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Photo by Spiros Kokkonis
pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis
Photo by Spiros Kokkonis
pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis
Photo by Spiros Kokkonis
pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis
Photo by Spiros Kokkonis

Christos: Breathing in the Teargas

July 5, 2019
Text by Claire Mouchemore
pw-magazine-vienna-christos-athens-spiros-kokkonis
Photo by Spiros Kokkonis

Christos shows us Athens and explains why we shouldn’t romanticize the past or the future, but instead, consider the fundamental role of politics in music.

Christos’ entrancing aesthetic manifests itself in the work he creates through his role as a vocalist, producer and director. Influenced by his Athenian upbringing, Christos Petritzis’ music conjures the otherwise muted affirmations that question and critique our attitudes towards politics. Through his debut EP Teargas, released via Doom Dab, listeners are introduced to a new version of off-kilter pop which binds with ominous auto-tuned vocals that speculate our dystopian future. During the global recession of 2010, Greece plummeted into economic crisis. This adversity engulfed the country and, naturally, these themes affected the nation’s musical climate, including Christos’ striking sound. Now based in London — where he has performed alongside scene staples Mechatok, Kamixlo and LYZZA — Christos continues to contemplate how, through music, we can perpetually motivate a more profound discourse. An interview by Claire Mouchemore with photos by Spiros Kokkonis.

You grew up in Athens and cite traditional Greek music and the country’s version of pop as some of your most prominent stylistic influences. What led to your musical beginnings?

In Greece, I grew up listening to English-speaking chart tunes and Greek pop. The country’s take on pop is always underpinned by a traditional element, even though it might be forward-thinking and sometimes focus on certain trends. This genre has definitely informed my musical aesthetic. I go back and draw inspiration from it a lot, especially music from the 90s to the early 2000s —the period of prosperity before the crisis— which was a very experimental and daring time for mainstream pop. A lot of the songs ran for six minutes and had several breakdowns, fusing rhythms like zeibekiko and tsifteteli with trance, house, and rave.

Pop music in all Mediterranean and Balkan countries is infused with some kind of folk rhythm. I think those from Lebanon, Turkey and Spain will understand what I mean by this. It’s not necessarily premeditated where, for example, I actively thought »let’s put some trance synths and Greek violin together« nevertheless, the final product does sound logical to me. Whereas, in the north, the norm is more minimal, surgical beats. To me, the more sonic layers, the more dissonance, the better. I prefer a soundscape that makes the listener feel as though they’re outside.

In terms of my musical beginnings: I’d always been good at singing and started making trash beats on GarageBand at sixteen, moving onto Logic a few years later. Music was put on hold while I was studying at university, and in late 2017, I started releasing music under my name.

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Photo by Spiros Kokkonis

It seems that there are a lot of interesting DIY spaces emerging in Athens at the moment. What is the pop and underground electronic music scene in the city like? Very different, I’m sure, to that of Mexico City, where you spent some time and London, where you currently reside.

The crisis left Greece very shaken and only now is it beginning to recover. The music industry is almost non-existent as a result. However, many young people are releasing music independently. In terms of Greek musicians, I like Marina Satti, who is also influenced by folk music. There is a wave of artists embracing difference. They’re embracing where they come from by accentuating these parts of themselves, rather than toning them down. 

There is a rise in expats moving to the city with a very superficial interest in Athens, which I don’t necessarily think is a good thing. It’s all about cheap rent and living somewhere deemed to be dangerously sexy. Greece has refugees and is remains amidst a long-term crisis. It’s kind of like the decision to host documenta 14 here and call it »Learning from Athens« — it refers very specifically to learning from the crisis and its outcomes while playing on this type of poverty tourism. I feel despondent walking through some of the neighborhoods in the center of Athens now. 

