From Russia With Love: Seven Takeaways From Outline 2015

We gather our thoughts after the second edition of the Moscow event.
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Photo: Camille Blake

Photo: Camille Blake

A little over a week ago, XLR8R made the journey to Moscow for the second annual Outline Festival. Running for 24 hours straight from Saturday night to Sunday night, Outline 2015 took place at Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant, a sprawling complex of disused factories and warehouses situated beside a modern shopping centre in the east of the city. Opened in 1950, Karacharovsky's production lines manufactured various types of elevator equipment during the Soviet era, contributing to many iconic structures including Moscow State University, The Kremlin and the world-famous Tretyakov Gallery. With the plant only quite recently having ceased operations, the site feels, if not freshly abandoned, then still heavy with the atmosphere of decades of hard industry.

Hulking industrial remnants, among them cranes, lift shafts and gigantic cooling towers, rise up from the landscape, giving the area the feel of a gloriously dilapidated adults' playpark on the cusp of being retaken by nature. The organisers of Outline—a trio of time-served local promoters called Arma17, Stereotactic and Sila Sveta—saw the site's huge potential, and opted to bring the festival there for its second annual edition. It was one of the most interesting settings for a party that I have ever seen, and the festival's line-up—which was not only excellent, but excellent in a way that felt deeply in tune with the surroundings—confirmed Outline as one of the summer's true highlights. Below are seven of the most abiding impressions I took home from Outline 2015.

Heavy techno sounds extra good in heavy industrial settings.

Given the existence of, y'know, Berghain and whatnot, this is admittedly not front-page news—but Outline made excellent use of its environment. I arrived at the festival site at dusk on Saturday (around 10pm), and the following few hours of darkness were soundtracked by a combination of pounding 4/4 techno and abstract, coruscating beats. The lasers and "deconstructed pop" of Atom™ and Robin Fox's audio-visual show Double Vision in the Main area was the most sociable thing on the menu, and Andy Stott's crashing sonic onslaught the least. Stott's set took place in the other primary night-time area, the DARK Stage, a pitch-black cavern with stunning lighting that in itself was one of the main talking points of the festival. Over in the Main area, meanwhile, Daniel Avery played one of the toughest sets I've ever heard from him to cathartic effect after the more abstract shows that preceded it. Ukrainian DJ Nastia, and then Nina Kraviz, took things into ever-tougher territory as we edged towards breakfast time. Each and every one of these nighttime sets felt impressively calibrated to their bleak-but-in-a-good-way environments.

The crowd at the Depo Stage  (Photo: Camille Blake)

The crowd at the Depo Stage (Photo: Camille Blake)

Outline's unusual scheduling worked out brilliantly.

I arrived in Russia in a state of mild sleep deprivation—and also mild panic at my late realization that the "two-day" festival I was covering ran for 24 hours straight instead of (far more conventionally) over two separate nights. Closer inspection of the schedule revealed that the organizers had tacitly factored in a break for those of us who needed it, with a lull in big-ticket shows coming between breakfast time and early afternoon on the Sunday. A few hours away proved just the recharge I, and those I was with, needed. We headed back to the site in time to catch most of Pender Street Steppers' blissful house set on the Depo Stage, though our enjoyment of it was delayed by a few minutes as we—and just about everyone else at the festival—sought shelter from an almighty but thankfully brief thunderstorm.

The midmorning opening of the Depo Stage, an outdoor area in the site's top-right-hand corner housed underneath a large industrial platform, was one expression of another pleasing aspect of Outline's scheduling: the way the action shifted between areas as night turned to day. This lent a feeling of progression to the whole thing, and at times—say when comparing the full-throttle murk of Daniel Avery's set with kicking back, ice cream in hand, to enjoy Fatima's Sunday-afternoon R&B at the family-friendly Sun Stage—made it hard to believe this was all happening at the same festival. In short, the people organizing Outline clearly know what they're doing, and had the vision to build a clear, evolving narrative into their event as well as simply scheduling a load of good music.

A crane overlooking the Sun Stage (Photo: Camille Blake)

A crane overlooking the Sun Stage (Photo: Camille Blake)

Attention to detail paid off.

