Feb 14, 2014 - Dance Dammit!, MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #366

It’s been a great year for Greek punk. It started off with the Antimob 12” which still gets spun on a weekly basis, and back home new bands are constantly forming, older bands are putting out new material and I’m insanely happy to be the owner of a Διατάραξη Κοινής Ησυχίας comp reissue. So what if it’s not the original, I need the music fuckers! And some of the records that have been reissued these last couple years are just so fucking brilliant, they should be available to every punk: like the ANTI… tape that was pressed to vinyl, the Διατάραξη Κοινής Ησυχίας/Disturbance of Public Peace comp, the Adiexodo .38 LP and the Ex-Humans’ Ανώφελη Επιβίωση/Pointless Survival LP.
Let’s get to the new records though! Sick of this Life 12” by Cut Off from Athens is fastcore meets breakdown meets blastbeat meets powerviolence meets grind meets mathcore. Greek salad core mixed in a power blender—get your mosh on! Gutter and Dirty Wombs from Patra also have a split 12” together, and while they play different styles, it’s a fine pick: Dirty Wombs have been super active in their local Patra scene, setting up shows and fests, and you should check out their singer’s zine, Winterview. Gutter share a vocalist with Antimob (here channeling his love for ’80s USHC), the twin guitarists dynamic duo from crust/hardcore outfit Sarabante and a drummer with…oh, about half a dozen other bands going right now in Athens (you know how it is with drummers, few and far between). Speaking of Sarabante, their recent 45 Ermaia ton Kairon/Under the Shadows was a good follow up to their really pretty darn good LP, and the track sung in Greek is especially epic! Call it Eurocrust, call it Tragedycore, either way it’s catchy and furious. Another track that I’ve been blasting that sounds great (because it’s sung in Greek) is “Κορίτσι στην Ακτή” (Girl on the shore) from Bazooka’s recent self-titled LP; a dark lament to the dead girl on the beach…That whole record took a while to grow on me, as I was more used to their spazzier Spits-styled frenzy, but I conclude that I like this fermented turn towards psychedelia, so long as they retain that teengenerate spirit that was so very refreshing when they first started out…knowing them, that shouldn’t be too hard. Also, Bad Trip from Salonica have a new LP out, with amazing artwork and of course, their signature slow, crushing sludgy post-hardcore, complete with psychedelic loops and cataclysmic crescendos! They’re one of the most DIY bands I’ve ever met, as they will seriously build their own PA, jam it into a van, then tour the fuck out of Greece, the Balkans and Europe, setting everything up themselves, proclaiming, “just gimme one socket to plus into it and we will set you up a show!” They’re also one of the most hard-working bands out there, doing sound at shows, setting up shows of their own with local and foreign bands, fests and solidarity events, plus they’ve been trying to set up their own space, but I’m not sure how that’s ben going—it’s getting exceedingly hard to work around the system and the system isn’t exactly accepting punks and their endeavors with open arms…So, if you don’t like vocals but live for the booming sound, check this record out! I’m going to try and interview them for this here column!
The record however that I want to tell you about today is the Pandimia 12” Μοντέρνα Πανούκλα/Modern Plague. First off, let me say that when I first heard this band in 2010 I was utterly delighted! It was mean, melodic, dark and angry, completely hateful and misanthropic, ideal for those moments when you grab your headphones and storm out the door into the night in the mood for revenge.
The first song I heard, called “Γουρούνια στην Ομίχλη” (pigs in the fog), is also the one to kick in the record and as the guitar closes in on you like a predator about to pounce, the singer Miltos spits into the microphone, “Here, again, they came out in packs, slow moving, in blue and khaki, looking for victims, roaming the city, their next victim could be you. Cloaked in a fog, that stings the eyes and burns the throat, pigs in the fog, they’re around here, somewhere!”
This is an instant classic and along with Genia tou Haous’ “Μπασταρδοκρατία/Bastardocracy” is an anti-cop gem that manages to express the scorn and anger of being attacked by riot cops. Tear gas has just exploded at your feet and your lungs are heaving with adrenaline and panic. Blinded, heaving and seething, you try and dodge the cops by staying close to others and away from the side streets. Breathing is critical. The more you gasp for oxygen the more gas floods your lungs and fires up your nose. Rubbing your eyes only makes the stinging and uncontrollable watering worse, the micro-molecules floating in the air, cloaking everything in a toxic fog. Then night falls and the sky lights up with the smoke of inevitable destruction.
The cops are lined up outside the parliament, where the fallen warrior of old lies in his cement cenotaph. In front of them is a line of fascist scum waving their flags and puffing their chests. The cops protect the fascist parastate, who protects the scum inside, who protect their own interests. No memorial or history book will ever tell you the whole truth. They teach you that battle is noble; that heroes die for their country and that we must honour the past and the dead. But “there is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow. Soon to be dead, we exist in the battle planes they send us to. Unknown Soldier; prey or hunter?” If the jangly guitar on this track could have been played at twice the speed it would have sounded awesome! The bass however does a great job of keeping this brooding, especially alongside the marching drum rhythm that fits so well with the theme of the song. (“Άγνωστος Σταρτιώτης/Unknown Soldier”)
“Propaganda” is another hit, with a clear and catchy opening riff/main theme, a crashing chorus and powerful delivery! Critiquing the wretched role of the media in spreading propaganda and deceiving public opinion, this track has lyrics urging the listening to shut his eyes and ears to their images, “you’re lost if your life falls in their hands,” summing up the bogus mentality preached on the eight o’clock news by the government’s conniving parrots: “There is only a golden democracy. There are only high ideals. There is only the need for security. There is only one nation so sweet.”
The closing track is also probably their best: an ode to our shitty city Athens, inspired by our lurid, rancid land Greece, this is their piece de resistance! The guitar creeps in then, then soars and swirls around your head in a kaleidoscopic manner. The vocals are more despairing and bitter than ever, mournfully snarling that it’s about more than mere survival. “People in city prisons, numbered; running without knowing what they seek. Others will show that they’re happy; outside they smiling but on the inside they weep. No living, in the kingdom of decline you merely survive.” You walk around in a daze of misery and hate, everything flashing past you like cars in the night, as the cymbals crash and the guitar solo at the end washes over you like an ocean wave, finally drowning everything out…
“Στο Πηγάδι Ξανά/In the well again” continues the narrative theme, with references to the spineless fascist scum and how it’s time for them to go back into the pits they came from. On “Μίασμα/Miasma” the bass is the main character and keep things tight, while the lyrics describe how the vile and paranoid city grows its roots inside you like a disease. On “Κακό Ξύπνημα/Bad Awakening” the guitar gets an extra level of depth thanks to some spacey slide/warp effect, making this sound ominous and psychedelic, with a strong rhythm section and lyrics about the utopias we create in our minds. “Μόνος στη Κορυφή/Alone at the top” is a slower, sadder track, with a wailing chorus and you can tell from the guitar that these guys also like to listen to some black metal and post-harcore; the effects sound rather excellent. My one complaint for the whole record, is that it should have all been played faster.
Two of these tracks, “Pigs in the Fog” and “Unknown Soldier,” appeared on the Spanish comp Recopilatorio Solidario: El Triangulo Anarquista, while “Propaganda” and “Βασίλειο της Παρακμής/Kingdom of Decadence” were originally on the Greek 2010 comp Solidarity is our Weapon.  All four of them are faster than the ones on this 12”. I know it might seem odd to say this after so much praise, but this is just my personal opinion: what they play on the record is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. It’s well written, very well produced, I bet they even used a metronome. (That would explain why everything has been slowed down from crusty hardcore sounding like early black metal, to almost mid-tempo post-punk with guitar sections that sound more ’90s Greek rock than ’80s Greek punk. The raw energy and attention to detail are ultimately what make this record so good, even if some of the basement grit got lost in the process…
Either way, Pandimia have managed to craft an excellent record, which I just can’t get enough of in spite of everything! This record is also special to me because I know some of the people who helped make it possible, like my friend Bak of Scullcrasher Distro, Darek of Scarecrow Distro and Pavlis of We Don’t Fight It Distro in Larissa. I know they all work really hard at what they do and are constantly working on new projects and finding ways to support our local scene. This record is dedicated to Villa Amalias.
In related good news, the Kallidromiou basement has been completely revamped and is looking terrific! The bleachers are gone, there’s a fresh coat of paint on everything and I think they even fixed/got new gear? It’s so important to know that despite the mayhem going on right now in Athens, and almost all the central Athens squats being evicted by the pigs, that people are not giving up or giving in and are continuing to pursue what is right, and what is needed.
There are so many more thing I want to talk about, like the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the political and social aftermath and the crooked political reactions that followed, the fact that while these things are happening, footballers are uploading pictures of them sporting nationalist t-shirts on Facebook, people are still going to Death in June shows as if it’s no big deal and bands are still arrogating fascist symbols and imagery as if it’s nothing more than a fashion statement! So, next time, fascism!!

Feb 9, 2014 - MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #365

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”

—HST

I could sense a disturbance in the force. The motions of time and space were dissonant, and I could feel them dragging on as my eyes blinked and darted left and right at six times the usual speed; as if searching midair for the elusive reflections that hid somewhere behind the looking glass.

