Monday, 23 November 2009
The importance of being optimistic
The news that Next Time Passions have reformed and have posted two mighty songs on their myspace page got me round to thinking about how much great Greek indiepop there's been over the last 15 or so years.
My introduction to this tiny, but vital, scene came nearly nine years ago when Marianthi wrote a great piece on Greek indiepop for my fanzine tasty. I hope she doesn't mind, but I've reprinted that here, because it got me into so many ace bands, and I think it's important that it's shared. So here it is. From the swoonsome Kissamatic Lovebubbles to the sublime One Night Suzan, Marianthi charts the ebb and flow of those precious times.
Greek Indiepop: the importance of being optimistic
It may sound nostalgic or just plainly boring to those of you who have never heard of the existence of a Greek indiepop scene, but for about four years at the very beginning of the 1990s, Athens was the centre of our little world. Then, what with that wretched military service, what with real-life taking over, that little world collapsed. But, as it happens with music, things were left behind that make it worthwhile to write a few words about it 10 years later.
In a funny sort of way, our story goes back a little further, well into the 1980s and it takes place a few thousand miles away from Athens. In 1980, brothers Constantis and Alexandros Veis move to London to study the arts and they find themselves in the whirlpool that was Mike Alway’s mind. Inspired by the alluring sounds and aesthetics of Postcard Recordings, they sent Alway a demo and the legendary Fantastic Something and their “If She Doesn’t Smile” 7” is born (Cherry Red, 1983). Then they move to Blanco Y Negro, record a LP and they disappear into oblivion- no one knows where they’ve gone until very recently when a brand new and lovely pop fanzine from Athens (Carousel) tracks one of the brothers down and torture him into confession. The ‘80s give Greek indiepop one more record to be proud of, The Jaywalkers 12” on Virgin Records (not so indie, yet so pop!) which included the now legendary “(You Can’t Be) Happy All The Time”. Then, suddenly, there is silence.
…Until the fanzine craze comes along that is. In Those Days and later Little Charmer, two wonderful pop fanzines written with unprecedented fervour and feeling, transform Athenian sleeping independent minds into enthusiastic indiepop hearts. They introduced us to the wonders of él, early Creation, Sarah Records and Marsh-Marigold and before we knew it, their soap-bubble parties had become the stage for Greek bands playing indiepop and a new label was on its way: Innocent Label.
The legend has it that Dimitris and Christos (the boys behind those two fanzines) had decided that urgent label action was needed when a band called One Night Suzan presented them with their trumpet-filled indiepop anthem “Until” in ’91. “We have to let everyone know this beautiful song exists”, they agreed, almost in tears. Isn’t it how it all begins in indiepop music? Money was needed to actually release “Until” on 7” vinyl, and until this was found Innocent Label had to release tapes. One Night Suzan’s Autumn Falls was the first Innocent Label release (Guilty 01) and it included the song that started it all along with another five gems of either loud yet melodic guitar pop in the form “Postcards” or ethereal epic noises (“Autumn Falls”).
Guilty 03 was Next Time Passions’ Sleepy Hollow Lane and there are only 50 copies of it - the colourful covers were too expensive to make! They were playing a kind of sensitive, organ-based pop with fragile vocals and a drum machine sound to die for. Next Time Passions also had their own little studio, appropriately called “Sunnyside”, in a suburb of Athens. When the time had come for Innocent Label to release “Until” as a single, disaster struck and the copies were lost before they managed to get to the shops or to anyone’s hands for that matter and a great opportunity was lost. Still One Night Suzan, Next Time Passions along with a couple of other bands like the electronic masters Sound Devise (and yes, this is the correct spelling! I was told off once…) and masters of the political Groove Machine did not give up and kept performing live in mini-festivals organised by the two fanzines, inspiring other people around them to form bands and be part of this majestic atmosphere.
Kissamatic Lovebubbles was one of these more inspired bands characterised by pure pop frenzy. With their name taken from a Strawberry Story and… oh, an unhealthy obsession with The Wedding Present… the Kissamatics set out to conquer the world of Greek indiepop. Their noisy jangly guitars and Vassilis’ heartbroken voice never failed to impress the audiences with drunken tales of lost love.
It was time for action again, it seemed, and This Happy Feeling was born: it involved more or less the same people as Innocent Label and it made its first appearance with Next Time Passions Painter Girl 7” which included three mellow, yet rhythmic melodies. The aesthetics were there, although the money wasn’t and this first release (limited to 500 copies) stands out as the more DIY record the kids ever made. The indiepop manifesto of the insert whispered words about lovers, hot summer days, Pale Fountains records and the happiness of doing your own thing!
The three records that followed Painter Girl were released under the same umbrella of long lost dreams that had to be recovered and included the C86 sounds of Kissamatic Lovebubbles, the ‘60s loud guitars and trumpets of One Night Suzan (“Until” was at last put on vinyl) and, for the first time, the mellow, bossa nova gems of The Crooner. We had come across this name before, when the Spanish label Elefant had released a wonderful split 7” EP with the Passies and a psychedelic combo under the name of Impossible Tymes. At the time, the Crooner was one of them, the almighty Zissimos, aka voice and guitar with ONS… For the purposes of Happy 04, however, The Crooner had become a band. Sounds complicated? Well, it is! Still, if you know anything at all about the currents whereabouts of Greek indiepop, you should have come across The Crooner, by far the most successful exponent of where it all heads towards.
This Happy Feeling is no longer around but there is a new label called Pop Art which promises to not let the unique sensitivity of Greek bands die. Pop Art recently released a wonderful compilation entitled Try a Little Sunshine where one can encounter most of the roads followed by Greek indiepop bands, old and new. They have also released records by Byron’s Girlfriend (whose delightful “Hey Beauty!” should be the first song of every serious mixed tape) and Vel, a new all-singing-all-dancing combo with an unmistakeable summer feel to it. I should also note here that the brand new Crooner album just came out and you should be able to find it through the usual mailorders. Other labels that have released songs (either in compilations or as separate records) by Greek bands, include Shelflife (US) and Les Disques Aquatic (France).
Needless to say, if you‘d like to know more about indiepop from Greece you have to try bit harder than just reading this article! It is really difficult to avoid namedropping when you are just writing to let everyone know of the existence of a relatively unknown music scene, but I hope I did my bit to make you slightly more curious to find out what this is all about …