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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Good Music, Bad Planning

There's a good Russian word: opyt. It is the combination of two distinct words in English, "experience" and "experiment." Last week's Britonica music festival was a major opyt for me in both senses of the word: A risky artistic experiment adding up to a tough life experience.


The concept of the project was daring and over-ambitious in itself: To give a substantial sample of the newest wave of British dance and electronic music a test run in Moscow concert halls and clubs. Last Thursday the entire British entourage arrived in Sheremetyevo -- 57 people in all, including 12 bands, seven DJs and three journalists from major music magazines. No luggage was lost, surprisingly, so the only problem at the airport was the complete lack of baggage carts -- not a great thing when heavy boxes of equipment are involved.


The entire group headed off to unload at their Yugo-Zapadnaya hotel, before making their way back to the center for the launching party at Manhattan Express. The party was messy from the first, with a disorganized guest list and enormous crowds at the door. The scheduled full-scale press conference was reduced to a simple announcement after the musicians were late getting in from the hotel. The evening ended well, at least, with a terrific set by one-man electronic band Banco de Gaia.


The first news I got Friday morning upon arriving at the Youth Palace, the festival's main concert site, was that Richard James (a.k.a. The Aphex Twin), a famous musician and DJ, had gotten food poisoning during his Aeroflot flight -- apparently from the cheese -- and had been taken to a hospital. We then found out that the concert might not happen at all because the Palace's rent had yet to be paid. "There'll be no concert until you pay," said the building's manager, and she wasn't kidding. I managed to borrow a large sum of money from a friend and delivered to the Palace literally 10 minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin.


The crowd at the hall was not as big as we had expected, but cheerful and enthusiastic. The headlining band, Dread Zone, succeeded in getting the entire audience up on its feet and dancing. But I barely saw the concert myself, because of the mess brewing in the office backstage. With one bus, one minibus and one Volga to divide between nearly 70 people and four different venues, getting people to the right place at the right time was proving to be one of the biggest challenges of all.


Meanwhile, reports were coming in from various clubs and they were alarming: At Pilot, the bands had been waiting for seven hours for technicians to show up and assist with the soundcheck. In the end, the live performance there was called off altogether. The British DJs then found themselves getting annoyed after their artistic disco mixes were abruptly interrupted in favor of familiar hits or "slow songs" requested by influential clients. At the Hermitage, to the contrary, everything was working out fine technically, but the club manager called to complain that the Brits were playing such moody music that no one was dancing or particularly enjoying themselves.


Saturday's concerts were considerably more successful, however. The audience was bigger at the Youth Palace, and performances at Jump and the Hermitage were going smoothly. The only problem that night was the drum kit, which was required at both the Palace and Pilot -- the promoters didn't have enough money for two. Eventually, one of the bands had put off its concert until 1 A.M., but the results were worth it. The Aphex Twin had recovered from his encounter with Aeroflot cheese, but a member of the band Reload came down with his own case of food poisoning and got sent to the same hospital.


On Sunday, the technical crew at the Youth Palace went on strike, demanding payment. The concert was postponed for an hour, until a festival manager handed over an expensive synthesizer -- not his own property -- as security for future payment. Ironically, this very instrument was crucial for that night's concert at Pilot, and ultimately the concert was canceled.


In short, everything that could have gone wrong, did, and things that couldn't, did too. The only thing that was great was the music. So in a way, the Britronica festival confirmed a couple of stereotypes: British bands are fantastic and Russian organizational skills are miserable. A friend of mine also suggested that this was God's punishment for trying to stir things up during the Great Fast.