This is the third in the series called "Jrock Where You Live," in which Jrock Revolution staff writers chronicle what it’s like to be a Jrock fan in their community. In this installment, staff writer Andreas gives us an extensive history of how the Japanese music subculture started out in Greece and gained in popularity in major cities like Salonika and Athens.
J-Rock where you live… Once upon not a really very long time – almost two years to the day – that would have been a rather tasteless joke, or should I say: a joke near no one would understand. I live in Athens, Greece and until the 30th of October 2006, J-Rock was virtually unknown to the wider public, a subculture as obscure as Japanese manga and animation back in the 80s and Role Playing Games in the 70s.
Now the reason I am referring to the latter is because the story of J-Rock in Greece is inherently, if not always apparently, tied to the magnificent kingdom of geeks (affectionately, geekdom).
It all started with people of my generation watching Iga no Kabamaru (“Ninja Boy”), Choujin Locke (“Locke the Superman”), Getter Robo, Candy and Uchyuu Kaizoku Harlock (“Space Pirate Captain Harlock”) on Greek television, as children. Then we forgot about it for about 10 years!
In the mid-90s, the slow advent of the internet over here progressively gave those of us with a penchant for nostalgia access to those peculiar animations of our youth – and many others besides. As connection speeds augmented and as some of us started traveling abroad with our families, mainly in France, Italy and Germany, we came in contact with the printed versions of those peculiar, eastern heroes, so different from the comic books of the West. As minorities – especially those centered on something as odd as Japanese popular culture – will do, we got together and we got organized, not just in Athens but all over Greece, in a multitude of forums. Manga and animation started to bloom; still, no J-rock, although we all became baptized in J-Pop through Megumi Hayashibara.
The first, slight change of the tide took place on the 30th of January, 2006, when the dynamic duo of Somnium in Tenebris and Mona Risa organized the first ever “Japan & Anime Party” in Salonika, at INSIDE Bar (3, Vironos st.). Still, for all its success and the enthusiasm with which it was received, it was still an isolated event and though repeated over the years (7 parties so far), for better or worse, the cart would not be tipped over unless something was done in Athens. Meanwhile, the first incarnation of the Greek JaME failing on the same year, seemed to stump the efforts for wider acknowledgement of the modern Japanese music scene.
The first turning point was the 30th of October of 2006, when Somnium arranged a live show for the Visual Kei band, BLOOD, at the original Athenian UNDERWORLD Club (Themistokleous & Gamvetta st.). The show was a success and for the first time ever, manga and anime fans came in contact with the music scene outside their particular interests, while people who were strangers to both J-Rock and the otaku world, found that this particular sound piqued their interest. Though it was all quiet again for a time, the Greek net-spaces buzzed with excitement, anticipation and planning. In 2007, six months after the closing down of JaME Greece, some of the former members created JMusic.gr. From that point on, suddenly everything was a succession of one cool thing after another.
On the 7th of November 2007, the Ordre de Ciel Collective made its DJing debut at Maria Karathanou’s exhibition opening (BooZECooperativa, 57, Kolokotroni st.) and soon after (December 23rd), they were given the chance to play J-Rock every Sunday at KABATZA Bar (Acharnon 164, on the pedestrian street). The team originally included [room302] and KrizD. Meanwhile, JMusic.gr organizes the first ever Greek Cosplay Party at BIOS Club (84, Pireos st.), on the 18th of November. This is where I humbly come in to put my little cornerstone in what is rapidly growing into a beautiful edifice: working as a freelance journalist and photographer, I covered the event and managed to publish it in a wide circulation Sunday magazine, under the section “New Trends”.
On December 14th, JMusic.gr managed to secure Gothika for a live gig, yet again in UNDERWORLD. Although the event did not have the anticipated attendance, it still added to the momentum of the movement. A week Later, Somnium and Mona organize their first Cosplay Party in Salonika, at CoFiX (11, Lori Margariti st.), just in time for Christmas – and the heat was on!
The second turning point was on the 27th of January, 2008, when the Ordre de Ciel Collective invited Somnium over to play at KABATZA. Although I had been acquainted with [room302] and KrizD at an earlier instance, it was only that night, when Somnium was on the decks, that I had the chance to sit down and have a talk with [room302]. Naturally, I loved what he was trying to do and felt a bit sad that so very few people were turning up, when everyone in contact with the scene kept complaining that events were so sparse. You see, [room302] had taken it upon himself that every Sunday would be around a different theme: Silent Hill, Gackt & Hyde, the then-upcoming GPKism and X-Japan Tributes and the list goes on forever. However, at the time, except blogging and ranting in forums about it, there was precious little I could do to help. I started attending regularly and though things improved, it was very unnerving to see so few people turned up for an X-Japan tribute, for instance! However, that night we had a lengthy talk and I told him that one way he could attract people, was to reel in the anime/manga crowd with, for example, a strictly anime-related party. It DID sound geeky to me but it was all I had to offer by way of ideas at the time. He looked at me ponderously and asked me if I would be willing to participate in such an effort. Promising him I would do everything I could to help, we left it at that.
