Seeing the city unfold is a buzz, says the Irish woman on the trail of electronic music in Athens

Niamh O’Connor moved to Athens in 2020. Why not now, she thought

Niamh O’Connor with a copy of her book on electronic music, which you can buy online

Niamh O’Connor with a copy of her book on electronic music, which you can buy online

 

“I’m going to in stay Athens for a month or maybe a bit longer,” I told my parents at the tail-end of September 2020. There were no compulsory quarantine for passengers arriving into Greece and as Covid-19 cases climbed in Ireland, I decided to leave while I had the opportunity. “We will definitely be back for Christmas, that’s for sure.”

It is now July 2021 and both myself and my sister Aisling are still here in Athens. Before arriving, I had slid into a comfortable living situation in Dublin, floating between running a blog I set up called Quarantune and watching episodes of The OC. I used Quarantune to stay connected to my friends and colleagues from the music scene in London and invited DJs, producers, sound engineers and others I had known in industry to share a memory in the form of a photo and a short interview with me. It grew a short pair of legs and kept me distracted at home.

During this time, I had been in a fortunate position to be placed on furlough from my previous job as a talent booker in London. After I had been made redundant in August 2020 however, I evaluated my savings and booked a flight to see Aisling, who was living in Athens and doing voluntary work at a refugee camp. (Here is her story in The Irish Times.)

I left Dublin on a freezing cold morning and was met on the other side by blistering heat. Seeing the palm trees that lined the motorway into Athens and adjusting to the temperature, I realised how lucky I was 

I left Dublin on a freezing cold morning and was met on the other side by blistering heat. Seeing the palm trees that lined the motorway into Athens and adjusting to the temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, I realised how lucky I was to have the savings to get me here without any serious obligations.

I spent October 2020 in an AirBnb in the Athenian suburb of Edem. During each of my morning swims in the warm waters of the Aegean, I was reminded that my relocation was a stroke of luck after leaving behind the stagnancy of unemployed life in Dublin. Yes, I was still unemployed in Greece, but at least I could swim in the sea and immerse myself in a different culture while familiarising myself with the geometric-shaped Greek alphabet and learning the language. It was in Edem that I tried Greek veggie dishes such as melitzanasalata, dolmades and fava at the local beachside taverna.

Fast-forward to December and Aisling and I never made it back to Dublin for Christmas. We were both living together in the neighbourhood we’re based in now, Koukaki, and having decided not to come home as Covid-19 skyrocketed worldwide, we experienced our first hard lockdown in Athens. With Aisling’s voluntary work over, she resumed freelance graphic design, while I figured out my next steps, in between trips to the supermarket and venturing out for our daily allocated walk.

Niamh O’Connor is enjoying Athens where “finding a decent flat won’t cost an organ in rent”
Niamh O’Connor is enjoying Athens where “finding a decent flat won’t cost an organ in rent”

During those lockdown days, I worked on Quarantune and thought about how I could make it into a tangible format. Having accumulated a plethora of photographs on the online archive, I asked Aisling if she would help me put a printed book of photos and interview excerpts from the blog in time for Christmas. Aisling agreed and we chose an Irish charity called The SCOOP Foundation - co-founded by the DJ and promoter Calvin Sweeney - to share the profits 50/50 as their work with displaced young people in Direct Provision centres in Ireland and Iraqi Kurdistan struck a chord with both of us.

We’ve now produced two Quarantune books - also available in PDF versions - in total;Quarantune 01: Music, Memories and More and Quarantune 02: Last Entry 3am . Each book contains 45 to 50 photographs and excerpts supplied by international artists. We used a UK-based printing company that shipped the books to our apartment and after navigating a few language barriers and Greek customs bureaucracy, ELTA Hellenic Post shipped every order around the world. We have now sold out the second book, and this is a huge achievement for us.

I know there is more of Athens I have yet to see, particularly in terms of electronic music

Summer has arrived in Greece and as the sun gets hotter. A return to Ireland or the UK seems unlikely. While London is a multi-coloured cosmos for electronic music, the thoughts of finding a decent flat there that won’t cost an organ in rent is unappealing. Koukaki was dead during the months of lockdown, but the streets have since transformed since restrictions lifted in May and it is the first time I have experienced a real sense of life in central Athens.

I am not sure what the future holds and sometimes I am just as unsure as I was back in March 2020 when I moved from London to Dublin. I know there is more of Athens I have yet to see, particularly in terms of electronic music. While the search for freelance work continues, so will indulging in the national Greek pastime - drinking coffee. But seeing more of the city currently unfold is a buzz in itself.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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