T.O.P Interview: Constantine (Bedouin records)

By Helena Markos

Photos: Teresa Espadafor 

Almost three weeks ago, Tales of Psychofonia travelled to Barcelona in order to meet the Urban Legend guys who were organising their Circuito Cerrado III, at Miscellanea Gallery somewhere between the little lanes of Raval. It was an honour for me opening a night like that with two very robust acts, such as Huma’s (Hedonic Reversal) and Constantine’s (Bedouin records) with his Hades flooding the space with emotions.

Hades  is a body/mind experience and an evolving piece of art. It is an encounter and an exploration which leads the listener to deep and  unexplored paths. It is a psychological journey evoking sensations, reconnecting us with our human hypostastis, making us feel alive.

Constantine by Teresa Espadafor @ Circuito Cerrado, Miscellanea Gallery, BCN, April 2018

Before the event, Constantine was happy to talk to me about his album, his collaboration with Bedouin,about human relationships, his inspiration and future projects. Constantine Skourlis, based in Athens, is an honest artist with positive attitude towards life. A visionary who always tries to overcome his limits and go beyond the norms. An artist with strong belief in human values and human bonds. Confident about his work and at the same time down-to-earth with his encounters, lover of simplicity and subtraction. A contemporary artist who listens and responds to his surroundings through his delicate  touch and deep self-reflection.

At this point, I want to mention that the interview took place at the Urban Legend Studio in Barcelona and here we also include some recorded clips from our discussion in Greek (see below). Big thanks to  Teresa and Fran Mora (/beyond/), two beautiful people and amazing hosts, for offering us this unique opportunity. It was an absolute pleasure being part of their event and also meeting an artist like Constantine. Big thanks to the photographer Teresa Espadafor for  capturing that magic night.

HM(Tales of Psychofonia)/Constantine(Bedouin)/Fran Mora (Urban Legend) -Photographer: Teresa Espadafor @Urban Legend Studio,BCN-April 2018

T.O.P.: We have this pleasant opportunity to discuss live your work on Hades, your first solo album on Bedouin records. It has been more than a year now since the release of the album, how do you feel about it and how you perceive the positive reviews and words so far? 

C.: Something very interesting happened with Hades, and  to be honest with you, I did not expect it at all. I was really impressed by reviews and words about the album. People somehow and for some reasons felt very related to Hades and for me that was a very positive surprise.

T.O.P.:…yes, this is something that usually happens, you work might evolve and turn into something completely  different. People sometimes give interpretations that might surprise you. 

C.: Yes, sure! That is actually a necessary thing to happen but not necessarily  happens! (laughs).

T.O.P.: We know there is a very significant story and a major humanistic meaning behind the creation and production of the album, would you like to share few things about this, as for us Hades is a body/ mind experience whilst the listener starts indulging into the sound. 

Constantine- by  Teresa Espadafor

C: Certainly I do not know how the listener experiences the music. The truth is that I intended to create something nonconformist, something that goes beyond the status quo, and in order to manage that you must stop thinking about how will other people experience  it and you basically need to do what you need to do. It is all about how to create something for yourself and how you would like it to be, and this possibly is the most honest way to stand towards any form of art.

Especially, nowadays with the increasing input we take in and the constant flow of information through social media, it is considered vital for the artist to disconnect and focus on their own creative moment. This is what I did with Hades when everything started three years ago. Back then, neither the concept existed nor the refugee crisis. There was only a vision, an aesthetic approach and the idea of music that I would like to listen to and I could not find anywhere around me. And that was all I had.

The story started on the remote island of Telendos, with approximately ten permanent residents, where I spent a year and a half.  Telendos is located in front of the Greek Island of Kalymnos and we talk about the year 2014. The interesting geology of the island with its incredible complex of caves was the scenery of my recordings. What happened there was the marriage of two extremely organic elements -the caves and the depth of them on one side and  the climate with the constant rainy weather in winter on the other side. At that point, I only had these recordings and the contribution of many musicians who were part of it. I have to mention here that most of the music comes from physical instruments.

In the end, when I finally  got these recordings and I entered the studio  I realised that the place where  I spent more than a year working on this project, recording and capturing  all these sounds, today  is the place where people are drowning.

When this moment of realization comes you feel responsible towards these people and you have only one choice; you either abandon the idea or you just have your concept ready. It was impossible for me not to respect the facts and the people. It would be pretentious and meaningless to ignore what was happening.

