Have you ever had an awesome idea about how you could mash up your favorite musical genres into your own original style? “Musicpreneur” Tommy Darker expands this idea to mega-proportions with his new project Kenophania, recruiting around 100 musicians in his native Greece to create a whole new “folk wave” genre. Unlike the usual band, which spends huge amounts of energy in private rehearsal and preparation before it comes out of hiding, the whole creative process is being documented and televised along the way.
We caught up with Tommy to find out how he came up with the Kenophania project, and how he is practicing what he preaches in his mission to spread “musicpreneurship “.
My name is Tommy, I am at the moment twenty-eight-years-old. I’m from Greece and live in London. I’m a musicpreneur—a musician that is thinking both artistically and entrepreneurially.
In addition to my Darker Music Talks series and my teaching, I’m the founder of Kenophania, where we record the tour that we have around Greece. Where we try to figure out how to create a new genre of music that mashes up British post-punk—like Depeche Mode and Joy Division—with Greek traditional music using only natural sounds and acoustic instruments—no amplification, no electronics, no distortion, no cables.
Everybody in my family was in the philharmonic orchestra and my grandparents were singing in the church choir. So the music gene was there but I joined the military. Still, I was composing music, recording ideas on my phone and FL Studio.
When I moved to Belgium, I hadn’t published anything. Just composing music for myself as a hobby. Then some friends listened to it and they asked me, “Why haven’t you recorded that?” I went to a studio and we started recording one of the songs. The studio guys loved the music so much they became my band. As Sidesteps, we released and album and an EP, we started playing live, we made a few music videos and we won a competition.
Sidesteps was like Depeche Mode and Joy Division. Dark, post punk music with a lot of electronic instruments. A lot of ambient music on the background and a dark vibe to it.
We went to London, we had a couple of interactive sold-out shows at the Barbican and the theater in Convent Town.
However, I realized that if I keep doing that I’ll just be another good copy of Depeche Mode. Objectively there was nothing unique about it.
”I want to find the groove, the source of the groove—not just the beat that people fleshed out during the production phase. I want people to be able to play this music by grabbing three acoustic instruments and going to the beach, lighting up a fire and then playing and dancing around the fire.”
There’s nothing bad about it. There’s plenty of room for a lot of people that sound like somebody else, and everybody sounds like somebody else to some extent. But my friendship with Yossi Sassi of Orphaned Land—the biggest oriental metal band in Israel—that really opened my ears to new possibilities.
Orphaned Land combines the metal music they love with their Mediterranean, oriental roots. I thought, “You know what? I have that in me. I know the odd rhythms of Greece, the instruments that are not really popular in western culture. Why don’t I bring this uniqueness that I grew up with into my post-punk music?”
“Alright. I’m pretty ambitious. If I do that I’m going to document it. I’m going to share it with the world because I’ve been sharing things on my newsletter and if I do that—you know what? I’m going to do it properly. With proper cameras and a crew and everything so I’m going to pay them for that.”
“And you know what? If I do that it’s not going to just go on social media. That would be a lot of work just for a couple of Facebook Likes from my mom.” I thought, “Alright, I’m going to go for a TV Channel.”
So I started getting in touch with people from Greece, but the TV landscape in Greece is a little bit unstable, like most things there.
So I turned to TV stations in London. They’re actually interested in the idea of some crazy guy that was in the military and then started on a tour to create a new kind of music and re-discover his own heritage.
I hired a team, we started a tour, we started documenting everything and eventually we’re on our way to re-discover who we are and what music means for us. Also find the sweet balance between Depeche Mode and traditional Greek folk music. We’re not there yet, but that’s an ongoing process. We’re shooting for a TV launch in September 2017 or January 2018.
The band is around a hundred musicians from all over Greece.
That could be it, yeah! Obviously, they aren’t all going to be on one stage. Kenophania is more like a collaborative project. The creative process—following our inspiration and seeing what sticks. Over our five month tour, we’ve been jamming with a lot of musicians, coming up with ideas real time, recording everything. That’s the first stage.
