Tweeman - the pioneer of VESELKA - Kyiv's revolutionary Queer Rave
In the space of a few years, Tweeman has managed to create a series of parties that attract queer people from across Ukraine, Eastern-Europe, and the world. In Ukraine there are very few opportunities for young people to express themselves without fear; VESELKA is one of them.
EAST: Thanks for deciding to speak to us. How are you?
TWEEMAN: I am pretty good, the lockdown is over here in Kyiv, we have had some parties already, trying to fill my schedule. Organising some things for VESELKA and Horovod in Moscow. I’m also finishing some new podcasts. I’m having fun.
EAST: Growing up in Ukraine. When did you start to become interested in music, and specifically Electronic music?
TWEEMAN: I started going to the clubs at 14, I would go with my brother and his friends, and when I would see the crowd and enjoy the house music, I realised from this day that I wanted to work in this industry. At the time I didn’t know how to get inside the industry, but I definitely knew I wanted to do it. For my first job I was a waiter in ‘Opium’ club, this was the start of my career.
EAST: And how difficult was it to get into Kyiv’s electronic music scene?
TWEEMAN: My music career started 5 to 7 years after I started my professional life. I enjoyed the vibe of music, and I wanted to share it, so I started a music blog, it was called ‘Twee Disco’- here I started to organise parties. This was the start of my promoter career, and DJ career. I have worked in a lot of roles, from PR director to copy writer. For two years I had the idea for VESELKA. But at the time I had no partner in crime. Everybody was telling me that I don’t need to make gay parties, so I was trying to explain my queer ideas, but no one would listen to me. Then I met this guy, and he became my friend, and I proposed to make some kind of open minded party. He is not really involved in nightlife, but he was a producer in TV. He agreed, and then we started VESELKA. I was inspired by parties all over the world, Honey Sound System in San Francisco, Ladyfag’s Battle Him in New York, Horse Meat Disco, or Menergy in Paris, Cocktail d'Amore in Berlin etc. - I was inspired by this.
EAST: Its hard to just create something of this scale from scratch. How important is it to form friendships and make contacts when creating an iconic gay party movement?
TWEEMAN: Yeah, of course, this is very important. I have a lot of experience across the entire industry, whether its booking, organisation, promotion parties. I am probably one of the most versatile promoters in Kyiv. At the same time I’m organising fashion parties and playing a lot of music for Chanel, Vogue and other huge brands. But what I really love is the underground scene. I have parties in Closer club which is pretty famous in the world now, so I have a lot of contacts with a lot of people which helped VESELKA become pretty big in short amount of time
EAST: You do so much, you must be exhausted. I want to try and understand why you wanted to create VESELKA. Being so prominent in all areas of the industry, did you become aware of a gap? Did you feel that young queer kids needed a space of their own?
TWEEMAN: I made VESELKA originally not for those kids, but for me. Two years before VESELKA I got bored of all the parties in Kyiv. The underground nightlife in Kyiv is growing and growing but all the parties were the same. Some foreign artist would come, then the same faces would turn up to the venue, dancing for ten minutes, then talking, talking, talking. But its different in parties all over the world. In Berghain, I feel that vibe of freedom and expressing yourself. I wanted to make these kind of parties. Thats why.
EAST: I tried to get into Berghain on two occasions, and I was tragically rejected.
TWEEMAN: So you didn’t wear black or leather?
EAST: No, I look like a child from England. I’m emotionally scarred by this, its best to move on.
EAST: What are the similarities and differences between VESELKA and Berghain and lets say, Horse Meat Disco, for example.
TWEEMAN: Its different to Bergain and everything else. I really like the parties in Berlin, Tel Aviv or whatever, but in Kyiv we have our people, and these people are more friendly, and more fashionable and expressive. When they have opportunities to express, they do 100%. When we started VESELKA the first one was pretty small, our friends came, just a couple of hundred people, maybe a bit more. The second one was huge, 700 people and more, even. My friends were amazed with what’s happening. They said “Oh my god, what did you do to the people, before VESELKA they were so normal.” To which I replied “now they are free”. This is the difference, for Kyiv, this party makes normal people feel free.
EAST: I actually went to a VESELKA in 2019, in September or October, I can’t remember exactly. I was surprised with how many non Queer people were there. Do you think this is a sign that the young generation in Ukraine is becoming more open to Queerness? And do you see fluid parties as a gate way for mixing up communities?
