvious but let’s be honest – first sex is not better than what follows with experience. I would definitely cycle certain sexual encounters for a long while without getting into too much detail but without the prospect of marriage.
What person inspires you the most?
I have an ultimate favorite who is quite infamous. I could talk about him for hours on end but I will try to keep it as short as possible. The person who inspires me the most is Leon Theremin. Not only is he the person I look up to as to how to live my life but he is also a symbolic icon of the 20th century and its happenings. I am very fascinated by history. For me, Berlin is a symbol of all the perturbations of the last century. It was and still is a melting pot that reflects everything that is happening in the world, whether culturally, socially, historically, politically. But returning to Theremin, you’ve either way indirectly have knowledge of the things that he’s done. He was quite a modest person who didn’t have a lot of noise surrounding him. Either way you know the Theremin Vox – the musical instrument. A wand and an arc, one is an octave and the other the notes. It was the first electronic musical instrument in the history of mankind, created in 1920. The first person he demonstrated it to was Vladimir Lenin. Here’s a quick chronology – Leon was born before the revolution, was endlessly creating, participated in the First World War, showed Lenin the first electronic music instrument, Lenin said how cool it was and then Lenin died. Afterwards Theremin went to tour Europe with his wife and passed through the best venues of Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris, Venice, and Milan. In the 1930s he moved to the States, where he opened a company that produced electronic devices, both musical and others. For example, he was the first one to create the world’s first alarm system that was used in Alcatraz and Fort Knox. He was friends with Einstein, Rockefeller, Chaplin, and many others inventors and iconic characters of that time. He bought a skyscraper in New York and it was his company’s main office. In the same years he was a party-goer, an inventor and a big personality in New York. Everything was going great till 1939 when World War II began. He was a Soviet citizen and was supposedly sent to New York on a mission by the Soviet government but ended up partying instead. They kept nagging him that it was time to go back. Then problems began between the US and the USSR, the war was imminent, an invasion into the Soviet Union. Long story short, he was kidnapped by the KGB and NKVD and was brought back to Moscow on a ship where he was sent into a light prison that was officially called a ‘sharashka’. A lot of scientific minds were sent there in order to build missiles, planes and all sorts of technical things. They carried out research in the field of physics, chemistry, and engineering. By another lucky coincidence in his life, he shares a ‘sharashka’ with Korolyov – the inventor of the first rocket on which Gagarin flew into space. I can’t know for sure but I am definite that in some way Theremin took part in the Korolyovs invention.
As the war ended they were released and he kept doing scientific work. He invented the first eavesdropping device that was secretly installed in the US Embassy in Moscow. He invented the technology of eavesdropping. It’s a fantastic idea: you direct a sound wave on a glass and it absorbs the vibrations so that you hear what is happening in the room at the distance of up to 100 meters. He taught a lot, lived a very modest life, practically in a communal apartment in Moscow, despite the fact that he was a living legend, especially in the west. He is mentioned on the Moog website and all the hipsters and musicians know about those synthesizers – the very first musical synthesizer. Robert Moog created the first synthesizer over and then the others came along. Every decent hipster band own a Moog: modular synthesizers or other devices. The very first Moog was invented upon Robert Moogs arrival to the USSR where he met Leon, who shared all his knowledge with him. Moog left and applied that knowledge in creating the very first synthesizer. Basically without Leon Theremin we would never know the music that we have now.
Same story with Ken Kesey: without his fluorescent bus there would be no “Flying over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, without his LSD experiments we wouldn’t have the world we have now. He was among the first group of people experimented on with LSD in America in 1959. Without all of that there would be the music or culture that we know now. Ken Kesey drove from LA to New York in 1964 in his bus to visit an exhibition and while doing so, gave out LSD to everyone on his way. For some reason, 3 years later Woodstock happened and for some reason, music changed exactly in that period of time. A generation of boomers in America in particular, but in the whole world as well. A new generation was born: LSD, music and Ken Kesey was the pioneer. It’s also a great story but maybe for another time.
