Crossing the bridge: GEM Fest in Anaklia

From 10th – 14th august 2016 for the second time the GEM Fest took place at the beach of Anaklia. On five days the visitors experienced at bunch of national and international acts of the electronic music scene. Although it was all about music, the festival also contained a small political aspect.

The marshrutka to Zugdidi runs with maximum speed through the night. The Russian girl on the seat next to me whimpers quietly: „Why, oh why?“. Apparently she can’t appreciate the Russian pop songs, which are blaring from the speakers. The passengers are locals coming from Tbilisi, a Kiev-based journalist from Ohio, who wants to write about a new hiking trail in Tusheti, some young people from Tbilisi who invited me at the last stop to some Cognac and there is also Kenny sitting in the front. He suggested to organise taxis in Zugdidi, we could share to go the rest of the way to Anaklia. Because most of the passengers have the same destination: the GEM Fest in Anaklia.

The GEM Fest enjoys even governmental support. Few weeks ago, coming from Odessa, the border control at Tbilisi airport surprised me by putting a flyer of the festival into my passport after stamping it. And even prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili arrived for the official opening in Anaklia appreciating the role of the GEM Fest for the development in the region.



Getting the passport back from the border control at Tbilisi airport

Back to the road. Looking outside the taxi the sky at the horizons lightens up and darkens quickly. A thunderstorm or already the light show of the biggest festival in the Caucasus? It turns out to be both. The Golden Fleece Hotel at the beach of Anaklia serves as registration office, where the guests can receive their festival badges. The bridge, which connects Anaklia with the festival site, is illuminated and flood lighted with lasers. According to the organisers 30.000 people crossed this 540m bridge during the five-day-festival, including staff and security.  The record-breaking length of the bridge will turn into a reason for complaint for some visitors – after all, they came to dance and not to hike.

Main Stage

The main stage hosted the headliners of the GEM Fest

Party close to Abkhazia

With Paul van Dyk one of the heavyweights of the international EDM scene plays as opener of the GEM Fest. I’m surprised to see Cosmic Gate playing at the main stage. I almost forgot about them, to be honest I didn’t know they are still existing (12 years ago I heart the last time about them) – but in Anaklia they are playing again. Other highlights of the first festival day are Dub FX, Onur Özer and Super Flu.

Police LIne

Police Line – Do Not Cross: No, here was no crime commited, it’s just the fence of the camping site

If there weren’t the boat of the coast guard lying at anchor with a distance from some hundred meters from the beach, one could forget that the breakaway region Abkhazia is pretty close. The GEM Fest had a special offer for the citizens from Abkhazia. „Whoever would come from Abkhazia would get a festival ticket for free“, tells organiser Guri Koiava. Later he would tell me, that 140 people from Abkhazia seized this opportunity during the festival.

But most of the guests of the GEM Fest don’t care about political issues. Facing 133 national and international acts on five days, it’s easy to forget about politics and everyday life. Especially against the backdrop of the beach of the Black Sea, where the visitors reward the beautiful sunset every evening with applause. For the second time the GEM Fest takes place at Anaklia. It succeeds the KazanTip, which was held in Anaklia in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. „This is the only advantage of the Russian annexation of Crimea: Georgia has it’s own electronic music festival now,“ comments a US-Kazakh laughing.


A daily ritual: watching the sun set at the beach

Techno is international

The audience is very varied. „We had guests from 82 different nations, but most of the people came from the region and compared to last year there is also a growing number of guests from Western Europe“, says organiser Koiava. Georgians are dancing next to Armenians, Russians, Azerbaijanis, Turks and Iranians. Especially the latter enjoy their time. Unlike in their home country they can party lightly dressed and drink alcoholic beverages. I meet some Iranians at a beach bar outside the festival site, where they recovered from the four-to-the-floor beat with some traditional Persian music. The Georgian volleyball players next to the bar glance briefly to this dancing and hand-clapping group. I get invited to some red wine and to Teheran.

