Against the tide, Palyrria seeks balance

From the nightclubs of Athens and mainstream radio stations, to the Olympic Games facilities in August and September, there is a tune that marked this past summer: The music of the island of Icaria, the Icariotikos dance, though not that most Greeks know and recognize, but one «tweaked» by Palyrria, who turned it into a fascinating hybrid of the traditional melody with dub, ambient and trip-hop brushstrokes. And while «Icariotikos» may have been the hit track of the band’s first, self-titled album, a thorough listening of the entire album reveals many more gems. Palyrria is a group of young musicians who create music through computers and are probably the most comprehensive voice on the Greek electronica scene. Constantinos Haller (sound manager), Panayiotis Katsikiotis (electronic and traditional percussion), Dimitris Tsouryiannis (keyboards and percussion), Panayiotis Xydias (flute and vocals), Artemis Kangas (traditional and improvised strings and winds) and Diamandis Tassis (performance visuals designer) like to think of themselves as a collective, not necessarily with common musical interests, but certainly with a similar outlook on life. Your album is popular both in Greece and abroad. Indeed, for the past two months, is has been ranked No. 8 on the European Broadcasting Union’s World Music Charts. P.X.: It can be considered a big success but the actual sales are exactly the opposite. C.H.: I am certain that if the «Icariotikos» had circulated, say 10, 15 years ago, we would be looking at thousands of sales, but now we have to deal with boot-legged versions, so… You call your music «world electro.» Can you give us a more specific definition? P.X.: Our approach is basically centered on Greece and the Mediterranean, though we do borrow elements from Africa and North America. We combine all this into electronic and electric sounds, in order to strike a balance. C.H.: It is important that people understand that the work we do is not traditional music. We never begin by saying, «Hey, let’s take the karagouna [a traditional Greek dance tune] and make it funk.» The electro scene in Greece is constantly gaining ground with the public. There are those, however, who still see it as «easy» music. D.T.: Easy? Writing any piece of music takes many different skills. C.H.: Writing music is always hard. I mean, having something to say, a sense of composition, an emotion to convey. I have listened to thousands of electronic music pieces that are completely flat, just as I’ve heard classical music pieces that, if you listen to them closely, serve very little purpose. P.K.: The medium is different, but skill and talent are still necessary. D.T.: Technology, and I mean the computer, has made a very significant difference. It gave people who do not know how to play an instrument a means of expression. Your music represents a break from the conventional way traditional music is seen in Greece. Is it also, perhaps, a suggestion on how traditional music ought to be presented? D.T.: One could actually say that what we do represents a break from the conventional way Greeks see tradition today in general. On the other hand, for a German it represents an opening in electronic music. P.X.: In the future, traditional music will play a pivotal role because it contains that feeling, that emotion, that every citizen of the world must examine. That is why we are interested in tradition, though mostly on an idealistic level rather than on a musical level. Are you interested in forming a connection abroad? C.H.: A connection with other countries is a necessity because Greece cannot cover the needs of a six-member band – either financially or artistically. You are a rather large band which has grown in number (the most recent addition being lyre-player Stelios Petrakis). How well do you work together? P.X.: The production process is entirely democratic. Each member brings something, from a rhythm to a flute, and then it is all smelted together. D.T.: Sometimes an idea can begin from the computer or from something completely weird. For example, on our next album, we will have a track called «Ioli,» which started out from a bottle of Ioli water that one of us was shaking, creating a sound we all really liked. P.X.: Working together is easy because we all have a common perception of life. We are even thinking of moving to a mountain somewhere all together. D.T.: And to cook dinner in one big pot… I’m kidding, but the basic concept is true. And this is the search for equilibrium. Music, like all the arts, is nothing more than a path leading to that equilibrium. Have you begun working on new material? C.H.: We are working on some new ideas, but we’re not going to stress over the next step. D.T.: Stress? The only thing that stresses us out is when a PC crashes. Do you plan to add lyrics to your music? P.K.: We prefer to work with vocals that serve a similar function as an instrument. It comes in, for example, the same way that a percussion sound would. D.T.: Lyrics guide you, whereas music leaves listeners free to create their own images. C.H.: Also, lyrics need a succession of chords, and this clashes with our philosophy, which is more centered on monotonic music – because it gives you such a mind trip. Music with lyrics can never really achieve that, the voice anchors you and the structure of the music is such that it does not allow it.