Thuistezien 286 — 04.06.2021

Onze Ambassade Festival

Tzitzifriki[a] have a way of catching you by surprise. You don’t know quite what to expect, of which medium they will be communicating through to you when they perform. The ever-morphing Athens-based duo manages to draw together music and video art which forms the project’s core, but also extend it out into performance projects that at times include electronic audio layers and music making machines, and which have also involved collaborations with dancers, other visual artists and even a collaboration with circus performers. With a strong D.I.Y. aesthetic at their core which forms an integral part of their sonic and visual aesthetic, it also allows them to create complex performances on a limited budget, and to transport these setups to performance spaces and across several cities and countries. And although their natural habit has often been D.I.Y. underground music venues, they are also seen performing in concert halls, theatres and galleries. For their performance at West, the duo put together a set that combined newer works with several of their older video and music works, and tie them into a cohesive whole where each piece blends over into the next.

To better contextualise the duo it is worth mentioning that the project is inextricably connected with the one-person-band of Sotiris Ziliaskopoulos called ‘Tzitzifriki’. In the past, Sotiris had performed in several Athens and Thessaloniki based bands in various musical styles, and also performed as a busker for an extensive period of time. These varied musical experiences coalesced in 2018’s Sun Sneeze, the debut solo album under the name ‘Tzitzifriki’. As songwriter, guitarist, singer, saxophonist, electronic sound artist and producer for the project he creates a sound which is intense, punky, trashy, catchy and striking. As such the music blog Turn Up The Volume! wrote a similarly striking review for the album: ‘I’m quite sure this far-out musician is the sonic reincarnation of Captain Beefheart the legendary, experimental blues rocker with his hellish vox. If you sound that freakish, that paranoid, and that kooky while trashing your creepy out of tune guitar like a madman on a maniacal mission and when you add a satanic sax to make sure that people will get scared when listening to you, than you’re definitely a spiritual descendant of The Captain. Have yourself a nervous breakdown right here…’. Yet there is a fragile sensitivity to Tzitzifriki which the review neglects to mention. This delicate side of the music is felt in the complex and alluring chord progressions and in heart-felt lyrics. Although often abstract, the lyrics feel deeply poignant, as is evidenced in the Stablity, the first song Sotiris performs as part of the set at West:

Stability hides the wrongs that didn’t wake me
Grab the world and shake it all right through me
Don't leave them on the edge
Hug them and eat their worries

But I can see all of you that spit me on the other side of trust
But I can see all of you that spin me on the other side of doubt

But of course, this isn’t a solo performance we see at West: If you speak Greek, you would know that adding an ‘a’ at the end of the word can make it plural. As such, when video artist and drummer Marina Fragkioudaki begins collaborating with Ziliaskopoulos we get ‘Tzitzifriki[a].’ Having worked in the past under the moniker Marina Limani she is credited with making video clips for songs from ‘Tzitzifriki’s’ debut album, but soon her video work and idiosyncratic drumming style become more and more integrated into many of Sotiris’s works. The project now balances between the contributions of the two, each bringing their voices and creations to the table and then together bringing them into their fully fleshed form.

Fragkioudaki’s language as a video artist shows a similar rough D.I.Y. aesthetic, often created through juxtapositions of old video footage. Much of the video material is archival, consisting of many of her parent’s home videos from when she was young, but also material she herself has collected over the years. The cameras that filmed this material seem dated, or at least of slightly poor quality, but that only adds to the charm and intimacy of what we see. Yet again, behind the rough exterior there can be found an intense fragility in her work. Often we get a feeling of an indescribable nostalgia as we witness the mix of banal, funny, strange and other times quite moving moments from Fragkioudaki’s life which she shares with the audience. We don’t quite know the context and the details of what we are seeing, yet the work is charged with an ungraspable emotion. The opening video work of the performance at West feels particularly touching. Titled ‘Fresh Cement’ it also features Fragkioudaki herself narrating the following:

Fresh cement on my grandmothers grave
in between something internal
inside the back
fell asleep while moving
your head on my chest
my arms supporting my arms

this sound so loud
i followed immediately

Some of these lines crop up again in the lyrics of the final song of the set titled ‘New Piece’, as sung by Ziliaskopoulos:

Calm, looking for wind
The one two
She could see

A bus in the back
Your head in my hand
Arms in my arms
Head on the ground

Like much of Tzitzifriki[a]’s work there is something poetic about their words, sounds and images. The duo seems to share with us moments and thoughts from their lives in what seems like a very neutral matter-of-fact way. But they only share traces of these moments, making these stories and accounts all the more mysterious and fascinating, yet strangely moving. Their work is always elusive, yet always captivating.

‘New piece’ also brings in two more elements to the project. We witness Fragkioudaki’s stripped down drumming style, which opens up colours that many more traditional drummers would neglect exploring. By removing the kick drum and substituting it instead with a floor tom which she hits with a drum stick she performs in a manner similar to Moe Tucker, the legendary drummer of The Velvet Underground.
This piece also features the addition of some of Ziliaskopoulos’ ‘Electromechanical Sound Machines’. These are some of the music making machines that he has been designing and building himself. Till this point in the performance the sound machines have been sitting idle on stage, yet prove visually impactful. In New Piece we hear them come to life as they hit pots and a kick drum in rhythm with Fragkioudaki’s drums. Once again there is something very matter-of-fact yet fascinating about these devices. And it seems that ultimately the spirit of Tzitzifriki[a]’s performance at West can be summarized by the short description that they had put online to advertise the event:

‘Man and machine make sound
Woman and machine make image
All telling chaotic and compelling stories as one.’

Text: James Alexandropoulos – McEwan