Colourfest IV

One participant of the Colour Fest

Since Techno is a language, which is understood all over the globe, the international audience danced on the following days and nights to the live and dj-sets of Stephan Bodzin, Anja Schneider, Mano Le Tough, Agoria and Boris Brejcha. A goose-pimple promising gig was the live performance of Gus Gus. For more than one hour the guys from Iceland fired the crowd with enthusiasm playing also classics such as „David“. One of the most frenetic celebrated gig was the show of Paul Kalkbrenner. It was as expected – big beats, the most famous tracks from the movie Berlin Calling, which some years ago boosted his career even more, but in general no surprises. If you seen him once, you won’t be surprised. But still he made the people go crazy. In Georgia with it’s zero-tolerance policy towards drugs and where even small offences are punished with big fines and custody, it was a somehow strange sight, to see him relaxing after his set at the backstage with a joint, while being surrounded by security and police, who protected him from too pushy autograph hunters.

Paul Kalkbrenner

Paul Kalkbrenner is playing at the main stage

Vodka in the swimming pool

Especially frequented during the hot days was the stage at Aqua Park, no wonder – there you could dance in a big swimming pool. It got extremely hot during the live gig of the French guys from dOP, who poured bottles of vodka into the mouths of the thirsty dancers. But there were also other possibilities to get some refreshment. Down at the beach a big trampoline in the water promised fun and refreshment at once, just as the zorb balls in which the people stumbled over the water.


Dancing in the pool: the Aquapark during the gig of dOP

Who got enough energy, could participate in different sport activities, such as beach volleyball, slacklining, a frisbee contest, balance boarding and many more. But for the majority of the guests it was just too hot to spend much time in the sun. Especially the tents on the camping site functioned as small saunas, which made it impossible to grab any sleep inside. The better option was to go to swim and to relax afterwards at one of the beach bars. One hotspot was the Stapilo Bar run in cooperation by the two Tbilisi-based bars Generator 9.8 and The Wall, where you could meet many known faces.


Beach volleyball was one of the many sport acitivites

After five days on which the sun were burning merciless onto the beach, it started finally to rain on Sunday. A good time to leave. In the Marshrutka back to Tbilisi are sitting three youngsters from Moscow. Like 1500 others techno addicts from Russia they got a free ticket for the GEM Fest as compensation for the cancelled Outline Festival. „It was cancelled by the authorities. Right now it seems that the Russian government is fighting against the electronic music scene“, one of the young Russians complains. But nevertheless they had fun in Anaklia and are looking forward to spend some more days in Tbilisi. To come in the right mood, they are emptying a canister of white wine. Maybe it was too much? When we arrive late night in Tbilisi one of the girls, slipped down from her seat and managed to fold herself between her seat and the one in front of her. A masterly performance, if you consider the small legroom you have in a Marshrutka.

One month of GEM Fest in 2017

The following weekend. Somewhere over the city close to Mtatsminda the GEM Fest flags are blowing in the hot summer wind. The organisers invited the media to a final press conference. In the shadow of some conifers Guri Koiava reviews the GEM Fest 2016: „We have to increase the infrastructure. Especially the sanitary facilities have to be improved.“ Indeed many visitors complaint about the condition and the small amount of toilets and showers. „But that’s not all. We also plan to have a better food court in the next year. We want to offer more diverse meals, not only Georgian but also from the whole region,“ he continues. The food was another main reason for disappointment of some visitors, who got tired of eating sandwiches for several days.

His personal highlights of the festival? „Paul Kalkbrenner and that there were no serious conflicts. It was a really peaceful atmosphere,“ Koiava says. This year the GEM Fest welcomed a big group of volunteers who came in the framework of the European Voluntary Service, a part of the EU’s Erasmus+ programme. In cooperation with the Youth Association DRONI they contributed with marketing strategies in the run-up of the festival and supported the staff during the days in Anaklia. But the main news Koiava keeps for the end. „Next year’s GEM Fest will last not only for five days, but for one month! From mid July until mid August, we will have djs, beach and sport activities during the week and we are saving the weekends for the big names of the international electronic music scene,“ he announces. It could be interesting to see how the beach of Anaklia turns into a 4-week techno summer camp in 2017.


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