Uzbeks attend first electronic music fest by ravaged Aral Sea

Revellers attend the Stihia electronic music festival in the town of Muynak on September 14, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2018
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Uzbeks attend first electronic music fest by ravaged Aral Sea

  • The rare music event drew DJs from across the former Soviet Union and Europe as well as 60 foreign tourists and around 7,000 locals
  • Uzbekistan’s government endorsed the music festival in the country’s nominally autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, hoping it will help attract tourism to the economically depressed region

MUYNAK, Uzbekistan: Beats pumped and strobe lights beamed across the desert in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan into the early hours of Saturday as festival-goers danced beside rusting boats beached miles from the shrinking Aral Sea.
The event, called Stihia or Element in Russian, was the first electronic music festival ever held in the Central Asian state, which has recently moved to open up to international tourism.
It was staged in an area of desert caused by one of the world’s largest man-made environmental catastrophes, the shrinking of the Aral Sea that borders Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, caused by Soviet irrigation projects that diverted its tributary rivers.
“Lets fill the Aral Sea with an ocean of sounds. If we cannot fill it with water right now, let’s start with the sounds,” implored Otabek Suleimanov, one of the organizers of the festival that ran overnight from Friday.
The venue for the festival, Muynak, was once a fishing town on the shores of the sea, formerly the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake, known for its “graveyard” of beached boats.
The rare music event drew DJs from across the former Soviet Union and Europe as well as 60 foreign tourists and around 7,000 locals, according to organizers.
Perhaps more notably, it did so with the blessing of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government and the conservative mainly Muslim population in this dust-swept patch of the Central Asian country.
“I wanted to witness the concert and the light show,” said Guldona Turakulova, a 25-year-old nurse who works at Muynak’s state hospital.
“This is the first time I have seen anything like this. I really want my Muynak to become a place that attracts (people) again,” she said.
Her generation has lived with the after-effects of the Aral Sea disaster including lost livelihoods from fishing and tourism.
“My father tells me stories about the sea, about how they used to fish and swim here,” Turakulova told AFP.
At the heavily-policed festival, a mock-up lighthouse loomed over revellers as a reminder of the receding sea, close to where a real lighthouse once stood.
Now, each year, tens of thousands of tons of salt-laced dust blow from the dried-up seabed, much of it contaminated by pesticides, affecting health.
This May one such storm blew across the region and into neighboring Turkmenistan, seriously damaging crops according to international media reports that were not confirmed by the secretive government in Ashgabat.

Uzbekistan’s government endorsed the music festival in the country’s nominally autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, hoping it will help attract tourism to the economically depressed region.
Under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who took over after the death of Soviet-era leader Islam Karimov in 2016, Uzbekistan has lifted or relaxed visa restrictions for citizens of dozens of countries as it looks to diversify away from exports of water-intensive crops such as cotton that played a key role in the Aral Sea’s downfall.
Organizer Suleimanov told AFP he was hopeful of holding Stihia again next year, despite logistical challenges.
“This was just a pilot. We hope more and more people will come next time,” he said.
The lineup included Ukraine-born Germany-based artist Dasha Redkina who staged an ambient dance set and describes her music as “experimenting with cosmic signals.”
Speaking to AFP before her set, Redkina said the performance would be “a sacrifice to the Gods of water and rain, to bring the region the energy it needs to summon the Aral Sea back here.”
For the moment, the rebirth of the Aral looks unlikely. By 1997, the inland sea was a tenth of its size prior to major irrigation works beginning in the 1960s and in 2014 NASA satellite images showed its eastern lobe had dried up completely.
Most progress on regenerating the Aral has been in its northern section in Kazakhstan, where World Bank funding helped build a dam.
Arina Osinovskaya, a travel writer who was visiting from Kazakhstan, said the Stihia festival’s main draw was the “captivating” backdrop of the former fishing town and its stark environmental message.
“It is a good reminder to think about what is important. The Aral Sea concerns not only Uzbekistan but the neighboring countries and the broader region,” she told AFP.


Tunnel through an Australian mountain? No problem, says Elon Musk

Updated 17 January 2019
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Tunnel through an Australian mountain? No problem, says Elon Musk

  • The entrepreneur behind electric carmaker Tesla has most recently turned his sights on tackling city traffic via low-cost tunnels
  • Musk in 2017 made a Twitter pitch to build what was the world’s biggest battery in an Australian state to solve its severe energy crisis

SYDNEY: Australia could become a test ground for another of Elon Musk’s massive infrastructure projects after the maverick billionaire tweeted a “bargain” price to build a tunnel through a mountain to solve Sydney’s traffic woes.
Musk in 2017 made a Twitter pitch — and followed through with the offer — to build what was the world’s biggest battery in an Australian state to solve its severe energy crisis.
The entrepreneur behind electric carmaker Tesla has most recently turned his sights on tackling city traffic via low-cost tunnels created by his Boring Company, and in December unveiled a sample project near Los Angeles.
So when an Australian politician tweeted at Musk on Wednesday about the costs of drilling through a mountain range north of Sydney, he responded quickly.
“I’m a lawmaker in Sydney, which is choking with traffic. How much to build a 50km tunnel through the Blue Mountains and open up the west of our State?,” asked New South Wales state MP Jeremy Buckingham.
“About $15M/km for a two way high speed transit, so probably around $750M plus maybe $50M/station,” Musk replied late Wednesday, with his response liked more than 22,000 times on Twitter.
He has more than 24 million followers on the social media platform.
Another billionaire, Mike Cannon-Brookes, who founded Australian software startup Atlassian, weighed in on the exchange, saying the estimated price tag “sounds like a bargain for Sydney.”
The population of the Sydney region has grown by around 25 percent since 2011 to reach 5.4 million, out of a national population of 25 million, and road congestion is a major concern.
There was no indication the exchange of tunnel tweets would lead to any quick action, but it could bring some needed positive publicity for Musk.
Musk has risen to prominence with a series of ambitious ventures, particularly Tesla, but has also drawn plenty of criticism for some volatile behavior.
He waged a public battle with a rescuer who helped save a group of boys trapped in a cave in Thailand last year, calling him a “pedo guy” after the Brit slammed his idea of building a mini-submarine to save the children as a public relations stunt.
Meanwhile, riders who have tested out Boring’s prototype tunnel — where cars are lowered by lifts then slotted into tracks and propelled along at high speeds — have complained of a bumpy journey.