Returning to Leon Theremin, I’d like to name a few more facts just so that you have a clearer idea of how iconic that person was. So he met Robert Moog about synthesizers and then in the 80s with Brian Eno. Brian Eno wrote almost a few albums under the influence of Leon, who at that time was basically an elderly. Brian Eno is one of the pillars in electronic music. I’ve attended a lecture about him in Closer – he is definitely a big figure in the electronic music scene. He had a joint project “Звуки Му” alongside Mamonov in the 80s. He came here quite often and he even has an album called ‘Airport Sounds’ which was ordered by the government of France. Philipp Markovich told that at that lecture. Theremin collaborated with some Russian rock artists in his late years, attended a few festivals in Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Actually, in 1991 he was the last person in the USSR to join the CPSU. When asked why after all these years of his life, after being repressed, being locked in jail and living in poverty he still joins CPSU when the Union has almost fallen he jokingly responded: “I promised Lenin in 1920”. It took 71 years. He died in 1993. There were a lot of films about him but little information. His devices are exhibited in science museums in San Francisco, I even played on an original device of the 1920s. In the modern version of Eurovision there were master classes on playing the Thereminvox at the Euro stage, where I played on one of the days. Jack White from the White Stripes uses a Thereminvox on all of his performances. The band Telepopmusic who we booked for a gig in 2013 also uses it. It’s a popular piece of equipment. Maybe you’ve heard those weird ghost noises in old horror flicks? That’s the sound of the Thereminvox.
I feel close-spirited to him just and to Bob Dylan as well. There are so many funny stories about his Nobel Prize award. His joke seemed like something Theremin would do. I would even cycle that moment. I’ve attended Dylan’s first gig after receiving that award. It happened three days afterward and it was a very low-key festival, where performers included The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd: just six cult bands, two of which performed at the original Woodstock. It happened last October in California, the same location as Coachella. There were two weekends in a row with the same lineup and I’ve attended the second one, right after Dylan’s award. Ha hasn’t spoken a single word, not a hello, not a goodbye. He just calmly sang his songs and smiled only once so the press went bonkers and wrote: “Bob Dylan smiled. WOW”. So he got his award followed by a lot of congratulations, a lot of hype and scandalous responses like: “Why the hell was this musician awarded a Nobel Prize in literature, this is nonsense!” Snobs. It’s all over the news. Some are happy some are not. Weeks pass and Bob Dylan doesn’t respond. Months passed and still no reaction. The Nobel committee probably got tired of writing letters to him and it’s the first time in history that a winner is in a complete ignore mode. His managers assured the public that he is alive and well and that they have no influence on his actions – such was the reality of the situation. The Nobel committee was getting a bad rep. They’ve tried to reach him through the press by causing a lot of media hype around the fact that they are even offended by such matters: “We gave him the one of the highest awards in the world and he won’t even acknowledge it”. He still had to read a lecture within the following six months in Stockholm at the committee, accept the award physically, talk terms and receive a money prize, which isn’t that small. Zero response. But eventually, he appears and writes a letter to the Nobel committee. I adore it. It’s simply brilliant. The letter stated something like: “Guys, I’m obviously glad to receive this award. It’s a Nobel Prize! I was so happy that I was simply speechless”. No further questions! He even trolled them in the end. I love such historical humorous twists.
I have a lot of musical idols. Kurt Cobain is definitely a fascinating personality. It’s better to burn than to smolder. Within a few years, he had written a few greatest albums that changed the course of music and just left. Generation 27. And all those artists that ended their life with suicide, like Chris Cornell, the frontman of Soundgarden, even though he was 50, yet it was also a weird death. Also Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse. But Kurt’s life is the most iconic and brightest, even saturated. He took so much from life in such a short period of time and left with a bang.
What are the pros and cons in your field of activity?
The biggest disadvantage is losing the ability to receive pleasure from other events or festivals because you can’t relax anymore. You are an event organizer yourself so your mind is constantly analyzing how things work. You can’t even enjoy other events if you get shitfaced or whatever else. You can’t abstract yourself enough to stop thinking about how the personnel work, what’s the sound system like, lighting, bar, artist performances. It’s the highest level of professional deformation. The advantages are the ability to invite your favourite artists to your ‘personal party’ so to speak. It’s not even about ‘touching the greatness’. I’m quite simple at approaching such matters, especially after seeing and hearing so much already. My favourite part is the following day after ending my own event, especially such a massive one like Hedonism 2016. The euphoria of the next day is incredible. Prior to that day, you say to yourself that you will never do it again, pretty much how I think right at this moment, but then this feeling comes and the wave fades into oblivion. So I am definite that I will think of these thoughts on the 10th of July at the end of the Hedonism Festival.
