Fringe festival

Fringe festival

This year’s Stereoleto festival will see performances by Regina Spektor and Royksopp.

Published: June 21, 2012 (Issue # 1713)


Moscow-born, New York-based singer-songwriter Regina Spektor will play at this year’s Stereoleto festival.

Now in its 11th year, Stereoleto (Stereo Summer) — an annual series of summer music and dance events that this year will be headlined by Regina Spektor and Röyksopp — has raised a generation of music connoisseurs, while being viewed with suspicion by the establishment, according to the festival’s founder and head of Light Music promotion agency, Ilya Bortnyuk.

In most European countries, Stereoleto would be a mainstream music event — one of many — but in Russia, where mainstream means primitive Russian pop, prison folk and no-frills Russian rock, it is something very different.

“I’ve been told we’re a festival of elitist music, or fringe music,” Bortnyuk said.

“Officials know the Mariinsky Theater, they know about Boris Grebenshchikov [of rock legends Akvarium], but all the rest is highly incomprehensible for them, while for law enforcement, it is something bordering on criminal activities, not unlike drug trafficking or prostitution.”

Backed by foreign cultural institutions and consulates, such as the French Institute and the U.S., Israeli, Finnish and Norwegian consulates, the festival gets no support from the city.

“Traditionally, we submit an application to the Culture Committee every year, and get nothing,” Bortnyuk said.

“But I am not bitter, because I understand why they don’t give me money: They think I’m fine as it is. But I think a festival like Stereoleto should be supported by the city, because first and foremost it’s a cultural phenomenon rather than a commercial one. We’re not doing it to make money, but to have a great festival with great music.”

According to Bortnyuk, this year’s festival has been expensive to promote, because U.S. singer-songwriter Regina Spektor and Norwegian electro-pop duo Röyksopp are full-fledged international stars.

Although international success does not necessarily mean popularity in Russia, Bortnyuk hopes the festival’s headliners will draw several thousands of fans.

“Of course, they are not super stars like Linkin Park or Red Hot Chili Peppers, but as far as good, cool music goes, they are artists who have an audience of between 3,000 and 5,000 in the city,” Bortnyuk said.

“This is very good, considering the fact that the world’s most popular band drew only 19,000 in St. Petersburg. That’s a benchmark. If you manage to get 5,000, it’s a third of what The Rolling Stones got when they played in St. Petersburg [in 2007.]”

Originally, Stereoleto focused on relaxed lounge and electronic dance music styles, with acts such as Italy’s Montefiori Cocktail and Hungary’s Yonderboi performing at the first event in 2002, but since then the festival has expanded to include more diverse music genres.


New Young Pony Club.

Over the years, the festival has played host to Sparks, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, David Byrne, Massive Attack, Amorphous Androgynous, Asian Dub Foundation, The Orb, Gus Gus and about three hundred other acts.

“When we were starting out, I never imagined that we’d have klezmer/hardcore or ragga/hip-hop bands performing at Stereoleto in 2012,” Bortnyuk said.

“We have no style restrictions now; the only restriction is that we’ll never have any heavy metal or [Russian mainstream rock band] Chaif — any dull music that I don’t understand.”

Bortnyuk believes that diversity has become a strength of Stereoleto, which offers something for everybody, be it jazz, soul and funk as performed by The Northern Governors from Finland, the blend of cumbia and electro funk from Bomba Estereo of Columbia or melodic electro pop from Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp, all of whom are scheduled to play this year.

This year, for the first time Steroleto will include an afternoon family event on July 14, with diverse activities happening in a children’s zone, play zone, art market and food court. According to Bortnyuk, there will be a discount for two parents coming with a child, and free entrance for children under 10.

“Those who went to the early Stereoleto events already have children,” Bortnyuk said.

“For instance, my daughter is 11; she was born around the time of the first Stereoleto and she keeps asking me to take her along. I can’t take her for a night out, but I’ll be able to take her to the afternoon event.

“Besides, I have started to realize that the night parties have their limitations. That’s why we have an evening event, from 5 p.m. to midnight, on June 24, and an afternoon/evening event, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on July 14. But we’ll still have one all-night event called Stereo Night, a more traditional club format.”

This summer, Stereoleto will comprise four events: Two at Vozdukh Summer Project, a 2,500 square-meter area on Krestovsky Island, with bars, a swimming pool, a beach and recreation zones, on June 24 and 30, and one — with Regina Spektor on July 14 — on Yelagin Island, in the Stalin-era park named the Kirov Central Park of Culture and Recreation (TsPKiO).

One Stereoleto event will be held at Glavclub’s Summer Stage, located near Vozdukh on Krestovsky Island. Called Stereo Dusk, it will be held on July 21 and is due to be headlined by Zola Jesus, a 23-year-old American singer-songwriter of Russian origin.

July 14 will see the celebration of Bastille Day, with French and Russian bands performing on one of the two stages, complete with French designs and other entertainment. The French national holiday celebration will be held in cooperation with the French Institute in St. Petersburg.

According to Bortnyuk, it is new exciting acts that make Stereoleto different from other music events like Zavtra, the open-air festival that was headlined by French singer Zaz earlier this month.


Norwegian duo Royksopp.

“There are no discoveries to be made — artists that people don’t know very well yet, that they can come and discover for themselves,” he said.

“They invited acts that are already well-known, though they came up with a very good lineup. But if you take Primavera Sound or even Flow [festivals], half of the artists have emerged only recently. Of course, some people knew about them, some write about them.

“It’s standard practice: Some artists are famous, some are fashionable right now, some are total unknowns. That’s very important, because otherwise every festival would resemble [Russian rock festivals] Nashestviye or Open Your Windows.

“Stereoleto is the most European festival [in Russia], because we care a lot about the quality of music and its newness and relevance. In this sense, we’re the main preachers of new music, because we have maybe 30 percent of artists who are largely unknown, but very cool, and we make the public discover them.”

Light Music’s other plans for 2012 include a local concert by Dead Can Dance due on October 12, which Bortnyuk describes as a “mega event.”

“They came here seven years ago and haven’t performed since then,” he said.

“They could perform this time and say, ‘We won’t perform anymore.’ Russia is the only country where their tour hasn’t sold out yet. It sold out in two days in Poland, three days in the Czech Republic. Russia is the most inert.”


“Where do I start? Wages are low, corruption is high. Any reason that you can come up with will explain why people don’t go to concerts much here.”

Stereoleto: Stereo Evening — featuring The Northern Governors, D-Pulse, Bomba Estereo and Röyksopp — will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 24 at Vozdukh Project, Krestovsky Island,

6 Yuzhnaya Doroga. M: Krestovsky Ostrov. Tel: 996 1996. Check for full program.

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