In late February/early March, we have a holiday over here, called “Apokries,” somewhat similar to Halloween in that you wear costumes, although it has a different religious origin, more similar to Mardi Gras or Carnivale. OdC arranged to have a joint cosplay party with JMusic.gr on the 9th of March. The attendance was amazing, the cosplays far more advanced and meticulous than at the first cosplay at BIOS and the place was so packed that people also gathered outside, on the pedestrian street! I left with OdC and some mutual friends around 5:30 in the morning and we went to [room302] and Raven’s house to talk further. That was when the anime party issue came up again and that was when I knew I was getting myself into an incredibly fun mess.
Seeing as I would be in Japan, on the week from the 27th of March to the 3rd of April and then, I would be busy with the COMICDOM CON until the 6th, we figured the 20th of April was a good date, so that we would have 2 full weeks of planning. That was the third turning point… Meanwhile, by the end of February, a group of dedicated J-Rock aficionados managed to reestablish JaME Greece.
The OdC Anime Cosplay Party was very memorable for a number of reasons: on a personal level, after a series of botched communications, I ended up playing as a guest DJ for the event, putting on anime themes that went all the way back to the 70s. Any and every otaku and J-Rock fan not otherwise occupied showed up, raising the attendance to a little over 200, filling KABATZA and the street outside. Last, but certainly, under no circumstances least, [room302] managed to have over Sugizo with Juno Reactor—who were in Greece for a concert—along with his friends, Yoshi and Okuoku! The very act of drinking beers and exchanging small (and big) talk with these people, made the night surreal and perhaps the most memorable to date. From that day onwards, attendance never fell below 70 and gradually, the event was moved to every Friday, which made it easier for more people to come, seeing as they would only have to wake up to a leisurely Saturday, the day after. Since then, I have often offered my services as a guest anime DJ to the group.
By the 17th of May, the next Cosplay Party in cooperation with Somnium in Tenebris and Mona Risa, Odc officially included Raven and Larva as DJs. In a way, the group has personalized the sounds played by each member, though not to the point of exclusion. So [room302] is Visual Kei/Video Games, Raven is J-Goth, KrizD attends to the harsher, Metal and Industrial sounds (as well as the odd Japanese Trance), while Larva is their Anime man.
The rest of the season was a J-fan’s heaven, with cosplay nights being extra-special, as the cosplayers’ skill got ever better. Two other Ordre de Ciel landmarks include the presence of Unshin on the 4th of July event, as well as the Japanese Music and Cosplay Marathon on the 26th, which marked the end of the season. In addition to being a cosplay event, it started at 5 p.m. and ended at 5 a.m., with the French/Japanese group members of Lamia Cross, Lamia and Fab, as special guests – they even brought along two brand-new songs, recorded especially for the occasion.
Two popular OdC innovations include the Midnight Lottery and the Death Vote. For the first, everyone who enters the venue is given a lottery number and at midnight, random numbers are picked for manga and anime presents. The second, is the way by which cosplay winners are decided: everyone in attendance gets to vote for them in the OdC’s Death Note!
The future seems bright, as OdC were invited to play every Friday in a bigger, more central and popular venue, the new UNDERWORLD (56, Ippokratous st.) and so far, attendance is 150 and over, while the first Cosplay Party there is on the 10th of October. On another note, the Cosplay Parties are going monthly, the Audience Killer Loop Parties (request nights) also become a monthly staple and Let’s Get Visual nights are under way. That leaves just one Friday a month for general craziness and on top of that, OdC have been invited to DJ and organize a Cosplay Party at BIOS, as part of the 24 Hour Comics Day Hellas.
Meanwhile we expect Plastic Tree to play live at Second Skin Club (Konstantinoupoleos 78 & Iera Odos Ave.), on the 14th of October and Somnium in Tenebris and Mona Risa (now officially Sakura Syndrome) to get back in gear with their 3rd of October party already under their belt.
It’s really amazing how far the scene has come in two short years and even more bizarre how from complete nothingness we have gone to high-profile concerts and a team such as Ordre de Ciel, with a weekly, innovative event and a faithful, J-Fan following.
Written by Andreas M.