If you had to choose just one method of a death penalty in the world what would it be?
If I had to choose for myself then I’d want to freeze in a glacier and stay young forever. Maybe one day someone will reincarnate me. Such a death penalty is not completely mortal.
Taking into account the film ‘Lobster’, what animal would you transform to, and why?
Cool film, by the way, I’ve seen it twice. There was an option of a whale but it’s more of Vlad Malinovskiys option, with who I’ve brought RY X recently. He’s a fan of whales and I like them a lot too. They’re quite tasty. I love national parks a lot. In Africa, the only thing you can do is drive around national parks and looking at wild cats. But I guess I’d like to be a kangaroo: they’re cool, have their own bag, long legs, beautiful, they fight and jump around. They are independent, live in a cool hedonistic place, and can jump along the ocean shore.
You’ve booked a lot of artists. Who struck you the most in terms of individuality?
I could name a lot but will focus on Nicolas Jaar. Many may not understand him, especially the depth of his individuality, the level and height of his personal growth, and how he shifted modern culture. Basically he created a new genre as such. I call it Jarr-ovshina [rus]. Frankly, I don’t like genre classifications and clichés. To me, all my favourite artist play in their own unique genre. If I hear something similar to Nico then I can’t attach it to some specific genre. Yet at the same time he is so indifferent to material things: he wears the same outfits on all of his performances, he doesn’t care about the riders (apart from having 10 pairs of black socks), living conditions don’t matter much, he doesn’t party and is an extremely calm, self-sufficient and introverted human being. He is just focused on what he does and is in a sense a music geek but in a good way. He is probably lucky with his management; maybe they’ve sold him in a pretty package and made him a star. If it weren’t for them he would struggle making his way, I am sure. He is not vain and is not interested in the glamour side of things. Each upcoming album, track, or musical twist is impossible to predict. If you listen to his album for the very first time then you won’t be able to guess the next harmony. There are a lot of artists whose art is pretty obvious and you have a slight understanding that, for example, this musical note will come next, this lyric will follow and then the typical verse-chorus-verse. Nico broke those standards.
Also RY X, his vocals are so great. Before hearing him live for the very first time, which was last year on Sonar, where he performed with his project Howling, I had no clue that he sounds so good live. This is exactly the artist to whom you change your impression after a live performance. It’s a very important issue and your impression can shift both ways. You can be obsessed with albums and adore artists right until you hear them live or you can be skeptical and after a live performance completely change your mind. Both Jaar and RY X are the latter. And there are plenty of artists like that. For example, I was very skeptical about Kasabian before hearing them live. I must agree, they know how to do their job. Of course they are a stadium band, but their live show is fantastic, it’s a performance and they deliver mayhem. Future Islands have great lives. But there are also those who disappoint me terribly: Kendrick Lamar’s performance was a complete disaster. I saw him live 3 times in 2013, 2015, and 2017. I gave him three chances. He did not deliver. That rascal.
What was the most worrying and exciting moment of your life?
Hedonism Festival 2017. I’m not even joking, by the way. It’s the most important and the most massive that I’ve organized and its second installment is about to happen this Friday.
What were you like in high school?
I went to school at a rather early age so I’ve finished 11th grade when I was 16. I wasn’t as geeky as I am now. I did athletics, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, studied in a good school but I wasn’t an A grade student. I won 8 fights behind the school. In athletics, I became the champion in the 800m sprints in Kyiv once on the Olympic stadium. I didn’t have a chance to travel but even back then I knew it was my passion. I was madly in love with music and hungry for it. It was this axiom, that unforgettable factor that stayed with me to this day. Around that time, there was music that I could proudly still listen to today without being ashamed. It was around 9th grade and I know that everything that I listened to then is not something I would listen to now because it lost its relevance, but it was significant and with quality. At that age I wasn’t certain about what future path to follow and what to study further. My higher education was useful but I wouldn’t say that it’s something that I use much right now. I guess everyone is in that state at the age of 15 or 16. Although there are people that are fulfilled individuals at the age of 15 and there are those who remain clueless even at 40. It’s not a matter of age really. I also had long hair and was to some extent shy, but not with my friends.
What life truth did you learn after living all these years?
