Othon is an LGBT musician/composer who is going to change the way you hear pop music. Welcome, to the world of PAN.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Athens. I come from a very religious Pentecostal family but religious in a very particular way. They left the Orthodox umbrella of Greece and then moved into something quite extreme and quite regimental, but also quite inspiring in many ways. So I think this kind of change that happened to my family, this type of energy influenced a lot of my work and where I come from. Anyway, leaving that aside, I come from the classical world, so I did the classical studies for many years – basically what happened was I started performing at a very early age, about five years old, I did competitions and TV shows and things like that and I started reacting to all that because there was something inside of me that was very revolutionary and then the whole world of classical music, it was so rigid and so outside I believed in and it just made me revolt against it. But I also loved music, I loved the actual music. It was just the world that I was in. The fact that I had to really look like a pianist and behave like a pianist and all that, it made me sick! And then I started becoming looking quite exotic for Athens, a lot of piercings, crazy hair colours, huge Mohicans and that affected my career quite a lot. I was invited to perform in some venues and in some occasions they refused to allow me to play. So then I started leaving this world behind and I came here to England to study music, and I studied classical music because that’s what I always knew and that’s what I was always very good at, though still, I wasn’t very happy. So I enrolled in a composition course. So I did that composition course and actually I loved it and I was very good at it, but I was still in the classical world though, and I found myself afterwards that I still the whole thing was very academic and even if there was the avant-garde element, the structure was still quite academic so I actually rebelled against that again. I feel that music should not be academic, music should not be taught in that way. Perhaps it should be taught in mystery or initiatory schools but not in that way. After an amazing acid trip in Epping Forest, one of the things I realized was that I needed to do songwriting and follow my own style, free from previous programing and that’s what I’m doing ever since. So my previous work still has loads of classical elements but with the new work I’m completely breaking out from this. Of course I still love classical music and I still love the emotions that the music creates and so I am bringing it into my own world and my own love for dance music or whatever that is.
Okay, right. We’ve gone through a lot of my questions in that opening! But my next question is, right now, how would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
I created my own genre which is called PAN music and this is because I hate pigeonholing my music or music in general. I want to be free and use whichever medium comes to me in the moment, so at the moment my sound is very much like dramatic pop mixed with shamanic techno and down-tempo electronica. Something like that. But it is quite free and that’s why I devised my own sound called PAN music.
And what was it like growing up in Athens? I saw in your bio it said you discovered the ‘enchanting underworld’, was that the gay scene?
Actually, no. Because when I was living there I had not realised I was gay yet. I had a relationship with two girls, with one for three years. Actually I did start going to gay clubs as well because I really liked their music, I liked the techno they were playing, and I liked boys but I was really into my girlfriend. It was only after starting lots of yoga and medication that I actually really realised – I’m still bisexual, but I’m mostly gay. But I was going to very experimental, very industrial techno clubs and underground parties so that’s the underground world.
And staying monogamous to your girlfriend?
I did, until the present moment. When I realised that I was bisexual or perhaps gay I also realised I am not monogamous!
It seems that happens to a lot of gay men, polyamory.
Exactly, and I think it’s a healthy thing actually. It actually helps your relationship eventually because I think one of the things that can kill your relationship is jealousy. If you can get over that, you can realise that love is limitless and you can love many people, it doesn’t have to be one person you know.
Cool, and we talked about why you came to London, to study, but was it also to escape Athens?
Actually no, because I really loved Athens, I wanted to escape from this world and I’d already kind of escaped by the time I came here but I actually loved Athens, I loved the environment I’d put myself into, but I also wanted to come to London because I felt the idea of coming to London was amazing. And I thought, what else can I do in Athens anyway? Career-wise I could not possibly do anything in Athens the way I looked, and there’s no way I could actually survive. So it was an opportunity to do something different and explore things.
What do you think about what’s happening in Athens right now with the Golden Dawn?
I think it’s horrible, it’s really sad. The Golden Dawn and similar organisations help people direct their hatred into minorities and people that are different, and that can only make things worse. As history teaches us, fanaticism of that sort can only bring disaster.
And when you got to London what were your first impressions of the city?