TWEEMAN: This was probably one of the biggest parties that you went to, VESELKA Coven. When we were deciding what we wanted VESELKA to be, we didn’t want it to be just for queer people and the LGBT community. This is a party for everyone. We are queer and hetero friendly also. Everyone can feel free, and not to judge anyone else. I was pretty surprised to see a lot of queer people, because before this I didn’t see them in this quantity. I would see a few guys or girls who were more brave and out, but now our party is super queer, and for me, seeing this was one of my happiest moments.
"VESELKA is like a halloween party. In Halloween parties everyone feels a little bit more free to experiment, guys become girls, and girls become guys and everything else- but in a sexy way."
EAST: For those who haven’t been to a VESELKA, would you share some of the crazy shit that goes on behind closed doors?
TWEEMAN: All the crazy stories I seem to come across after the VESELKA had finished. But for me its a bit mystical. I would go to the dark room before the party to check everything is okay, the lighting and everything, and then I go to the party, I play and speak to people. VESELKA is like a meteorite, it goes by so quick. After VESELKA I’m always hearing of gang bang love stories on the dance floor. But i never see this, so I'm always jealous.
EAST: Yeah, I remember it being like this. So, VESELKA, how do you promote/market a Queer party in a hostile city?
TWEEMAN: We position VESELKA as an open minded rave. When we are using our partners, such as Kyiv Pride, we are always open to say that it is a queer party. But when we are making something for the masses, we are calling it an open minded party. A lot of people are scared of what they don't understand. Our mission is to show everyone that this is okay. The promotion is mainly social media, Facebook, Instagram. Sometimes we make posters and put them in the streets of Kyiv. But its more like art, because the posters depict the side of a mans head. Now we are preparing for the next VESELKA in June and we are thinking of rebranding, we don’t know yet what it will be, but we will probably go into a more digital story. We will see.
EAST: Lets talk a little about Kyiv. How accepting is it of Queer people?
TWEEMAN: The community is getting bigger every year- doubling in size. I think the appearance of the club Kyryllivska played a significant role in this. Its a club without name, we call it Kyryllivska because of the street that its on. This club is like a second Berghain. Its a very powerful machine with a huge investments. Each party, big artists come, and there’s non binary safe spaces, dark rooms, you can do whatever you want with everyone who doesn't mind. This is absolutely safe and open minded, it became super big and mainstream- a few thousand people at one point. I heard since that almost half of these people are foreigners, especially because of lockdown, everyone is coming to Kyiv to party. It really looks like Berghain, but in a more luxurious way. Berghain is more raw, but Kyryllivska is kind of a luxury underground. This is a very big step forward for the queer community. So every year parties get bigger offering more safety for queer people. But there is still a lot of hostility. If you wear heels to the metro, it won’t be safe.
EAST: How did the revolution effect the clubbing scene? Did you notice an impact?
TWEEMAN: When the revolution started, I was in Thailand for two months, and watching it unfold on Instagram. I was in a very bad mood, only two clubs were working, one of them being the club that I was a resident of, Boom Boom Room and Closer. After the revolution the era of glamorous parties were over, now people just want to dance. They are searching for warehouses. A lot of DJ’s and artists then move into this underground scene. Its not like the revolution made everything bigger, it just changed.
EAST: And COVID, how much damage did this past year do to the scene in Kyiv?
TWEEMAN: Globally its fucked up. For me, in the begging it was a hard period, but at the same time I was waiting for this. Before COVID the speed of everything was a lot. I even opened a queer club 4 months before COVID, and we were forced to close it. After that I moved to the country side to my parents house, we have no welfare support from the government, they didn’t do nothing. So I only had my parents and friends who helped me, for me it was really hard. I didn’t have any way to make money for living. I mean, I create parties, promote parties, and play in parties. This is illegal in the first instance. Then the clubs closed. So this was a hard period. What I see in Ukraine and what I see in Europe. I started a VESELKA podcast in quarantine. I had an agreement with many foreign DJ’s who agreed to join the podcast. But after a few months DJ’s messaged me saying that they can no longer participate because their mood was so low.
EAST: Finally, what is the future of VESELKA? Where do you want to take it?
TWEEMAN: From the very beginning I was dreaming of making VESELKA the first Kyiv based queer party. But at the same time I want to export VESELKA and show the world the vibe of the rave. I am speaking with people in Georgia and New York to make showcases there. But for now its postponed and on hold. I want to make VESELKA as huge as I can here, and then travel it around the world. And a music label, that will come soon.