Heady, energetic, and spontaneous, TIGHT magazine is a Ukrainian music portal with a global mission

Heady, energetic, and spontaneous, TIGHT magazine is a Ukrainian music portal with a global mission
TIGHT co-founders: Vita Zhyriakova, Tanya Voytko, and Maya Baklanova

After vowing to support Kyiv’s music scene during the Covid-19 crisis, this month Ukraine’s foremost electronic music magazine will host a 16 hour online birthday bash.

6 April 2020
Text: Mariia Ustimenko

From a sofa in Kyiv, Tanya Voytko and Maya Baklanova are used to navigating all the technical issues that come with video conference calls. This is the makeshift office which they virtually share with Vita Zhyriakova, the third Stockholm-based co-founder of TIGHT: an online music magazine which is both a treasure trove of hand-picked underground electronica, and a digital feast for the eyes. If the weather was any warmer, this conversation would have taken place on the lawn at Peizazhna Alley, a green area overlooking the Ukrainian capital. “Over spring and summer, it’s our preferred co-working space,” Voytko says as they laugh and reminisce. “All the drama, all the genius happens there.”

The three friends first started to discuss launching a magazine in 2017, when Zhyriakova was already living in Stockholm. She’d studied UI & UX design and, as a freelancer, was eager to branch out. “Commercial projects usually come with strict briefs”, she says, “and I realised that I wanted to combine something I am skilled at with something I really enjoy.” Baklanova, who was working as a copywriter, also felt that the music she loved was unrepresented by the local media. Together, they planted the seed for TIGHT.

Today, you’ll find articles on Ukrainian electronic music in glossy magazines like Vogue. Specialist magazines, such as English-language Krossfingers or Russian-language DTF Magazine and Katacult, cover more obscure electronic releases, although they often lack the authority to propel the artists’ careers forward. Baklanova points out: “The big music platforms in Europe, although in crisis, provide a lot of support to Western artists. We don’t have anything like that in Ukraine so our artists are left to fend for themselves”.

TIGHT is a dual-language magazine, published in English and Russian. Publishing in English was essential to reach a global audience; they settled on Russian to appeal to readers across the post-Soviet world. They are currently preparing to make all their articles available in Ukrainian — a significant yet daunting development, considering the amount of work required to translate already-published material. Ukraine is becoming more Ukrainian; there is a lot more Ukrainian-language media now, and we wanted to reflect this too.”

For Voytko, TIGHT was a welcome career change and entry into music journalism. Drawing on her previous experience in fashion, one of her first features for the site was about the history of merchandise. Her expertise also came into use in developing the magazine’s own merchandise and online shop last year.

“We have different interests which means we can all cover different ground,” says Zhyriakova, who looks after visuals for the site. Their long-read on Cxema called “Raving the Limits”, developed in collaboration with interface designer Antonio Rizzo, captures the energy and thrill of raving in Kyiv by building dynamic elements into the text and images. What TIGHT manages to do is rare: the result is an innovative digital magazine that recreates the feeling of holding a well-crafted and personal zine.

“You don’t usually find this attention to detail on other platforms because it’s very expensive,” Zhyriakova explains, saying they are lucky as a smaller initiative in this respect. They still rely on funding to realise bigger projects. One of TIGHT’s recent projects was produced thanks to a travel grant from the Goethe Institute, which allowed the whole crew to fly to Munich and create a five-part series that unpacks the city’s electronic music scene and a wider culture around it. “We’d like to continue doing this if we can, going to cities that are overlooked in this industry,” Baklanova says.

TIGHT’s main mission, meanwhile, has been to draw attention to Ukrainian underground. After the Maidan Revolution and the conflict in east Ukraine thrust the country into the media spotlight, various media outlets covered its ensuing cultural revolution. In recent years, the visa-free scheme with the EU has made the country more accessible for new visitors and led to an interest in Ukrainian culture and nightlife.

Since the initial wave of media attention in the mid-2010s, Kyiv club Closer — one of the city’s successful underground clubs — has grown into a cultural hub and now manages some of the country’s main festivals, such as Strichka and Brave! Factory, as well as a new edition entitled new Black! Factory geared towards industrial dance music.

For the 2019 edition of Brave! Factory, TIGHT co-curated one of the stages together with Ukrainian label Muscut, spotlighting fresh Ukrainian artists such as Nastya Vogan, Acid Jordan and Signal from Militia.

On the Saturday following our interview, before the coronavirus closed the city’s venues, Baklanova mentions that they are going to Otel’, a small club that shares its courtyard with Closer, to catch a showcase by a local label, Pep Gaffe. The venue is popular with small promoters and it regularly hosts queer party VESELKA, experimental rave night Heavy Culture, as well as performances by upcoming artists, like the recent audiovisual show by Rina Priduvalova and Diana Azzuz. Voytko boasts that it’s “completely different to anything else happening in Kyiv right now”.

But it’s not just the capital that’s brimming with activity — something that TIGHT is keen to show the rest of the world. Festivals such as ATOM in Zhytomyr and Construction in Dnipro have already drawn comparisons to CTM in Berlin and Unsound in Krakow. As a digital outlet, supporting homegrown talent is even more important now, as the pandemic has forced venues, promoters, and musicians to suspend gigs. Alongside DJ Nastia, TIGHT was the only other Ukrainian body to join the Resident Advisor’s #SaveOurScene campaign launched to help the music industry keep afloat during this time. Whereas they would have previously celebrated their birthday with a big night on the town, on 11 April TIGHT will be embracing the digital party scene and marking their second birthday with a 16-hour broadcast on 20ft Radio website.

While TIGHT is focused on electronic music, the crew wants to give spotlight to a full range of Ukrainian talent. “We think of it as a curated platform open for journalists, developers, designers, visual artists, musicians — anyone who wants to do their own thing or has a story to tell.”

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