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Crimean Beach Party

Rebecca Lewis A dancer striking a pose.

Photo: Rebecca Lewis

Which is pretty much what Kazantip wants to be: an autonomous republic. The organizers have built an enormous, pseudo-classical stone structure ("It's like our Brandenburg Gate," says Sergei Litvinovsky, one of the festival's "foreign ministers"), which acts as the only entry to the beach. About five football fields' worth of sand has been fenced off, with impromptu bars and food shacks set up on the beach around the stages: a main stage with huge video screens, a Eurodance floor built under what looks like a jungle-gym geodesic dome, a sea stage on stilts placed about 100 feet into the waves. The sound track is a set of dance mixes: electronic music of varying styles, like house, trance, and so on, the sort of noise that sounds to most people over 30 a little like an alarm system for a military installation complemented by heavy bass, but is curiously effective at getting you to move your arms and legs.

Most of the revelers have rented rooms in Popovka and spend the afternoon on the beach before taking short after-dinner naps and showing up to dance around midnight. There are a few who make visits to the cities of Crimea—the beach resort Yalta, where the great powers split up Europe after World War II, or Sevastopol, the Soviet military city that was forbidden ground to visitors until 1996—but not many. There's music almost 24 hours a day, and the dancers wander mostly between the beach and their rooms. The local roosters are confused by the whole thing, the all-day and all-night activity setting their internal clocks at all the wrong times, and so with no idea what time it is they end up crowing all day.

It's a strange sort of boon to the area's residents, who see an unearthly rise in income with the influx of visitors willing to pay near-Western prices for food and lodging and who have jerry-rigged barbecue shacks and T-shirt stands along the path to the beach. The effects of Kazantip are immediately apparent: new buildings, to provide rentable rooms to the partyers, are popping up all over the little town. The local population is, of course, not quite sure what to make of the wealthy young visitors, decked out in beads and sarongs or, sometimes, nothing at all.

It's a pretty big boon to the organizers, too: a viza to get in costs about $50, and around 50,000 people come to the show over the course of the four weeks. That's $2.5 million. Not to mention bar receipts. And herein lies, perhaps, the real revolution: this is not the summer of love, but rather the summer of capitalism. "We're making a brand," says Roland Stach, a Swiss national who lives in St. Petersburg and helps organize the festival. The branding of culture has long been routine within American capitalism. As subcultures grow in popularity, they begin to be normalized, introduced to the mainstream. Which is to say, in a free capitalist society, anything that makes money is normal. Still, drinking vodka on the beach all day and dancing all night hardly feels like standard day-to-day life. "One week here," says DJ Ebola, who traveled from Düsseldorf to spin at Kazantip, "I think it is minus five years of your life."

"What you are talking about, so serious?" a young Russian says, noticing us off away from the crowd without any vodka in our hands. "What you are doing?You are wasting time! If you are not drinking or dancing there is something wrong! And nothing wrong is allowed to be here!"

For information about this year's Kazantip festival, see www.kazantip.com.

Dan Halpern has written for the New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker.

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