I laid there, stiff as a plank, my arms itching and burnt, my head pounding and my mind spinning like a disco ball that was never switched off, left alone above the dark and empty party room with no light left to dance with.

I felt my heart flutter—just for a split second—then it hardened up again, like a gargoyle unable to escape the first crack of sunlight. I so deeply wanted to bask in the notion of harmony, but my inner discord alone was enough to prove that reality equals entropy.

I dreamed of drowning. The ocean was filling my lungs, my nose, my throat swelling up with a burning, stinging sensation, and I became heavier than a cement block, steadily sinking into a watery grave as dark and cold as the furthest corner of the universe.

I also dreamed of running. Running with all my might, putting every ounce of effort I could muster into it, and going nowhere. I raced and sprinted and was yet still at square one; as though the earth turned to quicksand and sucked me to the spot, my legs tired and heavy, getting harder to move with every minute. The Great Magnet was holding me down. I think it’s time I listened.

I woke up furious. I had gone to bed with a tight knot in my chest, a sort of heartburn, a residue of unprocessed thoughts and undigested emotions, and the anxiety was scorching my bowels from the inside, like the fiery pits of a miniature Amon Amarth sweltering ceaselessly within.

I knew I was pushing back, not giving in to the proverbial waterworks that would inevitably come, in buckets. “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Getting to the bottom of it can be a life-threatening experience, though surely a cause nobler than no fight at all.

“Each something is a celebration of the nothing that supports it.” There are 4:33 minutes of silence, no moment of redemptiom to alter the course of what needs to be done; only the constant buzz of clashing forces: creation and destruction. It is between this eternal clash where we must balance, bend or break.

Reflected/Distorted

            I was recently watching a documentary on the history of US grindhouse movies. It was very interesting to see how sex and violence (or the imposed lack thereof) evolved through the ages; from early science fiction pulp and the paranormally twisted, to wartime terror, guilty lust, forbidden pleasure and post-war rebels without a cause. Zombies, freaks, deviants and degenerates “giving in to sin and temptation,” decadent sex and reckless malice. Grindhouse movies are a celebration of the rotten, the wretched and the fucked up and I like a lot of them.

Yet as I watched this surely incomplete summary of the genre, there seemed to be one element that kept veering its unsettling head: the humiliation and abuse of women. In almost every single movie mentioned, with few exceptions, the outstanding notion was that in the end, one way or another, women are the ones who get it.

Under the influence of selective perception, perhaps, my predisposition was to feel defensive and rather put off. I am usually cautious when processing multi-layered interdisciplinary notions, because I know how easy it is to jump to a conclusion and then realize you’re way off. Not everything is instant, easy or directly associated. Human evolution cannot always be listed, put into boxes or neatly separated into simple cause-and-effects.

Some things need to be processed and analyzed before we can decide how we honestly feel about them. Our mental conclusions are often informed by our emotional compasses, our feelings basically affecting our opinions. However, there is one thing that stirs in us a primordial knee-jerk reaction, something that comes before thought and emotion: our physical interaction with the world. When it comes down to it, our mind and heart can try, but our body usually wins. An act of violence can be rationalized, blocked out or skewed, but it still happened. Now amount of post-abuse restructuring erases its original existence.

The body never forgets. It carries within it an indelible map, tracking every sensory interaction, recording every bit of abuse and affection, whether directly inflicted or latently absorbed through psychosomatic experience. If you have even the most basic connection to your body and recognize its role in the mind-body-spirit triad, you know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to be some hippie, just realistic about your own entity.

This time I could not shake the feeling. My body had made up its mind felt that this was one twisted motif. Some people focus on the effects of things. Last night I saw a movie at the Roxie, about two friends who live an anarchic life. Afterwards, during the Q&A, he mentioned that he didn’t care to explain or show why these guys were the way they were, just to show that it is actually happening. OK, fair enough. Sometimes it’s just about putting it out there for the viewers to decide for themselves how they feel about it. I prefer to study why some “things” came about in the first place. Sexual violence is nothing new and we have already resolved that it’s wrong on every account, so to continue to feature it in movies, whatever the sub-genre, without taking a stance on the matter, seems like a cop-out by way of “uncensored expression,” of which there is much to be said.

For example, reoccurring Nazi imagery in rock’n'roll/punk culture is not really up for redefinition. Neither is white boys using the n-word because they are “street,” or chauvinists calling people “pussy” or “fag” as an insult. Call me a PC punk or or whatever you want, I honestly don’t fucking care. Who are these groups (fascists, racists, sexists, homophobes etc) who think they should be redefining something they snatched and skewed in the first place? Be that the swastika symbol, the colour of one’s skin, one’s gender or sexual preferences. Just because people are ignorant, bigoted or plain dumb doesn’t mean they can, or will, get a pass for their beliefs and behaviours. There is a market for everything, even hate and human misery. Exploit it right and you can create yourself an army.

But back to the grindhouse movies. Perhaps the movie directors that decide to present this abuse do so because they want to reflect reality and reaffirm that it’s a real issue; you know, to inform the public of the perverted minds lurking in the shadows—sure. And sure-sure, it’s also a matter of “artistic freedom of expression.” Yet historically, a lot of the time these movies were made to cover or fill a specific demand that either wasn’t or couldn’t be met by larger mainstream studios. The larger forces, be it carnal, artistic, ethical or purely business related, driving these exploits are what I wonder about it. All sexual consent, freedom and experimentation, absurd fascination and, ehm, entertainment value aside, when stripped to its bare bones, where does this fixation come from?

The need to procreate? To prove male dumbinance? A purely physical desire too strong to harness? (“Babies are conceived by love, not rape”) I could meander into Freudian territory, speculate that some men’s fuck up relationship to women stems from their own problematic childhood, or some traumatic experience, a chemical imbalance perhaps, or medical condition. I could try to connect the dots between sexual exploration, sadism, masochism and the dark side of pleasure, and how each person has a different threshold of tolerance, being physical or emotional. Would women have handled their sexual power differently to the way men have over their millennial dominance?

What’s funny is that when I try to imagine a world where over the centuries men have become the sex objects of women, I automatically think of all the many men around today who would actually be turned on by this role reversal option! Their own exploitation still defined by their own primal need to be pleasured. I could be wrong…human evolution is tricky.

Jan 25, 2014 - MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #364

The classic man’s worst fear was inglorious death; the modern man’s worst fear is just death.

—Nicholas Nassim Taleb

 July has been a short and heavy month, with high levels of both happiness and stress. With endings and new beginnings, lethal anxiety and profound serenity. Coordinating MRR is by far the most amazing and rewarding job I’ve had, also the most stressful because I care about it more than any of my previous jobs, so when my parents announced they would be visiting me for a few days, I was glad for a short break. I needed some sun and sea and my brain needed to shift gears and slow down, even if only for three days.

            We set off on Sunday morning, drove down the 101 and headed for the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The roads were narrow and the higher up we climbed the cleaner and cooler the air became and the thicker the forest. I guess giant mosquito bites on my bum is nature’s punishment for my peeing in her beautiful woods. Touché. After an hour of hairpins we arrived.

As we walked down the shortest path, these astounding, ginormous trees just loomed there above us, every inch of their height a reminder of how nature thrives when left alone. Every tiny shoot proof that nature knows how to take care of itself; it doesn’t need us humans at all really. Standing there, in the almost silent forest, I was filled with awe at the longevity and endurance these trees had shown. Redwoods can burn completely on the inside, looking hollow and charred, but their resin-covered bark exterior survives and the tree continues to grow. Almost like a phoenix, it burns only to be reborn.

            Looking at the tree-rings of one of these is like looking at a time map: dendrochronology. In 1215 the Magna Carta is signed. In 1440 the first printing press is invented. In 1519 Magellan sets out on his voyage around the world. In 1564 Galileo and Shakespeare are born. Some of these trees have been around for 3,000 years, and throughout every stage of human history, nature has been ten steps ahead. How miniscule our discoveries and conquests feel in comparison; how ephemeral our life; how destructive our nature. As we continued down the road I felt rather flattened, but simultaneously comforted by the thought that we will all one day be one with the trees, and then we won’t be able to do any more harm.

            We walked around the small Western-looking village in the middle of the Redwood forest. It had been thirty years since my parents were last there, and yet the steam-train they remembered was still running. We walked down the path and marveled at the Fairy Rings that the trees formed. Between three and seven or so trees can grow together, forming a circle, their roots beneath intertwining, creating a strong network of underground support. How smart, I thought. Then realized there was nothing smart or unnecessary or selfish or kind or ugly about nature: it just is. It evolves and adapts so that it can continue to be. Nature has no morals and always gets it right. Yet humans seem to talk so much of values and mores and yet still fuck everything up…

            The sun was shining and the smell in the air was earthy and wholesome. So why was I feeling so sad? Was it the full-circle I had just done, finally seeing this beautiful place my parents had spoken of for 27 years? Was it perhaps that I had not seen either of them for a year and knew they would be leaving again soon? Or was it that overwhelming realization that from here on starts the countdown? That every day counts, and you’re counting every day. That heavy burden of fear we all carry: the fear of death. The fear of this one fact we all know yet won’t accept.

