Over the past 12 months, we’ve given more digital column inches to Greece than any other individual nation. This was a conscious decision, born from ignorant intrigue and the pursuit to gain some authentic insight into a widely-known but under-reported downfall. The one silver lining, and I use that term apologetically, is the wealth of deeply effecting music which has left Greek shores — sound that attempts to really say something, be it as personal escapism or unhinged vitriol. Our all-too-brief conversations with KU, LogOut, Keep Shelly in Athens and Mockbirth have shown us glimpses of an imperfect convergence between high-wire social disaster and musical expression, but it’s in our dialogue with Takis Zontiros of Ruined Families that perhaps we find the most disturbing reality.
“For the last 6 years, Greece is going through a rough neo-liberal model. There’s dogmatic devotion to austerity and there are always new measures that try to “reform” the state, which is actually huge salary cuts for the most insecure social groups, more taxes, privatizations of some of the biggest companies in the country, demonisation of the minorities, concentration camps for immigrants”, he begins. If that last part raises eyebrows as a non-Greek resident, it’s likely because it’s the kind of revelation sadly reserved for backwater Blogspot pages – after all, there’s only so much airtime left once you’ve filled your first two blocks with celebrity rape cases and amber weather warnings. Perhaps not so much ignorance, but crippling indifference. “A lot of young people are moving to other European countries to find jobs. It’s sad to see a big amount of promising and educated individuals going away”, Zontiros muses.
But what of music? Ruined Families undoubtedly represent the roughest edges of the aural map, and as a blackened punk band it’s natural to assume they operate with an agenda to facilitate change amongst their generation, but Zontiros is quick to distance himself from the notion. “Any attempts to accomplish more stuff with music than the exploring [of] music itself and [of] yourself makes music a compromise”, he explains. “Our goals are set in the abstract space between the interaction of people and music, a communication on a different level. We are not a career band. This band for us is an outlet, a reaction, a punch and a tear.” Listen to the repeated cries of ‘Athens without answers!’ on the bands’ debut LP Blank Language and you’d be hard pressed to argue — the band fixate on the idea of communication, transcending literal understanding to portray real anger born from day-to-day oppression.
At the moment, there is a really big attack on both Health system and Universities and there’s big tension. All this environment creates a really unhealthy condition of living.
The history of punk as an ‘outlet for misfits’ is clearly central to the deep roots of these ideals, and as such, Zontiros doesn’t take kindly to compromise or feigned sincerity. “If a punk/hardcore band isn’t attached to the world they live in, then something is wrong with them.” He singles out Fugazi, Unwound and Yaphet Kotto as early influences, all bands with a visceral back catalogue of social commentary, a legacy Ruined Families have continued on Blank Language. “We are always fond of bands that do something on their own way and didn’t care to change their music. When we started this band we wanted to play like the bands we liked. Now, we want to play like the band we want to be. Creation shouldn’t be self-censored. It should be indiscipline and always question itself. This is our motivation.” Despite such turmoil in the streets that surround them, Zontiros’ vision is motivating because of its steely vivacity.
We consider punk to be the common platform of critique and we approach the personality of each band seriously.
You’d think that in such dire circumstance, a united front would perhaps even manifest in the usually-cordial mainstream, but when asked, Zontiros suggests anything but. “Definitely not. Mainstream music pretends like there’s nothing going on and tries to keep in touch with the people, despite the massive changes. The industry tries to be more flexible giving them a dose of letting go from the misery of their every day lives. As always, the industry provides people the images of the lives they’d love to lead”. This doesn’t sound so bad for apathetic day-dreamers, and genuine optimism should be encouraged, but at what point does Zontiros’ description become significantly damaging propaganda? “Culture that was used to arm peoples’ minds now remains static and unable to stimulate people for their own good”, he suggests.
This relationship between tangible social stimulation and musical endeavour is ultimately difficult to quantify, but all too often becomes the ‘measuring stick’ that we evaluate the futility of punk music against; after all, can it ever serve as the preverbial drums of war, or is it merely a passive, albeit loud, soundtrack? Does it even matter? For Zontiros and Ruined Families, they see music as a pure way to communicate without the meddling hands of law-makers and spin doctors, and maintaining the right to carve out this abstraction is of paramount importance. It’s clear from our own investigation that many Greek musicians feel the same way, and in a society struggling on so many fronts, this is perhaps their greatest freedom.
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