Even though, the initial conception of the album was not political itself the series of events gave a completely political character to it. Any piece of art is part of its era but if the initial intention and idea behind it is pure  it ends up being timeless. For me Hades is the space in between, between reality and  imagination.

Hades artwork
Hades Artwork by Mykel Lima

T.O.P.: So you say that this is your driving force when creating, the idea displacement…

C.: Indeed, the actual main idea behind Hades is displacement. Personally, I consider that displacement is what determines the human nature to the extent  that human beings will be possibly one day  displaced to something else, to an another shape or plane (laughs).

T.O.P.: We feel that Hades  is an important record for Bedouin and when we think of its concept we cannot think of a better fitting label. What is the magic element of this collaboration?

Salem (Bedouin) and myself discussed that this would be a very significant project for Bedouin, a label which has a more humanistic and personal approach by supporting pure and unconventional artists from different socio-cultural backgrounds. In a sense all of them are “displaced”.

My relationship with Salem is a very good one and we collaborate on many levels. Salem knew I am a hard-working person, he was also aware of my work with theatre and contemporary dance and he saw something in me. This is his charisma, he always manages to bring out of his artists the maximum of their potential. If Salem was not the person he is, Hades would have never existed.

There is a very beautiful relationship with Bedouin which is a pretty micro-world with real artists and pure, meaningful relationships. 

I ended up working on this album  for three consecutive years  because he was the one who was very demanding, trying to stretch my limits and get the most out of me, till the day he felt it was finally complete. He was like” It can become better, it can become better …” (laughs).  Needless to say, that the “best” piece of the album, was not included in Hades and I will finally release it in a Japanese CD edition. Initially, it was part of Hades but it was too strong and powerful and we thought it would be better not to include it. This is also the way I prefer working, through subtraction, as I consider that when you keep adding a lot you end up loosing a lot. That is a funny paradox. You need to be cautious when you add. As you commented earlier, there are many peaks in my tracks and then suddenly the absolute nothing. This is definitely deriving from this subtraction I like implementing to my work.

T.O.P.: It sounds like a “family” more than a company-like thing, as far as we perceive it…

C.: It is very interesting that you say that, as I might personally have this feeling and for example say how wonderful things are in the Bedouin world  but it actually might not mean anything to others, which makes my experience or impression completely meaningless. If such an experience is not shared, such a perception is pointless. In other words, by being in your own world without acknowledging what is going on out of it, you will finally end up isolated and deconstructed.

T.O.P.:  We know that you are a very active artist and also  involved in many projects in the Athenian artistic scene. Nonetheless, we can tell  that you seem a very down-to-earth guy.

C.:You cannot be down-to-earth you have to be extreme and radical in terms of your art, you need to believe that you are doing your best and this is something very personal. It must be your favourite thing to do. For instance, I cannot comprehend those that they do not listen to their own music. It is not something that you can pretend, you have to feel comfortable with it and you must be confident so you can be a positive influence for the people around you.

There is a trap around creativity, many people become what they do and they finally end up loosing their identity. Inevitably, when you identify with your projects and you lose your personality and true self you end up losing your perspective and your human nature.

TOP: how do you experience the fact that you are a Greek artist based in Athens, how can the Greek status quo influence you and your work? Hope it does not sound cliché but it is a question I always like to ask regardless of the artist’s origin.

C.: It is not  cliché! What you do  has to do with the place you live in. The environment is part of your existence therefore it is impossible not to include it into your work. I try to avoid the negative impact that the facts in Greece can produce because as an artist your psychological state is your main weapon. I understand that the concept of the “depressive” artist used to work in the past  and for some people still does, although for me it is completely out of date.

For me the most essential part of the creative process and the meaning behind derives from the human relationships.

I try not to constantly pay attention about what happens in Greece and how sad the reality might be. The fact that we live within a problematic system and we are also part of it does not mean that we have to keep focusing on that. It is like a vicious circle and because of that  your creative output can end up being boring and predictable. For example, you go to an exhibition and you see pieces of newspapers on the walls and it seems like you have just turned the TV on, ending up being one more piece of news and there is nothing more there, it is empty of meaning.

I see art in a very archetypical way, as a different language and  way of communication. For example, Hades has managed to communicate things and emotions to people in a language that is beyond our verbal communication. The truth is that art has been institutionalized over the years.