Don’t be an asshole and don’t cause shit to others. Life is cyclical and the world is round so any action has a double return. And this return can smack you at the back of your head real bad. You won’t even realize it happened because of one of your direct actions. It could happen through three consecutive and unrelated actions but it would still come back to you whether good or bad. It’s something to always keep in mind. And what’s the truth? To live in the name of hedonism and pleasure both yours and those around you. It’s very important and without it, everything else loses its meaning. Whatever people say or however people try to hide their egoism through altruism, but altruism is the highest manifestation of selfishness. It’s better not to lie to yourself and acknowledge this. The beauty of hedonism, as well as of altruism, is that you not only live for yourself but you live exactly in a way to make other people feel good too. No damage needs to be done. Live however you like and do whatever you want, as long as you don’t bother the freedom of others.
What do you desire the most?
I’d like to grow not only in width but in height too. It is very important.
Tell us about some fuck-ups of your job as an event organizer.
We once lost an artist within the venue right at the moment when he was supposed to go up on stage. We couldn’t reach him. We’ve sent hounds to search for him but he was nowhere to be found. Eventually, we found him in some distant tower of Malaya Opera where he was quite busy with a woman and he was too distracted to answer phone calls. There was another incident in Malaya Opera when Telepopmusik were performing with a completely sold-out show and even an apple had nowhere to fall. A thunderstorm started and the rain breaks through the roof. The building was in an emergency state and the flow of water just poured down directly on the dance floor with the highest concentration of people. It was pretty much a 4D gig with special effects.
What are your plans for Burning Man 2017?
I’m participating in the creation of the first-ever Ukrainian camp on Burning Man this year. It’s starting on the 27th of August and even though I’ve been to 70 other festivals, Burning Man was one that was definitely missing in my collection. It’s a completely different format. My costumes are being prepared. One costume will be an interpretation of a Ukrainian traditional costume. The second will be based on the Aladdin fairytale but with a psychedelic touch to it. A lady from LA who is initially from Vladivostok is creating the third. For the past couple of years she has been creating these unique fashion crowns but decided to create an entire costume for me. Be sure not to miss the photo reports. By the way, we share a very interesting virtual communication. She finds the most trashy things in LA (one doesn’t even have to look hard enough) and I find similar stuff in Kiev for her. It’s a ‘non-cultural’ exchange of semi-pornographic and provocative photos. The beauty of Burning Man is that everything happens the way it should for those who want to get there in the best way possible. It’s a festival where you shouldn’t plan anything and should just go with the flow. You just have to drift away from civilization and forget about all that is linked to reality for the time being. Normally I have some starting points but this time I only have a ticket and a costume.
What question would you want to be asked at an interview and what would your answer be?
You’re making this quest difficult. I’ll send you the answer next year! But I would probably ask: “How will Hedonism go?” or “What’s the deepest point in Hedonism?”. But ok, let’s get serious. I guess I would ask myself if I see a final point, whether in life or in creativity or in anything else. I would never want to see it through but if I would then I’d want it to be a beginning of some next karmic cycle or a start of a new life. I’m from a Buddhist temple after all. The one that kicked me out because I broke bicycles, got other Buddhists drunk, took them clubbing, and fought with one German scab. He drank vodka with us and went to bed while we went out. Upon our arrival in the morning we’ve already been awaited because he complained that ‘nasty Ukrainian terrorists’ got him drunk. We also carried scripts and Buddhist books with prayers and the other group carried them in the opposite direction. It seems to me that it was the embodiment of a philosophical idea: to make us carry them all day in order to acknowledge the physical weight of knowledge, philosophy, and religion. Such an educational process.
If you had to choose between music and sex what would you go for?
Great. How about you add traveling into the mix.
I’d leave music and sex and I will even elaborate why. I’ve done plenty of traveling and in most cases, traveling is just absorbing static pictures and eternal tangible values. I’ve seen 95 countries and the majority of interesting places of the world and it’s forever at the back of my mind. There won’t be any radical changes in our lifespan. Yet with music, it develops constantly, it’s in an ever-changing motion, modification, and combination. Besides, music and sex go so well together. Sex and traveling is a bit more difficult.
What if you had to choose between music and sex?
Well, sex obviously. Sex is music for the body.
Things you can’t un-think.
Sex, music, traveling, Hedonism, and all their variables. But in all seriousness, I think about my son all the time.