On this episode of Postcards, we venture to the historical mecca of Athens with Vasileios Vrakas - a Greek producer and composer based in Wellington.
Vasileios takes us on a journey back to his early life growing up in the ancient city exploring the streets with music from discos, electronica, classical and avant-garde.
Vangelis and Irene Papas — Neranzoula
My first track, from Irene Papas, was produced by Vangelis and featured on a double album called Odes reimagining traditional Greek and Byzantine music.
I remember when my dad first played it I immediately recognised the lyrics and melodies but in a universal way.
It was the first time I felt a connection with those songs – I had always heard them in church or in a religious celebration, but it was only then that I connected with them.
Lena Plantanos — Galop
I was watching one of our three television channels in the 1980s, and I experienced something incredible when one of the arts shows came on. It was Lena!
Lena Plantanos is a musician, poet and electronic music maker – perhaps even Greece's first female electronic artist.
Back then Athens especially was dominated by discos playing the Greek equivalent of disco known as bouzouki, so hearing her was a revelation.
At that moment society was on the verge of breaking from the past and the patriarchy.
To have someone like her talking about certain subjects and breaking from societal norms really affect me. It made me think about art and how we see ourselves in the world – plus, to come from a woman's perspective, it elevated me even more.
At the time Athens was undergoing a renaissance. You saw places open where you could go to be part of the post-punk, new wave and avant-garde scenes.
Stereo Nova — New Life 705
Fast-forward a few years and Athens was booming, just like most of the world in the 1990s.
The underground scene was boiling. I remember going to one of the first – and now most iconic – venues, which was called Tessera. It was just around the corner from the house I grew up in.
The club was an X-rated movie cinema transformed into an X-rated playground for all of us serving the gods of rave culture.
At the same time, this amazing duo Stereo Nova gave us our first taste of electronica, including lyrics that none of us thought possible at the time.
Continuing in the footsteps of Lena they spoke about everything we were experiencing at that time as suppressed youths, but with a romanticism that only K Beta can.
Around the same time, I saw them live at Tessera, which was before they became big. This time period marked a true beginning – with so many venues, places, and artists simultaneously making and creating.
Electroware — Watching the circle dance
A few years later Athens was experiencing another magical era.
We were at the zenith of modern culture and my best friends were hosting a party in Manchester on Fridays and Saturdays and a club called Avant Garde.
It was a legendary venue accommodating the hedonism of the time. It attracted the latest bands, musicians, and DJs where we hosted them as guests among friends, after playing their gigs elsewhere.
Not long after, my friend started a record label and started releasing electronic music.
Electroware is an electronic producer who combines electronica with traditional rhythms from one of our Greek beautiful islands.
Legendary Cretan musician Giorgos Xylouris
After moving to London from New Zealand I came across a new band – made up of the duo of Jim White from Dirty Three on drums alongside legendary Cretan musician Giorgos Xylouris.
Xylouris is from a family of Cretan musicians including his father Psarantonis and late uncle Nikos.
Nikos's voice especially is embedded in the Greek national psyche, with his charisma as a singer and after becoming a voice for the youth alongside students who stood against and died in Athens during the dictatorship.
This brings me back to my beloved Athens when on a family holiday, I was at The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, one of the oldest theatres in the world – and located under the Acropolis and the Temple of Parthenon.
It is next to the neighbourhood where I grew up and I watched to see Psarantonis' family celebrating Nikos Xylouris’ passing.
Psarantonis, the head of the family, was accompanied by his three children, Giorgos Xylouris, and his siblings.
There are no words that carry enough substance to express how important Psarantonis is to me and to the world. Even Nick Cave fell in awe with this man.
When I saw him live with his kids in the oldest venue in Athens under the Acropolis I felt he connected the past and present of this city.
It reaffirmed to me how lucky I have been to know this city which is one of the greatest places ever.