(The interview originally appeared in the music mag HXOS KAI HIFI, issue 152, November ’85. Weblink: http://www.geocities.com/punks_gr/stressinterframes.htm . Translated from greek by automaton 3. A “[ ]” signifies a translator’s addition to the original text.)
I noticed that greek punk bands nowdays tend to distance themselves from specific audiences, which makes me think that in the future there won’t be punks anymore, but solely punk bands. When did this audience appear?
Costas: We personally, in the first shows we gave in ’81-’82, had no punk audience below the stage. Most of the people were irrelevant, but chaos prevailed nevertheless. Our audience formed in ’82, while we were playing in Aretousa.
Louis: There was [a punk] audience from Parthenogenesis [who were the first greek punk band; as far as i know, they left no recordings behind. One of their members, Costas “Fever” Pothoulakis, got involved in Villa 21, a band listed under both punk & new wave listings of the scene, in which Babis Dalidis (founder of the first greek indie, Creep Rec.s) also participated].
Costas: Yes, but Parthenogenesis’ audience wasn’t in sync with the audience that followed. First of all, they were “old,” around 25. They were people [revolving] around Remember [that must have been some bar in Athens at the time]. They were working as photomodels. Later on, they changed direction. [It’s] just [that] when a punk crowd appeared in ’82, they wanted to patronize them, while in reality those people were nothing. But, to get back to music, Parthenogenesis were the first, not punk, but one can say new wave band.
Yannis: I [personally] believe that they were punk.
Costas: The first punk bands were Homicide & Magic De Spell [the latter released the first greek punk 7″ (which was compiled in KBD #41). They are still active, though their sound these days is far from being punk].
Yannis: & also Dark Shadows, who were playing in ’80 in Sporting with Yorgos Poulikakos [the band of whom, Exadaktylos, was one of the most influential – & people claim sincere – rock bands of the ’70s. He gave up music in the late ’70s to become an actor. Nowdays, he occasionally appears live with guitarist George Pilalas] & [Pavlos] Sidiropoulos [the icon of the greek rock scene of the ’70s; he died of an overdose in the mid-’80s]. I think they were playing reggae-punk. Magic De Spell had released the first punk single in Greece [on Happening Rec.s]. It was them who led the movement.
Louis: & also Beltekas, whose style was akin to Iggy Pop & to The Stranglers. He was also new wave.
Costas: Then came Anypoforoi & then us. In fact, we were to open for Parthenogenesis in ’80, but they split & the show didn’t take place.
Louis: At the same time with Anypoforoi, there was also a band from Pagrati, the Esculapius. After us came Auschwitz & Guil[l]otine. & let’s not forget Birthward [one of the oldest punk bands (from Piraeus), still going strong. Their first 7″ was compiled in KBD #40].
Costas: Then the neo-punks erupted. Genia Tou Chaous [who happen to be the most well-documented – & for a good reason! – greek punk band of the ’80s. Also known abroad under the alias Chaos Generation, which was their first name (& a direct translation of their greek name)] in ’82 & Adiexodo [another legendary greek punk band with one record (“38mm”) & two split demos (one of which with Genia Tou Chaous.) Ex-members later formed Deus Ex Machina & participated in other bands] in ’83.
Yannis: The bill of the show at Gyzis’, in the summer of ’82, included Stress, Soldiers of Anarchy, later [to be called] Ex-Humans, Anypoforoi, & finally Auschwitz, at the moment that the police arrived. & also Cpt. Nefos [who released a 7″ on Happening Rec.s & a LP on Creep Rec.s] in their first essential show. From then on they got established. They were nice, playing something close to the Talking Heads. There was also a band that got on stage to play [classic] rock & got egged.
Costas: We followed them on stage with Parthenogenesis’ keyboardist, Billy. You know, two ex-members of Parthenogenesis also played with Stress, the keyboardist & the guitarist, Tommy, who currently plays guitar in X-Mandarina Duck [whose 7″ was Wipe Out Rec.s’ first release. They have another couple of tracks on the “Outsiders” comp. LP which was recently reissued].
I met some kids at the show in “Zaira” in ’84 who were called Pollution & had also played at the show at Gyzis as Nipple Erectors (this name was one-use-only, just for the specific show).
Louis: There were many bands, but they’d leave it at words, that they’d form a band with this or that name. Few bands had appeared [live].
Costas: Stress existed as an idea since ’79. We were 15-16 years old then. We had our first rehearsals in ’80 & our first [live] appearance in Halkida that same fall. The essential shows, though, began in Argyroupoli in ’81. That’s where all of our friends were, that’s were we built our name. We were the first band to go out in the neighborhoods & play something different. There was, then, a status quo [imposed] by a couple of bands who were monopolizing the region from Argyroupoli to Ilioupoli, Glyfada, & Voula, & they were all playing covers, the classics, “Satisfaction,” “Smoke on the water,” the same things over & over at every show. The first time we came out to play, the freakbeats threw us off the stage. We had appeared in army boots, leopard-spotted leather pants, spiked hair & [so] they got on our case. The second time we told them “guys, maybe we don’t play [well], but at least we play our songs,” & the crowd got up & started dancing, there was a response, let alone that we had greek lyrics. As soon as we were done, one of those status quo bands got on stage & told the people now you’re going to listen to good music, you shouldn’t listen to whatever, & the people got up & left as if they were telling them “since you’re playing good music, play it for yourselves.” That is, we managed to communicate with the people.
Louis: Back then, we weren’t using the word punk. When someone was asking, we’d say that we play our own shock music, we play shock ‘n’ roll. We wanted to shock, to say a couple of things. Fragiskos would unfold a banner [filled] with slogans & he’d tell the people standing below “please leave the vicinity, because when we play, any number of unexpected things can happen to you.” & they wouldn’t leave & there were injuries all the time.
Costas: We’d jump in the audience.
Louis: There is footage showing Yannis sprawled over the mic & acting like a cheetah in the jungle, & Costas charging the audience like a fighter jet with his bass.
Costas: Countless teeth were broken.
Yannis: These things were happening in ’82 in Sofita, & at the very end Iraklis would come out asking “anybody here who knows how to fix chairs.” & although such scenes were happening, Iraklis would call me the next day to say that he had booked us for Friday. It was the only club that cared to promote the greek bands.
Is it true that when you were playing in Aretousa you were having contests with Mousikes Taxiarchies [a translation of the name of the band is Music Brigades, & it was the band of Jimmy Panousis, enfant terrible of the greek absurdist rock/punk scene for over two decades] on who will gather the biggest crowd?
Louis: Skylab, where Mousikes Taxiarchies were playing, was next door to Aretousa. A single wall divided us. Once, in fact, that we were playing with 200W amps, Skylab’s owner & Taxiarchies’ drummer came over pleading “keep it down guys, you’re muffling us.” It was Taxiarchies that were playing & our music that was heard. Back then they were well-known already, somewhat because of the Karditsa trial [i think that this is a reference to an incident where the band got beaten up because of the use of blasphemous lyrics in front of an audience unused to such gimmicks], somewhat because of their lyrics, & they were gathering a big crowd. So, a line would form outside Skylab [for them] & another line outside Aretousa for us. Passers-by knew about Mousikes Taxiarchies, but they couldn’t figure out what band the other line was for. & to think that they had a cover charge of 200drc & we had one of 100drc, & whoever didn’t have the money was getting in with 50drc & we weren’t seeing a buck, in fact we were paying for the PA stuff from our own pockets.
Costas: At the time of Aretousa – which, together with Paranoid, was the first genuine punk club – chaos ruled indoors. That’s where we first played in February 13 of ’82 with Auschwitz & Guil[l]lotine. That was a place that nearly only punks would enter. In Aretousa, when we played for the second time, they trashed everything. We were playing under the fear of a flying bottle landing on our heads. We had become one with the crowd. The crowd was yelling “Stress destroyers-Stress destroyers.” Bottles were exploding in the bar’s mirrors.
Yannis: The barman was drunk & kept saying “help yourselves, help yourselves”…
Costas: Meanwhile, the club was managed by punks. The owner was showing up every other day & being handed the money.
& every once in a while [the place] would close down after having been trashed.
Louis: Well yes, since hell was breaking loose. They reached the point of demolishing a whole wall. They teared out the plumbing, too. The first day it was repaired. After the second time, they turned it into a mainstream club.
Yannis: This was [indicative of] a common mentality that ruled at the time. The show at Gyzis was also an incident. It suffices to recall that I got in through the window & got out through the window. I got in through it in order not to pay up, & I got out when the cops showed up.
Costas: There was no chance of a misunderstanding though. We were all one, we’d never fought against each other. Back then the scene was much purer. We’d be walking on the street, & if we came across a punk, we’d greet each other enthusiastically even if we were strangers to each other. At each show one would see hugs & kisses, as if we were comrades that had drifted apart & were now being reunited. Now, they look at each other & say “would you beat this poser up?”
What I’m personally interested in is something else. It’s not the scenes of mayhem & destruction, though they were meaningful back then, [only] to be degraded nowdays, but the fact that, in the middle of a predominant climate of kidlike carelessness , Stress, since ’81 already, are waving a banner with political slogans & handing out leaflets stating their ideology. On that banner we read such sentences as “Human Rights,” “Anti-War,” “USA-Russia Are Your Only Enemies,” “Anti-Drug.” That is, at a moment when Crass were only marginally known here, there was a greek band lining up without delay with a more general movement raising political awareness of a specific kind, which [movement] was characteristic of the then-novel punk era abroad.
Louis: That banner was created when we recruited Fragiskos, in our third show, in ’81 in Argyroupoli. It expresses our very own ideas which we were aware of since then already. The slogans were written on a sheet. We’d spread it out at every show, & every time someone would get on stage, take it, make a cape of it & steal out, & we’d run after him to take it back. Nowdays we don’t appear with a banner, but our ideas haven’t changed.
The times, though, have changed. Many bands deserted punk music & today, in general, one cannot say that there’s the same [level of] enthusiasm as [that of] a year ago, even. Do you believe that a new road opened up suddenly in front of the music called punk & that one will be able to walk on that road ad infinitum? Or was it a temporary fashion trend?
Yannis: I know that this scene evolves. Even though when it broke out in ’76 they thought it’d die & that it was nothing more than a temporary movement, as, e.g., the neoromantics. They always say it’s dying, but if one pays attention they find various movements inside the same scene, which are indicative of an evolution. It starts off in England, suddenly declines in England & appears in the US & simultaneously also throughout the whole world. England doesn’t produce bands at the moment, but the US has twenty bands per neighborhood.
Louis: & they say that the Northern Ireland problem will be resolved through the 10,000 punk bands Ireland has at its disposal!
Do you believe, then, that the scene may be transforming on one end, but it follows a main road that opened up once & for all on the other?
Costas: Yes, let’s say the road of spontaneity. Not doing things wrapped up in a cliché. Punk is spontaneity. This doesn’t mean playing without technique. It can be that one plays with tons of it & the outcome comes out spontaneously, not canned.
Yannis: Dead Kennedys, for example, know how to play their instruments very well, but you’ve seen nevertheless what can happen at one of their shows.
Louis: You’ve heard our tracks in the new recording, “Avoulo On” etc.. If you listen to them in concert, you’ll see that they’re completely unrelated to the ones we’ve recorded.
Costas: We don’t feel free in the studio, we can’t even move because it will be heard through the mic. The element of spontaneity we were talking about is missing.
After all, isn’t this element the essence of rock ‘n’ roll?
Costas: Yes, & punk is, I think, rock ‘n’ roll’s purest suggestion, it’s neither blitz nor disco.
What’s funny is that in ’55, when this music starts spreading through the youth, a kid dancing to rock ‘n’ roll is the analogue of today’s disco fans. He likes dancing, moving, dressing. A reckless life among chicks & fast cars &, in general, entertainment & carefreeness are things new & revolutionary for the time.
Yannis: Yes, but social conditions have changed since then. Throwing a party or stealing your dad’s car & driving to Porto Raftis are not revolutionary anymore.
Today it’s situations [themselves] that are revolutionary. Rock, meanwhile, was enriched with new ideological elements besides spontaneity. A new element is social questioning. You, for example, have stated that, through your lyrics, you want to raise awareness on existing problems, psychological & social, & not to narrate fairytales. What is it that makes you question? Maybe a bad childhood or the feeling that you’re life’s disaffected outcasts?
Yannis: My childhood was very harmonious, I was denied nothing, I was a happy child. The following happens though: they equip you with the picture of a beautiful world, of a beautiful childness, & when you grow up you realize that there’s also another side to life.
Costas: They bring you up in an utopian mentality, that the world is nice, that it will embrace you open-armed, & neither parents nor school prepare you [for the realities of life], they don’t tell you that you might get slapped every now & then in [real] life.
Yannis: You believe that people are ideal & nice, & you get out on the street & a passer-by knocks you out & you’re left wondering “but… why, what did I do to him?”
Costas: Or, you’re walking & you see people with amputated legs begging for spare change & you wonder “why this one specifically?” Whose fault is it? His own or the social system’s? & that’s how the first cracks appear in the nice picture of the world. If you’re devoid of conscience, though, you see the injustice & pass by unmoved.
Yannis: All people have sentimentality. I don’t think that they remain unmoved, they’re just indifferent.
There’s the indifference, as we say, of the people, because everyone only looks out for themselves. On the other hand, contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, which targets at making people question, is also based on a suggestion relating to the self, “look after/at yourself, become yourself.” It’s well-known that rock’s contribution is individuality & not herd mentality. How is it, then, that social & political awareness fits into this picture? Maybe the contradiction is superficial, but it requires a lot of attention nevertheless. Someone correctly suggested that a distinction should be made between selfishness and individuality. The point is that in the existing (as opposed to the ideal) rock we encounter both notions. Rock is not always an angelic thing that will make humanity better.
Costas: I think that you can choose for yourself based on your personal criterion.
That is, you can accept everyone & everything under the auspice of rock?
Yannis: Of course not! There are many trends & so many bands. Let’s look at the issue of commercialism. What can it be that makes my dad, who works to earn money, to increase his bank balance, different from a rock artist who’s after the same thing? He’s then the same as my father, the same settled down bourgeois, the same capitalist. & that was exactly one of the reasons that led punk into existence. Because there was no way out anymore since money devours all, eh, somewhere, though, an alternative solution had to be found, & this solution was punk by necessity.
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