CULTURE

Rockwave Festival prepares for its return after a two-year absence

The Rockwave Festival, an annual summer highlight for concertgoers in Athens over several consecutive years since its launch in the mid-1990s until last year’s break, is planning its return with what appears to be building up into an impressive lineup. Organizers have yet to provide full details for the June event, but a couple of magical names have already been conjured up. The return of the Pixies – both as a band, after the now-legendary rock act disintegrated a little over a decade ago under the weight of tension, and to the country, after a show in Athens in the late 1980s, just as the odd band’s remarkable novelty was beginning to register with fans – is rock music news. So, too, is the re-emergence of Peter Gabriel, the pop-rock legend who, since his last performance here, at an Amnesty International one-day bonanza in 1988 alongside Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Youssou N’Dour and Tracey Chapman, returns with the added credentials of world music guru; he is the key figure behind an entire blossoming scene with his own label, Real World, and festival, WOMAD. At this stage, the festival’s organizer, Di-Di Music, has also announced five other acts, Judas Priest, Placebo, Him, Queensryche, and Nightwish, some of which should please the hard rockers, for the June 18-22 event. It has now been extended to five days for the first time. It remains to be seen which acts will be booked to fill the festival’s many vacancies. Another new aspect of this year’s festival is its unprecedented rural location, out in Malakasa, north of Athens, not far from the Athens-Thessaloniki national highway, via a turnoff at the 37th kilometer mark. Since its emergence in 1996 – originally as Rock of Gods before the lofty title was swiftly watered down to Rockwave – the festival has been based in and around the capital, but never some distance beyond it. Considering the organizer’s troubles in finding a permanent home for the festival, the move to a more remote location, promoted as being equipped with the necessary infrastructure to stage a rock festival and able to hold 15,000, could turn out to be a wise one. Not a single previous location has been used more than once, either due to the organizer’s pursuit of a better location, or because of wrangles with neighbors and authorities. The promoter has apparently signed a 20-year lease for the Malakasa expanse, measuring 3 hectares. Bus transportation services, both public and organizer-sponsored, will be provided. Information on ticket sales has not yet been announced, but advance purchases of day tickets, the organizers said, will sell for 38 euros. Returning to the music, rumors about a Pixies reunion had hovered for months before an official announcement was made last month. Confirmation of the band’s appearance at this summer’s Rockwave came late last week, as part of a wider reunion tour. It remains unclear whether the Pixies intend to record and release new material. During their six years together, the Pixies, who formed in Boston in 1986, gradually developed into an underground heavyweight, particularly in Europe and the UK. Since their breakup, under nasty circumstances in 1993, the group’s work, documented on five albums, has enjoyed a wider aftermath of popularity that has continued to snowball. «They’re talking, they’re rehearsing, and they’re going to perform together for the first time in more than a decade,» notes the band’s official reunion announcement, which is quite remarkable considering how the Pixies fell apart. The band’s frontman, Black Francis – who became Frank Black for his ensuing solo career – publicly announced the band’s breakup before informing its other three members. During their previous Athens show, at a packed Rodon Club in the late 1980s, just after the release of the landmark «Doolittle» album, Kim Deal, the band’s bassist, grinned her way through most parts of the show, probably still unaccustomed to playing before full venues. But, even at that relatively early stage, trouble in the band’s politics was probably already beginning to brew. Deal was interested in injecting some of her own songs into the repertoire of the band, which Francis considered a vehicle for his songs. Her ideas were eventually unloaded into another band, the Breeders, which began as a side-project for Deal before acquiring a life of its own – a very successful one, too – during the post-Pixies years. Like other radically innovative acts in the past, the band’s posthumous commercial success does not surprise. The Pixies were not accomplished musicians, and they employed conventional, low-budget means. Yet their work sounded like nobody else’s. The band’s stop-start dynamics, roaring and spiraling guitar noises, infectious pop melodies, and blended male-female harmonies, for a punk-surf sound that, toward the end, had almost acquired heavy-metal power, may sound like a complicated mess. But it was nothing other than the unique result of four people on two guitars, a bass guitar, drums and vocals. Back then, the Pixies were peripheral rock stars. Now, they’ll be returning as one of the biggest acts in the business.