My firsthand experience of the recent riots in Athens Greece
Athens (Click to enlarge panoramic pic)
I wanted to share this experience with you all. It’s taken me a moment to post this because I’ve just moved to Los Angeles after living in San Francisco for 5 years. So far its been amazing, just taken some time to settle in.
After doing some shows with my friend Amon Tobin and his traveling hyperdimensional cube-a-tron in October, I embarked on my 3rd European tour this year. During the first few days, I experienced the largest protests in decades in Athens Greece. (At the time I visited. I hear they have now, in December, gotten larger). The first day of protesting was roughly 300,000 people and the 2nd seemed about 450,000.
I stayed in Athens longer than planned. The gig was canceled along with the other I was supposed to play in Thessaloniki because of rioting and the strikes. Many of the roads out of Athens were blocked. The following happened over those couple days.
I landed in Athens on the night of Oct 18th. Exhausted I just went to bed to get some rest for the 2 shows I had in Greece back to back. The next morning I rose and ran out into the streets to do the tourist thing. I’ve never been to Athens before so I trekked out on a solo mission to visit the surrounding neighborhoods.
Here is the first day:
day1: I climbed up to the Acropolis but once I got to the top I realized it was closed because of the strike. These are some stone steps just outside.
day1: On my way back down I ran into some beautiful wall art
Layers of history
day1: I then stopped into a small church. I was happy to see the flower of life etched in the wall much like the flower I saw in the back room at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland 5 years ago. It felt like a nice little reminder.
day1: I made my way back down to the city center. Throughout the whole walk I kept seeing large piles of garbage everywhere.
day1: As I approached my hotel, I started to see lots of people walking in the same direction. Before I hopped in line, I saw this on the side of a building - Here's some advice, Stay alive.
day1: Riot cops waiting near the shopping areas of Athens. One saw me and told me to stop taking photos.
day1: Walking out into the protests. Families of all ages, food vendors, music, slogans being blared across speakers in every square. I lost count at the number of intersections filled with people. I walked with the crowd and stepped into a huge open area in front of the Parliament building. There were roughly 300,000 people combined throughout the area peacefully protesting. I couldn't understand anything that was being chanted or shouted through loudspeakers but luckily many locals could speak English and filled me in. Apparently people were on strike all over the country due to economic woes. The govt has been bailing out the banks, wages are being lowered and taxes are rising. People are not happy.
day1: People of all ages were at the protests. Many of them wearing masks. Some had simple doctors masks while others had full-on gas masks. This was a little kid with his parents.
day1: Guys standing arm in arm protecting the protests w pieces of wood. They were all around the area. Many of them were also carrying motorcycle helmets.
day1: I climbed a small tree and tried to see what was happening off to the side of the Parliament. People began shouting at cops in riot gear who had made a blockade the the previous night. This is where I really started to feel the emotions of the people. It felt like so much was brewing. This pic shows a man kicking a flare back to the cops that threw it over the blockade. In this tree is also where I smelled tear gas for my first time. Not pleasant.
day1: People started to pour around to the front of the Parliament. It seemed like a nervous slow rush of at least a thousand people.
day1: As the numbers of shouting groups started to grow at the steps of the Parliament, riot cops started lining up to guard the steps
day1: Wider shot in front of the Parliament after more people poured in.
day1: Then people started to light pipe bombs and smoke grenades at the Parliament building. The chanting was at a fervor at this point. I was also told by at least 3 people that some people dressed as Anarchists are actually Agent Provocateurs. Their role, I was told, was to mix among the people and create rioting as to break up the protest and cause unfocused chaos instead of focused change. As this happens, then real pissed off youth come into the mix and start burning as well, all the while thinking they are fighting the man. I wasn't sure what to think of that, but I had to leave to meet up with my tour manager Iain. Up until this point I was walking around by myself. We were to find out later that the show would get canceled due to the protests. Plumes of tear gas were hanging outside our hotel and the club up the street.
day1: That night we saw tons more garbage through the streets. Garbage, postal, public transport, airlines, and most public servies all involved with the strike.
