Thousands of people dancing and chilling under the summer sun, listening to music performed on several stages out in the open air; dozens of food courts selling burgers, sandwiches and experimental dishes; clothes being sold from dozens of tents… This scene might resemble Woodstock, but it’s actually a Russian festival.
Afisha Picnic is the largest annual music event in Russia and it welcomes more than 50,000 people every year. Here are some highlights from the festival’s 12-year history.
The first Picnic festival was held in 2004 outside of Moscow’s Luzhniki sports arena and was headlined by British electronic duo The Future Sound of London. Entrance was free and, according to the festival’s organisers, the number of visitors overwhelmed them. More than 10,000 people crowded the street, forcing police officers to block the entrances.
The following year, Afisha Picnic relocated to a larger venue at Krasnaya Presnya Park. French band M83, Scotland’s Sons&Daughters and Russian artists Mujuice, 2H Company and Silence Kit performed on the main stage. It was back then that Picnic’s trademark atmosphere of relaxation was established. People were lying on hammocks or on the grass, chilling to the sound of music. In 2005, the festival closed with an artillery salute that has also become a tradition.
In 2006, a barge with sand and artificial palm trees was moored to the Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment and acted as an impromptu beach where the festival’s visitors could sunbathe with drinks and cocktails from the barge’s bar. Dengue Fever from Los Angeles, then-unknown indie folk band Beirut and Canadian alternative hip-hopper Buck 65 were the headliners. A year later, Picnic moved again to its present venue at Kolomenskoye Park not far from the centre of Moscow.
2007 was the first Afisha Picnic in Kolomenskoye Park. Junior Boys, Múm, Clinic and Mummy Troll, who played one of their best concerts ever, performed on the main stage.
2008 was a year of raw rock on the main stage. Garage quartet The Black Lips, American indie folk-rockers DeVotchKa and Leningrad performed while other acts performed on the Idle Conversation stage, the event’s smaller performance place. Future techno star Nina Kravitz and then up-and-coming hip-hop artist Aloe Blacc played on the Red Bull Music Academy stage. Aloe Blacc would return to the festival in 2013 as one of the headliners.
Moscow band NRKTK, Rostov rappers Kasta, English neurotics These New Puritans and the incredible Amanda Palmer performed on the main stage in 2009. A powerful set from the band Madness closed the festival. Visitors had to avoid getting splashed with water from a pool with real wakeboards and guests were able to ride through Kolomenskoye Park on scooter-taxis.
The 2010 Picnic festival organisers worried that nothing would be seen and there wouldn’t be much clean air due to forest fires but the wind blew off the smoke from Kolomenskoye Park on the very day of the festival and the temperature dropped to 35 degrees Celsius. Noise MC opened on the main stage, followed by an impressive series of concerts featuring Roots Manuva, Hercules and Love Affair, the Editors and Mummy Troll, who, dressed in their trademark striped t-shirts, play their classic album Ikra (Caviar) in its entirety. An immaculately dressed Janelle Monae, accompanied by a live orchestra, played and the program for the Idle Conversation stage was closed by Metronomy. 50,000 people visited Picnic in spite of the hellish heat.
In 2011, the festival again took place in 40-degree heat. There were a series of lectures and Theatre Praktika arranged poetry readings. The musical programme had a real feminist touch: the English group Marina & the Diamonds and the goddess of grunge Courtney Love played on the main stage while radical feminist Peaches poured artificial blood on herself on the second stage. When Zemfira showed up for her encore, she sat down at the keyboard and suddenly sang the tragic song "Would You?" in honour of the late Amy Winehouse.
While visitors splashed about in a giant swimming pool and played with life-sized Angry Birds in 2012, Little Boots, Mika and the Pet Shop Boys performed on the main stage while the funk-soul Summer Stage closed with an awesome concert by Lauryn Hill. The small stage collected a lineup of Russian pop stars, including Motorama, Moremoney and Krasnoznamennaya Diviziya Imeni Moey Babushki (the Red Banner Division Named in Honour of My Grandmother). Alexey Navalny was on hand to listen to lectures by urban activists and Franz Ferdinand played, dedicating a song to then-jailed Pussy Riot. Aquarium’s afternoon concert featured the festival’s first ever rainstorm.
Bat for Lashes, La Roux and Zhanna Aguzarova played on the main stage in 2013 while Ariel Pink, John Hopkins, Aloe Blacc and George Clinton played on the smaller stages. Clowns dressed up as sailors and musicians in panda masks wandered through Kolomenskoye Park and the festival ended with a headliner set by Blur.
Belarusian rockers Liapis Trubetskoy, American rapper Astronautalis, MGMT and Suede with Brett Anderson appeared on the main stage in 2014. The best young Russian bands, ranging from On-The-Go to SPBCH, who were accompanied by a wind orchestra, performed on the Summer Stage. Talib Kweli and Ethiopian jazz musician Mulatu Astatke also played that day.
Throughout the day, a large-scale food court that was part of the Prazdnik Edy (Food Holiday) festival had its own stage and master classes. Jay Kay and his band Jamiroquai put on the final show of the festival with an enchanting live set consisting of their biggest hits. About 54,000 people visited the festival.
Summer returned to a city tired of the cold and rain on the day of the festival in 2015. SBPCH, British groups Hot Chip and The Horrors, and Canadian artist Kiesza were on the main stage. Naik Borzov played hits from his album “Zanoza” and Ivan Dorn played perhaps his best concert. Young hip-hop and electronic music stars such as True Flavas, Check & BMB SpaceKid, Mana Island, Mot, Skriptonit, Mujuice, Oddisee & Good Company performed on the Summer Stage. The Gaslamp Killer closed the second stage with a set of destructive force. A great concert by Zemfira, the last song of which was accompanied by a massive fireworks display, ended the day for the 55,000 people in attendance.
Last year’s Afisha Picnic, headlined by the electronic duo the Chemical Brothers and Russian rock band Leningrad, welcomed more than 50,000 visitors. Partners of the festival prepared multiple sites where people could rest and have fun.
Sony was on hand to promote PlayStation VR, its virtual reality helmet, and they invited all comers to try it. Bosch helped build a custom longboard while Lay's invited guests to take a dip in a pool filled with chips.
Dozens of food stands were at the festival. Fruit, vegetarian dishes, pizza, meatballs, Greek dishes, burgers – everyone could find something to their taste. About 20 musicians and bands in total performed on the festival’s three stages. Syrian musician Omar Souleyman opened last year’s concert.
The festival headliner was the Chemical Brothers, who performed at the closing ceremony in the evening. The band managed to energise the visitors, who seemed exhausted after spending the whole day in 29-degree heat. The concert was accompanied by a spectacular light show and ended with the traditional fireworks display.