“Ah, the old airport,” the taxi driver muses nostalgically. As we enter the grounds of the former Ellinikon International, we slow down to a careful roll and the cab teeters from side to side over the potholes. Signs of the buildings’ past heartbeat waft in the warm spring air. Old, torn flags wave apathetically in the wind. The tang on the breeze informs us that the sea is just a few hundred metres away.
Until March 2001, Ellinikon Airport was Greece’s largest and most important landing strip, serving over 11 million people per year. But the 2004 Athens Olympics brought with it a new airport – and billions of dollars of debt.
The signs of that abandonment extend beyond Ellinikon’s terminals and across the vast expanse of land that’s part of the 2004 Olympic sporting complex. It sits dormant and decaying at the foot of the mountains beside the sea, south of the city’s core.
Amid the empty baseball diamond, kayaking centre and basketball arena lies the Olympic Fencing Centre. And this weekend, that’s where team members from Athens’ six d.o.g.s club and the Onassis Stegi are hosting ADD Festival, a rave for 8,000 people spanning four stages and 17 hours.
“You have to be a bit out of your mind to start something like this in Greece,” Panagiotis Pilafas tells us. He’s the artistic director of ADD and a co-owner of six d.o.g.s, Athens’ most popular venue for electronic dance music. “Setting up a festival is extremely risky and fairly expensive,” he continues. “The buying ability of Greek people is very limited because of the [financial] crisis so it’s really hard to make it even break even because the tickets have to be really inexpensive.”
But it’s not just the ticket prices that created obstacles. Greek bureaucracy didn’t make the process of securing the historic site any easier for six d.o.g.s. and Onassis STEGI, one of the country’s largest cultural foundations. After the site’s 1930s-built military hangars were found to be unavailable, the crew settled on the massive fencing pavilion instead. But regardless of which buildings were used, the mandate remained the same: reinvigorating a part of Athens’ cultural heritage through dance music. ADD also meant doing the same through architecture, in turn highlighting a foundational aspect of the Greek capital’s identity.
“We are very ‘Athens-centric’,” says a spokesperson for Onassis STEGI, “and we want to serve as ambassadors for our city.” ADD took the opportunity to reactivate an important cultural landmark, say Onassis STEGI. In the process, it created “an urban music environment that navigates us from the past to the present and the future of dance music.”
Casting aside the financially austere circumstances and the municipal hurdles, the 2019 edition of ADD – its second ever – is a success, whether it’s due to punters’ reactions to the line-up, the choice of site, or simply because it was the first time an event like this had taken place in the city. “It’s funny and weird at the same time because I think Athens is the only European capital that didn’t actually have an electronic music festival,” says Pilafas. “Other cities have at least one, so we were a bit left behind.”
But to actually fill the void means relying – at least in part – on the attraction of notable DJs. And although artists like Ben Klock, Kittin (fka Miss Kittin) and Nastia headline the festival’s various stages, ADD also provide ample opportunity for guests to familiarise themselves with a list of Greek artists. Performers like Anatolian Weapons and Venus Volcanism are among the local artists whose sets prove there is more to Athens than big-room techno. “I think the Athens crowd is open-minded enough to accept most kinds of good music,” says Baltas. “Whether it’s techno, house or EBM, there is a time and place for everything here.”
At ADD, it’s the team from six d.o.g.s that guides the musical philosophy. Although the club is the obvious choice for techno in Athens, it’s also a venue for some of Greece’s darker, more experimental soundscapes, like tonight’s collaboration between Athens-based Rena Rasouli, aka Venus Volcanism, and Copenhagen’s Stine Hansen, aka In Atlas. According to Rasouli and Hansen, the city has a unique sound. “In Athens you can hear a lot of industrial, distorted and punk kind of techno,” say the duo. “This kind of big event helps get this style more attention, as some of the people attending the event might realise how many great local artists Athens has.”
Among the synth-tinged performers of the Void-outfitted side stage, Venus Volcanism and In Atlas’s noteworthy performance and Theremin exploits highlight the two women’s charisma and cold, dark, new-wave-leaning sound.
Regardless of the quality, experience and poise of the local experimental acts, it’s obvious that the Athenians have turned out in numbers to dance to Deep Dish’s sunrise set and the techno onslaught of Kittin’s warehouse performance. And although the stages are close enough to walk between in minutes, the layout still allows the festival atmosphere to flourish.
“When we started six d.o.g.s 10 years ago, this scene was dying,” says Pilafas. “We’re not the only ones, but we were the only ones who did it in a very constant, devoted way, so I think that we helped create this momentum.”
Leaving the site, some time past 8am, we look out at the red cups scattered across the area where Deep Dish has just concluded a stripped down set of epic – and at times a little nostalgic – proportions. The mountains behind us are lit by the morning sun and the relentless, 135BPM throb of Ben Klock’s techno slowly fades away.
We think back to a conversation earlier in the night with a local named Nikoleta. It was the first time she had had the chance to attend an event of this scale, in Athens. “It’s perfect,” she told us. “They must do this again, every year.”
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