            As we walked away from the hoards of screaming children and ice-cone sucking parents, I noticed a lone country singer was in fact performing the music that had been playing from the PA. He sat alone on a big stage, at the far end of a meadow, rows of empty seats beneath him, his cowboy hat covering his face, which looked a bit like Willie Nelson. What a shame I thought, no one is watching him play, everyone is too busy buying over-priced souvenirs or stuffing their face with diet Coke and hot dogs. You poor fools…

            I went to the bathroom before leaving; it was a while until my birth-town of Monterey and I’d already had too much coffee. As I peed, there was a sudden shift and everything went rather quiet. I could hear the words of the country singer loud and clear. “I know this is the same road I took the day I left home, but it sure looks different now. And I guess I look different too, ’cause time changes everything. I’m a hundred thousand miles away from home.” I wept right there and then in the bathroom stall, too scared to face my folks and tell them I go to bed every night drenched in fear… What a weak-hearted coward…

            Monterey is a small, graphic ocean-side town. My parents were amazed at how much they couldn’t remember and how much they felt it had changed. Either way I can see why my parents loved living there back in the ’80s. The house we used to live in is still there, the only thing completely unchanged. Three blocks from the university campus where my dad studied so hard at, five blocks from the ocean where my mum sat pregnant with my sister and me.

            We stayed at a rather magnificent hotel inside the Naval Post-Graduate School campus. The building had been burned and severely damaged twice, yet the inside was still stunning. Neo-Moorish architecture with earthly colours, lush plants, adorned balconies, tiled steps and exquisitely detailed ceilings. Outside my bedroom window I could see the remaining sunlight flood through the tall windows of a poolside pergola with 18th century garden furniture. Wild geese walked around pecking at the grass. I felt like I was in a Jane Austen book, only with cable TV and a mini fridge. Of course it was a non-smoking room and there was no free liquor in the fridge, but the plush bed and walk-in closet made up for that. Hotels always make me want to slip into decadence. Maybe next time…

            We walked to the Wharf and watched the seals play in the green waters. The old theatre was still there, much to my mother’s pleasure, and we even got a little tour from the owner, Antonio. He’s 92 but doesn’t look a day over 70. He told us how he built the whole building himself and still makes all his own sets for the plays. Gilbert and Sullivan, Noël Coward, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz; he even tried a couple Beckett plays but, understandably, those didn’t go down as well with the families and tourists who flock there every year.

            The white sand on Monterey beach shimmered and the colour of the ocean was a deep blue grey. We sat there with our feet in the sand, watching dolphins jump through the waves, the sun warm enough to keep our coats off. It was, all at once, a moment of intense happiness and devastating sadness. As I gazed at the ocean that seemed to expand into infinity, I couldn’t stop thinking about that final scene from that movie On the Beach and I realized this weight will never lift. It’s the price of being alive. So I collected some shells and pebbles and a handful of golden sand and stored them in a plastic water bottle to remind me of that moment. Who knows, it might be another 27 years until I’m back there again, where it all started for me.

Jan 15, 2014 - MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #363


“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science is crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”

—Barbara Tuchman

The last few months I have been working in a very awesome bookstore. There are many good aspects to the job, except for one thing: I work nights on Thursdays and Fridays, which means I lose a lot of killer shows… On the upside, I am reading more than ever and every time I clock in I look forward to the new dimensions about to open up for me—with every stack I shelf, every book I look up and every page I excitedly turn. Bookshelf upon bookshelf, every corner of the store is occupied: from philosophy, physics and architecture to sociology, literary criticism, history and political science. Books on books, special dictionaries and general miscellany, belles-lettres, metaphysics, anarchism, pirates, humour, graphic novels, mathematics, chess, military history, gender studies, graphic design, typography, counter-cultures, ornithology… you name it!

Never before have I enjoyed going to work so much. I actually go to work to relax and clear my brain! After all, what better way to escape this world than by sinking into one of thousands waiting there on the shelf? It’s like stepping into a parallel world; where time stands still, the books are constantly replenished and the jazz playing softly in the background lets the words spring from the pages with rhythmic vigor and playful excitement.

There is much to be said of physical artifacts that are created, passed on, chucked, then rediscovered, then passed on again, only to be thrown out, discarded, then unearthed, etcetera etcetera etcetera. People will often come in with half a dozen boxes of books and when I go through the process of looking each one up for its price and availability, I often find these boxes have a theme: they all obviously belonged to the same person. Dozens of books, often with underlining, or an inscription, newspaper clippings… I wonder, whatever happened to the original page flippers? Did they die? Perhaps get evicted? Are these books the result of a breakup? Such questions arise and before long some Bill Bryson, or a Cousteau photobook, or a Birds of Africa book will come along and I’m traveling yet again.

Books, like zines, tapes and records actually travel through time and space; they cross many hands and maybe even borders; they are read and heard by people who may never meet, but share this very tangible outcome. This zine you hold right now, this very copy, will be read by another four punks at least. Why? Because it is there, waiting for you to pick it u;  it’s not floating around somewhere online, behind some chatroom avatar.

So, to paraphrase the misses above, I’ll say that without zines, punk history would seem faded and one-dimensional, punk theory would be restricted, aesthetic evolution and practical advice at a halt, punk thought and speculation stifled.

Also, now sounds like a good time to tell you how I feel about the Green Taping tradition at MRR. I’ve had the discussion with many people and heard different opinions. Some people disagree with green-taping because the tape can damage the records (they can stick together on the shelf—it’s a tight fit: 50,000 records and counting!) and also because the tape devalues the possible selling price of a record (we have a lot of very rare, now expensive records). However, at the same time, the very fact that they are green-taped MRR records makes them more valuable to some punk record collector freaks (it’s a legendary archive which has been pillaged from in the past) but the fact that these rare records are green-taped means they are also not in mint condition, and so can’t be sold for hundreds of dollars. Which is, correct me if I’m wrong, kinda turning DIY efforts into a luxury. I am not against fanatic collecting, but with punk records I just find it rather ironic.

 

Until You Are the King of Fools

A couple days ago I watched a documentary made about the Greek punk scene. When I first heard about this project I thought, wow, someone is going to put in all that work to do that? That’s great! Greece had, and still has, such a vibrant scene, it’s about time it was done. A couple of teasers had circulated online about a year ago, and they looked promising, so I was naturally very excited to finally see it. I have done some minimal video editing and it’s no easy task. To collect all the materials, compile them into a coherent storyline, edit and sequence the video, with the sound…it demands some work.

So, first off, this movie doesn’t looks like an amateur job, it’s not cheaply produced and it appears to have a professional production company behind it (I still remember those swirling lines that sprung out from the centre of the screen into an S, for Stefi Prodcutions, shown on TV before chocolate milk commercials from when I was I kid). The quality of the sound is also good, sans for a few live video sequences that are rather loud and blown out, but thankfully overall there is no mumbling or noise to drown out the voices. The photographic material is also interesting and goes beyond the standard pictures found within record sleeves or online. But it is the speakers interviewed who mainly carry out the narrative, which is a basic coverage of the evolution of punk in Greece.

The camera work during the interviews also looks efficiently done, with different angles and close ups, however there are a few times when the camera sticks to a group shot uneccesarily. Seeing four people fidgeting, scratching their nose, or staring into space while one person focuses on answering a question can be rather distracting. I think better emphasis would have been made if the camera zoomed in on the speaker at hand and stuck to group shots where and when needed.

This seems to be an attempt to cover the history of Greek punk by interviewing bands from both the past and present, reflecting on both the past and present. It’s very cool to listen to people’s stories but I feel like more time was spent reiterating a few standard points, than going into further detail about certain topics, getting the scoop on particular periods, or showing more video and photo footage. Then again, given that there aren’t that many other documentaries about the Greek punk scene, this one attempts to cover a lot of ground, and that’s probably why it failed in depth. But it’s definitely cool to see some of your friends and favourite bands talking about what they love.

The selection of bands is a mix: it’s mainly older bands that were around for the first wave at the end of the ’70s and are still around today in some form or other, plus a smaller selection of newer bands that formed more recently. They are all mainly from Athens, plus some from Thessaloniki, Kavala and Patra. And only three women: two of them were in a band ages ago, ad one of which is also a long time promoter at An Club in Eksarhia (a rather dubious establishment really, it has been in cooperation with punks and Eksarhia underlords for decades and has hosted many rock, hardcore, punk and metal bands—better the devil you know sorta deal). These two chicks were definitely not my definition of active punks and mainly reflect on their teenage days, and I think they probably know very, very little of what is actually going on today in the DIY scene. The other woman interviewed briefly is the drummer of Hibernation, Yianna, and is definitely one of the people who has been around for a long time and has a lot to say, but was not given the appropriate time or questions. Also, only one person mentions that it was nice when finally more women started going to shows during the late ’80s. Oh, also, there are a couple of completely random takes of Jello Biafra who gives his view on “the spirit of punk”. It is known that Jello was in Athens last summer (and likes to poke his head wherever possible) and the director must have snagged the opportunity to get his bit of international punk cred. I find it completely unnecessary and don’t think it adds anything to the final outcome. It’s like we have to have the Rollins or Jello stamp pf punk approval—fucking ridiculous! It ends up looking more like a “featured attraction” gimmick than anything else. But that’s just me…

They mention how back in the ’80s there were not many places to play shows and so they were usually organized in universities and squares, but not much more information is given about the squats and collectives that went on to organize many, many shows during the ’90s and ’00s. There is also not much mention of the various labels, distros and zines, whether past or present. There is also a number of bands, both old and new, from Athens and elsewhere that were not included. I don’t know if these are accidental omissions, or if certain people just declined to contribute their opinions. (I can very well see some people I know not wanting to be included in a documentary that takes an outsider view on the subject and makes it more appropriate for people who need to be introduced to the concept of punk.) Sure, the basic history of the scene sounds like it could be similar to that of many other scenes, but what makes the Athens scene special or unique or different does not seem to come through. But like I said, this documentary doesn’t set out to do that, it sets out to give an introduction to what Greek punk is and how people define(d) it.

