Fuzz Club is a minimalist space in Tavros, a rusting borough between Athens and Piraeus. The club opened in 2009, at the beginning of the crisis, and is still going strong. Greeks around me alternate their alcohol with water — is it because they’ve no money? “No, we don’t want to get drunk early,” they tell me. “It’s Friday and we have to keep going until 6am.”
French psychedelic whimsies The Limiñanas are headlining, but I’m more interested in support band The Noise Figures. They’re Yorgos and Stamos, a two-piece from Athens, who make enough noise to rattle the sturdiest of bottles on the bar wall. Theirs is fuzz-rock pared down to basics, played with an exuberance that channels tons of repressed frustration. Greek bands don’t, in general, refer to the crisis or the dire economic situation in their lyrics, and The Noise Figures are no exception. They also sing in English.
After the gig, the band tell me they work incessantly, living off what they make from their music or related activities: DJing, tending record shops, touring. “These tough times are the exact reason why people are forming bands,” says Stamos.
“It’s because the classic career paths have been obliterated,” adds Yorgos. “A crack has appeared. Young guys with talent are drawn to alternative forms of expression. You can’t say ‘there’s no money in making music’ any more. Nowadays, there’s no money in anything. Why not do something you enjoy? Why grow old and live with the feeling that you never tried?”
These words still echo in my mind a week later when I find myself in Thessaloniki, watching local heroes Sleepin Pillow. They’re playing in the Fuzz Club’s sister venue, Fix Factory of Sound. Opened in 2013 in a former brewery at the edge of town, it’s a testimonial to the Greek love affair with industrial chic. Sleepin Pillow is a vehicle for charismatic singer Nomik, singing in English with unfussy soulfulness. Their American-inspired psychedelia incorporates musical features from the Pontic Greek minority living on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. This unusual aural blend transports us to an imaginary country a million miles away from Greece and its misfortunes. On stage, Nomik not only plays air guitar, but also air flute, air sax and air tambourine, and is extremely watchable.
I meet him the next day at Kafodeio Elliniko, one of Thessaloniki’s many atmospheric pubs. Nomik talks about his previous band, Universal Trilogy, as well as his success with Sleepin Pillow. “Strange thing is I have more money now than before the crisis,” he says. “Today, I have a car, I’ve helped my parents financially and I’ve taken my girlfriend on holiday for the first time. Earlier, I was constantly broke. I certainly play more concerts. Is it coincidental? Have I created more opportunities for myself? Do we as a group approach more people? Are we being more creative, which makes us more popular?” He gives up, looking pained. “Logic doesn’t come into it. If Greeks were rational, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
Just like The Noise Figures, Nomik loves what he does. When not touring with Sleepin Pillow, composing or recording, he appears live with a pub band singing classic rock covers. Maybe when you get right down to it there’s a recipe for success. “You can make it through a crisis,” he says, looking straight into my eyes. “You just need a happy combination of circumstances: luck, tenacity and hard work.”
Meet the promoter: Thomas Machairas
Has the music scene been affected by the crisis?
It affects everything in Greece. Still, I believe that there are more concerts now than in the past. For instance, there used to be just two major summer festivals — Rockwave and Ejekt — which have both been going on for more than 10 years. However, in 2016 we added a third, our own festival, Release.
Can young audiences afford tickets?
Overall, ticket prices have either fallen slightly or remained stable for some time now. Unfortunately, foreign managers don’t understand this and continue to require large sums to include Greece in their tours. As promoters, we usually have to absorb this high cost ourselves and several concerts always end up losing money. But when you bring the right acts, then the public will come, even with relatively expensive tickets.
What about the domestic scene?
It’s doing well. There are new bands coming up and there are others that have toured abroad and are contracted to foreign record companies, with some success. Stoner and psych-rock bands seem to be enjoying particular popularity. It helps that many small clubs have sprung up all over Greece, outside the main live venues.
Published in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)