Giorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth first drew my attention to the more esoteric underbelly of contemporary Greek culture; a welcome reflection, considering all the dry doomsaying regarding the present economic and social turmoil or conversely, the grand, pervasive legacy of ancient Hellenic influences. These, at least, were the two distant epochs that constituted my paltry outsider impressions of the country before seeing Lanthimos’ film. Sometimes you need a strange fix, for strange times. Another off-kilter augmentation of my spurious grasp of Socrates and fiscal ills comes in the form of this excavation of electronic music made between 1978 and 1991. Compiled by Tako Reyenga (Red Light Records) and Ilias Pitsios (Echovolt Records), it’s a compendium of buried gems illuminating some of the lost sounds and voices of a nation that’s been seemingly underappreciated and underrepresented in the stakes so far.
Like the characters of Lanthimos’ drama of derangement, the producers here seem to have remained insular and isolated from conventionality, judged by the idiosyncrasy, eccentricity and defiance of generic division on show.
Take the eponymous introduction from Akis Daoutis. It could easily be construed as uncannily prescient, with its ascendancy of angst constituted by flat, droning statements (‘I don’t want to live in a world of darkness/I don’t want to live in a world of pain’) aired as if emanating from some transdimensional poltergeist. Combined with thin percussive jingle, it’s a strange fix of otherworldly neurosis. The tautness of anxiety’s eventually quelled with Daoutis’ culmination of enraptured catharsis (a bellow of ‘INTO THE LIIIGHT!’) coupled with languorous strikes of snare; a culmination which could feasibly be perpetuating release in death or equally, an idealist’s hope for some new world order, either way, it’s oddly inveigling, like a disconcerting entry into some side-lined mystic haunt. Lena Platonos continues the use of spoken word, but in her native tongue on ‘A Physical Exercise Unresolved’; a coldly lascivious insouciance reminiscent of the dead-eyed vocalists of no wave and leftfield disco, at their most detached and dulcet. Tremulous bleeps and gauche metallic clangour accompany her initial disassociation, until like Daoutis, Platonos reaches a rush of expression (in brief unison with a chorus of exclamation) before returning to aloof mode and then falling silent, facilitating a final half of impellent pace and metronomic rigidity. Eventually coupled with warped organ and spaced swirls, this final half is what ‘Minimal Wave Tapes’ would sound like if edited for budget horror, especially evocative of a climactic scene of deformity or pursuit.
The scene then shifts, but bizarre singularity continues, with George Theodorakis’ ‘No Name’. His use of bass is impressive with its vertiginous sustain, and the new age flourish that opens it is increasingly perceptible in some of the recent work of Maxmillion Dunbar and the Future Times label, but besides that loose contemporaneous link, there’s not much here. And eventually, after repeated listens, the sustain grates; a manic stutter that ends up resembling a faltering soundtrack segment of some forgotten police drama rather than something that compels revisits for any slight, exploratory traces.
If ‘No Name’ was the anti-funk dabbling away like some bargain-bin relic of ambient insipidity, then 141 G’s ‘What You Gonna Do Dub’ is its inverse, motoring along in flamboyant and steadfast strut. Tapped ivories, spasmodic bass-slaps, vocoder modulation and extensive percussive breakdowns abound in another standout; something you can imagine would have got played in a Larry Levan set, had it attained greater exposure beyond its locale. But perhaps the most errant of the compilations first few tracks is Syndrome’s ‘Roots’; funk dislocated by folkloric tones further twisted by psychedelia; a deliriously unrestrained trip that sounds as if it was recorded en route and off-road during some desert freak-out, with all the bumps, skips and jolts to lucidity and fidelity included. After listening to this initial cluster you realise the scale of Reyenga and Pitsios’ excavation, which extends from more formal and erudite backgrounds (Daoutis and Platonos) to those with pop contentions; widely distributed dust-acquiring B-sides (Syndrome’s ‘You’ from which ‘Roots’ is taken, was apparently released by Vertigo in 1983 and 141 G’s ‘What You Gonna Do Dub’ was put out by EMI) now rightfully gilded, as rescued rarities.
Vangelis Katsoulis’ bridge of rapid, improvisatory reflexes follows thereby precipitating Theodorakis’ second effort. Unlike ‘No Name’, it proves considerably more engaging, with a basis not dissimilar to Johnny Jewel’s ‘Tick of the Clock’, and a jostling of variable sound from what sounds like a depot of synthetic materials. Eddying warmth, booming percussive resonance, and inanimate strikes and echoes are conjured until it ends much in the same manner as Syndrome’s wild, headlong gestures. Dimitris Petsetakis’ ‘Clearance Part I and II’ is then settling, encircled by jungle ambience. Its second part impresses further the sense that much of what features here straddles the divide between soundtrack music and avid experimentation. But this find (along with the majority of ‘Into The Light’) ultimately proves that the course the compilation takes is anything but incidental or forgettable. Even so, (like Theodorakis’ ‘No Name’) Stavros Logarides’ ‘Snif Snif’, Dimitris Papadimitriou’s ‘John and George and Eve’, and Michalis Rakintzis’ ‘Arrest’ are junctures in which the date of creation feels a little too palpable. The latter two especially, do not translate well, with overstretched, overpitched guitar solo whines at the forefront. Full on open-shirt, mullet-sporting, mountain-top pyrotechnics. Not good. Thankfully Akis Daoutis’ ‘Space, Time and Beyond’ recovers and completes the collection, as unmoored as the opener, but serenely spaced as if Akis has been rehabilitated, a final stretch alleviated of anxiety and ambiguity with the ‘journey into the light’ supposed not as any kind of escape, but asserted, as a silky, enveloping embrace.
On the whole, this material (like ‘Strange Passion’, one of the best archival releases of last year) consists of unearthed anomalies that challenge a consensus; abnormal obscurities that prompt enthused revisionism. Like the withdrawn family of Dogtooth, the language of these producers falls unequivocally outside the norm and at a time when the tedium of mostly vestigial, uniformly timid, yet irrationally hyped potentialities dominate, (BBC Sound of 2013, habitual cycle of ‘return of guitar music’, all that manufactured, frenzied saturation of PR)this feels needed. Bar a few irritating, dated moments this could represent a refuge for many, with pioneers producing what feels like brilliant accidents, unlikely generic crossover and still-neoteric work, unduly neglected but now remembered, part of a welcome revelation.