The movie is broken down into five parts, each one with a subtitle, quotes from what people say throughout the movie, every time accompanied by a small clip-art-looking crown, the logo of sorts for the movie. The overall graphic aesthetic is not overly punk and that crown just brings to mind an ad for an energy drink, or a hip nightclub or something. Not into it. The questions posed to the speakers go through the subject in a chronological/thematical fashion and I can easily image people who haven’t a clue what punk really is, seeing this and enjoying it more than the actual life act of being a punk. Serve. Chew. Digest.

The first chapter starts of “The King is Dead, Long Live the Kind” and discusses the end of the military dictatorship (1967-1974), the style and attitude the “rock” groups had up until then in Greece and how punk was a reaction to the conservative, scared society of the time. They talk about the social reactions to the long hair rockers sported and how back then walking around with a mowhawk as a punk was a sure way to get beaten up or at least interrogated by the cops.

The second chapter titled “Fuck Art” (typed out in Greek) discusses the expression of punk and how it came about in Greece and why people were drawn to it. It covers the binary creative/destructive aspect of punk and how it was an alternative for those who didn’t feel like they belonged to, or even liked, society very much.

The third chapter is called “Let’s Pogo” and discusses the violence in the pit; how outsiders found it scary and thought it was the audience fighting amongst themselves. When asked what punk is and how they define punk, some of the answers were rather generalized, vague or even cliché (“going against the status quo,” “we put a lot into it”), others were rather more romantic and some contained a more complex notion of what punk actually means to them. People recognize that for some it is just music, and for others it is an outlook on life, and I like the fact that none of them try and strictly define it and instead absorb its mutative quality and go with it. They also all pretty much agree that you have to think for yourself and that what you do is what really defines whether you are punk or not: not just your message, but actually living up to what you say.

The fourth chapter is called “Do it Yourself” and here is where they reflect upon the organizational aspect of it: no one expects to make money from it and the value of punk is in its underground quality, and the very fact that its members don’t depend on LP sales and shows to make a living. Someone rightfully says that it would be embarrassing to see a punk try and make a profit from punk. Some stated that they were DIY, others didn’t as they believed it was pretty evident and self-explanatory. There is also the debate over whether making music as a professional musician—outside of punk—is considered selling out. A couple people mention zine making, handing out demo tapes at shows and making and putting up posters. There are mentions of how doing things yourself can be extremely difficult, but that overcoming the odds is what it’s all about. Someone mentions that people should overcome the bickering and differences and just agree upon some basics to set more solid foundations for stronger scenes.

The fifth chapter is called “Until You Are the King of Fools” and discusses punk as fashion and the fact that punk has already been marketed and commercialized, so wanting to look like the punks did in the ’80s is rather pointless. “Doing it three decades ago meant something; nowadays it doesn’t—there’s a market for everything!” It also tries to stress the many different definitions people have of punk, as well as the many reasons people are driven or led to it. It ends with the irony of trying to avoid the rockstar system and ending up being the rockstar of your own bubble, proving that punk is not isolated from societal vices.

The sixth and final chapter is titled “Passion before Fashion” (meh…). It is interesting to see what people answer when they are asked if punk will survive. Everyone says yes, but that it mutates and morphs and evolves. They also say that it never stopped being relevant and that it’s been around infecting people since its very inception—and people will continue to write songs about the fucking cops because they’re still doing the same shit they did when punk broke. As long as society is fucked, punk will be relevant.

So… This obviously isn’t a documentary exclusively about the “DIY” scene in Greece, as there are a couple people interviewed who would not be considered DIY by other members and/or factions of the scene, plus the focus is on the evolution of the scene, not the DIY aspect of it. The angle seems to be that of a newcomer, which can be a good thing, as added excitement and curiosity often heighten dedication, and I assume those elements actually helped make this documentary possible. Like I mentioned above, almost no other documentaries have been made about Greek punk, so to see anything at all is encouraging. It can be a slippery slope: on the one hand punk is portrayed in simple terms for the uninitiated, making it lose some of its force and sheer power and perhaps forgetting or not crediting people who really made a difference, yet on the other hand… there’s a fucking documentary about Greek punk so check out!

            And now, the end is near…

            You probably heard by now, but Mariam is leaving. Her time as coord has ended. She did it for three-and-a-half-years and might I say, that’s no easy shit! She is the definition of hard ass (in all ways possible) and has definitely taught me the most here at MRR. She has determination and guts and is never afraid to speak her mind—if you’ve ever met her you’d know this. And even though work here is demanding, and we all try and have lives outside the compound, we all go through rough and bad times, and maybe sometimes we get a bit cranky, or crazy, or sad, or mad—all emotions aside, the important thing for me is that she showed me how to get the job done well. Overall it has been an honour knowing her and working with her this past year! She will no doubt keep herself busy and I’m sure you’ll hear from her again soon: true punks never die!

Jan 13, 2014 - MRR columns, Open Mic    No Comments

MRR Column #362


I don’t know if you heard, but punk is apparently in again! Oh yes, it is in! Well, it’s in for those who never knew what it was, those who never cared to find out and those who knew but brushed it off a hostile reminder of the ugliness of society. In other words, it’s in for all the people you probably despise. The opinion leaders and trend setters of the conventional world suddenly saw that, holy shit, punk is not dead, it’s in fact very much alive and still gashing at your stiletto heels. It has an angry voice and vulgar appearance; it doesn’t like the state, has no money but has strong survival instincts and a whole clan of like-minded outcasts that claim the same identity.

Like a roaming animal that goes back to the lake for prey, the fashion industry has landed on punk yet again. Like the magpies they are, the trend scavengers have snatched everything that glitters and flown from nest to nest and pillaged all the eggs. Season by season, the trends are rolled out: “Winter Russian-styled wrap-ups,” “Arab Spring military look” and “Summer African animal prints.”

Sure, classic couture worth more than what you make in a year is what they want, but in such times of deep economic mayhem, how can a multi-million, luxury industry like this be justified? Surely some ethics must be served up, even if only as samples, to keep the critics at bay. So what do they do? They take radical thinking, underground ideas, the “working man’s” wardrobe, and turn it into expensive vestments for rich, detached socialites to buy and make them feel good about themselves. It’s mock modesty and I fucking hate it.

Create or identify a problem and sell a solution. If ripped jeans and spikey hair sells, let them have spikes. They don’t care that patching up ripped jeans was originally a necessity, the mother of all creativity. They don’t do it because they want to show their discontent for society and its regulations. They won’t be wearing these things in two years from now. No, for them it is just one more trend that made them millions, one more appropriation that worked in their favour.

The reason for this whole rant? The recent MET Gala’s Costume Institute exhibit titled “Punk: Chaos to Couture”. The moment I heard about this event I huffed in disdain. Another outsider, mainstream sociological assumption from an institution that, like most, normally want nothing to do with us. They have tried many times before and seldom get it all right. Every attempt to define and describe punk falls flat, coming off more like dry academic observation, or stranger curiosity, even enemy propaganda. So many books written about punk, yet so few actually turn to the punks living and breathing today for an opinion. Probably just as well, most punks I know would tell a conservative mainstream magazine to shove it up their corporate ass. Not all punks are going to give the endlessly two-faced media the real deal because we don’t care about what they think. For us, punk is by the punks for the punks. Any other way has the iffy smell of sell-out bucks.

This does not mean to say that we completely ignore the reactions of the media and public; or that we don’t have long hour conversations about the meaning of it all. Au contraire. I read the New York magazine article, titled This is Punk?, written in relation to this “laughable irony” as the writer calls it. I read the poll and saw the pictures of the very un-punk, clean-cut celebrities suddenly clad in leather and dog collars for this “Oscars of the fashion world” event. I read the comments beneath the blog post of said article, with all the varying responses by the readers as to what they think punk is and means, and if they approve of the article or not.

One of the things I do remember from journalism class is that you always have to consider your audience. It doesn’t really matter what you’re writing about; if you don’t considering who you are writing for you might as well be doing nothing. This idea withstanding, the message I got from this New York magazine article is what we all already know: the system is still shit and punk is still awesome! However, that is not what most readers might get from it. For you to get a better understanding of what the magazine editors consider punk, they questioned 100 self-identified punks, I assume from the streets of New York. The results are, unsurprisingly unsurprising and both extremely aggravating yet still highly amusing.

For your entertainment, here’s a pick-n-mix of some of the Q’s and A’s: Three quarters of the people polled believe punk has been co-opted, by “hipster fucks,” “corporate America,” “New York magazine” and “by every musician that plays it, every person that follows it.” 30% identify with the Hardcore subgenre, 12% went equally to Ska Punk and Riot Grrrl, Pop Punk got 20%, Queercore got 3%, while “Anarcho punk” and “Fuck subgenres, they only divide us” were also filled in. The Ramones were the “greatest punk band of all time,” with Fugazi coming in eighth, after the Dropkick Murphys. A whopping 47% said they were Democrats, while another staggering 40% (!) said they were Not Political (what does that even mean!?). Some 10% claimed to be Other, with Anarchist being the prevailing response. 64% said they were not angry and half of them, at 50% exactly, said that Punk was a Lifestyle (aaaaaaargh!). Only 2% believe it is A Way of Dressing, which is still twice as high as the people who think it is A Political Act. Go fucking figure!

Also, the “(grossly abbreviated) punk glossary” was just that; plus there were some grossly overlooked names that were not included.

I feel like maybe we got a phone call months ago from someone who said they might be writing something for the New Yorker, or the New York Times, but we usually point out that we do not care for mainstream publications and/or what they think about punk. Some may disagree with this tactic, as it lets the media assume what they like. I think the media will do what they want anyway and so I would rather spend time doing something more constructive than wasting my breath explaining punk to a bunch of reptile scum who only care for as long as it makes them a buck.

            As for the actual article, This is Punk?—instead of the statement This is Punk, or even the question Is This Punk?, the author went with a version that has attached certain subtle connotations. Is the writer perhaps a punk, and he gapes in dismay and horror at the small sample of 100 questioned who identify as punk and their subsequent definitions of the word, thinking to himself “Really!? This is punk?” Perhaps he is an ex-punk, and felt the need to make it an existential question: what is it anyway, what did it mean then and what does it mean today? His lead sums up the general viewpoint: “If a movement known for rage, rebellion and adolescent id [sic] becomes the focus of a high-fashion celebration, is it the final studded nail on the coffin or proof of everlasting life? When it’s the theme of the biggest society event of the year, is that bollocks, or fucking genius?”

Well…given that the focus point of his article was the exterior representation of the inner ideologies (I assume), and not the music, obviously the discussion is missing the wheat paste that makes it stick: our music, like dry flour, won’t keep anything together without the powerful liquid solvent of our ideology. The writer does make note of the various sub-genres that have emerged within punk and even picks up on the riff-raff reps who often poison themselves into the gutter, dragging punk down with them, giving it a bad name. He says that, “most [versions of punk] are at odds with one another” but forgets to mention that all versions of real punk, whatever the sounds, style, origin or method, share some underlying ideals. The concept of DIY and punk as an economic model is briefly mentioned (“one of punk’s lessons is that people can create their own culture, instead of waiting for it to be dictated from on high”), but makes no mention to the fact that this work ethos has never ceased being a reality for so many of us around the world. He also states that, “rock’s become more of a niche interest,” which I can only assume he says because 30 years down the line people are still around to make speculations, but it’s far back enough for them to assign some cultural value to it and thus get validation of their own involvement in it. It’s no surprise all the old-time punks are publishing their biographies and declaring how they were the true founders of punk—it’s a generation approaching death wanting to make sure they’ve left their mark, lest the un-punk missed a chance to join in on the secret. Perhaps he meant niche in connection to the fetishization of punk output, which, thanks to the ease of the internet, has pretty much become another bidding item on eBay.


   He says that, “the punk mentality used to be a default ethos among rock kids, but over the past decade that fell apart; punk-think, which used to feel joyful and liberating, has started to look crabbed and guarded as well.” I don’t know where the writer was these last three decades, but I can assure you punk has been active following that ethic. If a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, the tree still makes a noise. Maybe the reason punk has needed to “guard” itself like he says, is because too many fashion designers and artisan hipsters were abusing it for profit. Maybe it became “crabbed” because people like John Roderick think punk advocates “self-abnegation and negativity”. Maybe it’s because Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm MacLaren are still perceived as “inventors” of punk (urgh, my stomach churns just writing it) and people still think it first emerged in New York and the UK. I’m sick of people who aren’t even part of our world making bold claims about it. Maybe, we have better things to do and more exciting lives to lead actually carrying out what we claim to believe in. WE ARE THE CULTURE YOU CONSUME.

It’s OK for them to all conjure with canapés and champagne to delight over how recklessly magnificent those times seemed to them—a giant nostalgia-orgy by the people who never strode the whole nine yards and who still stand inside the box looking out through the barred window, perplexed and intimidated by us crazy freaks dancing on the ashes of their lifestyle philosophies. The MET exhibit was an extravagant opportunity to place what they think punk is onto a pedestal and glorify their own version of it, gloating about their edgy creativity for unearthing it. Yet the fact that they are inspired and driven by the people they were trying to sell their products to 30 years ago should tell you enough.

Because sure, style is basically an approach guided by certain disciplines or ideals. It has manifested in all shades throughout all forms of art and creativity since the beginning of human expression. However, the fashion industry would rather focus on the studs and spikes than address the actual reasons rooted in punk’s original genesis, still so evident today—a nice twist, revealing how inundated, blind-eye-turning yet simultaneously audacious and exploitive this industry can be.

If people with money to spend really want a new trend wave to ride, I suggest using all those clever marketing techniques and psychological insights to convince people to get a conscience. Maybe if they applied their subversive advertising schemes and brainwashing propaganda—that obviously fucking work!—to persuade people to stop animal testing, or stop funding wars, or to convince them that Jesus is a hoax and their governments are the real enemies, maybe this world would be a different place… Though probably equally fucked. Humans: who gives a shit?

http://nymag.com/news/features/punk-movement-2013-4/

Sep 10, 2013 - Dance Dammit!, MRR columns    4 Comments

MRR Column #361

Last month I started talking about some of the things I have learned from working in groups and collectives. I had wanted to write something about the absurd and unique experience I had at Katarameno Syndromo, so, after my rather short column last month, plan to rectify. I know running a gig space vastly differs from place to place, so I believe sharing my shenanigans might be of some use to some punk out in the sticks somewhere. It probably won’t, but hell, you gotta try right?

To start with, some people found this concept absurd and could not imagine why anyone would want to spend their precious free time running about for a crummy old basement, and what, for free!? We wanted to get away from all the paid/bar/club shit and make our own space, with our own rules. We weren’t making a space for other people, we were making it for us. No bouncers; no sexism; no racism; no rockstar shit; no violence; no hard drugs. Bands that floor without the use of a stage, merely a brick-high platform and a roomful of happily drunk and cheery punks. No moshing that could give you a concussion, just lots of dancing and cheering. No astronomical entrance fee, even when European bands were visiting from abroad or Japan or the US; just a bashed-up donation box and a well-stocked bar. There were ten of us involved; some more than others, and for three years we ran some of the best shows in the country—no shit.

Katarameno Syndromo means “cursed syndrome,” as we were all cursed in some way or another. It was located in one of the dingiest parts of town—we were, after all relatively illegal. It was however close enough to downtown activity, so as to remain within easy access. We were located a few blocks down from the main Polytechnic University in the centre of Athens and just a couple blocks over from Villa Amalias squat. KS was within seven minutes walking distance from buses, trains and the underground. It also created for a handy triangle of support in the event of trouble—which was always within seven minutes walking distance from KS. We were situated on the corner of a small crossroad, between a couple whorehouses, an Egyptian kebab shop and a motorcycle repair shop that could have potentially been a dumping ground for stolen motorbikes, but I could be wrong. Almost across from our entrance was a paved pedestrian road, lined by half a dozen semi-abandoned buildings. One summer, one of them had been turned into a crackhouse, and one day we were astounded to see our street corner on the evening news under the headline “junkies with Kalashnikovs occupy building.” Boy am I glad we didn’t have a gig the day the cops decided to bust that place!

The surrounding area was not only rather dodgy, especially at night, but it was incredibly filthy and so smelly you just knew something, or someone, was decomposing in those rubbish bins. In fact, our main entrance would often be used as a toilet, by cats, dogs and humans alike. I also remember once the rubbish problem was so bad we had to call the health department to come take care of it—the rubbish collectors were on strike and there was literally a rubbish heap about three metres high in front of the building. In addition to health hazards, there were also other dangers. People would often come to the basement and go back to find their cars broken into, or their windows smashed. In some cases punks would get followed or chased by fascists, who roamed the area, mainly looking for vulnerable immigrant bate; something to call in to their pals the cops, then they could have a clobbering gang-bang. Across the street from us about fifteen immigrants from Bangladesh lived in two apartments that overlooked the road. When situations got really tough, usually around riot season (May, November and December) and we needed to have people on guard on the roof, they would often smile at us through their broken windows, perhaps comforted in the knowledge that, whoever we were, we disliked like the cops as much as they did. We made sure to maintain a very, very low profile and when asked we responded by saying we run a music studio.

