Live Review: Grouper – Parnassos Hall/ Plissken Festival, Athens 20.04.22

Grouper: Live at Parnassos Hall / Pic: Manos Kalafatelis
Grouper – Live at Parnassos Hall ( Athens)- Pic by Manos Kalafateslis

There are really only two ways to enjoy electronic music : dancing in the comfort of your own home, or at a festival. So when Backseat Mafia made its way to the first Athens review to watch American -Ambient artist Grouper, courtesy of Plissken Festival, I arrived at the majestic venue of Parnassos Hall, a venue known mostly for jazz, classical and world music events . My curiosity turned quickly into eager anticipation. A seated audience, an ambient stage with just the right amount of backlight against a theatrical red backdrop was enough to draw me in, as it was clear the audience were loyal fans of both the headline artist, Grouper ( Liz Harris ), and an extremely talented Greek support act , Panos Alexiadis. The audience sat in eager anticipation and one could immediately tell they were there to fully support the artists, listening out for every turn, every sonic boom, every phonic mastery they could soak in . In short, the evening started and ended in a bath of ambient angst, yet somehow , still soothing, in a way that music is only capable of doing.

Panos Alexiades – Live at Parnassos Hall – Photo by Manos Kalafatelis

Alexiadis began his set with assured confidence, blissfully ignoring the audience and focusing on the task at hand : developing a soundtrack of his own accord. The fact that he was performing in an environment not usually prone to electronic music didn’t phase him out in the least ;frankly he relished in it, journeying back and forth between the frenzied harmonic layers to brooding, electrifying basslines as if he were strolling in his local park. Based in Athens, Greece Alexiadis is clearly a young talent who thrives in sound art. Mainly working with electronics and magnetic tape, his approach to sound lies between composition and improvisation, all merged in long form built structures of synthetic and acoustic textures, evolving a sense of wandering in an introverted semi – abstract sound environment. I found myself entranced by his focus and concentration, and when the set ended, he graciously acknowledged his audience and made the way for the headline act, Grouper.

Ambient, reverb-heavy dream-pop Grouper, aka Liz Harris was transportive to say the least. Now ere was an artist who owns up to her reputation as a unique and mysterious sound artist, almost haunting like a half- remembered dream. As soon as she picked up her electric guitar, amongst her other sound instruments her voice was so low I thought for a second there was an issue with the sound. As the set progressed and she built upon one vocal layer after another , the music at the forefront, it became clear that this was her intention. Barely audible, which seemed to draw the audience in to her person as well as the other protagonist on stage : a rather sublime visual art video backdrop. Throughout the set , my attention kept shifting back to the visuals, watching as each scene, a hearkening to the four elements of nature echoed Harri’s own yearning for a reconnection . Filled with hazy overdub and reverb, yet sparse and intimately revelatory, the songs tantalised and taunted the audience like water trying to break the perfect wave on a shoreline. Her set seemed to converse with the visuals, weaving a sonic and visual tapestry of her own radiant language of voice, disquiet, and guitar, framed by open space and the sense of being far away. Admittedly, I was taken aback by how quickly she left the stage when closing her set which built majestically to an overpowering beautiful phonic chaos. I later discovered that this again, is just how she does things. It made me admire her even more. And why not? Sometimes, engaging with an audience isn’t always done in the most obvious of ways.

A fantastic evening altogether , with wonderful hosts .

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