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Culture Reviews
Stereoleto Festival
Hermitage Garden 
By Sonya Rinkus
A special thanks goes out to the G8 summit for helping Moscow to kick off the music festival season. To avoid the proceedings, St. Petersburg sent down the fourth day of its annual Stereoleto festival to Hermitage Gardens, giving happy Muscovites one of their first chances this summer to trot out thong sandals to an open-air concert. The lineup, a trio of French acts, was perfectly suited for a lazy Sunday afternoon: retro surf-punks Bikini Machine, turntablers Birdy Nam Nam and pioneers of electronic tango, The Gotan Project. Best of all, due in part to the competing Avantfest at Proyekt Fabrika, there was ample space on the premises for lounging, dancing and then returning to lounging when the muggy heat of the afternoon became unbearable.

As people staked spots on the lawn, Bikini Machine, the lost members of the Reservoir Dogs, took the stage, sweating it out something powerful in black suits. The French are nothing if not terminally fashionable. Their sharp look perfectly corresponded with a retro garage punk sound of twangy guitars plus a lead singer enthusiastically brandishing a shaker. Unfortunately, the sweltering crowd didn’t know much what to make of it. Rock ‘n’ roll? In French? Better stand in line for beer now before it’s too late. Bikini Machine were there and gone before everyone had even settled in, giving way to better-received electronic music.

Birdy Nam Nam cut a striking figure onstage: four homeboys hunched over turntables, heaving in unison. Winners of a 2002 international scratching competition, the funky Frenchman began with a high energy set and cutely accented exhortations to “Give it up for Little Mike on the bass!” And the crowd gave it up. People descended on the stage area, energized by the change of tempo, a slight drop in temperature and maybe a 70-ruble Tuborg, hard-won after a 45-minute wait in line. Others, reluctant to leave a prime patch of grass, stood up to bob along.

Playing back recorded music, it’s hard to muster the same audience interaction as playing a live set, but Birdy Nam Nam held the crowd’s attention with a changing backdrop of light projections, kept the vinyls in constant rotation and even took a stab at bantering in Russian. Towards the end of the set, they slid into a hypnotic down-tempo beat, forcing many people back down to the ground to sleep off the excitement, or outside to chug a tall one from a kiosk before The Gotan Project.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that summer concerts in Hermitage Gardens have an unnatural propensity for rain. (It seems like just yesterday I was standing cold and drenched as the Scissor Sisters eked out “Mary.”) As the Birdy Nam Nam set finished and thunder rumbled in the distance, the race was on as to who would arrive first: the rain or the Gotan.

The stage area reached maximum capacity when the fair-weather Stereoleto fans only interested for the headline act finally made it to the scene, and others figured it was time enough to surrender grass space that would soon be soggy anyways. The yin to Bikini Machine’s dark and punky yang, The Gotan Project emerged in white tuxedoes matched by the white dresses of their female singers exuding an ethereal, summery vibe. The group, the only act that most had heard of before the concert, mixed Argentinean tango with electronic beats for the consummate lulling, head-in-the-clouds concert experience. A foray into French rap upped the ante a little, challenging the dancing crowd to find an appropriate rhythm at which to sway. All the while, the question loomed: “Would it rain?”

Ultimately, the French outran fate. The Gotan Project stuck around for an encore at the behest of the crowd, said a final au revoir then got out of there in dry tuxedoes. At 9:30 p.m., the night was still young, and the masses dispersed into a bustling metropolis in search of more entertainment.

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