Karaoke wins over the Greek clubbing circuit

Even on a Wednesday, the bar was still filling up at midnight. Large groups of students, even some fortysomethings, are waiting for the show to start – and to get their chance in the spotlight. Early arrivals made sure the DJ had their favorite songs on the night’s schedule and got their copies of the lyrics. Latecomers looked over the song list, trying to decide. As the lights dimmed, the presenter announced the start of the karaoke program and called the first pair up on stage, two 20-year-old girls who had chosen to sing Madonna’s «Material Girl.» Quite unself-consciously, they strutted around dancing, missing out a few lines, and laughing. The crowd began to warm up and joined in, holding lit cigarette lighters aloft during slow numbers and laughing at the false notes. The mood is something between a party and a football crowd. Most appear on stage in twos or threes or more. Only those with greater confidence in their singing skills – justifiably or otherwise – get up alone. One of these is Nektarios, a Greek-Australian-American criminologist who steals the show at Mike’s Irish Bar, one of the dozens of clubs in Athens that hold karaoke nights. «Nektarios is only with us for a few more nights. As of Sunday, you’ll be seeing him elsewhere,» said the presenter, hinting that Nektarios will soon be joining a reality show. «We started a weekly karaoke night every Tuesday last year, for fun. Whoever got up to sing got a free drink. Then we started holding contests,» said the manager, Vasilis Simis. «The response has been so good that we now have karaoke three times a week. On some nights there are queues outside.» From Japan «Karaoke,» which means amateur singing to music, is a fashion that began many years ago in Japan and entered the Greek music scene with a bang just this last year. Karaoke clubs have been springing up like mushrooms and children’s karaoke games have been doing a brisk trade. Record stores have begun selling the first Greek karaoke collections and the first editions of karaoke songs by well-known Greek singers. «Previously, only Filipinos living in Athens used to ask for karaoke, with songs by Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Now it seems there is a real market for it,» said Yiannis Konidaris, head of the Metropolis record store in Omonia Square. These are CDs that have just the music (without the singer’s voice) and a book of lyrics. There are also DVDs that display the lyrics on screen. The most popular songs are collections from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, of popular groups such as ABBA and a few Greek collections.» Discs and games There are still very few Greek productions. The Heaven recording company has released the latest recordings by Eli Kokkinou and Giorgos Mazonakis and a selection of songs by Despina Vandi in karaoke format. The Nakas music house has released a series of 12 DVDs, collections of popular hits. «It is something new and sales indicate that people like them,» said the firm’s head of publications, Anna Fanourgaki. Many of the Greek and foreign releases are rented in neighborhood DVD rental stores. Also on the rise are the karaoke games on sale for children. In the last year at least five of these sets (with a microphone, CD player and even a screen for viewing lyrics) have gone on sale and did well in the Christmas period. «Many recording companies have reached agreement with the firms that produce these games for the rights to the songs. There are also console games such as Playstation’s Sing Star,» said Sony’s strategic marketing manager for Greece, Haris Bakas. «Generally, however, 80 percent of the world demand is in Asia, where karaoke is a long-established form of entertainment. The market in Greece is still restricted.» House parties The latest fashion is for karaoke parties organized by professionals. «There is a wide range of services on offer,»said Iriana Zavari, who organizes events for Promo Advertising. «They cover everything from renting a package of music DVD collections (from 40-50 euros) to the rental of a projector and sound system and the services of a DJ. So karaoke can be part of the party or the party itself, with prices ranging from 150 to 600 euros. At the moment, karaoke parties are gaining in popularity, particularly for company staff parties.»