The unique challenges of hosting a live music event in one of the oldest venues in the world


“We are fully aware that this is a huge benchmark that we have set here,” comments Theodora Karakassi, one of the organizers of the Plissken festival in Athens and the upcoming Max Cooper AV show at the Odeon d ‘Herod Atticus, ancient theater nestled on the southern slope of the Acropolis of Athens.

Belfast-born audiovisual artist Cooper is set to become the first electronic music group to perform in the old auditorium after collaborating with institutions such as the Barbican, Zaha Hadid Architects and Dolby Atmos. “But we have no illusions here, the monument is the main protagonist of these shows. This will automatically distract from any production.

At 85 feet tall, the original structure featured a sprawling roof adorned with ceramic statues, a tiled entrance, elaborate arcades – and a distinctly Roman curvilinear composition (especially compared to the nearby Theater of Dionysus). She organized musical and theatrical events, in particular her cut-throat “music contests”, an essential element of the Greek games pitting musician against musician.

(Panos Georgiou)

However, for organizers like Karakassi, operating at the Acropolis does not come without unique challenges: decibel limits, no drinking, no high heels and even a weight limit that must take into account not only heavy equipment, but also people.

But why? Well, Herodes Atticus doesn’t exactly have the history of being a particularly robust feature of the larger Acropolis complex. Although many of the iconic structures that make up the Unesco World Heritage site were built around 450 BC, Herod Atticus was built much later – between 161-174 AD by the Greco-Roman politician of the same last name.

(Alay)

It only lasted 100 years before being left in ruins by the Herluans invasion in AD 267, losing its roof and much of its 5,000 stone seats, existing in a state of disrepair until XXth century.

The site was reconstructed and restored to its intended capacity in the 1940s and 1950s, initially home to the Athens State Orchestra and Greek soprano Maria Callas. The international interest aroused by Frank Sinatra’s performances and his hosting of the 1974 Miss World pageant transformed the Herodes Atticus from a cultural monument to a full-fledged arena.

“As a fan of Foo Fighters, I never imagined listening to the best of you on the Acropolis”, notes Μaria Thanassoulia

(PBS)

It features shows from stars such as Sting, Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, Patti Smith, The Foo Fighters and Florence and the Machine.

Maria Thanassoulia was part of the team that organized the show “Foo Fighters – Landmarks Live” in 2017 and acknowledges that although the Herodes Atticus was conceived as an optimal venue for music and live performances 2000 years ago – modern logistics can be difficult to navigate it.

“Our main challenge is to try to incorporate the character of a show into the venue – the Herodes Arricus will always be the main protagonist, so you need something that strikes a balance,” says organizer Theodora Karakassi.

(Panos Georgiou)

“Even though the acoustics are amazing – due to the design of the space thousands of years ago, the need to control the volume and decibel of music to protect the marble makes it difficult to hold a rock concert”

“We also had a capacity issue, they were the first rock band to play in space but all of Athens wanted to come see the Foo Fighters – there’s a reason these bands usually play in stadiums, 5000 , it’s not a lot of people compared to their usual crowds.

“It’s a long, long process. To get the simplest permission for anything related to production, you have to go through levels of bureaucracy and tons of paperwork. That being said, it’s gratifying to see firsthand that this monument is so well maintained – and by people who respect it and love working for it.

(Panagiotis Maravelis)

The entire Acropolis is a Unesco World Heritage site, which ensures that strict procedures must be put in place to ensure the protection of all structures on site. Organizers must adhere to rules such as allowing the ball to “breathe” between songs / sets or controlling the size of equipment entering and leaving the venue. But much of the difficulties from an organizational standpoint – as Berang Emamian Dezfoli, who worked on British comedian John Cleese’s 2019 show, observes – comes before the event has even taken place.

“Although the unpredictability of the Athenian weather is a bit of a pain,” he laughs. “We went through this half an hour before the doors to the John Cleese show opened – it’s outdoors, so it’s especially vulnerable to precipitation. We had a bit of time to wait to see if the show could go on. ”

There are “too many precautions in place to list,” organizers say, although a few may seem unusual compared to a traditional venue. There are no drinks or refreshments allowed on site, limitations on what personal items the public can bring into the arena are in place, there is a list of acceptable metals that may be in the Acropolis and no high heels to ensure the stone is kept and left in good condition.

(Ricard Bosom Gineste)

For Cooper, an artist accustomed to the traditional acoustic setting of a club and their single-source sound systems – a decibel limit to protect the fragile ruins of the theater is an unusual concept: “We had to install these smaller speakers and we have them scattered around the central stage.

From its point of view on the southern slope of the Acropolis, it overlooks the entirety of Athens. “There is also the ‘wall’ of an audience,” Dezfoli recalls, the steep stone steps directed in such a way that each member of the audience has a clear and equal view of the proceedings. “It’s something to see whether you’re standing on stage and facing her or being a part of it. Combined with the energy of the historic surroundings, this makes it one of the most special places in the world. ‘

(vasiliki)

Cooper will perform the first ever electronic music show at the space, a multimedia offering that will include both music and visuals projected on the theater. He attributes his exploration of classical genres to the belief of the traditionalists of the Acropolis to let him play there: “I do a lot of ambient and post-classical work with pianists and elements that I suppose are more acceptable than a. classic point of view, so I’m sure that helped bring in the kick drum.

Cooper has a wealth of experience working with cultural monuments. Most recently in 2020 he took part in the AVA 2020 live broadcast from Belfast which saw him decorate the walls of Carlisle Church in the city center, likewise in 2017 collaborating with Zaha Hadid Architects to create a show on the grounds of Karlsruhe Palace in Germany

(AVA Festival / The Hype Factory)

“I work with many projectors to use each space itself as a canvas so that the architecture, beauty and history of the space is as much a part of the show as my music and visual collaborations. I plan to do an Acropolis show.

Tickets are still available for Max Cooper Live at the Acropolis on July 6, 2021 here


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