If you thought Lithuanian electronic music started and ended with Ten Walls think again. Its home-grown scene can be traced back to the Baltic state’s very first raves after Soviet rule. Today, DJs and parties channel that same underground spirit while escaping the tourist crowds. Take Opium, an intimate bastion of techno and house, that’s quietly crept onto the list of unforgettable places to party in the New East, sandwiched between Kiev’s Схема and Tbilisi’s Bassiani. The fact that the Lithuania is a small country has only worked in its favour; the parties are friendly and DJs are out to support one another.
J. G. Biberkopf
Gediminas Žygus, the brains behind J. G. Biberkopf, started making music through pirated software, which he says was the norm growing up in Lithuania, where bootlegging had arrived during the Soviet-era. After becoming disillusioned with club music, the producer was ready to drop the musical project until meeting Joe Shakespeare and Jamie Teasdale (aka. Kuedo) behind the Knives imprint, who have since helped release two phenomenal mini-albums by the artist. The sound of Ecologies I and II is deeply rooted in internet culture, greatly influenced by directors such as John Waters, R.W. Fassbinder, Gus Van Sant and Ryan Trecartin, yet what drove Žygus’s to make these records was an anxiety about our planet, climate change and the impact of politics on nature.
Ernestas Sadau is a household name in Lithuania. The DJ started his career in his hometown of Utena and by 2006 had joined minimal.lt, a collective dedicated to supporting minimal, techno and ambient music that became a game-changer for the local underground scene. After launching Sūpynės, which remains one of the biggest electronic music festival in the Baltic states, he decided to move to London, where together with Roman Sputnik he launched his imprint Digital Tsunami, named after a track by Detroit electronic duo Drexciya. What started as a radio show has evolved into a podcast and regular party night in London and Vilnius, spotlighting emerging artists across Europe. Along with running DT CLASH radio show on LYL radio based in Lyon, Digital Tsunami have since launched their own summer festival, DT Camp, that happens every August at a secret location in the Lithuanian woods. On 16 October, Sadau will drop his first 12” on Pinkman records entitled Gonzo on Tour, dedicated to the rougher neighbourhoods the artist has visited in cities like Kaunas, Lyon and Hiroshima.
If you’ve been to Digital Tsumani’s parties you will have seen co-founder Roman Sputnik living up to his self-proclaimed title as “associate professor of partying” in London. It’s no surprise Boiler Room has called Sadau and Sputnik “the notorious wild men of Digital Tsumani”. Earlier this year, the duo served up a dangerous offering of beat-heavy acid house for Boiler Room’s first show in Lithuania, at Vilnius’s best house and techno joint, Opium. The two DJs also perform together under the moniker Glark n Glark. After over seven years living in London, Sputnik is moving on, not without a last hurrah. For more info visit Resident Advisor.
For the last few years, Vilnius’s musical man-about-town, Manfredas, has been touring the globe, playing in Europe, Russia, Israel, Turkey, the US and Canada. On home turf you’ll find him gracing the decks as resident DJ at Smala, one of the best and most popular nights in Lithuania, which he runs with his friends at Opium club. From growing up in a town with no record store to working for MTV, radio, clubs and recording studios, Manfredas has learned the ins-and-outs of the industry, especially the importance of not only making phenomenal music but of having a strong image. With its red curtains and its signature neon sign, Smala has built a reputation as a cross between an underground rave and a David Lynch film set. Manfredas insists on a no-curfew policity and has been known to play marathon sets lasting 12 hours. The DJ has released music on Multi Culti and Les Disques De La Mort. Besides this he also makes remixes for artists like C.A.R., Telepopmusik and Finnish weird-pop artist Jaakko Eino Kalevi.
DJ, promoter, vinyl enthusiast, co-founder of the Partyzanai record label, well known-resident of Lithuania’s first underground nightclub Gravity and organiser of the seminal “Revolt” club night, Mantas T’s vast experience makes him a significant part of Lithuania’s vibrant electronic music scene. Starting his career in the young party scene of Kaunas in the 90s, and finding himself during the 80s revival in the US and UK years later, he returned to his homeland in 2004, motivated to start his own label. Partyzanai, which means “the constant sound revolt” was founded in 2005 together with Gvidas B, to spotlight new Baltic artists. Partyzanai’s parties brough together local and acclaimed DJs in Vilnius, travelling also to Poland, Kaliningrad, Latvia, Iceland and Germany. Nowadays, Mantas T runs Partyzanai from Cologne. His sets reflect a wide spectrum of sound, as well as his love for obscure, hard-to-find records.
Justinas Mikulskis has been an influential figure in Lithuania’s underground music scene in more ways than one: as a DJ, performing under the s13 alias, and as a music journalist and founder of the online music magazine and community, Secret Thirteen. Growing up in the quiet post-industrial town of Panevėžys, away from the bigger Lithuanian cities like Vilnius and Kaunas, Mikulskis’s earliest musical memory involved creating sound collages from cassettes. Boasting a musical knowledge beyond his years, he started Secret Thirteen out of a love for avant-garde music, as a platform for (but not limited to) experimental, drone, ambient, abstract and techno. Secret Thirteens’s scope has expanded over the years to include sound and visual art. When he’s not interviewing his musical heroes, he’s playing alongside them: whether that’s sharing the decks with Mika Vainio and Fennesz at a Arma17 night in Moscow or at festivals in Berlin, Minsk or Norberg.
Text: Liza Premiyak
Want more stories delivered to your inbox? Sign up to our newsletter here:
More from Music
Enter the fearless world of Nina Kraviz, the Siberian DJ who swept the world
Meet the Bosnian-Muslim musician delivering Balkan ballads with a witchy vibe
In their own words, Tbilisi’s creative community on why Bassiani matters