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Athens rocking to absent crowds May 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Greek.

Alternative scene’s supply of acts and shows is plentiful, but Greek capital is struggling to absorb

Yuria, one of the local alternative music scene’s most significant festivals, has been held annually in recent years at the Vinyl Microstore, a well-informed store in central Athens. Performances inside the small store are watched by fans from the street. 

Never before has Athens been subject to so much live rock music, both in terms of quantity and quality. Rock may well be too narrow a term to describe the variety of musical styles, many of them alternative, offered by touring acts passing through the Greek capital. New acts, domestic and imported, springing up all over, the city’s concert venues are proliferating and a battle is being waged for concert-poster space on the walls of the youth-oriented and active downtown districts of Exarchia and Psyrri.

We should have seen it coming. New technologies have simplified the music-making process, while the Internet functions as a major distribution tool. This is the MySpace era, where the limitless music medium allows us to upload music that becomes instantly available to millions of listeners. Despite the changes, it all boils down to economic feasibility. If we can make the assumption that an abundance of talent is out there, we need to question whether there is an audience to absorb this extraordinary supply.

Vinyl Microstore, a modern downtown music store on Didotou Street, in Kolonaki, central Athens, has been an integral part of this scene. Besides offering music fans a carefully chosen selection of indie releases, the store’s parallel ventures include VM Recordings, an independent record company, and vmradio, an online radio station. Lots of aspiring young musicians drop off demo recordings here. Over the past three years, the store has also held its own in-store festival, Yuria. It has all turned the store into a gathering place for local indie-music enthusiasts.

Nektarios Pappas, the head at Vinyl Microstore, has closely witnessed the scene’s developments. “Free press and the Internet prepared the ground for what’s happening today,” Pappas explained. “Publications were looking for fresh material and projected it, while the Internet, through MySpace, became an enormous place where anybody could upload music. Digital technology itself helped to simplify music production. It brought about the development of a network that does what fanzines and music magazines did in the 80s, the difference being that it’s now done far quicker.”

The Internet has been detrimental to record companies. This has come as sweet revenge for many youngsters who no longer need the record labels as much as their peers of a decade or two ago did. These days, young musicians upload their work on MySpace and can become known through this network alone, which explains why so many new bands don’t necessarily consider it a problem if they haven’t recorded an album.

“In three to four years, CD releases will be made selectively and will be targeted at a limited, informed and specialized listener,” said Pappas. “In a few years time, the CD will be treated as a work of art,” he continued.

The end of the CD era damages a traditional source of income in the music industry.

“If you exclude the releases by Poeta Negra, a Greek independent label, and certain small indie labels that manage to get mass distribution, most new acts release demos and pass them around hand-to-hand, handmade productions that are available at a few downtown music stores in Athens and Thessaloniki,” said Tassos Bregoulakis, who maintains a music site. “Artists release their work themselves, on MySpace, and have direct contact with their listeners, but most are limited to that. On the other hand, it’s not a case of big labels and promotion, because not even Kore Ydro, a local act, sold the expected amount of albums. It’s difficult for a band to generate sales of around 3,000 copies. Exceeding this number is next to impossible, mainly because listeners of this type of scene, no longer buy CDs. They download them. They listen to songs on MySpace and are satisfied. Gone are the days when there were favorite groups, fans recited lyrics or owned a group’s entire discography. With so much music around these days, listeners have neither the time for a careful listen nor the right frame of mind. The music fan who listens to a favorite new album over 20 times is a species headed for extinction.”

Bregoulakis acknowledges that, over the past couple of years, something is happening on the local alternative scene. Progress has been gradual and the scene has grown and become better organized.

“Just when the media treated these artists as something totally marginal and of interest to very few, they suddenly became subjects in the press, not only musical,” said Bregoulakis. “MySpace has filled up with local groups and wanna-be artists, and a large number of Greek-language blogs deal with them regularly with lots of analysis and heated remarks. The Greek scene is being discussed,” he added.

Yet, in spite of all this, the question of economic feasibility, or the number of people willing to support this Athenian scene, remains a real issue.

“Judging by the results, it’s probably a matter that concerns very few. Though there are many who perceive the glass as being half-full and believe that the alternative scene has the potential to step out of obscurity and become the new mainstream, the numbers defy this prospect, which leads to the glass being perceived as half-empty again,” said Bregoulakis.

Even so, a considerable number of groups perform at small venues like the Small Music Theater, Bios or Planet Music to great success.

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