The show was canceled. I met up with Iain the brave Scotsman who I convinced that I needed to go down there again the next day. He thought I was crazy for putting myself in harms way, but there was no choice for me. For me, embracing and absorbing new experience fuels my music. The amount of potent and raw passion I had experienced earlier in the day was something I needed to witness and be apart of. People are unsettled all over the globe right now and this was certainly not something I would run from. Half of my family is Greek, I sorta felt that I owed it to them as well. Iain reluctantly agreed to come with me the next day.
Here is the 2nd day:
day2: We walked back to the Parliament and saw some damage along the way. Broken store fronts, burned piles of garbage and a general sense of tension was everywhere.
day2: Steps of the Parliament, guys w motorcycle helmets standing arm in arm. They were out in more force this second day standing at the steps of the Parliament and around the perimeter of the protests.
day2: The first pipe bombs start to go off in a dense crowd. A woman started shouting over the loud speaker 'Don't let them split us up, stand your ground' in Greek. Large numbers of people started booing at the pipe bombs. Flares started being thrown. Then men with bats started protecting groups of women and children. From here it escalated quickly.
day2: Pipe bombs started to go off every minute, sometimes a few in a row. The day before was a passionate scene of people angry against their govt and authority, but the 2nd day was very different. People started attacking each other. Molotov cocktails started to fly in a cascade of rocks and flares. The men in helmets with bats started running at groups of people wearing black. I saw people being dragged and beaten. For the first and hopefully last time in my life I saw a man running on fire.
Above is a video from The Telegraph. This was one block away from where I was taking my photos. Warning – its a serious / sad video.
day2: Cameraman w gas mask, behind him a man being dragged to police for instigating violence. People were so upset with the cops who were not helping the situation at all and standing by the parliament. From what I saw, they were only making it worse by occasionally walking out to where people were then turning around.
day2: Old man wearing a mask and selling bread during protests.
At this point we had to leave. It turned very very dangerous and from a personal standpoint it started to enter a twisted realm of voyeurism that I didn’t want to take part in. Everywhere were people either running to hurt each other, protect themselves or cameramen filming all of it. It felt so strange. I started thinking of the ideas of compassion, humanity, life and death and how my connection to music would bring me to witness something like this. I felt so much love and sadness for the people involved. The grandparents, the kids, the families and hard working individuals in the middle of all of this. Given our current economic situation, I started to wonder when I might see this in the US. The 2nd show in Greece was also canceled.
day2: That night we took a walk through the streets because we were stranded from roadblocks. This was a Starbucks near the center of town. The protests continued to happen downtown and every once in a while we would walk through a tear gas area. It was such a wild scene to see people shopping or in cafes with something like this happening only a handful of blocks away. The majority of higher income areas and shopping districts has teams of cops in riot gear protecting the areas.
We were able to fly out the next night. I had so many thoughts running through my head and feelings pulling at my chest from the whole experience. Compassion, love, fear, hate, economy, greed, youth, families, polarities, the Vesica Pisces symbol, my brothers, my parents, friends and a whole range of personal questions filled my head. What’s happening to our world right now? Are we working together? Who’s running it? Are we? Is this chaos just a necessary part of our growth and the next step in our development? Our planet is clearly changing right now, and yet so is our solar system from what our scientists can understand. Wild times we are living in.
This trip affected me.
I’m embracing it. Within all the madness, there is also a tremendous amount of progress being made out in the world. It seems we are living in a very potent time and everyone around me feels as though their lives are changing daily. I know I’m beyond lucky to even be able to post my thoughts on a machine, while eating, from my couch, in my new home, in Los Angeles. I feel grateful I can take in this Athens trip and put it to sound. I guess that’s the least I can do.
What I saw was real. Our world is asking for us to pay attention. I hope you are.
Tell your friends and family you love ‘em while you’re at it.
Signing off until the new year. I’ll do another post then.