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Thanasis Zlatanos
A Retrospective Hannah Pezzack , April 7th, 2020 08:18

Osare! Editions’ latest release is a haunting tribute to the unknown talent of the Greek musician Thanasis Zlatanos

In her book Vibrant Matter, political theorist Jane Bennett moves away from the realm of human agency and towards the power of things. Our lives and decisions become less our own, and more part of a complex, inwoven landscape of ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ objects: the corpses of animals, flower pollen and plastic bottle tops. According to Bennett, interactions with such items are just as important as flesh-and-blood encounters. A Retrospective emerges from this supernatural, material world. Instead of an abstracted emotional experience, Thanasis conveys the weightiness of music. Synth chords stoically fall like boot-steps; double-tracked voices shatter into glacier fragments and drums manifest as dark storm-clouds.

An unheard-of and ageing Greek musician initially appears as an odd pairing with Osare! Editions. The record label was established last year by DJ Elena Colombi who is a household name in many of Europe’s most reputable techno-facing venues. Yet, particularly during her NTS residency slot, Colombi has shown incredible aptitude at breathing new life into raw, experimental tracks from the depths of obscurity. This is precisely what she has achieved through A Retrospective.

There is little biographical information to be found about Zlatanos himself. A google search of his former 1980’s band Nekropolis reveals a short Wikipedia entry detailing their postmodern and political approach to electronica. Allegedly making their debut at the Statens Kunstakademi (National Academy for the Fine Arts) in Oslo, performances were characterised by multi-media visuals and provocative commentary on Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus.

The spirit of the aptly named group is carried forward in Zlatanos’ solo productions that hum with a ghostly lifeforce. Colombi has said that many of the tapes used on the album were unearthed – untouched since their original recording forty years ago – hidden in an attic.

Coated in a heavy layer of dusty reverb, the nine minutes of ‘The Crystal Sight (Excerpt II)’ crackles with ambience. The track is two lungs breathing laboriously, overlaid with a folk-inspired guitar riff. Although broadly characterised as post-punk, the bleakness and gloom usually associated with the genre is evaded. ‘Deformed’ carries the clashing, dystopian noise that emanated from the pioneers of industrial avant-garde such as Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire. But rather than be given over entirely to mechanisation, the lo-fi drum-beat is partnered with an organic, reeling melody. ‘Living in Different Skins’ is a medieval, lute-like production as if ‘Greensleeves’ had been reworked for the synthesiser.

A poppy flirtation with nihilism, ‘No Expectation’ channels something of an apocalyptic Bowie. Oftentimes the theatricality of opera is utilised, as in ‘The Dead Don’t Remember’ which is a choral, biblical lament on the finitude of life. Or the uncredited vocalist in ‘New Barbicans’ who projects wordless, soul-stirring notes fused with an indiscernible, multi-tracked robot voice. This spirals into the Balkanise folk song ‘Macedonian’, spotlighted by a beseeching saxophone solo.

Despite extensive re-mastering, the tracks retain a fuzzy, half-crumbled quality. However, this rawness does not detract from the richness and magnetic depth. Remarking on the enthralling nature of ancient, disintegrating buildings, Georg Simmel said that ruins “create the present form of a past life”, becoming the physical embodiment of the intangible passage of history. Whilst it is tempting to dogmatically approach sound in relation to the invisible forces of feeling it evokes, the only way to examine Zlatanos’ songs is as artefacts onto themselves. Things that, like decaying architecture or cobwebbed family heirlooms, have surfaced from another, alternate era. This response is further facilitated by the LP’s sleeve that features hand-painted, psychedelic mountains and a beat poet-esque, black and white shot of Zlatanos, sat on a cobbled street with a keyboard at his side.

Writing on the philosophy of shipwrecks, Thomas Pfau considers how the sunken vessels disrupt the otherwise orderly progression of time. Like the sea, the past is an amorphous mass that engulfs and submerges human activity. Dredged from the ocean floor, A Retrospective offers a periscope view on an especially fertile moment in Greek music, showcasing the oeuvre a young, DIY electronic producer who drew on a daunting breadth of influences.

The record reveals two talents: both Zlatanos’ knack for experimentation and Colombi’s prowess as a musical excavator. Whatever she digs up next promises to intrigue.