Lena Platonos: “I listen to music 24 hours a day.”
DICE Conference + Festival takes place in Berlin, from 1-3rd November. DICE’s ambition is to put female, trans and non-binary musical artists in the spotlight. They want to “showcase interdisciplinary artists who expand the boundaries of artistic practice and stimulate critical dialogue in the broader community.”
One of the highlights of the programming is the performance of Greek electronic pioneer Lena Platonos (her very first one in Berlin ever; on the festival Friday alongside Kim Ki O, Surma, Suutoo and others) who was kind enough to answer some questions from Kaput.
Why did you choose music as your art form in the first place?
I didn’t choose music… Music has chosen me since I was two years old.
What happened when you were two?
It was Christmas Eve. My father was accompanying the children’s choir on the piano at our house. I was sick with fever, lying in bed in the living room. My mother was in the kitchen chatting to a friend. As soon as the carols were over, my father left home with the children in the choir. I felt lonely. I got up, went to the piano and played with both hands the Christmas Carols I had heard. My mother and her friend rushed in. My mother’s friend fainted from the shock. This incident became known to reporters who came to our house to see me in person. From then on I have playing the piano and composing.
How did the relationship between you and your music change since then?
The relationship between me and my music has never changed. It is profound and colours every aspect of my life.
This is beautiful to hear. How is your everyday life with music? Do you have rituals? Do you start the day with music? Are you listening a lot to music every day?
I listen to music 24 hours a day. The radio is on even when I am sleeping. It is an integral part of my life.
What does it mean for you that a new generation is suddenly so interested in your music?
Somehow, the new generation’s intense interest is something I knew would happen.But I didn’t expect such a big success, especially from abroad.
What made you so sure of it?
I visualised the future and composed my music and lyrics based on what I envisioned.
Your own take on electronic music is often labeled, people referring to the fact that a) you’re a female musician and b) from Greece. How do you feel about this? Do you think that gender and nationality should be connected with your artistic existence?
It is beyond my mentality that gender or nationality are connected with my artistic existence.
You will perform soon in Berlin for the first time ever on 1st of November as part of the DICE conference and festival, the town you used to live in the sixties and the place that first opened your musical horizons. How do you remember those years?
And what should we expect about the show?
I listened to lots of music during the period I lived in Berlin. I was also inspired by my lonely strolls through the Berlin parks.
What I desire is strong connection between me and the audience, through my electronic songs.
Looking back on this important era of not only your artistic life but also youth culture in general, what made you overthrow your classical training and instead follow a new music path?
The hippie way of life made me overthrow my classical sound and a career as a classical trained piano player.
Interesting. So it was less a question of music and more a question of the social context? In the sense that the counter-cultural, bohemian community was more attractive than the classical academic one?
Of course. The freedom and love expressed by the bohemian culture was something that attracted me and which I found exciting. It broke the rules of conservatism and opened up an alternative way of life which was much more appealing. You know, “Make love not war!”
A huge factor for the new interest in your music were the rereleases on of „Gallop“, „Sun Masks“ and „Lepidoptera“ Dark Entries Records . Do you remember when and how label owner Josh Cheon approached you and what your initial thoughts were?
I remember Josh Cheon approaching me through Facebook, in 2013, and I figured out: “WOW! I am going to U.S.A!” – I meant my songs were going to U.S.A.This approach was amazing!
You mentioned the big success abroad earlier. Why are the USA of such a special importance for you? Did you go to the USA yourself since then? How was that experience?
The USA was utmost importance for me even as a child.I was in love with Elvis Presley. I have never been to the US but there is still time.
Word is that working on music was for you always a very challenging personal process. Weeks and months of withdrawal and concentration. How do you remember the recording process of those albums?
Periods of retreat and concentration are very important. Recording processes give me lots of pleasure and the way I feel for all my albums when they were recorded is the same.
Again, a beautiful answer. So for you, all the albums come from a similar place?
The process of creating an album has always been the same; based on reflection. The reflections are influenced by different situations I am experiencing each time.
Like many others at that time you were fascinated by the potential of analogue synthesizers. How do you remember your first encounters with them? And how did your relationship with those instruments change over the time?
You’ve seem as interested in the lyrics as in the music, unlike some electronic composers. Are you able to explain why that is?
I was very happy with my magical synthesizers. There was a time that I was absent from the musical scene but when I came back I found many things changed. Digital sound had won so I composed using it as a tool.
As far as lyrics are concerned, I believe in the power of the words, however, now I am ready to compose dancing music with lyrics like hai-ku.
Your lyrics were both very personal (relationships, longings…) and political (you were critical reflecting the influence of modern technology on our societies) – I wondered how naturally it felt to you to combine music and lyrics?
The most important is that when I see lyrics I hear sounds. But when I hear sounds I don’t always see lyrics.
That means you write first the lyrics and the music always comes from them?
Generally so but not always. There have been times when it was the other way round.
There have also been remixes of your songs by Red Axes, Kim Ann Foxman, Borusiade, Avalon Emerson and Lena Willikens. Did you understand why those musicians chose these particular songs and the way they worked with them?
I follow contemporary electronic music. Indeed, some musicians have worked with particular songs of mine. Maybe they liked them a lot. I liked the way they treated my songs.
Would you be interested in doing the same with songs of them?
Yes, I would and this has already happened with Detobeat’s “Dream Stream”.
I remember seeing a post of Josh Cheon featuring a video sequence in which your song „Witches“ is used as the soundtrack for a Chanel fashion show in 2017, staged in what should look like traditional Greek setting. I am sure you know this video? What did you make of it?
The presentation of my music on that fashion show is something that I liked a lot.
What exactly do you find so great about this?
The fact that some famous fashion designers make beautiful creations, works of art actually.
Greece was hit hard by the economic crisis – how did you experience recent times in your home country and how has this period effected the arts?
Art has never stopped in my home country. Artists still work hard, even without money.
Would you say it was / is harder than for example during the 70s and 80s in Greece to work as an artist?
Of course it is much harder. Many of the big recording companies have closed because of the crisis in Greece and that has impacted us adversely.
Kaput is very much interested in the economic circumstances of artistic existence. Our subtitle is „Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop“, which means „Magazine for Insolvency and Pop“. We discuss with artists if and how they are able to live from their arts. That said: have there been times when you struggled with your artistic life and wished for (or explored) alternative forms of work?
Personally I lived through my art till 2008-2010. Since 2010 things went very hard and still are of course. Recording companies stopped producing new stuff and we, artists, are obliged to make gigs to earn the living and we have no time to create.
What would you tell young artists asking you for advice for their career? Which three advice would you give them?
I advise them to fight for their rights and hope for a more optimistic future. Just that.
Thanks so much for your time here. Me looking forward to the show in Berlin.
Greek electronic pioneer Lena Platonos is going to perform at DICE conference + Festival Berlin on the 2nd of November alongside Kim Ki O, Surma, Suutoo and others.