It’s hard to think of two places that are more similar, yet more different than Russia and Australia. Think about it. Both are fucking massive and the majority of both countries are completely uninhabitable. But one is freezing cold and the other is blisteringly hot. Both are well known for drunken rowdiness and having ‘hard men’. But one is a western, fairly liberal country and the other is firmly anti-west and quite culturally conservative. They’re the yin and yang of national toxic masculinity.
Perhaps then, it’s not that surprising that there’d be a crossover somewhere. Enter Dustyesky, the inexplicable Russian choir made entirely of Aussies who’ve never been to Russia, can’t speak Russian but sure as hell try anyway. Billed as a ‘fake genuine Russian choir’, they’re remarkably accurate to the real deal. One can hardly notice any fault in pronunciation or accent when hearing them sing and the sheer force behind such a choir gives the same stirring feelings of utterly inappropriate patriotism you get from the real Russian choirs. Of course, a genuine Russian speaker may feel differently, it’s hard to tell since they seem quite enamored with their Australian copycats.
So where the hell did these lads come from? Perth? Sydney? Nah, they hail from Mullumbimby (Mullumgrad to Dustyesky). If you’re scratching your head wondering which major city that is, it isn’t one. It’s a little town of under 4,000 in New South Wales, making it all the more impressive that they could gather enough people for an entire choir on the back of this very unconventional project. Far as it can be seen, there was a mutual passion for pageantry and group singing that funnelled quite naturally into such a project.
They had a blessed start in 2015 with their founder being one Glenn Wright, the creator of the Mullumbimby Music Festival. Already, they had a leg-up to reach the spotlight, if only locally. His passion for Russian choir music was passed down to several other key figures with musical and theatric chops that let them make their vision a reality rather than one of many million drunken “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if—” stories.
The reaction in Australia was immediately positive. Australia has something of a reputation for its weird subculture. Eccentric things like this go over well and Dustyesky certainly did at their first gig in the Mullumbimby Music Festival. People assumed they were actual Russians, owing to the theatrical training they got from a comedian within the group and their ‘impeccable’ accents. Soon, word spread and they were invited to major festivals like the Fringe in Sydney. Before long, they were performing for crowds bigger than their entire hometown doubled! It was then perhaps inevitable that the international community would notice them too.
The Russian ambassador to Australia gave them a visit and a brief news story was covered on them for Russian television. Almost immediately, their fanbase within Russia started to explode. Given the position of Russia as a ‘boogeyman’ to much of the west, it must be heartening for Russians to see their culture tackled with respect and admiration, rather than ridicule and cynicism. One can imagine an attempt at such a choir being started in America, only to be hammered by the right-wing press.
Then came the big time… In 2019, the Russian Ministry of Culture itself contacted Dustyesky and invited them to, of all things, sing in Red Square, Moscow, for the ‘Immortal Regiment’ at the Grand Victory Day Parade on the 9th of May 2020. The 75th anniversary of victory over the forces of fascism in Europe, at a parade of over 250,000 people, president Vladimir Putin and innumerable weapons and tanks. It would possibly be the biggest cultural exchange ever between Russia and Australia. Not bad for a few lads from the armpit of nowhere.
And then… Fucking Covid-19 happened. And everything went up shit creek. The whole event was cancelled. However! This was not the end for Dustyesky, as the Russian people demanded their Australian imitation of patriotic music. The individual band members gathered together, recorded footage of themselves singing and then compiled the footage into a choir format to be aired on Russia Today TV, one of Russia’s biggest news stations, in lieu of actually being present for the victory day celebrations. What’s more, their performance prompted a response from Russian choirs who recorded their own rendition of Waltzing Matilda as a ‘thank you’ for the cultural respect being shown.
Dustyesky were denied their premiere moment in the spotlight, but it’d be silly to think that’s the last of them. Their popularity has only gotten started! When quarantine ends, I can almost guarantee that a live performance in Russia will occur. Perhaps they’ll be in Red Square in time for next year’s victory day! Only time will tell.