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9 May 2022

Stihia – Uzbekistan’s Middle-of-Nowhere Festival of Electronica

Last weekend experimental techno music fans in Uzbekistan became champions for publicizing one of the world’s most dire ecological catastrophes. How? Simply by attending the ultra-remote Stiha Festival.


Image: courtesy photo

The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest lake. However, in recent decades it has dried to a fraction of its former size, becoming one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes. Where there were once shoals of fish, now the vast majority of the water has evaporated altogether. Former fishing boats lie as rusting hulks on the former lake-bed. 

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Image: courtesy photo

The former port of Muynak[1] in remote northwestern Uzbekistan is now surrounded by desert, many miles from the shore of what’s left of the Aral. It attracts a few ‘disaster tourists’ wanting to Instagram the sorry sight of its trawler graveyard. The town is a witness to the economic hardships caused by the lake’s desiccation – an entirely man-made disaster caused by decades of excessively overusing upstream river water to irrigate cotton crops.   

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A publicity shot for Stihia’s 2018 edition. Image: courtesy photo

However, since 2017, Moynak is also home to one of the most remarkable and offbeat manifestations of Central Asia’s new ‘street culture’ exuberance. Tashkent lawyer Otabek Suleimanov co-founded the extraordinary Stihia Festival to draw attention to the continuing ecological nightmare. It is quite possibly the world’s remotest festival of techno music and electronica. When it started, it was described as a “litmus test for one of the world's youngest club scenes.” The festival was also the focus of George Itzakh’s 2020 documentary, Waiting for the Sea.[2]