DIARY
Confessions of a Greekoholic

Confessions of a Greekoholic

1. Exarchia

If you ever made it to Greece, you’ve probably remarked that Athens is a wonderful place for music. The Exarchia neighborhood located in downtown Athens is perhaps the best area if you’re in search of music, art, traditional Greek music instruments, books or just a cozy coffee shop for a bohemian traveler like yourself.

The district of Exarchia was formed between 1870 and 1880 at the borders of the city and has played a substantial role in the social and political life of Greece. It is there where the Athens Polytechnic uprising of November 1973 took place – this was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. The rebellion began on November 14, 1973, escalated to an open anti-junta revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17 after a series of events, starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnic.

Exarchia is a place where many intellectuals, artists, socialists, anarchists and antifascist groups live. Police stations and other symbols of authority (and capitalism) such as banks are often targets of far-leftist groups. It is also an art hub where theatre plays and concerts take place around the central square. In December 2008, the murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman in Exarchia caused rioting throughout Greece.

Known as a space for urban resistance, Greeks succeeded what plenty of other European cities couldn’t - to have their own authority inside the ‘’borders’’ of Exarchia, as most of the times Police doesn’t patrol within this area.

During one of our trips to beautiful Athens, we visited Exarchia and stumbled upon some amazing hidden record stores, bookshops and vintage merchandise, including great pieces of traditional musical instruments such as bouzouki, baglama or saz.

As we were walking on the quiet streets of Exarchia, gazing around the graffiti’s and drawings evoking anarchist scenes and messages, we visited around six record stores. One of them is the remarkable Art Rat Records, a very small music shop, filled up with giant releases from blues, classic rock, folk, kraut, indie, new wave, prog, psychedelia, punk & greek artists, a lot of first press releases and plenty of obscure and unknown stuff.

2. Art Rat Records

In the back of a small room imbued with records, the shop’s owner is sitting on a chair, behind a desk, typing something on a computer. As we get involved in a small chat, we find out his name is Alekos. He’s been running the shop for 23 years and never changed its place - Zoodohou Pigis 48 - T.K. 106 81.

You don’t need to be a clairvoyant to discover a truly devoted music collector. One that doesn’t really care of any aspects from the music industry besides his records. The real record collectors and diggers are a specific and very rare category of people from the peripheral part of the music industry. They actually don’t care at all about the ‘’industry’’. They don’t really get involved in the mainstream circuit, never go out for exposure or publicity; on the contrary, they keep themselves quiet and underground. They search for old music and new music all the time, devoted as soldiers to a cause they still believe in: the power of music, as cheesy as this may sound. They invest all their time, energy, money (and any other resources left) in music. In many cases, record dealers don’t make their own music, but if they do, it is less probably you’ll find it so easily. Driven by an obsession unique to each collector, these music fanatics are the secret pearls of the music industry and most of us don’t even know they exist.

Alekos is just one case of many established collectors in Greece, especially Athens. ‘’I started Art Rat Records in October 1992 and I'm at the same spot all these years. I had to make a living and records was what I knew and loved best,’’ Alekos says, during one of our email exchanges.

He is not musically trained, but music was part of his life, starting from his childhood. ’’ My father was a music lover and was playing a little violin in his youth, but never a professional musician. My older brother is also a music lover and influenced me a lot in my early years. The starting point was back in 1970, at the age of 11, after seeing the Woodstock movie. I can't say I was collecting records, just buying a record once in a while. I was interested in the rock bands of the time, also in blues and soul. Actually, I was a child when I was listening to the late ‘60s - early ‘70s rock bands. Also Greek pop / rock music, Italian and French artists and bands, which were very popular in Greece, were part of my favorites. I was reading about musical activities in magazines and listening to some radio stations - mostly radio pirates - which were playing the music I liked. Next step was to visit the local record stores - there were plenty back then in Athens, 5 to 6 in every neighborhood - and buy the CHOSEN one.’’

The name Art Rat Records was inspired by a text, which was included in Patti Smith’s "Radio Ethiopia" album. Art is anagram for rat. ’’ That's a good name for a record shop, I thought!’. He started the shop with less than 1000 records, but most of them were special. ‘’Now there are more than 10.000 records, not all of them first class, but someone can still find many rare and collectable items. All styles of rock, 60s-70s psychedelia, progressive, folk, blues, punk, new wave, experimental and of course Greek music. I truly love Greek Traditional music. It's very rich, colorful and deeply emotional. I'm sure Romanian is too.’’

The shop features some marvelous and ultra rare first press editions, but due to the financial crisis, they are not sold that often as in the past. ‘’But I'm not complaining. People here are experiencing very hard times’’ he adds. ‘’I think nothing will be as it was. Most of the youngsters which are the potential future buyers-customers are now used to different forms like CD, MP3 or listening from Internet (YouTube etc.).’’

I ask Alekos about the philosophy of Art Rat Records. What secret forces drive him. " I'm only in it for the money " to paraphrase Frank Zappa. Joking or maybe not? Money surely helps but it's not the main thing. I really feel happy in my store. I'm a collector myself, so I like my customers to find good stuff in nice condition, not to be found easily at least in other local shops. Sometimes I catch myself saying to young buyers the same that elders were saying to me when I was a teenager: "What is this shit you are listening?" Oh well, that's life. Someone loves the music that he grows up with. Certainly excellent artists and groups still exist today globally; can't be otherwise. Human race hasn't lost good voices and talented people. The thing that worries me is that I say the above phrase too often. I'm afraid I'm getting old. Having dropped my studies in philosophy and Greek literature, I believe it was the best choice I have made in my life. I'm very content, not having regretted it for a single moment.’’

Being a record dealer is not an easy interest, not to call it job. If you choose this path, you can’t screw it up, you have to be professional. Alekos believes that a record dealer must ‘’have good knowledge of the material he is selling and be open-minded. Also a personal aesthetic style I believe is necessary.’’

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*photo credits: ouch.gr

3. Ten records

And one last question: as ridiculous as this may sound, what would be your top 5 records ever?

’’This is the most difficult question. I hope the 60s music master workers will excuse me, but I'll choose records from the late ‘70s - early ‘80s scene. It's my generation and I feel closer to that era. (I’m in the same age with Johnny Lydon). But can I pick 10 albums? Ten is my favorite number. It's the number I had when I was playing football- not professionally-. So, here's my 10 that still make my hair stand!


10. GUN CLUB: Miami - 1992

9. EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN: Kollaps - 1982

8. BIRTHDAY PARTY: Prayers On Fire - 1981

7. THIS HEAT : This Heat - 1979

6. TV PERSONALITIES: Mummy Your Not Watching Me - 1982

5. CHROME: The Visitation - 1976

4. SONIC YOUTH: Bad Moon Rising - 1985
*''Thurston Moore has visited the shop''

3. JOY DIVISION: Unknown Pleasures - 1979

2. SEX PISTOLS: Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols - 1977

1. PERE UBU: The Modern Dance - 1978

HAVE YOUR SAY

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