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Epic Sax Guy (also known as Saxroll) is the nickname given to Sergei Stepanov, the saxophonist of the Moldovan dance/pop trio SunStroke Project, and his instrumental solo during the group’s live concert at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010. Drawn by Stepanov’s showmanship on stage, the video clip instantly went viral on YouTube and spawned quite a few remix videos, as well as a bait-and-switch prank known as “Sax-rolling” in the same vein as Rickrolling.
In May 2010, European pop trio SunStroke Project participated in the annual Eurovision Song Contest as the Moldovan representatives. The group chose to perform their dance pop song “Run Away,” during which Sergei Stepanov gave a memorable instrumental solo with his saxophone. While Moldova took 22nd place out of 25 participating countries in the contest, the video was far better received on YouTube with tens of millions of views.
The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition among European nations who are tasked with presenting a song representing their country. Originally starting in 1956, it stands as the 10th longest running TV program in history and is watched by more than 140 countries.
Soon, viewers began passing around the video clip of Stepanov’s saxophone performance in similar fashion to Rick Astley’s 1987 hit single “Never Gonna Give You Up,” which eventually became known as “Sax Rolling.” A Facebook page for “Epic Sax Guy” was launched on May 29th and a single serving site featuring a looped track of Stepanov’s solo was registered at SaxRolled.com on June 24th, 2010. A mobile “sax-rolling” app for Android was released in late 2010.
Following the group’s rise to online fame, the Moldova Foundation mentioned and recognized Epic Sax Guy in multiple blog posts and seemed to take pride in the internet phenomenon originating from Moldova:
Epic Sax Guy fever started in Europe, creating a new Moldovan phenomenon. His fan pages and groups on Facebook gathered over 10 000 members in less than a week. The fever hit YouTube where his loop has 45, 50 and even 190 thousand views. There even are sites where the melody is played over and over again. The page managed to get over 83 thousand hits.
The Moldova Foundation has also gone as far as posting a mini FAQ about Stepanov including facts such as his ping-pong hobby and dentophobia. The articles also detail some of the politics behind smaller countries entering the Eurovision contest.
Talking about Eurovision saxophonist Sergei Stepanov noted that European song contest depends largely on the political nuances. “It’s hard to get on in the leaders, because Moldova has a weak position in the political arena. Do not forget about the journalists who make ratings of artists. Reporters are being distributed in their country assessment of parties that holds each member country of the competition. This is more and affects the occupied space in the competition.”
In December 2010, SunStroke Project appeared on Moldovan TV programme Sare şi piper and sang a song titled “Epic Sax”, named after the meme. Eurovision also produced a music video version of “Run Away” which predates the live performance (shown below left). The SunStroke Project released a single in 2011 titled “Epic Sax” in reference to the phenomenon (shown below right). The official video used clips from the Eurovision performance, and the song itself used samples of their previous single.
In addition, the phrase “Epic Sax Guys” forms part of the lyrics of the SunStroke Project’s single “Superman,” with which they unsuccessfully attempted to represent Moldova in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
Moldova debuted at Eurovision in 2005 and has participated every year since, however they failed to qualify for the finals in 2008. As evidenced by the timing of the Moldova Foundation articles, Epic Sax Guy began to spread in the beginning of June 2010, shortly after SunStroke Project’s performance on May 25th at Eurovision.