Implied Powers in the Greek Ambient Scene – Submersion Records.

A trip to the Balkans through the nonprofit Stone & Compass was sold to me as a travel writing exercise by a college professor.

The duo that first put Submersion Records on our radar.

Of the six students who attended, all were literary or creative writing majors, seeking experience and inspiration - I can only speak for myself when I say I found Bulgaria the landscape wilderness much more inspiring than Bulgaria the nation. The rotten effect of fascism wearing communism like a skin suit and running the country for the better half of a decade shifted my thoughts away from the artistic, towards the political.

shape of the lotus twin (or) the shepherd’s surrender.

Two out of the ten days we spent in Europe were in Thessaloniki, Greece - just south of the Bulgarian border, a convienent night and day example of how Western culture can weigh influence on a country. Not to say I didn’t enjoy Bulgaria, I had some of the best food and tea I've ever had in my life, as well as finding the history and landscapes amazingly intriguing. Despite this, the conception of everything being 'a little sad always' in Eastern Europe did ring true when faced with the realities of day to day life for most citizens. Greece, on the other hand, felt like Los Angeles. A smaller, cleaner, less congested Los Angeles, but still familiar in a comforting and off putting way. Here is where my main traveling companion Hector, who also happens to be the madman running this magazine for all of you, took a massive amount of initiative to explore the city's raves, jam with strangers, and experience the culture of Thessaloniki in a very immediate way. In contrast, I took evening walks, went to nice dinners, and stayed inside my hotel room avoiding how weirdly humid it got around midnight.

While sitting alone in the hotel, I listened to a sampler playlist of bands from to Greece spurred on by Hector finding and connecting us with the owner of a record label in Thessaloniki called Submersion Records, Vasilis Gkogkidis. We were planning an chat with Vasilis on our second day in Greece as a way to get more information on the growing ambient and post-rock music scene that had been developing over the past few years, and in my nervous excitement I went throught the discography of what I think was most of the label’s artists. This was the fulcrum point where I found this trip to be an artistically inspiring adventure. Taking the landscape and melancholy quiet of Bulgaria and the direct, hyper political art found in Thessaloniki to make… something. As of writing, I'm still working on what it is, but I got some ideas involving charcoal infused toothpaste and pea soup, and it's gonna be fucking revolutionary mark my words.

Collage art by Vasilis. @decompression_graphics

The excitement and arguable hyperfixation for this meeting was derived from what felt like an encouragement of political and artistic conversations mixing with one another within this city, supercharged by the fact that the day of our meeting with Vasilis was roughly 10 hours away from Greece's prime minister election day. This permeated the city day and night: a political rally for a “guy like Bernie” progressive candidate, a pride parade/concert, and a protest group of naked body-painted bicyclists were all things I witnessed or attended in just the first evening we were in Thessaloniki along with street art and underground concerts and the aforementioned raves.

After all that, Hector and I are at “To Pikap,” an amazing little bar and record store only a few blocks from our hotel to meet Vasilis and ask about Submersion Records as an independent music label.

Vasilis was a delight. He greeted us with excitement, bought us drinks (I had a pleasantly light grapefruit soda), and had the patience of a saint with the two foreigners jetlagging through the questions they prepared for the meeting. Once we got the conversation off the ground with the classic “Tell us about the record label,” Vasilis told us about his history with highschool metal bands, ending with an idea held for two years about a community project of the many post-rock/ambient musicians he knew in his home country.

This became Submersion Records.

After a half hour of goofing and exchange on how we came into music and art, I brought up the progressive candidate that held the rally I had seen the night before. This question about the candidate prompted a longer discussion with Vasilis I had regarding the ways politics influenced the lives of artists on the label. He summed it up with (The art is politically influenced) ”...even though the material that you produce is not explicitly political. For example, we don't publish political music in terms of the lyrics or in terms of the covers or in terms of the title. So in terms of the explanation we give for the album, it's not explicitly political, but the people that work with us? I would be surprised if any of them vote for the right wing.”

The main point Vasilis and I agreed on was the effect that creativity has on people's ability to self-reflect, as well as pointing that analysis outwards in order to describe how you feel about the world. The surroundings you find yourself in throughout life lead to 'A lot of self-reflecting and shit like that' as I so eloquently put it. Vasilis veered away further from politics in relation to art as he began to speak on just the general experience of seeing the political machine within Greece affect the people within the country.

“We have a right-wing government… Most people here hate our right-wing government.” He spoke in an incredibly familiar way to how I see people speaking about it in America, that tired, frustrated, yet hopeful tone. Being slightly more hopeful because their country isn’t completely stuck with a political duopoly, he explained the much wider range of political presence and power within Greece: conservatives, progressives, liberals, libertarians, communists... Along with subsections between even those categories with differing priorities. He said that it has led to him being baffled by the way people vote sometimes. “I've talked to people, and they say they're pro workers rights and gay rights. Then they tell me they vote conservative and I'm like, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s crazy, man.”

Ultimately this conversation didn’t provide me with any new insight on politics or change how I see the world - nothing grandiose like that, but it did represent how the political system in the states has affected my ideas on politics. Feelings of something being wrong, of the system not working how we were told it would are universal. Bringing that back to why I was there, to learn or be inspired for writing, I ended up finding both of those in this conversation. A pretty spontaneous and meandering history on local music and national politics which reaffirmed that all nations have struggles, and there will always be people creating in the name of what is right, quietly or frank. So this is it, the product of that inspiration, which, just like the conversation, was originally going to be about the music of Thessaloniki while studying abroad. In a way this does kind of show what I love about traveling; the spontaneous and unexpected experience that you find there on your own.

-James Hull.

Featured in our August Issue. Want us to keep writing & showcasing? Get a copy here!


By Hector Zaldivar

Professional magician. @hexzald