I love London because I love the people. I mean I came to London many times before, with my father and friends, and I love the alternative feel of it. It’s so cool, no one really gives a fuck about how you look or how you are or whatever. Of course that’s not always the case because when I moved to South-East London, like in Lewisham, I realised that London is not quite as accepting everywhere! I didn’t last in the South-East of London for too long. So I moved to North London and ended up in East London. But yeah, what I love about London is the music, the people, the art, it’s a crazy city which I really love.
And what do you think of its gay scene?
I actually really love the alternative gay scene, I think it has a local fruit and it’s really progressive and really cool. I never go to Vauxhall or places like that, unless it’s a particular party like Antagony. But yeah, I will go to parties in East London sometimes, or more kind of underground parties. The alternative scene: gay or straight.
And when did you really start developing your musical direction that you have now?
I think it’s a gradual thing, there was a big leap in the last couple of years I think, really like ‘woah’, because I was letting go of previous programming. So I would say for the last 5 or 6 years but the last 3 years in particular were really strong.
And how does your PAN music now relate to your classical composition?
It embraces it, but it also doesn’t allow any preconception to feed back, it filters it out. In the past, I’d be thinking ‘it isn’t really experimental enough’ and I would really judge it, whereas now if I like something and I want to write something, I want to say something, I just say whatever the fuck it is. Totally avant-garde.
And you’re getting recognition now, but was it a struggle to get recognition?
Yes, it was a struggle but I think it’s a struggle for everyone that has his own voice and he shows difference. It is very much a struggle. And I feel a little bit more lucky because at least I got a record label from the very beginning and I had support from people and things but it is a struggle living as a musician, it’s a big struggle. You put on a show and you don’t realise how expensive it is to put on a show, like I’m going to have fifteen people on stage, and you have to pay etc.
How did you meet Marc Almond?
From Myspace actually. I just sent him a message or a comment saying that I loved his music, that I’d always loved his music and about a week later he sent me an email or something like that saying ‘Othon I love your music, it’s amazing’ and then I got the courage and said ‘would you like to sing something maybe?’ You know, Marc was a big idol of mine for many, many years and I still really admire him.
And when is that album coming out?
On June 23rd.
Very soon. And do LGBT issues inspire your work?
Yes, of course. I think anything that needs to find its own voice and needs to be accepted the way it is, I think is inspired in my work. Especially communities within the LGBT that are really particular. Also, I am part of it anyway so of course it does!
And how is your lyric-writing process? Do you write it at the same time as the music?
It really depends. It really, really depends on the kind of music playing and the specific inspirations I find. It’s a very organic process. And the more I make music the more I find I don’t want to control it, I don’t want to have a particular methodology and I don’t want to have any of that.
You want a creative/organic evolution?
Yes, exactly. In which my ego, or me as Othon, controls as little as possible.
Excellent. And how did you meet Ernesto Tomasini and start working with him? He’s got an amazing voice…
Yes, he’s also very impressive as an artist. I actually met him at Kaos. It is one of these parties and clubs I’m going to that I really, really love. I met him some years ago, like six or seven years ago, and he was performing there. And I’d already heard of him from Torture Garden, the fetish club, and I loved his persona on stage and his energy and voice and that was before I was even writing songs. I don’t think I’d even written any songs, maybe one, so he was the person who inspired me to start writing.
And the video for ‘Dawn is Yet To Come’ is very striking, how did you come up with the concept? What do you want it to reflect?
Actually as a matter of fact I didn’t come up with the concept, I left it to my friend Predag who came up with the concept for this, and I wanted to make him happy and for him to have his own way because I really trust his vision and I know he’s going to come out with something really different. I mean we influence each other, we talk to each other, the lobbying and processing, the ideas, and then of course I took him to Brazil and we filmed part of it in Brazil. But the concept is basically about co-evolution and how we became this community in London and have blended with each other and so it’s lots of my friends, and our friends in the video. It is about a new dawn, a sunrise, a very hopeful thing. It’s an endless running, and reflects also our altered states so it’s dreamy as well, and it’s about transformation of one of us becoming the other, all of us running in search of the sunrise.
When the boy gets naked and runs up the steps, is that a transformation thing of rebirth etc? Being in a primal state?
The nakedness is about the primal state but also about purity. We embrace culture, we embrace fashion and style, but we also embrace purity you know what I mean. It’s a bit paradoxical, but it can coexist.