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Thanks to international pop culture, Greek music is perceived abroad as somewhat of a folk cliché, as popularized by Misirlou, Zorba’s Dance, and Mamma Mia. Underneath the surface however, there is an active alternative music scene expressed in distinctly Greek urban subcultures, and often collective and cross-platform, which reference charged national-historical times, folk traditions, and international trends, all under that blessed sun. A week after the terrific Reworks festival, we count down the ten reference points in Hellenic music.
Sometimes referred to as the Greek blues, Rembetiko evolved in the hashish dens of Pireaus & Thessaloniki in the beginning of the 20th century. It was influenced by European & Middle-Eastern elements that came with the forced migration of 2 million refugees from Asia Minor, and reflected the urban hardships of these cultures. Rebetiko found its masters in the songs of Tsitsanis, Vamvakaris and Chiotis among others, who used bouzouki, baglama & guitar to accompany a blunter style of singing. Censored at various politically-charged times, Rembetiko has witnessed diverse revivals, with the likes of the ‘greats’ of the 20th century, Chatzidakis & Theodorakis utilizing its musical forms, and more recently sampled & mixed with electronic & hip-hop forms, by producers such as Imam Baildi.
Trypes was an acclaimed band that defined the form and direction of Greek rock music from the 80s onwards. Founded by Giannis Aggelakas and Giorgos Karras in Thessaloniki, the band’s post-punk aesthetic, music & lyrics developed a huge following that continued to increase until the band’s resolution in 1999. Aggelakas has become a cult figure in contemporary Greek culture, widely regarded as anti-hero poet, with big-screen appearances in indie films and a new, musical persona in his collaboration with folk-band Episkeptes. Another mythical Greek rock figure is Pavlos Sidiropoulos, whose subversive Greek-lyrics-based rock music during the 70s and 80s had a massive influence on subsequent generations’ musical output.
3. STEREO NOVA
A pioneering electronic music band, Stereo Nova was formed by Kbhta & Michalis Delta in the early 90s. The first and perhaps only electronic music band to develop such a large dedicated following in Greece, Stereo Nova’s trip-hop, house & techno arrangements were often accompanied by spoken word, heavy in social commentary. The group broke up in 1996 after the release of six albums and its two founding members have pursued their individual careers since then. Kbhta has composed music for documentaries, films and theatre, while receiving international attention for his contribution to the Opening Ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Michalis Delta turned to a funky house approach, filling dance clubs around Greece and beyond.
4. SYNCH FESTIVAL
Greece’s Sonar, Synch Festival has been taking place in Athens every summer for the past six years. It aims to bring its audience in touch with cutting-edge contemporary music, multi-media art & new technologies, and its programming is consistently quality-driven. Reworks festival , taking place in Thessaloniki yearly, is another forward-thinking festival focusing primarily on electronic music & arts.
5. THE BOY
28-year old Alexandros Voulgaris has many creative alter egos. As musician & song-writer, he has been part of the band f(a39), the electro-trash ensemble Sportex, and the celebrated art-punk performance duo Mary & the Boy. He has also directed, starred in and written music for films. His most recent musical venture is his debut solo album Please Make Me Dance, which has been hailed by indie press & fans alike as album of a generation. A dance-driven fusion of electro-pop, punk, industrial, noise, art-rock experimental album with inward looking Greek & English lyrics, The Boy deconstructs legendary 20th century Greek poets & song-writers such as Theodorakis, Elitis and Savvopoulos, in a personal & powerful way.
6. VINYL MICROSTORE
Vinyl Microstore is an independent record store in downtown Athens, whose in-house and off-site activities include Yuria, a music festival running every November, Yurovision, an alternative music contest, VM Radio, a 24-hour online radio station, as well as various one-off events, fanzines, street parties and excursions. VM’s emblem is Yuri, the owner’s dog who has become a cult figure in the scene that the record store has created and nurtured since the late 90s. Its vinyl catalogue includes the best in alternative, electronic and experimental music, its in-house concerts feature legendary names, while its radio producers can be found DJing in the city’s best indie bars, such as Pop and Kinky.
Kormoranos is an Athens-based club night, sound-system and cultural events production company, which was set up as a collective in 2002. Their activities, which include parties, gigs, art exhibitions, books and street actions, take place almost weekly in different clubs and independent spaces, and have developed a big word-of-mouth and online following. Concerts organized by Kormoranos as well as their DJ sets cover everything from breaks, hip-hop, funk, punk, soul, electro, techno, to free improv, turn-tablism and folk. They have often collaborated with other collectives, such as arxediaMEDIA, What Street Party? and Legal Tender, all of whom come together as a guerrilla, open, reclaiming, wiki-happy crew. Other club night & party organizers include art-galleries darlings’ Amateur Boyz and Velvet Magazine.
8. COTI K
Coti K (or Coti) has been pushing the envelope of the Greek underground music scene for the past 25 years. His keen curiosity in sound and its possibilities has seen him inhabit incarnations such as producer, musician, sound engineer and installation artist within a wide range of solo & collaborative contexts. Since being involved in several leftfield Athenian bands in the 80s, he has collaborated with artists including Tuxedomoon, Blaine Reiniger and Stereo Nova and has played live electronics with Evan Parker, Phil Durrant, and Rhodri Davies among others. His a solo music works explore deep ambient and warm minimal soundscapes and his sound designs and installations have been exhibited at the Venice Biennial, the Hellenic Festival and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens.
BIOS opened its doors 6 years ago as an open studio for experimental art, housed in a Bauhaus building in one of Athens’s most vibrant downtown neighbourhoods. It has pioneered alternative culture through an innovative international program that includes gigs, DJ sets, new media and design exhibitions, live art performances, screenings, residencies, pop-up guerrilla shops, workshops, international creative competitions, etc, while its graphic design productions have received international acclaim. Its seasonal bars attract hipster-types, resident and visiting, and the hosted gigs are often sold-out. Thessaloniki boasts its own multi-cultural space, Mylos, while other more music-focused venues include Small Music Theatre, Gagarin, An Club, Club 22, Underworld and Decadence.
Antonis Xilouris, aka Psarantonis, comes from a renowned Cretan musical family and is known as the most idiosyncratic lyra player on the island. An exponent of tripped out Cretan music, Psarantonis’s unique three-stringed lyra playing style, his distinctive voice and his inimitable rendition of traditional folk songs has made him a cult legend in Greece and beyond, particularly with a younger generation of Cretan music lovers. Seeing Psarantonis live is considered to be a once in a lifetime experience. In January 2009, Psarantonis gave memorable performances in All Tomorrow’s Parties, hosted in Brisbane and Mt Buller and curated by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
Chloe Vaitsou is a Lndon-based curator and editor.