It was a 100 square metre basement, with one window, one tiny bathroom and no ventilation. It actually used to be a music-recording studio and consisted of four small rooms, but, by the power of DIY and by the light of a single, bare bulb, some of those walls were torn down and Katarameno Syndromo was born into grubby existence. Fifteen white steps below ground level, a bamboo bar welcomed you right as you got to the bottom. Coat hangers with dead rocker names above each one lined the wall on the left. To the right was a recording studio, another small bar counter, which was used as the distro area, one “lounge balcony” (an elevated corner where we placed a coffee table and some armchairs we found on the street) and a platform where the bands played. The space in between easily filled up with sixty people. It was small enough to be cozy, with surreal dark corners and exotic decorative touches, but big enough to make it easy for 80% of the people to circle the band and lift the guitarist in the air. For the first year and a half the floor was dusty concrete; so every time someone would drag their feet or dance, a small puff of dust would form beneath their feet—sort of like Pig-Pen the Peanutes character. The next day our boogers would always be black. From the outside, you never would have guessed this tropical paradise dwelled six feet underground. I say tropical not only because in the summers it got so damp and hot that nicotine, dirt and sweat would literally drip from the ceilings and pipes; but also because it was an exotic haven in the middle of all the grey misery and bland depression.

Harry was a very laid back sound engineer and did sound at the shows, along with Mike who knew how to set up the PA and figure out what each band needed, and hence what other equipment we had to borrow. To book a gig there needed to be, either a) group consensus, or b) enough people from the group to agree on it and run it themselves. The later rarely happened. Depending on the gig we booked, and which one of us booked it, jobs would rotate. When Panos arranged Crude, Ermis and Peio managed the bar. When Mike and I arranged Bernays Propaganda, Nodas and Skaf took care of the door. And when Alekos booked the Movie Star Junkies we all just thumped our feet and pounded our chests and drank until the night turned into day.

Our donation box looked like the head of a cardboard robot and we had a suggested donation of three euros—of course we found buttons and Canadian pounds in there too and so oftentimes Gareth, the hearty Welsh bikey, or Vaggouras the obscure-hardcore-lover would take over greeting duties. We had a sign above it that said, “Your donation helps touring bands with their expenses.” Everyone ignored it. The money from the bar helped pay for the electricity and water (which were higher than normal, as that seedy basement was on the books as a “business space”), plus the two hundred beers we would need to get for the next gig, cleaning materials, and other space-related expenses. Peio, Ermis and I would cook, and champagne and cake would be a frequent phenomenon.

The rent was covered by the studio room. Four to five bands rehearsed there, so their collective rent was pretty cheap, given that each band had an average of 4.3 members. They were in change of keeping the studio tidy, which usually meant finding the carpet drenched in beer, ashes all over the console and things missing or laying about in disarray—ha ha ha! It was hard to control and I laugh about it now, but we appreciated them very much nonetheless. That studio has spawned some great acts, which would probably still be in some dingy basement in Athens right now, were it not for KS.

Ideally four of us had to be there to open up, sweep and mop, clean the bathroom and bar, and scrub the main entrance and pavement area with as many buckets of bleach water as possible. The stench was so bad, it was vomit inducing. But better shit that cops, you know? Four people at least had to close up; put the booze away, pay the band, give a quick sweep, make sure all the equipment was back in the studio room and all seven locks were tightly shut. Of course, things will go wonky if they can, and people have different priorities, so it was usually the same few buggers doing all the dirty work, starting at four in the afternoon, going until three in the morning. But it was still pretty damn splendid. Sure, not everyone pulled their weight, and sometimes we had communication difficulties, but you stuck your neck out. Not only because you couldn’t be sure someone else would do it, but ultimately because you really cared about what you were doing.

I can remember many a night, stumbling out of there, drunk and happy, locking every door and heavy duty padlocl, only to get to the top and realize someone had forgotten their phone or bag. There was absolutely no signal down there, so all our phones would be lined up by the single bottle glass window behind the bar, the big pirate flag hanging above it. Gig posters and a hologram of Jesus hung just to the left of the bar, a hand-made collage of naked men hung on the right, below a framed collage of old punk photographs, made especially for KS by one of its trusted friends. We also had a backstage area, where we stored all our crap, booze and guest band equipment. It was connected to a tiny dirt yard (more like a hole in the ground!), which was where we cooled off on hot summer nights, or smoked up, or just took a break from the marvelous mayhem inside.

There was a handful of people would help behind the bar, or stay late to help clean up; they donated their art for posters, and their time and money or other random things we needed. Some people would leave ten euros at the door, then they would pay twenty euros up front at the bar and just drink for the rest of the night. In the beginning we didn’t even have drink prices, just a sign that said, “Pay what you want for this drink, for your drink.” By the end though people were just too confused (dumb?) and asked us to name a price, so we suggested one euro for beer and three for drinks. It all worked out fine though and by the third year, we were saving some money for future plans. Things were going great until one day they weren’t. In the summer of 2012 Katarameno Syndromo closed its doors. My last memory of it was my going away party, which I organized with my favourite local band Hibernation. I was not around when it eventually got locked up for good, as I was already here in SF. But, I admit, I’m actually glad I was not there. Even though it went out with a bang, it would have been too sad.

Maybe it was the unique combination of the people involved, or maybe we had just stumbled upon a golden section of time and space. Despite all the troubles and stress, the hour-long meetings and countless emails exchanged, we did it. And in spite of it all, whacky landlady, the fascists, the drug dealers and shit outside, we loved it. The memories created there will be with me for life, as will the lessons learned. One of the nuttiest people I have ever met once made a poster for one of our gigs. She was a regular and often cooked treats for touring bands and obsessively cleaned up empty beer cans after shows. It was a drawing of a cyclone and said, “thou will be safe in the eye of the tornado.” And it was true; for a few hours a week we had our secret getaway. Even though we didn’t feel much safer from the savage world outside, it was, in its decadent and disorderly nature, rather fucking glorious.

Until next time… who gives a shit?

Sep 1, 2013 - MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #360

“No man is an island. […] Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know, For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”

—John Donne

Working in collectives is highly rewarding. Not in any selfish sense, but in the true sense. Working with like-minded people you respect or even admire, working on a worthy cause together, in the knowledge that what you are doing is making the world a little bit better… Yes, but. Punks don’t live in a vacuum—at least not all of them—so working with others means having to consider everyone’s differences, similarities, strengths, abilities, possible weaknesses, etc. Just because everyone wants to work together in harmony doesn’t mean it can actually happen. So while most of us agree on what that we want to get shit done, we take ages dancing in circles around the who’s, how’s and why’s.

I remember back in Athens, when I was part of the Katarameno Syndromo gig collective. We used to run a tropical wet basement in the dingiest part of town. It was just glorious. We knew what we wanted to do, we wanted to book cool gigs, with bands that we enjoyed, in a feelgood punk environment (nearly every show was like a festive party), standing against the norms and having complete control over our basement as possible. It was our stèki, our hangout spot, and we learned to love it despite the difficulties; and more probably in spite of them. We were no club and people who had never made an effort to come down and actually meet us, and just sent us messages on facebook along the lines of “Hey we’re a new rock band, can you book us a show at your bar?” would not really be appreciated.

Of course we were open to new friendships and encouraged people to help out. We were also a little wary and maybe even a bit disbelieving, as we had all been through enough weird, amazing and downright bad situations in our own experiences with punk, collectives, gigs etc. to know how easily something can turn sour. Of course, a lot of people got easily excited, but then their commitment quickly deflated, like a balloon left out after a party. Like with any relationship or venture, when you realize that actual work has to be put into it, you can suddenly change your mind about how much you want to engage. And, as easy-breezy or reckless as some punks may be, they aren’t usually the ones who are getting the job done, know what I mean? The real doers are usually to be found behind the scenes doing their thing, focused on the cause, too busy to sit and moan, or gossip.

            Of course we wanted people to come up and talk to us or ask questions on how to get involved. We wanted to uphold the DIY ethic, spread it even, but we were not giving workshops, ey. We were not going to take each person by the hand like a small child and sit and explain why and what and who and how—hence why we didn’t really. After a certain period in your (collective) life, you like to work with people who already knew the deal, who didn’t need the introduction, but instead already know what the conclusion should be and how to achieve it—people who would take action, as opposed to waiting for instructions.

That’s where that fine line hovers. The one right between “taking initiative” and “getting consensus from the group.” Yes, there are certain things that need to be run by the group, but then again, the whole idea of a DIY collective (what an oxymoron) is that each person’s own effort is why the combined efforts of the group are fruitful. Each person is good at something and you apply that skill to accomplish your goals. That’s why ganging up on a project is often a good idea—more brains, more skills, more ideas, more critical thinking and more positive effects The actual group tasks shared among the group though are the trickier ones.

Inevitably there will be shit that no one wants to do, in any collective, no matter what it does. Menial tasks, complicated shit, odd shit, risky shit, dirty and smelly shit. You can have ten people show up to a meeting, but you’ll usually only see the same two or three people actually doing all the shit you discussed. We are all but feeble humans, bound by certain biological, psychological and physiological factors, which we cannot often deny or change, even if we try. So no matter—we work with what we have and do our best to improve.

