Leon of Athens brings Greek indie-pop to the UK

Brought up in Greece, Leon of Athens aka Timoleon Veremis has been in the music industry for over 10 years, and his accomplishments are a tribute to it. Having taken piano and guitar lessons from the age of four, playing to students comes naturally to him: he performed both at his English-speaking school back home and to his peers at university, where he began a double major in Music and Philosophy. Working with music professionally alongside a degree, however, proved difficult and Veremis eventually reverted to a full-time career in music, moving to London after five years and adopting a stage name which would “annunciate my hometown”. Now touring the UK for the third time, Veremis is more productive than ever, and exhibits some of his newest pieces in a six-song set. All but one is from his new album, Xenos, which is much darker than his previous work but no less exciting. 

I find out that, alongside folk, indie-pop is one of the bigger genres in Greece. Despite choosing the latter as his defining genre, Veremis states that it is hardly a limiting label. “You can play electro-folk but still be an indie-pop artist; you can delve into hip-hop and R&B and still be an indie-pop artist.” While Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Kanye West are not major influences, Veremis is interested in their production sound above that of the artists that he has grown up listening to. The Beatles, David Bowie, Queen and The Clash are amongst his favourites, whilst MGMT, Tame Impala, M83 and Florence and the Machine are cited as more current influences, thus revealing his interest in both older and more contemporary indie. Strangely though, it’s the beginning of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ which I parallel with the beginning of ‘Utopia’, one of Veremis’ most successful songs. Its video is prefaced with a quote – “planting is one thing. Burying is another” – and he later features. This is followed by ‘Final Moment’, which through its manipulation of synth bass highlights his attentiveness to production but which also draws attention to his band, with whom he appears to have “really connected”. Today keys are missing due the stripped-down nature of the set, but this is compensated for by the raw acoustics of love songs such as ‘Aeroplane’, which without pre-recorded music allows the extraction and isolation of the song’s riff beside the voice of Veremis who, due to the nature of this song, serenades the audience.

Veremis reminds us that the harrowing nature of the refugee crisis has by no means subsided

The penultimate song is a 2015 single called ‘Baby Asteroid’, whose simple chord progression some may mistake as primitive, when it’s in fact wholly unpretentious and positively memorable. The last song of the set is the titular ‘Xenos’, which he tells the audience is about refugees. Veremis writes this song to remind us that the harrowing nature of this crisis has by no means subsided, and is a metaphor referring to any oppressed group of people who are forced to leave their land. “Greece is the first European country that refugees enter in order to get safely into the continent, so it’s affected me. It’s heartbreaking,” he says, downcast. The word “Xenos” itself is a minefield, meaning any of four things – stranger, foreigner, enemy or friend – and its political message is a precursor to the conversation that follows. ‘Serpent’s Egg’ is another emotive song, and is commendable in its consideration of the recent rise of the far-right. “In Greece, [Golden Dawn] were a tiny party of only hundreds,” he describes, and goes on to illustrate the impact of the financial crisis on electoral voting patterns which allowed the party a 10% share in the vote. His lyrics – “in the school they were teaching us war/how to win, how to swallow them all” – construct a futuristic dystopian society, resulting in what Veremis purports to be this “serpent’s egg”. Still on the subject of songwriting, he says that while he respects those who write about religion, and indeed those who are religious, lyrically it is a topic that he would steer clear of. “Religion as a political organisation makes me mad,” he states dismally. “Belief is very personal, and I know people who have been moved by it, but I’m not religious myself and have my own views about it.”

It is the personal interactions, like messages and letters, which motivate him to keep working

Currently though, gigs such as those at the Lexington and Amorgos Island’s beach festival, as well as a radio presence, are the main focus – the latter “helps to pay the bills” considering the success of ‘Aeroplane’ in Greece, Germany and the US. Between Athens and the UK though, success is relative: Veremis has a fanbase in both places, but whereas in London the industry is colossal, Athens is smaller and he is often recognised on the street. But while one would consider this the height of fame, it is the personal interactions, like messages and letters, which motivate the artist to keep working. “People have said that when they listen to my music, they think positively about the world and want to dream again.”

In spite of his success, Veremis still struggles with his income. “It’s not my only job,” he says. Bringing Greek artists to the UK through his management company, he is certainly selfless in his success and perhaps unwittingly restates his humility: “I didn’t do music to become famous…it’s something that keeps me sane, and keeps me balanced.” Though he endorses the prospect of settling down, this will be only be when he’s “older and more established”. By that, he means finishing this tour and then playing a string of festivals in the UK and North America, including Okeechobee and South by Southwest. Only after listing a visit to Montreal as well as his wish to perform Brighton’s Great Escape does he mention he’s “thinking of taking fifteen days off”. This one’s busy – and he’s firmly intending on staying for a while. 

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