As often was the case during our time in Athens, I heard about Music Society whilst having a conversation with someone about the magazine. Just a couple of hours later I was on my way to Syntagma Square to meet with Naoum Kokkalas, current elected chairperson of the project.
I could instantly sense from the passion with which Naoum talked about Music Society that it was going to be a fascinating afternoon. Having started the web radio station three years ago with sixty five members, all of whom were involved on a purely part-time recreational basis, their model was still going strong. Now down to around forty members, each contributing €30 a month the community is organised around two key principles. Firstly, everyone has the complete freedom to play whatever they like, in that no other members ever try to influence things and no money is ever accepted from radio pluggers. Secondly, the station firmly believes in free speech. These things separate Music Society from major radio stations – along with their refusal to dilute broadcasts with advertising – and are central to the ‘special’ nature of the project.
This ‘specialness’ was something Naoum often referred to and something he illustrated brilliantly. As we arrived at the Music Society headquarters, a spacious apartment a short walk from Syntagma, he confirmed that the rent on the property was covered by the €30 monthly fee paid by each of the members. That along with all of the necessary licences, all the studio equipment and bills seemed to represent great value for money for those involved, particularly considering the tough economic climate. Members who lose their jobs or are struggling to pay their membership fees are given a six month grace period to allow them to get back on their feet without compounding their troubles by depriving them of the escapism and friendship group that the station offers.
Further evidence that it was the collective attitude towards the project and adherence to its principles that spawned its success came in Naoum’s next anecdote. Recently, some members of the station had begun to DJ at bars and clubs around the city under the Music Society name. When the subject of what to do with the payment for these engagements was brought up in one of the group’s regular meetings the verdict was truly unique. At the first poll, every single one of the forty plus members voted that the money be put towards the station rather than kept by the individuals. That really resonated with me as it seemed astonishing that at least one person wouldn’t vote the other way particularly if they had fallen on hard times.
The Music Society Studio | Photograph by Alec Dudson ©
As we made our way into the studio during one of the DJ’s sets, I was taken aback by the impressive set up that was in place. Another thing that separates Music Society from other web radio stations is the professional level equipment and the expertise that many of its members came into the project with. While some were getting into radio for the first time others had worked in assorted facets of the industry for years and it means that through the rich mix of people, there is a real excitement attached to all that they do. It seemed to me that this genuine attitude of the members is somewhat endemic to Greece and summed up brilliantly in one Greek word: Meraki. Meraki means to do something out of love and passion, this attitude is key to Music Society existing and seemed to be the mindset of all those involved.
This sentiment of Meraki extends so far that members regularly team up in order to teach each other different skills and try something new, ensuring that the experience rarely becomes stagnant for anyone. This universal level of commitment and passion was very evident during my time in the studio as the DJ’s concentration never wavered despite the great view of the city through the balcony doors facing the desk and my inquisitive presence. Naoum explained that when some members joined the project they were nervous to speak on the air and that was something that, with the help of the Music Society family, they had been able to overcome.
As I pondered this, we made our way onto the roof of the building for what would be the final part of my tour. A steep and narrow metal staircase led us up to a sizeable rooftop area drenched in the early evening sun. Pointing towards a solitary chair, Naoum told me that he used to come up here to unwind after the long days spent transforming the apartment into the studio. Particular pride was taken as well in the stunning view from the rooftop area, with the Acropolis unobstructed by the few buildings taller than the one we were stood on.
The Acropolis from Music Society’s rooftop | Photograph by Alec Dudson ©
Making our way back down the stairs to the flat, I bade Naoum farewell as the collective congregated for one of their regular meetings and I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the simple lesson I had learnt. For those people working together on a project fuelled by a shared and untainted motivation of passion and love, the sky is the limit.
To tune into Music Society, visit the site here and go to “Ways to Listen” on the right hand side of the page.
By Alec Dudson
You can read more about Athens and some of the city’s other fascinating subcultures that have come out of the crisis in the Athens Issue of Boat. Click on the image below to order your copy today.