CULTURE

Striving for the bigger picture

Three boys, in full make-up, take to the stage of the Small Music Theater. The singer, wearing a housemaid’s dress over his jeans, takes hold of the mike, accompanied by the bassist and drummer, both glowing in heavy, black mascara and bright eye-shadow. The cosy venue is immediately filled with rock sounds reminiscent of the mid-90s Seattle grunge scene. Absent Mindead (a name that started as a joke but which has now stuck) let their feelings loose the best way they know, by engaging in a full-on session of their aggressive indie-rock sounds. The band has every reason to celebrate: it has been included in the 18 finalists of the international Diesel-u-music competition and is about to travel to London for the finals’ ceremony, which is to take place in Shoreditch on October 4. Diesel-u-music, which this year is supported by Sony and Billboard magazine, is an international contest for unsigned artists in rock, urban/hip-hop and electronic music. Its aim is to provide upcoming musicians with opportunities in the music industry – the committee is made up of music executives and media. First held in 2001, it was only this year that it became truly international with the inclusion of a brand-new «across the world» section for each music category. Absent Mindead is the only Greek band to be short-listed. In their current line-up (vocalist/guitarist Antonis, bassist George and drummer Costis), the band has only existed since 2004, which is not surprising, given that the three band members are in their early 20s. Highly active, they have performed on most of Athens’s rock stages and have opened concerts for Canada’s The Organ and Britain’s The Zounds. The band performs in English. Shortly before leaving for London to attend the competition’s finals, they talked about their music, their plans for the future and what it feels like to be singled out from 8,000 applicants in an international event. How did you decide to take part in the competition? Costis: We saw it in a magazine. Our participation was literally a last-minute thing, we sent our songs from an Internet cafe just 6 hours before the deadline. George: The judges have already decided on three winners, but there will be two more, the result of a public vote on the Internet, which will be announced on the night. We will definitely be at the finals, but we don’t know whether we will perform. What can you gain, even if you are not one of the winners? Costis: It is all about promotion and publicity. A lot of people from the media and the music industry will be at the awards and it is a great opportunity to meet them and talk with them. If they like us, it may go further, although of course nothing may happen. We have been in touch with one of last year’s groups, which has a proper career now, playing at festivals, after just being on the shortlist. George: The main thing is that we will be seen by people who could never see us here. Costis: Greece is very isolated. We may believe we are good, but we cannot evaluate ourselves without any contact with the international music scene. The fact that Billboard magazine chose us out of all those applicants is a very good sign. What are your plans for the future? Costis: We are itching to find an opening abroad and we are planning to move to London at some point. The Greek scene has many weaknesses, mostly because there is no money. That leads to a lack of professionalism and equipment, and the audience is limited for our kind of music. Most of the money is invested in the so-called «skyladika» (low-caliber, expensive Greek music clubs). To survive in Greece, band members have to do other jobs on the side. I am a student at the Athens University of Economics and Business; George works as a hairdresser and make-up artist and Antonis writes music for advertisements. It is difficult to be fully devoted to music which, unfortunately, inevitably keeps the standard low. The lack of money has turned the Greek rock scene into an underground scene. Antonis: Absent Mindead is considered underground and specialized, although our music is much more mainstream than many other bands considered mainstream abroad. George: In the UK and the US, people can count on the music industry. There is money, the system is active, the big magazines will attend live gigs by small bands like us, they will listen to their stuff and be interested in promoting it. That just doesn’t happen here. Is Greece bad for English-language rock music in particular, or rock in general? Costis: There was a recent «explosion» of Greek-language rock, with bands like Trypes and Xylina Spathia, but it didn’t last very long. George: On the other hand, it did exist, whereas local English-language rock acts have never enjoyed any similar explosion. Local audiences find Greek lyrics easier. Somebody who listens to Greek folk and pop might also listen to Xylina Spathia, for instance. People cannot identify with English lyrics so easily. Costis: Record companies are also keen on Greek lyrics, they believe they sell more. The first thing they ask is «do you have any songs with Greek lyrics?» Why did you choose to work with English lyrics? Costis: It is clearly about what we love to listen to and play. George: I always thought it sounded much better. Is the new material similar to your previous work? Would you consider experimenting with other styles or maybe even doing adaptations of others’ work? Costis: The way we work has radically changed. We used to write all of our songs in the studio, but now we create them on the computer from start to finish. It is not very common to do that, but we find it convenient. We have no restrictions as far as our sound is concerned. As we become more familiar with each other musically, we broaden our horizons. In general, we prefer simple things. Antonis: For instance, a few of our new songs have piano in them. A year ago, I, personally, would never have imagined using a piano. We definitely don’t want to exclude anyone with our sound. Costis: We would only consider adaptations if it meant radically changing a song to bring it closer to our sound. We don’t reproduce music, neither do we like playing songs close to the original. You seem to pay a lot of attention to your look on stage. Costis: We just dress according to the way we feel. When your appearance reflects the way you feel, then your feelings become even stronger. Antonis: It is important to us and to the audience as well. George: It’s like a theatrical show. It is important no matter where we play. I don’t think we are that extreme, anyway. We don’t have the same look at every gig, it changes depending on our mood.