Present Perfect Festival 2017

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  • It rained pretty much throughout Present Perfect's main event, a 22-hour party on the outskirts of St. Petersburg where half the stages were outdoors, but no one seemed to mind. Wrapped in ponchos or wielding umbrellas, punters happily plodded from one sopping dance floor to the next, their enthusiasm never waning. The place was packed, with plenty of tickets selling on the day, even though the bleak forecast was known to all. Sometime near dawn on Sunday morning, I mentioned this to someone I'd just met, who just shrugged and smiled. "What choice do we have?" While this is probably not what she meant, it was tempting to hear that as a comment on the state of dance music in Russia. Since it was unexpectedly shut down last year, Outline, ARMA17's acclaimed festival in Moscow, is no more, at least for the time being. There are parties all year in cities around the country, but thanks to the collapse of the ruble, it's hard for promoters to afford international acts. This means events like Present Perfect, a festival now in its third year run by longtime local promoters Roots United, are few and far between. Not the kind of thing, in other words, to be ruined by a little rain. Present Perfect took place at a few different spots across St. Petersburg. After a series of atypically well-attended panels at the lovely New Holland Island, an opening concert took place in an oblong, open-air industrial space behind the Artplay Design Center, where Actress, Clock DVA and Dopplereffekt played throughout an extended twilight (this being a week since the end of the city's famous "white nights"). I was sad to miss Flaty, an artist on the Russian label Gost Zvuk, who played in the early slot, before many people had shown up (myself included)—luckily I'd catch a few of his labelmates before the weekend was through.
    The main event on Saturday took place at the Street Art Museum, a sprawling industrial space with a range of different stages, some out in the open air, some inside a massive warehouse with art exhibits open to the public. Red Light Radio set up shop in a small room with red-tinted windows, where Move D, James Dean Brown, Juju & Jordash and the Russian DJ Eostra played some of the deepest cuts of the weekend. Boiler Room had a cavernous indoor space equipped with an arsenal of red lasers. Ghettotech heavyweight DJ Godfather blew the roof off in there, establishing a rave-alarm energy that Inga Mauer, Special Request and Lee Gamble managed to maintain for hours afterward. The main stage, a massive outdoor space with a gravel dance floor, felt a little drab thanks to the rain and the non-functioning LED screens, but Atom™ and Tobias. got a handle on it for their closing set on Sunday morning, their rippling beats bouncing off a wall made to look like The Hermitage Museum (a statue of Lenin also loomed absurdly behind the crowd). All night, the most packed area was the Garden Stage, where Move D, The Black Madonna and Ben UFO chunked it out for a long, narrow and tightly packed dance floor surrounded by hanging plants, with more people watching from a terrace above. There were some great moments over there, especially when the rain cleared in time for Ben UFO's closing set. For me, though, the most memorable music of the night happened on the festival's smallest and most rain-soaked stage, where more of the Gost Zvuk crew performed. Early on, OL and low808 played thick, murky and irresistibly groovy deep house. Later on, Buttechno head-banged through a set of sideways electro. The festival's mostly local crowd were understandably keen to catch the international acts, but for me these guys were tantalizing evidence of Russia's inspired homegrown scenes.
    Another example was DJ 1985, who played a bumping house and disco set at the afterhour on Sunday evening, the occasional spinback the only evidence of his past as a drum & bass DJ (as he dug into a version of Klein & MBO's "Dirty Talk," Move D, who'd played before him, leaned over to tell a friend, "yeah, this guy's really good"). This afterhour was easily the best part of the festival: lasting from 4 PM till sometime on Monday morning, it took place at Мачты, or "Masts," a bar by the harbor where the crowd wrapped around the DJ and poured out onto the deck outside. Ben UFO played after 1985, then Traxx, who, by the time I left to catch an early flight, had moved from evil synths into warmer grooves—specifically, Tony Humphries' "Rhythm Version" of Cultural Vibe's "Ma Foom Bey," which nicely suited the pinkening sky. For the time being, Present Perfect is carrying the torch for electronic festivals in Russia. Luckily, they seem perfectly poised to do so. Photo credit / Ivan Chernov