Tag Archives: psychedelia

The new old sound of Greek folk rock

Into the forest

In a beautiful green setting just a couple of hours away from the hustle and bustle of Athens, a unique get together of different people, sounds, and musical styles took place around mid-August in the 4th edition of the Arvanitsa Music Forest Festival.

Nestled inside a lush landscape, the stage was surrounded by tall green firs, its powerful projectors and strong lights bringing forth a symbolism that run throughout the festival: the convergence of old and new, traditional and modern, urban and rural.

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The stage lights vanishing into the night sky above the forest in Arvanitsa

The music of uprooting

Intensified and increasingly relevant due to the ongoing socio-economic crisis in Greece, the theme of emigration and resettling was recurrent in the performances of several artists who treated it both as a vehicle for artistic expression and socio-political commentary.

A case in point is Hamayun and Wakar by Greek songwriter Thanassis Papakonstantinou. The song relates the tragic story of Hamayun Anwar and Wakar Ahmed, two young men from Pakistan who lost their lives in 2012 while trying to save an elderly Greek couple that was trapped on rail tracks.

Another highlight included the electrifying renditions of popular folk tunes by Villagers of Ioannina City (aka VIC), a Greek band that brings together folk influences with post, stoner and psychedelic rock elements. Songs such as Jiannim or Chalasia combine skilfully the traditional form and emotional undertones of Greek folk song with a contemporary sound and orchestration, thus reaching out to audiences that would otherwise have little or no interest in folk music.

Old folk, new folks

The amplified sound of clarinets, lutes and lyres next to resounding guitars, electric bass and thundering drumming. Familiar lyrics and popular tunes sung again in different ways, performed through different mediums, and heard again through different ears.

This happens when city folks gather in the forest to play, listen and sing to the the new old sound of Greek folk rock music.

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Great moments of Greek(lish) rock, pt.1: The Psychedelic Apocalypse

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.

(Rev. 13:18)

Although 60s-70s Greek rock music was of no particular interest to the international public (not least because of obvious linguistic reasons), there were however some notable exceptions. Perhaps the most well-known Greek English-singing band of the era is Aphrodite’s Child (named after a song by Dick Campbell), formed in 1967 by Vangelis Papathanassiou (keyboards), Demis Roussos (bass guitar and vocals), Loukas Sideras (drums and vocals), and Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris (guitar).

Their first single Rain and Tears (1968), an adaptation of Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D, was recorded while the band was based in France. It met with considerable international success and went on to sell more than one million copies.

The band’s undisputed masterpiece, however, would be 666 (The Apocalypse of John, 13/18). Recorded between late 1970 and early 1971, 666 is considered a landmark in the history of progressive rock. An album of astonishing musical diversity, it was a powerful combination of original concept and highly innovative sound.

666 was largely Vangelis’s own musical project, as is testified by the advanced (for the time) use of synthesizers/keyboards, sound effects, and overall production. Musically, the album contains several remarkable moments (e.g. Aegean Sea, Break, The Four Horsemen), however it works best when seen as an uninterrupted, thematically-unified musical composition.

Aphrodite's Child: Best ofIts musical merits notwithstanding, the release of 666 was not unproblematic. The record company did not approve of the record’s length and largely experimental style, to say nothing about its subject matter. To top it off, the track “∞” featured Greek actress Irene Papas singing frantically “I was, I am, I am to come” in an aural simulation of female orgasm.

When the double album was eventually released in 1972 (one year after it had been completed), its blood-red cover (where the number 666 is prominently displayed) would also stir some controversy. This, however, only helped to boost the album’s sales, which exceeded 20 million copies worldwide.

Despite being the band’s greatest achievement, 666 would also be their swan song. Relationships between band members grew increasingly worse during the album’s recording, and by the time the record was out Aphrodite’s Child had already split. Both Roussos and Vangelis would follow successful solo careers, the latter achieving worldwide fame as a composer of electronic music (including the soundtracks for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire).

Even though the children of Aphrodite had chosen to go their separate ways, they had managed to give birth (albeit a troubled one) to their psychedelic masterpiece – an everlasting monument of Greek rock music and one of the defining albums of the 70s progressive and experimental scenes.

Live, loud and underground

I have to admit I don’t go to concerts as often as I used to (or would like to, for that matter). But lately I’ve been trying to get back in touch with Amsterdam’s vibrant music scene. I’m not talking big names or venues here, but mostly intimate gigs of lesser-known local bands.

One such case is the blues/garage rock duo The Shady Greys. As both their name and songs suggest, their ‘grey’ sound lies somewhere in between The Black Keys and The White Stripes, marked by fuzzy guitar riffs and the use of the cajón.

I recently had the chance to meet and jam with them during a late night session in one of the city’s blues bars. In that same session I also bumped into a musician friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I was glad to hear that he’s busy doing gigs and playing guitar for The Crowns, an Amsterdam-based rock group built on the “foundations of Dutch liberty & freedom.”

More on the psychedelic side of things, The Full Wonka is another local band whose atmospheric, experimental sound produces a hypnotizing effect. Watching them live and listening to their tunes brings to mind bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Velvet Underground.

Only a fragment of Amsterdam’s alternative rock music scene, these bands nevertheless capture most of its essential qualities: energy, enthusiasm, spontaneity and -perhaps most importantly- genuine expression of feeling coupled with lots of fun.

Dark, outspoken and outworldly

The new EP by Joalz Hello Darkness My Friend is exactly what its name suggests: An intriguing invitation to explore dark, otherworldly soundscapes.

Cover

Sharing their time between Greece and Germany, Joalz decribe their music as “a weird kind of obscure indietronica.” Recorded in Berlin and Athens between March 2011 – June 2012, Hello Darkness My Friend is influenced by the sound of early Krautrock, psychedelia and progressive rock (think of Amon Düül, Can or Aphrodite’s Child).

Each song has a completely unique atmosphere; the opening track ‘Oh darling Margaret’ is haunted by the sound of the theremin, whereas in ‘Outspoken you are’ Mary Tsoni’s powerful reciting soars against a dazzling sonic background (the song’s B&W video was shot in Manhattan’s Chinatown).

I found particularly interesting the band’s rendition of ‘Alligator Wine’ (originally recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1958), where Tsoni’s theatrical performance and the fuzzy guitars blend into a peculiar kind of post-apocalyptic blues with dark overtones.

Next to a remarkable new wave of Greek artists, Joalz with their Hello Darkness My Friend offer yet another example of how creativity and experimentation can spring up amidst such grim times for Greek society.

More music/info:

http://www.joalz.net/