And this is where mutual respect and investment in the cause comes in. If something is overall bad for the group or the final outcome, it should probably be reconsidered. I know collectives obviously want to achieve change and whatnot, but seriously, if you let it rot from the inside out, or let your ideals get tainted from exterior randomness, you’re gonna be in a pickle. Yes, we all like things a certain way, but we do so in our own time, we don’t do it to the detriment of the rest of my group. We are individuals but we must also remember that, to create as a group, we must move and work like one, or else we don’t develop a group consciousness—a devilishly rare thing might I add. The über-general idea being that we care about the well being of the group, and jeopardizing its ability to continue and thrive, or treating it badly only gets in the way of actually doing something.

End Notes: I have been so busy these last few months, that I haven’t really had the time to just sit and reflect on things. I have however been mulling over certain patterns that come up along the way. Between doing my solo month after six months of training in the shortest month of the year, getting a new job at an awesome bookstore, navigating various personal legal issues, doing the day to day at the coord desk and managing one more issue Han style (solo, that is), I barely had time to write this column. But you already knew that.

Aug 28, 2013 - MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #359

        I don’t want to go on another sociopolitical rant, but I have a hard time blocking out the real world. I’m afraid “artisanal bagels,” free yoga workshops and bike-rides in the park aren’t enough to distract me from the raw reality of the world we live in, sorry. It’s an easy thing to do: surround yourself with a version of the facts that you find digestible, ignoring anything that doesn’t directly affect you. “As long as I’m OK that’s all that matters,” right? Fuck that!

I know improving your quality of life is supposed to be something one strives for, but at what real cost? It’s a bit like charity: people do it once a year, feel contempt for making the effort and then go back to living in their bubble. Similarly, people consume “organic fair trade” and think they’re doing some “third world” country a favour. Yet what about the actual communities and economies supporting these bourgeois habits of the West? Do the farmers in Bolivia get to live the high-quality lifestyle that SF people do? Do the farmers in Africa get to enjoy the fruits of their labour before it gets shipped off to Germany? Did the people cultivating the land get anything from it? I think not.

It’s all very well for the upper-class alternative hippies and the rich hedonist yuppies, but who else can actually support such a lifestyle? (For lifestyle it has become.) Not the unemployed youth, the poor families or the elders; not the immigrants or factory workers or single mothers. Such notions are endorsed by the kind of people who already have all their other bases covered and are now looking for something more to do with their free time and money—in other words, the wealthy fuckers who were over-consuming in the first place. And it is all very well for the wealthier countries to “go green” and “eat organic” but they are still doing it at the expense of the usual poor buggers at the end of the food chain. They are still (ab)using the resources of other countries, promoting a culture of waste and reallocating wealth from the (poorer local) farmers to the (richer foreign) producing companies. The starving continue to perish by the minute on the other side of the world, the only difference is that the people in the wealthier countries can now sleep a little easier in the knowledge that they didn’t make the problem worse. Even though the actual problem still remains.

In my mind, it’s a bit like saying “now, with your help, we can recycle all the Amazon trees we chopped” or that “because of all our conscious consumers, we can give our slave workers healthier meals” when the whole point is that they shouldn’t be chopping trees and there should be no slave labour to begin with! So many Western companies are now declaring that they deal “fair trade” when my question is “Why was it ever unfair trade to begin with?” I feel the same way about fancy restaurants: they’re too hedonistic and self-indulgent for me to stomach; they’re a blatant declaration of wealth, a flaunting acknowledgment of the class system and the inequality it creates.

OK, I know what a lot of you are thinking; “but recycling and eating organic and shopping fair trade is good, isn’t it!?” Sure, it’s better, but I still see it as a temporary recovery device from a virus that continues to thrive across the globe (it’s called imperialist capitalism, if you hadn’t already guessed). I find them to be reactionary tactics to a system suffering of gangrene; instead of chopping off the limb completely, they try and remedy it with perfume and ointments. Instead of looking at what actually creates the problem, they simply find temporary, ethical-sounding diversions to cover it up, or diminish its importance in the eyes of the public. They appropriate the problem until it becomes another mundane fact of life that can never be resolved—and why should it, the masses have been convinced that they are doing their part, while the conglomerates and corporations still manage to market this idea for profit.

But then again, I’m just a Balkan vlaho-punk, so what do I know?

***

            I was watching a documentary the other day about the Copenhagen squat Ryesgade 58, called Nine Days Behind the Barricades. It documented the nine-day battle between the squatters and the local authorities. It was translated into Greek—with horrible voice overs may I add, but regardless of that—I really appreciate the effort, as it was done by the Libertatia squat (in Thessaloniki) in 2009 to share the information and perhaps learn something from what the Ryesgade 58 squatters went through.

The cops had planned to evict Ryesgade 58 on September 14, 1986 and warned the squatters to evacuate. The squatters reacted by organizing a demonstration, which ended up almost right outside to squat. The cops were unable to contain the crowd, which entered the squat and swiftly set up barricades around it. Within a few hours the blockades multiplied and soon the whole block was closed off. 50 cops tried to attack but got a shower of resistance. The protestors used materials from a construction site nearby and sometimes the barricades were four or five levels deep. They equipped themselves with slingshots, bats and iron bars, bits of broken cobblestone from the pavements and, of course, some Molotov cocktails. Over 600 people stayed within this fortress of sorts to defend Ryesgade 58.

By the second day they were surrounded. Hundreds of people stood outside the barricades and in the surrounding area, making it impossible for the police to attack. Eventually 150 of them in riot gear charged in, but the squatters were organized and pushed them back with petrol bombs and rocks. The cops were out in 10 minutes. Then they tried the side-streets. Again they got bombarded with more molotovs, rocks and tear-gas. Finally they retreated and waited for back up from the rest of the Denmark police force.

Meanwhile, the squatters stayed well prepared and took care of everyone within the barricades. They made sure the children were protected, that the older people got their medication and they communicated with the locals and all the people showing their support. Eventually they decided to allow media behind the barricades and provided them with an announcement stating their purpose and demands. The squatters wanted full control over the building and the ability to organize freely. Some suggestions were made but eventually all of them were denied by the unbending city council. 1500 more cops were brought in, this time equipped with military tanks and machine guns. The cops officially declared that the assault would end in the death of several people.

Faced with this, the squatters escaped. From an emergency underground tunnel created for that very purpose, they silently left in the night. They evacuated in the knowledge that if they were to stay any longer, they would be risking their lives, or in the very least facing years in prison. For what?

I ask myself this question at night. I wonder how we are going to continue when push comes to combat? No one wants to have to fend for the right to shelter with their life, yet so many do. While I type this, my friends back home are going through similar situations. While attacks on numerous squats is always bad news, I can only hope it opens up people to the alternative of self-organized communities. Now that so many people are losing their homes because they cannot pay their mortgages, or because they are unemployed, the emerging thousands, if not millions, below the poverty line will be faced with the same issue of homelessness. And the way I see it, squatters are the only ones who have tackled this issue on their own, instead of depending on the system to do it for them. They claimed what should be rightfully theirs as a human being.

They were fighting for more than a building; they were fighting for the freedom to live their own lives as they chose, outside the guidelines and rules imposed by third-party political puppets. Not reckless lives, or violent or abusive; in fact lives that are more creative and well-natured than any fucker downtown in a suit. The point is, to be able to be your own authority and not get prosecuted for it. And while the media and authorities think of those people as fighting the system, calling them “terrorists” and “threats to society,” what they are actually doing is fighting the idea that a system is even needed. People think squatters relish in some primal notion of destructive anarchy and disorder, when in fact they are the ones who are self-organizing; the ones creating a life for themselves independent of political promises and administrative support—ideally making state intervention and authority control irrelevant by default.

And it is then when the dictatorship feels really threatened; when it realizes that people can do it own their own. When not only will the people make it through, but they will also resist with passion and determination. I mean, when the government feels the need to bring a whole army to a squat of a few hundred, ready to shoot them all down, stripping them of the right to self-governance…you kind of have an issue, don’t you think? Sounds a bit like a tyranny to me…

***

            The new Antimob LP is so good that I fear some of its power was lost in translation in this month’s review of it. So I’m going to tell you here and now: it is more than a simple hardcore record. It is more than what might appear to be a concept album. It is more than a personal account of being a punk in a country that has drastically deteriorated in the last few years. It is rather an organic documentation of Greece circa 2012 and everything that comes with it—it is what punk set out to be: release, reaction, redemption and resistance all at the same time. Natural and necessary. No empty riffs or wasted words, but songs bursting at the seams with energy and conviction; lyrics that capture the physical anger as much as they do the mental torment; the daily struggle and emotional toll of living under the regime Greece has right now. It is, simply put, a pièce de résistance, containing within its grooves the fury of a lost generation. Stunning!

The MRR record collection reorganization has already started! We are refilling all the seven-inch records and putting them in seven-inch boxes. This will not only protect them from dust and dirt, it will also deter people from stealing. This is a very important project, as it frees up space in the compound, plus is helps preserve the largest punk record collection open to the punks in the world! You can support us in this project by making your donation to our paypal account, mrr@maximumrocknroll.com and help us maintain this amazing archive! For posterity’s sake; for punk’s sake.

