Odyssia 2016: An 18 Year Celebration of Greece’s Electrifying Dance Music Scene
As someone who considers himself pretty plugged in to dance music culture, I’m somewhat embarrassed that I had no prior knowledge of Cariocas before I went to cover this festival. Cariocas is a beach bar in Greece, nestled in a stunning, if remote pocket of coastline some 30km from Corinth. Over its 18 year history, it has welcomed an armada of legendary DJs and producers from all over the world, all of whom were capitivated by the beauty of the surroundings and the vibrance of the crowd. Many of them came back for return visits, such as David Morales.
To locals, it’s legendary, but to the further afield it might have been nothing more than a vague notion, a glance-by on Resident Advisor, or even just non-existent. Enter Odyssia, a week long celebration of the bar’s life with a lineup to rival any other dance music festival in Europe or beyond. Although all this was known to me when I made my way down to Greece (having never set foot in the country before), but I was still in traditional British festival mode, tent slung over my back, bum bag prepped, clothes and all other bare neccessities stuffed wherever they would fit.
As I discovered, I had the wrong idea. Odyssia isn’t a festival in the traditional sense, there was no field, no overpriced corporate pop-up bars, no string of weird and wonderful stages to spread the music out. This was all Cariocas, all the time, with the acts spread evenly across 7 days and nights of music on the bar’s two stages (and a boat, but we’ll get to that in a bit). If you were camping, you were staying at a tourist campsite around 15 minutes walk away, otherwise you needed to find accommodation in the nearby port town of Loutraki, which you could reach by taxi or shuttle bus (and over a mountain).
In this sense, it was almost a blend between a beach holiday and a club night that cumulatively lasted about 119 hours, yikes. To ask that guests spent the entire during at the bar would have a little bit too demanding, and many people came and went at intervals. Locals would show up for the odd night here and there, foreign visitors would split their time between nights at the club, days lounging on the nearby beach, or the private one at the campsite and bumming around in Loutraki. There’s nothing regimented about Odyssia, you went at your own pace, and that was one of the festival’s strongest points.
Because of the relatively small scale, it retained a sense of intimacy throughout. Everyone from the guests to the staff to the artists to lowly digital journalists like me knew each other by the end, even the stray dogs became hearteningly familiar as the week went on. One of them became so familiarised with me that he would frequently follow me up and down the beach, onto the dancefloor and even back to the campsite, we gave him a few different names, but for the purposes of this I’m just going to call him Dennis.
The other benefit of the intimacy was that it was so much easier to get absorbed in the music, and any concerns I had about the beat signatures and sample patterns getting dry or repetitive after 6 days (I missed the first one) were quickly allayed. From the funky, Vangelis-infused acid stylings of the ever-versatile Gilles Peterson to Body & Souls ridiculous 12 hour extravaganza (not even kidding), everything had a unique aura, a pronounced appeal. In terms of highlights, for my money the two standout performers were DJ Harvey and Kyle Hall. Harvey’s bombastic, rebelliously overt stylings speak for themselves and although he was somewhat subdued in himself on the decks, his set was anything but. Kyle Hall, meanwhile, blended heavy funk, techno and disco so brilliantly that the change ups were just as energising as the beats.
A special mention must go out to Francois K for daring to drop half-an-hour of jungle and dnb into his set. Speaking as a the kind of basshead who’s at his happiest when dancing like a cranefly that’s being menaced with a cattle-prod, I found it to be a welcome surprise. It must be said though that one of the best nights was the final one, during which the Cariocas residents took over proceedings, and the atmosphere was nothing short of intoxicating. The absolute best part of the festival, however, took place a few miles off-shore, aboard Odyssia’s party boat, the amusingly named Dolce Vita.
After it cast off, me and the rest of the passengers spent the first hour or so finding out just how difficult it is to dance when a boat is sliding around on choppy seas, before anchoring near a remote beach (with a small, rather unsettling Catholic chapel as the only sign of human presence). You could either stay on board and dance your precious little heart out or leap off and swim over. Being the would-be-but-definitely-not swashbuckler that I am, I went with Option B. This experience, coupled with the incredible undualating crests of mountains in the distance, the deep orange sunset during the return voyage made for an unforgettable experience. The onboard soundsystem was outstanding and the compliment of DJs was just as refined and well selected as the one on land. On the trip I took, it was beautifully bookended by Swedish beat chemist La Fleur.
The entire experience had the distinct feel of being run by passionate people, rooted in dance music culture who knew exactly what they wanted and how to get it. Anna K, who we previously interviewed ahead of the festival, was one of these, and as the festival drew to a close she was keen to offer up her thoughts on the matter. “Overall, we’re happy.” She said, “We know that the people that were here were amazing by the sets, the sound, the soundsystem and the place.” She’s right on that count, over the course of the week I spoke to people from Britain, Italy, Canada, Detroit, France and further still, and all of them were captivated by the majesty of the scenery and the razor sharp quality of the music, in every regard. “We can only get better” Anna continued. “There’s room for improvement, but we wanted it to be part of the beach bar, of the vibe and the history and the feeling.”
Although there were teething problems, there always will be in the first year, especially with an undertaking as unique as this, the foundations were solid, the lessons were well learned and the outlook is overwhelmingly positive. I asked Anna what the most important thing to be taken away from Odyssia was. “It’s time for the people, the dancers, the festival-goers to learn about Cariocas.” She said, “I will never forget this experience, the first time for me as well, I assume that year 2 will be easier, but I still think that this first time, that feeling of happiness will stay with me. Mission accomplished.”
Photos Courtesy of Odyssia Festival/Facebook