Master player on the fringe
Forsaking simpler options and, most likely, greater exposure for more complex, less accessible activity requires unbending conviction. Needless to say, Floros Floridis, one of the country’s more accomplished musicians, who has worked from the fringe for years, knows the situation all too well. Ever since releasing his debut album, 1979’s «Improvising at Barakos,» the country’s first free jazz record, with pianist Sakis Papadimitriou, Floridis, a daringly fluent winds player, has chosen deep-delving experimentation – and inevitable mainstream neglect – over simplicity and wider acceptance. It’s an ironic position that fills him with both torment and satisfaction, he admits. As a member of rebetika surrealists Himerini Kolymvites, one of the country’s biggest cult acts, since 1986, Floridis often plays to packed clubs around Greece. He also fronts the Balkan-flavored all-brass band Banda tis Florinas. For most of his countless other ventures, Floridis, who has also written for film, theater, and dance performances, needs to travel some distances, mostly around the Continent, to meet, perform and record with similar-minded musicians, usually in the free improvisation field. They have included Peter Kowald – a leading German avant-garde musician who died last year – Evan Parker, Fred Van Hove and American-Greek guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, renowned for his work with cult New York bassist and producer Bill Laswell. Two years ago, Floridis joined forces with Skopelitis and Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz for an intriguing album, «Our Trip So Far» on a Greek independent label that quickly folded. Its demise prompted Floridis to recently relaunch J.N.D Records, an older label of his, now renamed J.N.D Re-Records, through which he is making available both deleted older albums and new recordings. The work has been prolific and the attention relatively little. Floridis shared his thoughts in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition. You recently relaunched your own record label as an outlet for your work, I suppose for greater independence in your music making? It’s a matter of making the music you want to, music you believe in. That’s the most important thing, as well as not being associated with people who don’t understand what you’re trying to do. That’s the main problem with the industry, otherwise it would, perhaps, be better being a part of it. Major labels have distribution networks. It’s far more correct, professionally speaking, to be linked, but, on the other hand, your work can be misunderstood and end up lying on some stockroom shelf. You could legitimately ask: «Is the way I’ve chosen any better?» Well, at least you’re not driven crazy; you don’t get upset. You just utter to yourself: «I know what I’m doing, I’m doing what I need to do,» knowing that it can’t get any worse, therefore, only better. In our era, we are beginning to see that it’s not possible to run things on management skills alone, without knowing your product. You’ve got to know something about it. Multinationals in music seem to have their own perceptions. But those on the inside who manage these firms must know that it’s music they’re selling, not medication, cheese pies, or cars. In other industries, management seems more familiarized with company products. We’ve reached the point where college graduates are managing record labels on the basis of their degrees alone, with total indifference for the product. The music business has become a kind of stock exchange – faceless, mere figures on paper, profit and loss. But there’s a difference between the stock exchange and selling music. You’ve got to love what you produce. Otherwise, don’t produce it. Does exposure, and how much of it you can get for your work, occupy your mind much? We’re professionals. It’s our job to produce music with the hope of getting as much attention as possible, so that we too can make a buck, as is the case with all lines of work. Is there any point in an architect’s plans not being used for the construction of a building? That’s what it’s like for us musicians, too. What’s your opinion about the position of commercially successful artists? It’s a dangerous thing. Commercial success can ruin your life. If the intention is to remain real and then hit material suddenly comes along, which you begin to serve, career-thinking enters the picture. Falling into the career trap tends to destroy creativity. Few artists are fortunate enough to be able to release appealing work while working freely and creating as they please. Very few of the major acts are producing real music. The rest are producing biscuits, wafers, so to speak, because that’s what sells. They’re interested in a house or two here and there, perhaps a swimming pool – things of that nature. They’re not interested in music. I, supposedly – or at least it’s what I tell myself, I don’t know if I lie occasionally – am interested in the music. Where does all this lead me to? My torment, my satisfaction, my love, my paranoia. Do you ever get overcome by dejection being on the fringe? Sometimes self-pity can get a hold of you; we’re human. But, on the other hand, when you sit back and think a little more rationally you realize: «Well, what did you expect, is it something else you wanted? Try something more commercial; nobody’s stopping you.» But what I do is what I’ve chosen to do. Musicians all over the world face the same predicament. And it’s not just musicians but artists of all fields. You’re primarily renowned as an improvisational musician. Could you elaborate on what draws you to this approach? There are two approaches to creating music. One’s through total control, or what we call composition, and the other is through improvisation. But total control is never absolutely feasible. Take a symphony orchestra, for example, a highly controlled vehicle for musical expression. Even here, every symphony orchestra plays differently, and every conductor interprets a composition differently. Then, at the other end, a musician who declares himself or herself to be an improviser cannot claim to be creating something new at each moment. That, too, is an exaggerated claim. Let’s just say that I have a tendency, conviction, and love for improvisation as a method of musical creation. By composition, we mean having infinite time at our disposal, as much time as we please to make corrections. When you’re improvising on stage, it’s all based on a matter of seconds. Things happen for good or bad and you just keep going forward. You can’t turn back. It’s a complicated process. These are the only methods available for making music. Improvisation is the most easily implemented thing in the life of any musician – and the least respected. Improvisation is usually likened to sloppiness, which is unfair, and composition to tidiness. That’s crap. What really counts is the result. Now, as for the method chosen, that depends on the individual. Everybody selects his or her way, learns, practices and studies. How much theoretical training did you manage to get during your formative years? I studied classical clarinet for seven years but I despised music’s academic side and didn’t gain all the diplomas that I could have gained. I was young and didn’t understand that, later on, they could be needed. People judge people by their clothes and their diplomas. Looking back, do you have any regrets? I don’t have any regrets for anything I’ve done. Quite simply, I could have done certain things in a slightly better fashion. I like to provoke, get myself confused and get others confused. There’s charm in that because you’ve got to work to untangle yourself; that way, you can learn that little bit more.