From Pink Floyd soaring off into Interstellar Overdrive to Bootsy Collins tripping balls on the lysergic mothership, psychedelic drugs and pop go together like tangerine trees and marmalade skies. The same has never been said for the classical world, and this, according to the shamanic evangelist and classical maverick Othon Mataragas, is due a change.
Greek-born Mataragas gave his first piano recital in 1984, aged five. By the time he was seven he had enrolled in the country’s National Conservatoire. But in his teens, unhappy “living the life I was supposed to live”, he became fascinated with punk music. He superglued random objects to his head, and strung his facial piercings together with wire. The conservative Athenian classical world decided that prodigious talent really was no substitute for looking neat and, at 16, Mataragas was snubbed.
As a result, Mataragas left Greece for London and started a quest of musical and spiritual exploration that has seen him spend the last decade and several albums developing a bizarre genre all of his own: PAN. According to Othon, PAN (the capitals are his) is a genre freefall where the only constant is creative honesty. To facilitate this, Mataragas draws from a scatty palette of bombastic classical, whimsical new wave, industrial techno and clattering drums. Think Throbbing Gristle scoring a chamber pop musical of Conchita Wurst‘s Eurovision win – on acid. Don’t wince: it’s literally on acid. Mataragas’s latest opus, Pineal, was conceived during a series of Amazonian ayahuasca ceremonies, psychedelic rituals that seesawed between heavenly visions and “relentless shitting”. He emerged anew, transformed by the shamanic chants into a shiny-eyed believer. “Now I know that there is something else outside of us, spirits above us and below,” he insists. “The ceremonies gave me ecstatic euphoria and complete darkness. I had moments of complete, total self-knowledge.”
Pineal – named after the “third eye” that activates in psychedelic experience – is a chart of his emotional reaction to ayahuasca, and an advocacy for the healing power of psychedelics. Unsurprisingly for an album sculpted from such eccentric and intense experiences, it skips from the sublime to the silly, opening with the kind of post-punk Adam Ant might have made if he’d gone Aztec, and then spiralling into thumping operatic techno. Needless to say, it’s a divisive listen.
“Listen with an open heart,” Othon laughs. “If it makes you want to dance and play and have sex, it would make me very happy. If it can make you think about taking ayahuasca, then better.”
You may not need to, though: an hour spent with Pineal’s head-frying helterskelter is more than enough to make you feel like you’ve imbibed it already.
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