Once upon a time there were artists who out of a joke produced art by displaying a toilet, but the guy who made that did never expect that that toilet  would end up being such a big thing with so many interpretations and connotations. He never took it  seriously. The fact that others made it serious  is a different story. They obviously saw it as an easy way  to make money by creating a whole industry…but that is a another subject and a very big conversation…

I have to admit though that I found what  better works for me and it can have both political and artistic value. To give an example, Hades is a combination of things,  It is the artwork, the label, the designer…It’s not only about the music. Behind each work there is always an ethos, aesthetics and a concept.

Therefore, a product which results from collaboration and connection  will be more complete and meaningful comparing to the one who comes from one person’s work.

TOP: Like  you said you see the future through this change of mentality from the competitive/ individualistic model to a more collaborative approach. How do you see the future in music production and in Art in general? 

C.: Nowadays, you have a pocket studio and you make music, whereas in the past you needed loads of money in order to be able to produce. And it is true that you see many people doing plenty of creative stuff and some of them very “important” things, without needing so much gear and money. But then again, saturation is the lurking danger.

For example, Techno is not what it used to be. It is very difficult to distinguish the artists and even the aesthetics they appear as a kind of copy paste. Therefore, trying to do something on your own, becomes a big paradox. You need to have a potential of evolution and that evolution must tend to the infinity. When something becomes so easy to produce, we start witnessing a massive contradiction. When you can easily create something it can easily become consumable and there are many risks around that. I reckon, that in order to create something worthwhile and timeless you need to make things  more difficult you need to try hard to test and overcome your limits.

Finally, I believe that the most difficult thing to do is to form and maintain honest and pure relationships, this is the most challenging part of the story and this type of human encounter is the one I am looking for and I am inspired by.

T.O.P. : Any recent collaborations and upcoming events for you?

C.: I have recently worked with the choreographer  Dafin Antoniadou at Borderline Festival in Athens, and that is actually a continuation of our past collaboration, on the choreographic piece called MATTER, which contained music from Hades, and through which we both aimed to explore the limits of contemporary dance and the conjunction between sound and image. We reflected on dance as a tool of image creation. We also experimented with the impact of the sound on the fabrication of the space and we also tried to explore how images claim their own existence in that formed space.  Our recent participation at Borderline festival was a continuation of that research.

In May, we are going to collaborate with Rafika Chawishe who had been recently awarded the Ibsen Award and she is a tremendously wonderful both person and artist. She is currently working on a project at the Benaki Museum in Athens.  For four days we have the second floor of the museum for this specific project. This is going to  be a living artwork/installation and it is very related to the concept of displacement that we discussed earlier. The artists involved are coming from different countries such as Syria and Afghanistan and I am going to be in charge of the sound design and music consulting. With this special project there is also an upcoming international tour.

I am also currently collaborating with Efi Birba for her upcoming work ” Don Quixote” that will premiere at the end of June at the Piraeus  Municipal Theatre. Efi is one of the most important Greek directors right now and in terms of our collaboration it all came out very naturally. It was an inevitable collaboration.

The year will close with my participation at Bozar Electronic in Brussels. In 27th of May I will be performing HADES at Bruma Festival in Pistoia, Italy

T.O.P. : We would like to ask you on your influences and your source of inspiration?

I am definitely very influenced by old styles of music from musicians of the pro-baroque era who many  of those are not even well-known. I feel that Hades does have some references to this particular genre and I definitely feel very honoured as some reviewers mentioned that, too. For example, in Cosmos (Hades) the sound of cello, would be a subtle reference to that kind of music. Nevertheless, I always try to get distance from any influences and stay focused on what I want to do.

If I could name somebody who embodies all the artistic and humanistic values I embrace that will be the film composer  Jóhann Jóhannsson,who unfortunately in February left this world. I have to admit that that was the first time that I shook from an artist’s loss and I felt deeply sad.

Like I said, I tried to listen to music that is not related to the one I am creating, as I consider that when you  go deep into  something you somehow end up deconstructing  it and listening to it in a more technical way. For that reason, I’ d rather listen to  jazz than electronic music, although right now due to my contact with Salem and  the connection with Bedouin there is a constant input the influence is inevitable.

T.O.P. : Even if we would love to continue this interview we now need to put an end to it  as we are only few hours before the start of our event at Cicuito Cerrado. So last but not least, which album, artist or tune you would suggest to us as mind/soul healer?

C.: Let me show you something that has been  recommended to me by Christos Sakellaridis: