THINGS LEARNED AT: Plisskën Festival

The winter edition of Athens' winter edition of Plisskën Festival proves a hidden gem, with the likes of Mulatu Astatke, Jessy Lanza, Liars and Lady Leshurr in tow

Photo by Pinelopi Gerasumou

Plisskën Festival makes use of one of Europe’s hidden gems of a venue…

Plisskën Festival takes place across three venues lain side by side on Pireos Street, at the heart of Athens’ former-industrial district. With around 5,000 in attendance it feels something of a low-key affair, but with a varied lineup and a crowd that collectively injects the weekend with all the frantic vibrancy of the sprawling city, it’s no less exciting to be a part of.

The centrepiece of the three venues is the 117 Piraeus Academy, a room which one only has to experience to be baffled as to its absence in discussions of Europe’s finest rooms. With its floors slanted at all angles to bear down on the stage, colossal scope for visuals and a staggering soundsystem, it has that intnagible air of an unstoppably good time.

… of which Jessy Lanza makes perfect use

The 117 Academy has the power to make an average band excellent. Take Holy Fuck for example whose show transcends the enjoyable, if one-dimensional pump of live electronica they usually provide and becomes a bone-shaking powerhouse. Give the floor to an artist as consistently excellent as Jessy Lanza, however, and you’re in for something mighty indeed.

Photo by Babis Giannikakis

After a triumphant 2016 with her acclaimed second LP Oh No, this year has seen Lanza cement her live set with near-constant international touring. Plisskën is her penultimate show of the year and surely one of her finest; backed by huge, hypnotic visuals, her set is at once anchored and assured by her sparse instrumentals, but imbued with a frantic, eager energy that’s not been blunted by a year’s worth of constant gigging. She’s promised new material in 2018, which on this form should be something to behold.

As far as live sets go, 2017 belongs to Liars

Liars’ latest album TFCF, the first with a core lineup of only Angus Andrew, has rightly placed high on tQ’s Albums of 2017. That it’s so brilliant, yet not even the best Liars album says much abut their quality in the studio, however when it comes to a live set Andrew is in the form of his life.

Photo by Diana Kalimeri

Rushing on stage, half striding, half stumbling, wild-eyed and paunchy in his wedding dress, the Liars show of 2017 is rabid and unhinged, slightly frightening and more than a little hilarious. The outstanding Plisskën crowd respond in turn; in short, it’s fucking brillant on every level.

When he hits his groove, Mulatu Astatke is truly extraordinary

It’s a varied bill at Plisskën, encompassing grime, electronica, rock, pop and the obscure within two days’ slim, yet well refined programming. Its a diversity represented in the tastes of its crowd, but from all these myriad sectors there’s an immense sense of universal reference for the titan of Ethio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke.

Photo by Pinelopi Gerasumou

He remains offstage for the first five minutes, his vibraphone left like an untouched monolith at centre stage. His six-piece band cast a sweeping, mystic shadow over the room as they build to his arrival wth an ornate, elegantly unsettling instrumental. when Astatke arrives his very presence intensifies the power as he leads a precise weave of perfect melody it’s entrancing, but there’s layers and layers stll to build. When Astatke and his band ramp up the tempo to a torrential groove they feel utterly unstoppable, his soloists on trumpet, saxophone and conga drums are otherworldly in their brilliance, and with a master like Mulatu at their helm make for something unforgettable.

As showmanship goes, Lady Leshurr is unbeatable

As a last night headliner goes, Mac Demarco is a disppointent, with even the aforementioned qualities of the Academy unable to lift his langorous MOR rock beyond the unremarkable. Fortunately, around the corner in the tight, smokey confines of the Tunnel stage, Lady Leshurr is about to take us late into the early hours of the morning.

Photo by Pinelopi Gerasumou

A somewhat opinion-splitting DJ set of mainstream hip hop party tunes takes up the first half hour with the MC nowhere to be seen, and there’s an od atmosphere in the room undercut with more than a hint of expectation. Lady Leshurr, forunately enough, has every inch of the room under control within moments. For all the swagger and bravado of her bars, she’s deeply and genuinely humble, intent to spread nothing but relentless, uninhibited joy. She’s hilarious too, her Brummy staccato flow laced with a barbed wit. There can be no better way to round off an immensely enjoyable weekend.

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