Dustyesky's Russian folk songs and accent comedy – it shouldn't work, but it does

Joke act it may be, but there’s something weirdly great about a bunch of Byron shire lads singing in Russian at Womadelaide

• Womadelaide festival 2018 – in pictures
Womadelaide review: all singing, all dancing festival of joy

When Dustyesky first took the stage at dusk on Saturday for Womadelaide, my 14-month-old son raced down the hill towards them at breakneck speed, so overwhelmed was he by the sheer magnetism of their lusty masculinity. Or perhaps because he too has a nascent love for Russian folk music, despite not being Russian or speaking a single word of the language.

That sums up the somewhat gimmicky backstory to Duskyesky, which was formed in Mullumbimby four years ago for the Mullum Music festival by beardy men who bonded together through a shared love of vodka and Russian choral music. Since then the now 28-member choir have become regulars on the festival circuit and become a cult act for Russians amazed and delighted that a bunch of blokes from regional New South Wales are performing their music, even if they’re not entirely sold on the accents.

With a backstory like that, it’s amazing a trend-conscious spirits brand hasn’t signed Dustyesky for a series of ads – not least because they also dress in a bibs-n-braces style that simultaneously evokes Soviet Russia and contemporary Fitzroy.

It’s no shock that they’re playing in Adelaide at the moment since their schtick – and schtick it undeniably is, starting with the groan-inducing pun of the name – would work equally well as a Fringe show as it does a Womadelaide set. And, indeed, they were a Melbourne Fringe hit, and the choir also have performed at Falls festival. For a joke, it’s one with remarkable staying power.

And there is a rough beauty to their performance, it should be made clear. The primal power of the unaccompanied, untrained voices of these men shines through as they perform the Russian national anthem, Orchy Chornye, The Red Army is the Strongest and Kalinka. For those not especially across Russian political songs, it’s remarkable how many of the songs are familiar from film and television.

Dustyesky perform at Womadelaide 2018.
‘The primal power of the unaccompanied, untrained voices of these men shines through.’ Photograph: John Hemmings

It’s offset by the choir’s MC, Mark Swivel, performing in character as Comrade Swivelsky, who introduces each song in a faux-Russian accent that would make Yakov Smirnoff blush. Accent comedy is a hard thing to pull off in 2018 and while he thankfully steers clear of any “in Soviet Russia, music folks YOU!”-style jokes, there’s still something slightly jarring about swapping from stirring massed voices celebrating the proletariat to Swivel’s comic patter about “Mullumgrad”.

And yet, somehow, it works.

The crowd sang along, they danced in front of the stage, and rejoiced in the joyful silliness of a bunch of Byron shire dudes singing about the Volga. Swivel plugged the following day’s set and Monday workshop, although he claimed they did not understand why they were having one since “normally workshop for make tractor or ladder”.

Cult act? Definitely. Womad must-see? Indubitably.

• Dustyesky performs at Womadelaide at 4pm on Sunday 11 March. The festival is on at Botanic Park, Adelaide, until 12 March


Andrew P Street

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Womadelaide 2017 playlist: eight acts to hear before you go
The 25th anniversary of the music and dance festival promises to be a feast for the senses over three days and four nights

Janine Israel

03, Mar, 2017 @9:46 PM

Article image
Womadelaide 2017: politics rages through Australia's most diverse and surprising festival
In its 25th year, the world music festival took estimated crowds of 90,000 on a journey of discovery across four days

Janine Israel

14, Mar, 2017 @3:58 AM

Article image
10 acts to see at Womadelaide 2016: Angélique Kidjo to Violent Femmes
De La Soul, Asha Bhosle, Ester Rada and Djuki Mala are also among the globe-spanning artists at Adelaide’s festival of world music, dance and talks

Janine Israel

08, Mar, 2016 @11:26 PM

Article image
Womadelaide festival 2016: 12 things we learned
Turbans aplenty as Angélique Kidjo, Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle, Violent Femmes and Seun Kuti delight Adelaide crowds over the long weekend

Janine Israel and Brigid Delaney

15, Mar, 2016 @8:58 PM

Article image
Womadelaide’s unforgettable moments: ‘They didn’t know what to expect’
From an all-star train ride across the Nullarbor to an unexpected cricket plague, this year’s festival marks 30 years of border-defying music and art

Walter Marsh

12, Mar, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
Womadelaide 2018: all singing, all dancing festival of joy
Crowds delight in extraordinary range of talent, colour and atmosphere in botanic gardens

Janine Israel

13, Mar, 2018 @2:07 AM

Article image
Womadelaide 2019: Christine and the Queens dazzles amid smorgasbord of sound
More than 75 acts performed over four packed days in a world music festival that continues to push boundaries and open hearts

Janine Israel

12, Mar, 2019 @12:17 AM

Article image
Womadelaide 2020: uplifting, political and expansive festival offers hope amid the doom
With Mavis Staples, Aldous Harding and Spinifex Gum in the lineup, the world music festival offered plenty of reasons to look up from our phones – and towards each other

Janine Israel

10, Mar, 2020 @4:01 AM

Article image
The Manganiyar Classroom: Indian children bring endangered music to Australia
A chorus of village boys celebrate their musical heritage in a joyous production that challenges the rigid modern education system that threatens their traditions

Stephanie Convery

10, Mar, 2017 @1:30 AM

Article image
Archie Roach on the healing power of song: 'Music was great therapy for me'
In the lead-up to his Womadelaide appearance, the elder statesman of Indigenous music reflects on 27 years of songwriting and activism

Janine Israel

22, Feb, 2017 @1:45 AM