It's telling of the amount of time Arma17 and the rest of the promoters have been in the party-promoting business that a festival, in only its second year, was so well-organized and such a delight to wander aimlessly around. Alongside the stunning hunks of old machinery, visual art installations were liberally scattered around the site, bars were plentiful and cheap and movement around the site was easy and quick. The food was also delicious—special shout-outs to the much-revisited falafel and ice cream stands—and there were plenty of areas in which to escape the music and crowds for a while if you wanted to. It was often the little things that made Outline, even if sometimes the little things were hundred-foot-high pieces of decommissioned industrial equipment.

Cobblestone Jazz (Photo: Camille Blake)

Cobblestone Jazz (Photo: Camille Blake)

Ricardo Villalobos's presence lifted things to another level.

On a weekend of somewhat flexible adherence to supposed set times, Ricardo Villalobos sauntered into the Woodz's DJ booth around an hour and a half after he was supposed to. In line with the relaxed, go-with-the-flow atmosphere I found during the whole festival, nobody seemed to care very much, especially as the delay gave Sonja Moonear's set further room to flourish. I dipped in and out of Villalobos's set while taking in bits of Fatima and Cobblestone Jazz—but every time I returned to the Woodz, the buzz and energy was palpable, whether he was turning out peak-time techno (Floorplan's "Baby Baby") or "that track from the club scene in Spaced" (Tall Paul's Remix of Camisra's "Let Me Show You"). "It's just nice sometimes to see an actual rock star at these things," said one friend as Villalobos buzzed excitedly between conversations immediately after the end of his set—and really, who could argue with that assessment?

Part of the Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant (Photo: Camille Blake)

Part of the Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant (Photo: Camille Blake)

Outline's organizers have an eye for a striking venue.

Last year's inaugural Outline took place on a man-made island in the middle of the River Moskva. While I wasn't there to see it, from the photographs I saw the 2014 edition was every bit as visually stunning as this year's. Unsurprisingly for a city as progress-obsessed as Moscow currently is, Karacharovsky Mechanical Plant is soon to be demolished, meaning that Outline's will have to take place at a third new venue in its three years. It's indicative of what a vast metropolis Moscow is that the organizers seemed entirely unruffled by this fact, and I left with the impression that there are probably dozens of locations around the city where the next Outline could conceivably be held while upholding the formidable aesthetic standards it has already set itself.

The Woodz (Photo: Camille Blake)

The Woodz (Photo: Camille Blake)

The Woodz was the festival's most magical spot…if you could hack the crowds.

Every one of Outline's five stages had something special going for it, whether it was the Sun Stage's midsummer country-fair vibe or the Dark Stage's feeling of being in the opening scenes of a particularly harrowing Gaspar Noe film. The Woodz Stage was at the center of the festival site—in more ways than one. Many of the weekend's best shows—Ben UFO, Ricardo Villalobos and Egyptian Lover among them—took place there, and its surroundings conferred a feel totally apart from the rest of the event. Hundreds of people crammed onto a miniature woodland hillside to enjoy these sets, some actually climbing trees for a better view or elbowing their way to a vantage point in the large treehouse opposite the stage. There were occasional gripes about having the biggest acts in what (given the constraints of the corner building the stage backed onto) was the festival's smallest space. However, the atmosphere there was second to none once you carved out a space in which to properly enjoy it.

Egyptian Lover (Photo: Camille Blake)

Egyptian Lover (Photo: Camille Blake)

Moscow is worth sticking around and seeing after the festival finishes

A quick jaunt to Red Square would likely be on even the most time-pressed Outline attendee's schedule, and rightly so, but there is unsurprisingly a great deal more besides to explore in the Russian capital. I had managed to work things so I could stay in the city for a little while post-festival, so the morning after it ended I checked into an extraordinary Soviet-era hotel that was built under the orders of Stalin and frequented by the likes of Thatcher and Ceausescu, and which was a memorable experience in itself. With the help of a friendly native I was also able to tick off a reasonable number of other Moscow experiences during the second half of my trip, among them Gorky Park, dinner at an excellent Georgian restaurant serving fist-sized pork dumplings, and a beautiful nighttime walk along the River Moskva. With the requirement for visitors from the U.K. or U.S. to obtain a visa before visiting, Russia is a little more of a hassle to visit than most other festival destinations. It's also one of the world's truly great cities, though, so it only makes sense to make the most of it once you actually get there.