The next stage is online collaborations. Now that I’m coming back to London, I’ll be composing at home by myself and sending stuff to other people so they can record it, put their own twist on it. I’ll put it back in the mix and see what it sounds like.
Eventually, we will find the sweet spot between all these things. We can see the mountain but we’re still exploring the villages that are on the way to the mountain. The goal is not to find out what the final product is going to be like, but to create something that is so unique and authentic and rooted back to where we came from, from our traditions. That people cannot really ignore it.
That’s a great question. There was only one way of finding them—word of mouth. In each place we would go we would have a couple of contacts or no contacts at all.
I would ask around. “Who should I talk to? Is there any old guy that has great stories to tell us about this particular instrument, is there any story that we should hear, is there any traditional event that we should attend so we can find out more?”
It was research—but instead of me looking to write a paper, I was gathering material as a part of the creative process for something new. So the very same people that would give me the information—the young musicians, the older people—they would be a part of both the research and the creative process.
In every place we were going we recorded one or two new songs. All of us in one place with microphones in front of each instrument, playing in real time—no corrections, mixed on the spot using a Zoom H6. It all sounded very authentic and very organic.
We met people from the very first episode that loved it and wanted to continue. Eventually, we would have people that followed us from one place to another, but not in the whole trip.
On the tour it was mostly the permanent team of four people: myself and three others that were shooting video, taking photos and participating in music creation. Now we also have an editing team and I have my whole community to provide us feedback. Fifty new members and a hundred musicians from all over Greece that were a part of the team eventually, but not in each place.
That’s the core element of the new genre that I’m creating. If we succeed it will be a new music genre called folk wave. New wave and folk, folk wave. If it doesn’t then it’s just a new music we came up with, but if it does succeed it will be folk wave—a marriage of sounds between UK post-punk and Mediterranean and Balkan, Greek traditional music with only natural sounds and acoustic instruments.
I am tired of music that uses a lot of heavy guitars, a lot of distortion, a lot of electronics patterns in the background. Everybody is doing that. It’s a matter of what hasn’t been done before and what are people not listening to today. Maybe there’s a unique angle at the moment. Usually what people do is they make metal or rock music and they add some twist to it.
The twist is either the oriental music that Orphaned Land is doing or some Balkan sample in the background like Jason Derulo. What people are not doing is actually to create something with a lot of limitations: no drums, no electric guitars, no electronics samples in the background. Just the essence of music, the groove.
I want people to dance like they’re dancing to Depeche Mode but just with acoustic instruments. I want to find the groove, the source of the groove—not just the beat that people fleshed out during the production phase. I want people to be able to play this music by grabbing three acoustic instruments and going to the beach, lighting up a fire and then playing and dancing around the fire.
I want it to go back to what music used to be. People grabbing some acoustic instruments and playing their music. This is how music is played in traditional Greek customs. There’s no amplification, there’s no … Just raw natural sounding music and that’s what I want to bring back to the template of pop.
Just like every creator or entrepreneur when you see it, you see it and then you can talk about it. At the moment it’s about exploring this huge bank of ideas that I have, this pool of ideas. I will take one out at a time and then explore.
Right now the whole project is about curiosity, exploration. We still have a long way to go.
Come over to TommyDarker.com and subscribe to the newsletter where you can get the news and updates about everything. From there we’ll let you know when we roll out the Kenophania website and TV show.
You can also go on my Facebook profile Tommy Darker where I’m posting a lot of pictures with a backstage look at every area we visit on our tour.
And you thought it took a lot of work to start a band? Tommy Darker does it large, skipping the band thing to go for a whole new genre. On the way he’ll be sharing and teaching about the whole experience. Do you have big ideas? Learn more about Tommy’s U25 project and advice for young musicpreneurs and get the ball rolling!
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