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Culture Reviews
Avant Festival 2004
By Ryan Macalino
“So, how do you feel about today’s big event?” Very casually, I asked Maxim this question, at which point he turned his attention towards an ominous-looking dark cloud that had appeared just above us. He signaled to one of his staff, pointed above, and abruptly rushed off, leaving me behind. Without so much as uttering a single word, my question was answered. On that freezing cold Saturday afternoon at Gogol, the concern on his face showed one thing: for Avant to be a success, the weather gods had to be merciful.

Maxim (of Vega Dreams Promotion) is the head organizer of Avant, an alternative music festival sponsored by the Russian music site The aim of this festival was to bring to stage a wide variety of acts and display an assortment of styles, from drum & bass to alternative rock to acid-jazz. Various bands from all over the world were invited to play in the 8-hour festival, most notable among them Russia’s own Tequilajazzz.

The First Half

As one would expect, the first half of the event was not as interesting as the second, as there weren’t as many people yet. In spite of this, the earlier (mainly local) acts were eager to show what they were made of. The opener was Silence Kit, a local experimental rock band whose sunglass-wearing cello player made me immediately assume so. Their music seems to have this somber, ethereal quality to it, as if it came straight out “The Crow” movie soundtrack. Because of their eccentricity, this was a good choice as a first act of an alternative music festival.

After the opener, the crowd had to wait more than half an hour of in-between time before the next band was to perform. This became the precedent, and I soon learned that the bands actually took more time for setup than actual performance.

The next act to perform was Iva Nova, a band that produced sort of a Russian progressive-rock sound. Their style had contained many elements of traditional Russian music, particularly the accordion and the babushka-like vocal stylings of the lead singer. After this was Nebo Zdes', which sounded like how Pearl Jam would if Eddie Vedder was born in Russia. Their music had more of a jazz-lounge feel to it though, but this was the only way for me to separate them from the numerous clones inspired by Pearl Jam.

The Second Half

In the second half, amidst all the waiting, exiting, and re-entering, I treated myself to a sprinkling of the foreign bands, on what sounded like some space-age electronica stuff. Among them, I was most impressed with Schwarz, a Spanish band with a German name. They seemed to have a psychedelic feel to their music, and I could sense some Hindu mysticism and 60’s California surfing culture in it, too. Around this time, the crowd had gotten bigger, and the vibe definitely livelier. It might have been because of the interest in the foreign bands, but personally, I was happier to have witnessed one Russian band in particular: Pelageya.

Earlier in the day, I had watched them rehearse, and I was eager to see them live in front of the crowd. They did not disappoint. They represented the best that this festival could have hoped for: truly exceptional, fearlessly experimental music that left the crowd thirsting for more. Their music was a fusion of many different elements. Aside from the regular drum/bass/guitar configuration, the band also had an accordionist who played virtuoso-style, and a percussionist that played the cowbell and Congo drums with wild abandon. They had enticed the crowd by beginning with their unique rendition of the familiar “Mission: Impossible” theme, and owned it with a variety of rock arias, Russian rapping, and ska-infused folk songs. The only time the crowd seemed unhappy was when their demands for an encore proved of no avail.

There was no doubt in my mind that each band member was in top form, but clearly the lead singer stood head-and-shoulders above her band mates. Pelageya Khanova’s style and vocal range were amazing – at times even superhuman – going from angel to banshee in one breath. I couldn’t help but have images of the blue alien opera singer in “Fifth Element” playing in my mind. It was my first exposure to this remarkable talent. To me, and perhaps the other initiates that were present, her vocal prowess made me think love at first sight. I look forward to the opportunity to seeing them perform again.

The Finale

Later at 10 pm, the main headliners Tequilajazzz stepped on stage, and met with immediate approval from the crowd. It was at this point that the festival seemed the largest; it looked like about 300 people were in attendance. The edgy alternative rock style of the band was ironically ‘safe’ compared to the other acts in the festival, but they were mainly invited to draw crowds in the first place. The band was definitely given finale treatment, with lots of smoke, colored lights, and cameras flashing. The fans gave the band a lot of love, and despite the fact that it was freezing cold outside, Tequilajazzz gladly turned up the heat.

Overall, the festival was good, and the organizers were successful in attracting the right variety of people to attend. Thankfully, there were no suits, who tend to ruin the vibe of any party. The main complaint I had with this event though would have to be the amount of setup time in between acts; as there was far too much waiting around in such a small place. But in the end, the crowd atmosphere and band artistry made the event a hit. Maxim should be happy; the weather gods let us have fun tonight.

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