London is completely different: there isn’t really a sense of community for most people. There is definitely a palpable feeling of individualism where people won’t work together unless some form of clout is involved. The communities, club nights and friendship circles are almost all constructed. My friends and the people I surround myself with are the exceptions to this, and with all that said, London does feel a bit like home since I have spent a large part of my adult life there.

Political themes are evident in both your musical output and general presence as an artist. How do you use your sound to provide commentary on the current political climate in your home country and on a broader, global level?

I want to make bops that simultaneously inspire people to think in different ways. I can’t help but incorporate political themes in my music because these are the topics that I think about constantly. So, I guess my music is a form of protest; however, that’s quite precarious in itself because nobody wants to listen to preachy music. On the Teargas EP, I am retelling my experience of growing up in an environment that seemed as if there were minimal prospects and that the future would continue to grow bleaker. However, in all that hopelessness, what is born is the desire to stimulate change and revolt. I am angry over what happened to the country I grew up in, but I have to look past the anger and create action. What some young people now regard as activism is outrageous. We need a better understanding of who holds power in the world and what it takes to stop them.

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Photo by Spiros Kokkonis

How and when did the idea behind Teargas transpire? The title itself immediately brings certain themes to mind.

Teargas was my first ever release and is self-produced. I worked on it for a total of eight months. I wanted my debut to be a high-concept EP involving particular sounds and words that transported the listener to a different world. I made the title track in mid-2017, while I was still in Mexico — you can hear the reggaetón by way of Aegean sound. I was learning a lot as I made the EP, so it was a very engrossing process. I wanted to put out a body of work to establish my artistry. I know for a fact there is nothing that sounds remotely like it. It’s a very idiosyncratic sound.

The title refers to a common experience I had growing up in Athens, of feeling the taste, smell and irritation of tear gas when walking through the streets. It’s part of everyday life. The gas particles sit in your eyes and throat, inducing suffocation. The songs on my album are about rising above that discomfort.

Besides producing your own tracks and vocals, you also conceptualize, direct and edit their accompanying music videos. How important is the visual aesthetic that supplements your music?

The visual aspect is almost more important. My background is in creating visuals (my previous art project Ruins, was print-based), so I am even more proficient in that department, although my musical skills are catching up. I am obsessed with making low-budget videos that look like a major label funded them. When the song comes to me, it happens to be accompanied by a set of imagery and is a concept that has to be realized immediately — this is why the majority of my songs have their own individual video.

I love to reference the visuals of Greek pop from the 90s to early 2000s era — idyllic landscapes and all white outfits, which reflected a time of economic euphoria in Greece. I use such a setting in the Teargas video, though it’s juxtaposed with jarring lyrics about being suffocated with gas dropped on civilians by riot police.

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Photo by Spiros Kokkonis

The video for Bubbling opens with a panoramic view across the expanse that is the city of Athens — panning to reveal you: towering above the metropolis, bathed in your archetypal shades of red, blue and, black. Can you speak more on the concept and visual direction behind these evocative visuals?

In Bubbling, I’m showing you what Athens is like, to me. It’s the city that I know and have grown up in. The plastic chair, the building rooftops, the hills and the ruins. It’s something real and different from the news cycle version of Athens that depicts protests and riots. The imagery is very personal, so sharing it is like giving away a part of myself to the viewer.

You’ve just returned from a tour in Asia, where you played a series of shows in Tokyo. And, earlier this month, your EP celebrated its first anniversary, as well as receiving a drum and bass refix of the title track from Philippines-based producer K9999. What’s next for the Christos project?

I’m currently working on a new EP which will be released later this year, where I collaborate with other artists on the production side of things. I’ve also been taking lessons with an opera singer, so my vocal range is much wider now. I feel like I should do a vocal run on my next song.

The final video from the EP is coming out in the next few weeks. It’s for Yasemi, which many people say is their favorite song from the release. After that, the new Xtos era is coming with a new single and video called XTRA, shot in London. That will be my most accomplished video yet, so I’m excited. And the hook is merely anthemic!

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture.