Global Playlist: Greece

Andy Dragazis reflects on his homeland...
The Scantharies

One of the oldest countries in Europe, Greece has dominated the headlines across the past 12 months.

Sadly, it's been for all the wrong reasons. Financial strife and political turmoil have become linked to the nation, with a generation of young Greek citizens facing an extremely uncertain future.

Which is why it's perhaps apt to remind ourselves of the enormous cultural contribution Greece has made to the world. Stepping uneasily into the modern domain, the country has nonetheless remained a pervasive - if often hidden - influence on the development of pop culture.

It's an influence which is quite prevalent in the work of Andy Dragazis. The songwriter is best known for his association with Blue States, but recently sought inspiration in the songs he heard on Greek radio as a youngster - bands like The Persons, The Forminx and Aphrodites’ Child, who remain jewels for crate diggers across the world.

Alongside this, the songwriter has added elements of Rebetiko - a form of traditional music native to Greece. At once immediately familiar and disconcertingly alien, The Scantharies is an odd little project whose timeliness is matched by an infuriatingly catchy way with garage punk melodies.

Intrigued, ClashMusic sent a few questions to Andy Dragazis' Greek idyll.

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How did you become aware of the Greek scene of the 60s and 70s?
Through my Uncle really. Visiting Greece he would play his compilations in the car which were a mix of old Greek music, some Garage and pop and some more traditional Greek music. He opened my ears to a few bands other than Aphrodite's Child and these compilation tapes were the inspiration for The Scantharies.

What is it about those bands which appeals to you?  
I like the progressive nature of the music. The Greek bands of that era managed to take the influences from American and English bands but keep some of the more traditional elements of Greek folk music. The Olympians are a good example of this, mixing garage rock sensibilities with a more wider sound. Greek, like a lot of other European music, has a rich tradition in folk music and its this mix with a more pop 60's sound that appeals to me.

How do they differ from other, similar groups in Western Europe / North America?
I think bands from Western Europe and North America were not influenced by their mainstream, traditional folk music to the extent Greek bands of the 60's were. They were more willing to experiment with different instruments, sounds and arrangements rather than stick to the four piece guitar sound.

Is their legacy maintained in Greece? Are they remembered in wider culture?
I think they are in Greece, I'm not sure wider culture. Only perhaps Aphrodite's Child, Demis Roussous and Vangelis are remembered outside of Greece.

Is the music difficult to track down?
I think its easier now that it has been. There are a lot of negatives involving mp3's and file sharing for the music industry but one of the positives is the archiving of rare music. A lot of the music that my Uncle would play to me came from mp3's and would perhaps have been lost without file sharing.

How long have you been aware of Rebetiko?
I first became aware of the term Rebetiko perhaps twelve years ago when I started Blue States and a few people mentioned it in reviews. I realised I had been listening to Rebetiko music since I was a child so I guess some of the melody and harmony managed to permeate into my own music.

Does it play a wider role in Greek music, or is the Rebetiko scene self contained amongst traditional musicians?
I don't profess to be an expert but I think it does play a wider role in Greek music. Most forms of modern Greek music seem to tap in Rebetiko in some way, either through the melodies, rhythms or lyrics. I heard a Greek hip-hop track on the radio recently that directly sampled a Rebetiko track, so the influence is there, even in current music.

How did you go about melding its influence to rock music?
I tried to plug into the spirit of the Greek 60's and 70's garage bands and base The Scantharies around a four piece guitar band which morphs into something more progressive as the years pass. The album is in chronological order and charts the journey from their guitar led beginnings to the final track, 'The Cross', which is my attempt at a homage to Rebitiko.

Is there a particular Greek mindset which you can detect in these forms of music?
Greek music always tends to focus on strong themes like lost love, the joy and hardships of life and of course death. I've always liked the way Greek music and Rebetiko esepcially tackles these big issues head on without flinching.

Why focus so heavily on Greek culture with The Scantharies?
I wanted to write some music for some time that doth's my cap to my Greek heritage. The Scantharies was the perfect way for me to acknowledge the influence that Greek music has had on me.

How has the recession affected daily life in Greece?
I don't feel I'm qualified enough to comment on how daily life has changed. People are obviously worse off and there is real poverty which is not very well documented. I can say from my personal observations that many Greek people are less trusting in general, especially of government, authority and the rest of the EU.

Has the recession had an impact on the arts scene? Has protest art become apparent, for example?
I think the arts scene in general will remain strong. During poverty and hardship even if resources and support for the arts are cut it only encourages and cultivates more interesting work. Hopefully Greek musicians and artists can use the anger and frustration many feel as a positive inspiration.

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'The Scantharies' is out now via Memphis Industries.

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