The self-proclaimed “most infectious choir on the planet” has gone viral during the time of coronavirus.
Australia’s “Dustyeksy” choir spoke with ABC’s Australian Story this week about their status as the world’s leading fake Russian choir.
Based in the remote area of Brunswick Heads in New South Wales, the music of the men of Mullumbimby – also known in fake Russian choir circles as “Mullumgrad” – has struck a chord around the world.
While the troupe can’t speak a word of Russian, their performances of traditional Russian songs in rousing four-part harmony are perfect replicas of classic performances by groups like the Russian Red Army.
Their repertoire encompasses everything from romantic folk songs to Orthodox church hymns.
Choirmaster Mark Swivel says the group of 28 “very hairy middle-aged men” from all different backgrounds rehearses and performs at “appropriate social distances” together.
“It turns out that we are the choir fit for pandemic,” Swivel says.
The choir dresses up in Revolutionary-era garb, donning cloth caps and fake accents. None of them has ever set foot in Russia, but they love to sing “like we know the language and the words.”
Australian writer, comedian, and Dustyesky fangirl Mandy Nolan told ‘Australian Story’ a Russian choir “out of a group of men that don’t speak Russian is kind of bizarre, but it works.”
Fame & Fortune, Russian Style
Nolan says the choir wasn’t prepared for the reaction when they got discovered by a television network in Russia, where their music has proven to be a huge hit, and where they are now known by an audience of millions.
“It was like they got to be a boy band suddenly. A boy band for old people.”
The original idea came from Mullum Music Festival director Glenn Wright, who had always loved Russian music.
Wright says he came up with the concept in 2014 (while drinking vodka at 2 a.m. when he ran into choirmaster Andrew Swain.)
They immediately issued the call for “hairy men you could find at the bar late at night.”
It was quickly decided that excellent singing skills were less important than finding men who were “good to have a drink with.”
The men received an overwhelming number of offers following their debut performance at a local bar. They became simultaneously “nervous and terrified” when they started getting a lot of web traffic following a spot on the Russian news, and receiving invitations to perform around Australia.
Swain said his phone and the choir blew up after the network, Russia-1 TV, added the ensemble’s video clips to their news bulletins.
“Suddenly my phone started getting messages from Russia in the middle of the night.”
The choir knew they’d hit the big time when they received the call from the Russian Ministry of Culture asking them to sing at the Red Square for none other than Vladimir Putin, at the Grand Victory Day Parade in May.
While COVID-19 put the plans on ice, Swivel has “extended as an invitation to the Kremlin to come share a brew or two, and sing a few songs” when coronavirus cools off.
In appropriately-accented English, Swivel says the irony of going viral during COVID-19 has not been lost on him.
“We are choir born for pandemics, most infectious choir on the planet right now.”