It is a shame however that I will not be around to witness the final results of this labour of love, as I have been contacted by Immigration services and been asked to leave to country, thanks to dubious information concerning my political background. I will be a fugitive, but I will continue to coordinate the magazine from afar, as I will be under the protective umbrella of the Anonymous hackers, in a high-tech, high-security secret location somewhere off the coast of somewhere very cold. I can say no more for now… top secret mission and all…

Lastly, if you want to get in touch with Melvin, our cover artist for this month’s issue, reach him at seriz@seriz.fr. Though right now he’s trekking the Australia deserts doing a sort of remake/retake of Mad Max… Crrrazy French!

Aug 22, 2013 - Dance Dammit!, MRR columns    No Comments

MRR Column #358

To avoid all the other shit that’s going on in my head right now, I’m going to stick to the theme: great records of the year that just left us. The generally tepid year 2012. The year we all expected change to come about. The year we all survived.       What happened in that year? Well, mainly my country finally decided it was time to show its true racist, fascist self. I officially closed three years of unemployment. I also packed up a suitcase and left. Moved to SF to help run this here magazine. It was no easy thing to do and I am still working my head around the fact that I’m actually in this situation. Everything is new, I am learning so much, hearing so many new bands and records—it’s quite overwhelming, in a good way, most of the time.

So, what makes a good record? Well, I will not talk from the point of view of a musician, for I am not one. I have never played in a band and couldn’t strum the first notes of a Ramones song if I tried. But, as a listener and appreciator of punk music, in all of its many magnificent expressions, I do know what I like to hear. Certain qualities stand out for me that make up a good record.

Originality: OK, not all bands have to push the boundaries. Not all bands can. Some go with tried and tested methods and become huge—people like a familiar jams. Others forge their own way regardless of what the current trend may be, only to go horrible overlooked; until their eventual break-up that is, by which time they are “the most underrated band of the year”. While I am not one of those harsh critics, who expects every record of every band to be sublime and ground breaking, I am also not one to stick to the same ol’ same ol’—I like me some innovation, some peculiarities, quirky thinking and outside-the-box action. In fact, the more complex and seemingly undecipherable your approach, the better; show me you use your fucking head! But also, play from your fucking heart!

Some bands effortlessly manage this; it is just in their blood and it is remarkable to say the least (a prime example are Sonic Youth). Others try hard and still fail. “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The important thing is that you tried. And then, some bands don’t even try at all. Half-arsed copy-cat crap you can see through from a mile away. Shameless, arrogant and self-entitled—like a lot of the modern USHC. (Yes, I said it, so sue me). But hey, that’s also fine with me; I’m just not going to be part of your fan base. Each to their own, you know; one man’s thrash is another man’s torture.

So…not all bands will go down in punk history, that’s OK. I know a handful of people, punk lovers and critics, who expect every record by a (once) ground- breaking band to be good. When they discover it is not, they shout and complain in protest, passing judgment on what the band did wrong and why it failed. Maybe I expect less to get disappointed less. Or maybe I just realize that other people’s expectations often weigh down, rather than encourage. Maybe what I find matters more is…

Energy: A quality that I think can ultimately make or break a band. You could have the dumbest, most generic punk music, with songs about pizza and beer…if the delivery is true, chances are you’ll sway an audience (however small) into appreciation. Maybe five records down the line you’re still playing what some people liberally term “shitty Euro crust” and you haven’t really evolved beyond your demo material—so what? You’re making music you like, right? (At least I jolly well hope you are!) If that is what you like and that is what makes you tick, and it comes from a true place in your heart, then hell, who are the music critics to tell you it’s crap? At least you own that crap 100%, so there.

Because so often you’ll hear a record that may not be reinventing the wheel of punk per se, but the delivery will be so earnest and contagious, that you can’t help but get carried away with it. Oi! and street punk (and post-rock) are great examples of this quality. So many bands replicate recipes but only few of them can actually pull it off. The purity and engagement are so strong, the passion so intense, that it leaves a distinct mark on the sound. However, one thing that can write all of this good energy off is…

Message: Something of utmost importance to me. After all, what is punk if not a message in and of itself? That says—nay, screams the truth: people/punks are capable of both self-governance and collective collaboration, proven by the persistent independent, DIY ethic and strong community output, both past and present. People/punks are capable of wonderful and valuable creation, proven by the countless formations of punk expression and ways of counter-creative production. People/punks are facilitators of change, proven by the environments of equality and support that they create.

Yet not all punk scenes around the world move at the same pace, thus the collective consciousness of a scene is, in some way or another, related to its history. Not to say that some places are “late-bloomers” (there was no one birthplace of punk, so get over it). Ultimately punk is a reaction and as long as there is fucked up shit going on in this world and sensitive who people respond/react to it, punk will manifest—even if like a mutant spawn of something else equally fucked up. The important thing is that punk remains by the punks, for the punks. If the punks are bitches, that will affect the final outcome. And if the rest of the punks don’t give a shit, they will eventually acclimatize to this new state of being (getting comfortable are we?), maybe even fall into a coma (brain dead zombie punk!), or become host to some horrible virus (caught off the internet), which will sink in and contaminate the whole darn thing into a decadent, ruthless cannibal addicted to battery-acid and gambling. … But I digress.

Punks that passively nullify everything are fine in my book; rather useless but harmless nonetheless. It’s not counter-productive or creatively coming up with solutions to anything (it is in fact rather defeatist since you are actually here now) but it exists. Staying home because the world is a cruel, twisted, unfair place; only spending energy on expressing how useless and depressing everything is, sung in a long-winded poetic fashion maybe; maintaining minimal relations with people because getting involved is too heart-aching when you really care—true, true and true. Been there, done that, rose from the ashes like a phoenix, returned back stronger and wiser. No, nihilist punks who purposefully chose to discuss only the horrid curse that is life don’t bother me; I suspect they’ll self-nullify at some point and be no more. (“No future for you” if you let it be that way. Time is relevant and so is “success” and “happiness”.)

No, the ones that really bug me are the punks that live in a bubble of self-important arrogance, wasting time shit talking and getting into fights, trying to outpunk each other; perpetuating shitty attitudes and eventually giving in to the very bullshit punk originally wanted to avoid—it’s all rather unpunk if you ask me. Of course, this is a “free” world (for some) and (nearly) everyone is allowed to say whatever they want (or so we are led to believe), so anything goes, right? Wrong! I’m not saying you have to express (your) politics in your lyrics, I’m just saying that if you have an abhorrence for anything political, then yes, I will think that your record sucks. Then again, you could be the nicest dork on the planet; I’m not saying you’re a shitty person, I’m just saying you’re not punk. You’re a musician/entertainer. You could be the biggest rocker since Joey Ramone, or the brightest brain since John Cage; but if you employ shitty politics, your lyrics and visual message—your outlook and opinions, you attitude—are against the punk ethics, then hell yes, I will think that your record sucks! (no more shock-value swastikas please, it is highly distressing and offensive given that that shit is very very real!) And the number of apolitical wishy-washy douches that can make punk music is undoubtedly and disappointingly very high, because they can, because apparently it’s easy: three chord guitars, tupa-tupa drums and yelling dissonantly at top volume (or so the word on the street is). But making punk music is not the same as actually being punk. Chances are (the right kind of) punks will see right through it and move along. However, those lines have always been slightly blurred to some, especially in places where listening to and playing punk music is more of a privileged, leisure pastime than an actual crime. And I’m not generalizing, I am just pointing out a fact. Watch that film No One Knows About Persian Cats and you’ll get what I mean.

Which brings me to my final point: Purity of Heart. Let’s face it, not all bands get big because they’re innovative or because they have something truly meaningful to say. They might even be shitty people. Some bands get big because punks who like them are stupid (yes, I’m afraid those punks exist too). Other bands get huge because of internet hype (and yes, of course, they could very well be excellent, hence their reputation); and others go viral merely because talking about something validates and grosses its actual existence and hence, potential value. If a group of us started talking about a band from Somalia, and continued to do so long enough or spread the word wide enough, or both, “that band from Somalia” would be on everybody’s lips before you could say “paroxysm”!

And this is the wish I will leave you with, or perhaps word of advice. If your goal is to make a truly great, memorable punk record, ignore everybody! Do what you do because you want to. When expression is a need, fans are merely a plus. Do it with conviction and no fear of failure. After all, mistakes are there to be learned from. Stand up for what you believe in and “be the change” (cliché but true!)

Going over my picks for my 2012 Year End Top 10, I can’t help but think of all the oppressed, imprisoned, “trapped” punks…Those who have been punished for their punk politics, who have suffered for their ethics and who, despite everything, have never given up the fight. None of this is in vein! Don’t put punk to shame!

Endnotes: Happy Birthday to both my sisters! Miss you, love you! For more art by Ermis who did our awesome cover this month, check out www.ermisart.com.

Aug 19, 2013 - Dance Dammit!, Open Mic    No Comments

El Zine Greek Scene Report

Holy bollocks, it’s been so long since I was back at this here spot, I feel horrible! It’s as if I have been sucked in by a time warp, sort of like groundhog month, he he. but it’s all good! Every month we have a great issue to show for it and getting into a systematic loop of productivity helps. In the meantime, a couple of unexpected events happened. For one, I was contacted by Kenji, who does El Zine in Japan. He wanted to translate my (long ass) Greek Scene Report for his zine! I was so chuffed! It looks absolutely beautiful so I will let you check it out for yourselves. You can find the English version in MRR #349.

More updates and columns soon! Stray tuned!

 

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