Songs of the Greek underground
A documentary film by Greek-Australian director Bill Mousoulis

by Manolis Daloukas


Songs of the Underground is a 78-minute documentary, by Greek-Australian film director Bill Mousoulis.

In the still at the head of this article, we see the Greek band Alpha Bang, as they appear in the documentary.  Also appearing in the film are: Dimitris Poulikakos, Thanos Kois, Lost Bodies, Antouan Parinis, OUT!, Lostre High Van Eros, and many others.

This film is dedicated to the memory of the brilliant street musician Stavros Ziogas (1957-2016), who also participates, singing the old bandit song “Black Life”.

There are dedications in the film also to Alexis Grigoropoulos and Pavlos Fyssas, both of whom were killed by police and fascists respectively.

Thanos Kois, among the other things he does in the documentary (sing with Lost Bodies, analyse events, express political thoughts), reads an “Anti-manifesto of the Underground”, which he wrote, trying to define the Underground.  In this anti-manifesto, he devalues the mainstream.

We need to be careful here, to not put everything and everyone in the one basket.  The mainstream, i.e. songs connected to the marketplace, which are played on the radio and TV, are not all bad.  Let’s not forget that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones belonged to the mainstream, and not the underground.

What is the Underground ?

We characterize an Underground song as that which is not played on the radio, not presented on TV, you have to search hard to find it, it’s not visible, it exists in closed circles, and, accordingly, it’s not connected to the music industry.  Kois praises this kind of song, but does not define with clarity what exactly it is.  We are therefore left with the definition Frank Zappa gave us: “the mainstream comes to you, but you have to go to the underground”.

A second observation is that the Underground is not a priori good.  Many Underground songs are “spuds”.  We see many DIY releases that are for the trash can, and antithetically, many releases from companies that are diamonds.  For example the album “The Garden of the Madman”, by Dionysius Savvopoulos, was a brilliant work, which created a movement, even if it was distributed by a commercial company.

The issue ultimately is not the underground versus the mainstream, but quality vs worthless art.  To give an example from another field, we wouldn’t believe that the greatest writers are those who print and distribute their own books, rather than go to a publishing house.  The thoughts and the words count, not the method of publishing.  And thoughts and words are the swords that change society.  DIY releases don’t do that, when they don’t have anything remarkable in them, to create any change.

About the documentary

Does the film succeed in giving us worthy examples of the Greek underground?  Bill Mousoulis’ work is undoubtedly of interest.  We have no objection to the people presented, basically all of them are remarkable, and some of them have written history.

We would have liked, however, the director to present more of a youthful element.  A study of the Greek underground should also have the feeling of youth, separate from the memories of the older artists.  We are missing archival footage of the older people when they were younger.  Power is found in new and bright forms, not so much in the wisdom of age.

We are also missing new, young bands from today.

These inclusions of youth, had they been in the film, would have made the film fly.

But even as it is, Songs of the Underground is a good film, and it gives you food for thought.

Don’t miss it.

It’s already screened twice in Greece, and in September it will screen in social spaces and other venues in many places throughout Greece:  Athens, Thessaloniki, Volos, Larisa, Lamia, Giannina, Aegina, Crete, and elsewhere.

Who is the director?

Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker, based between Greece and Australia.  Beginning in 1982, Mousoulis has made over 100 films, including 10 features, of which Songs of Revolution (2017) is the latest, shot in Greece.  His previous feature Wild and Precious (2012) was shot in Greece and Italy, and screened at the Athens International Film Festival and numerous other festivals worldwide (and Awarded at Cyprus Film Festival). 

Mousoulis is “an independent film legend” according to the Melbourne newspaper The Age.  He is also the founder of the film organization Melbourne Super 8 Film Group in 1985, and the founder of the online film journal Senses of Cinema in 1999, a journal that is known today as one of the best film journals online.