An album originally released on CD-r in 2002 by an avant-garde group from Thessaloniki, Greece, much of which consists of spoken-word works in that country’s mother tongue, accompanied an uneasy mix of pub-rock blues and synthpop that seems perpetually on the point of collapse, may seem like somewhat of a niche interest to many listeners. But with the UK’s post-Brexit caudillo intent on sundering us from some of our nearest neighbours, it feels appropriate to reach out to those fellow travellers who kick against the pricks of division, indifference and hostility, wherever they may be. In fact, it seems increasingly like an act of resistance to find common ground with these localized pockets of innovation, despite the gulf that may seem to separate their activities, grounded as they are in a particular space and time, from our contemporary reality.
The group in question is Dimosioypalliliko Retire (‘Public Sector Worker Penthouse’), who operated in Thessaloniki between 1984 and 2006. This CD-r, now reissued on vinyl and download in a joint project by the Rekem Records, Orila and Agios Anthropos labels, was the first in a series of nine ‘issues’ of a ‘verbal magazine’– a playful metaphor for a set of releases that charted the group’s evolving aesthetic up until their dissolution. (There was plenty more stuff, in addition to the magazine, distributed in different physical formats and in multimedia performances). The album is a document of one of the group’s performances, also titled ‘On the administration of panic’, from May 2002. Check out a clip below, featuring the track titled ‘The Strangler’ on the record. It looks pretty darn groovy to be honest, the woozy/daft multimedia action not dissimilar to the kind of hi-jinks you might see at the Colour Out of Space fest in Brighton, the accompanying sullen guitar line and superserious vocals reminiscent of some goth busker.
In fact, without erasing the local resonances and concerns that tie Dimosioypalliliko Retire to their particular context, there is a lot to enjoy here. True, the semantic nuances of the various poems, song fragments and utterances that dance across the fabric of these tracks are lost to non-Greek speakers. It was the release notes that informed me, for example, that the repeated phrases on When I Retire can be as translated as ‘come on, why bother’, forming a satirical comment on aging and despondency. But the effect of those overlapping voices, in various degrees of hysteria, is still effective, evoking a madcap avant-garde vocal spectacle, as if Meredith Monk were hanging out with Os Mutantes in a downtown taverna. Indeed, Fifty Fifty’s brassy farts and jolly guitar chops make a good argument for Dimosioypalliliko Retire as a Hellenic branch of the Tropicalia movement, their mischievous aggression not a million miles way from the woozy dada goof of Caetano, Gilberto and their chums. The energy running through these eight tracks is infectious. Pieces swing from feverish overload to dazed melancholy, with an unhinged commentary ever-present amongst the trashed pop fragments. Full Erection’s machine gun oscillations chase its babbling vocal lines all over the place, as an eerie synth bed basks everything in silvery phase, while Occupations mobilises a half-asleep rum machine to prod its bedsit-hendrix guitar line forward. Imagine listening to a running-down Ashtray Navigations tape on holiday, while the local news plays on a TV in a corner of your hotel room. It’s enough to drive you to drink.
For Rekem Records, On the Administration of Panic forms a solid companion to its earlier, fantastic, release of Michael Adamis’s electroacoustic works. Gradually, it seems, the label is tracing a geneology of the Greek avant-garde. And, while it’s true that this record may be a quirky outlier rather than an essential purchase, with certain hubs still dominating production of underground music (London, Brooklyn, Berlin, Tokyo, etc), the presence of other voices can only strengthen and diversify experimental music’s discourse and practice. This music still speaks to us, if we know how to listen.