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Until you become the king of fools

20 April 2013 / 00:04:23  GRReporter
5635 reads

Victoria Mindova

For anyone who thinks that Greece has no future and that the Greek people are good for nothing, here is the story of Sergios Vafiadis, aged 23, his friends and dozens of others, who have helped him make the first full-length documentary film about the Greek punk scene from the late 1970s until today.

The documentary presents the history, the origin and the development of a subculture in a country that has experienced the transition from a military junta to European democracy. It describes the reaction of the young people at the time, who tried to express their voice in a turbulent and uncertain socio-political situation. It involves representatives of different generations (those born in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and the children of the digital era), who tell the story of their personal paths in the context of music and their rebellion through it.

The documentary is entitled "Until you become the king of fools". It may sound contradictory, but it contains within itself the essence of the development of the punk scene. The music that arises from the pure need to oppose the system, to express genuine disagreement with the established routines, today is just as commercialized as ‘stadium rock’ and pop culture.

The shooting of the film lasted two years - from the first frames to the premiere in the middle of this month. The crew of seven people worked tirelessly to gather information from all possible sources. They interviewed more than 80 people, processed over 40 hours of operational material and they have objectively presented the struggle of punk in the country of Zorbas.

The beginning

Vafiadis’ idea was born while he was preparing his graduation work at university, where he studied directing. A year after his graduation, he maintained his contacts with the teachers, with whom he worked on various projects. They encouraged him to take up the creation of his own feature film, the idea of which was contained in his graduation work.

"We considered focusing on the Athenian scene at first. Then, we found out that we could not restrict ourselves and that there were many bands from other cities as well that had contributed to the development of this subculture," explains Vafiadis.

It was quite natural for the young people to start seeking help first from their close circle in terms of age and understanding and from young bands, influenced by punk music. The question that one might ask, he says, is, "Where are the old bands that laid the beginnings of the scene in Greece?"

First, the new graduates turned to the two members of Antidrasi (Αντίδραση) - a punk band founded in the mid 1980s. Their lyrics were about inequality and lost rights at a time when Greece was trying to find its new European face. The members of the band were the first to help out the project.

"Punk scene consists of a closed circle of people. They do not accept you easily or talk to you if you're younger or if they do not know you in person. Or so we thought," says the young man. "George and Spiros from Antidrasi were the first people who helped us out. At a later stage, we carried out our own research and connected with other bands."

Once they interviewed bands that had marked the beginning of the punk movement in Greece (Stress, Adiexodo, Antidrasi, Deus Ex Machina), more bands from the scene added to the documentary.

To make sure that they were on the right track, the creative group released its first trailer after interviewing 14 bands and collecting the relevant material. It had three to four thousand views on youtube in just six days.

"The first trailer was an experiment. We wanted to see the feedback. Some bands, which we had not been able to contact, called us after we released the trailer online. All the people we met were great. They were open and ready to help our work," Sergios comments on the participants in the film with enthusiasm.

The “evolution” of an idea

At first, the team used the equipment of the directing and cinematography school. Once the project extended, they sought help from the Greek producing company Stefi, which is an established player in the field of film, television and advertising.

"The company gave us cameras, lights and other necessary equipment, which we used for free. They knew that we were unable to pay for them, but that was not important for them. We were able to use all the equipment at any time, even at the last minute. If we asked for lights and other technical equipment two hours before the shooting and it was provided to us."

The technical assistance they received from the company combined with the enthusiasm of the team that works on the principle of "do it yourself" turns out to be the right formula to achieve professional results.

Passion before fashion

"The typical feature of punk scene in Greece is that although long years have passed, the it has never become commercialized," says Sergios. This is due to two main factors. The first is that Greece is a small country. There is no basis on which to develop a large-scale music industry, not to mention for securing a commercial boom with a genre of music, which is not typical for the region. The second factor, according to Sergios, is that the people who are really associated with the punk scene have preserved their authenticity and principles over the years.

Politics behind punk

"To me, punk is more of a philosophy first and then music. As a musical genre, it has a political nuance by itself," says the young man. "Anyone who engages in this type of music wants to express a social position that is different from the established routine; to express his beliefs loudly and clearly and for his voice to be heard." The words of the director coincide with the view expressed by the main characters in his documentary.

Authenticity and lessons for life

The fact that the people, who have contributed to the development of the punk scene in Greece, have remained authentic makes the young man enthusiastic. They still really believe in what their songs say and their music expresses. "You never know what to expect when you interview a man who tells of the things related to the theme of the film 20 years ago."

However, it appears that for them punk remains a way of life rather than a stage. They may not be so angry at the world as they were at the age of 16 or 20 but their beliefs basically remain unchanged. "Every one of the people we talked to was extremely helpful. They gave us footage of amateur recordings of concerts as well as additional details, photographs and other materials."

"While I was making the film, I met with people whom I might never have met in person in my life if I had not got involved in this project. I met not only great people from the Greek scene, but also the vocalist of the legendary Dead Kennedys – Jello Biafra."

squat vs Club

Independent scenes that are most often housed in universities or abandoned public buildings that have been turned into places where young people gather (squats) are very popular in Greece. They are considered free autonomous spaces where young people, and not only, can watch different groups on an improvised scene.

"It is easier to perform live in the squats. Moreover, the music we are talking about can easily be accepted in political terms, you can express yourself without anyone putting restraints on you. There are people who believe that you shouldn’t pay to listen to punk music. There are others who are short of money and the free concerts are the only option for them. The basic idea is that squats provide a shelter for the music and the free expression of ideas."

However, punk as a movement and influence is not limited within the squats. More than a few underground clubs have been the scene of local and foreign bands and have supported the development of the movement. "The club, on the other hand, has its advantages. It offers a better sound, which is important for a band. You are able to play your music better. There is a sound technician, who can help you bring out the best sound of your music."

Vafiadis stresses that the place, where a band chooses to present its music, is not important as long as it has something to say and attracts the right people to absorb the energy flowing out from the scene.

The turning point

"I was probably 14 years old. I went to see a live performance at Villa Amalia for the first time. I don’t remember the band, but people danced pogo in front of the stage. The adrenaline was high and I mixed up. I stumbled and fell down. I thought that they would run over me. Nothing like that happened. Four people with piercings and mohawks rushed to help me. They picked me up, asked me if I was okay, patted me on the shoulder and we continued dancing. This was the moment when the taboo was broken and I realized that being a punk is not being a despicable person or a drug addict. It is to be free to express yourself."

Here today, gone tomorrow

In the middle of May, the young director will emigrate from Greece like many of his peers. He has been offered work in his speciality in Canada and he is eagerly awaiting the oppportunity to face new experiences. In parallel, he is planning his next project, which will be dedicated to the DIY music scene of New York.

We asked him to square accounts and to tell us what he has left behind in order to continue to chase his dreams. It proved a difficult task. We also asked him how he sees himself in the long term, but he preferred to focus on Greece.

"I would not like to be in this country. It seems that this would happen. I am going to leave soon," he said with a hint of irony. "I hope that things here will improve, that the economy will grow and more things will happen. I hope that people will be more open, will go to the cinema, will be interested in different things, in subcultures, that they will go to concerts, not only punk and grindcore (he is laughing)."

According to him, subcultures in Greece do not have the recognition they deserve. Even young people associate punk and hard music with drugs, dirt and other backward stereotypes. "We are all people. Old stereotypes do not apply any more. You can be a punk and have a degree in Applied Physics. We have to judge people on their merits instead of labelling them."


Tags: Nine musesMusicCinemaPunk sceneGreece
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