LEFKAΔΑ: a landscape transformed into soundscape

Selene Messinis talks to Neos Kosmos about how her love for her family's motherland inspired her electronic dance music

‘Lefkada’ means ‘whiteness’. The Ionian island took this name after its southern cape, which in ancient times was called ‘White Rock’. It is an appropriate name for the steep, rocky cliffs that reflect the sun onto the sea, creating a magnificent coastal side of white pebble, giving the water a characteristic azure tint. In fact, the whole western part of the island can claim to be among the most beautiful parts of Greece. And now this name is getting a new association, being the moniker of a Melbourne-based electronic dance music duet formed by Selene Messinis and Tim Cox.

“My favourite place in the whole world is Kathisma beach, that colour makes me so happy,” says Messinis, whose family comes from Lefkada and who has spent many summers there, with her aunt and yiayia.

“I’ve always loved going there and speaking the language. I used to be fluent and I’m sad that I’ve lost part of that,” she says, but insists that it was not her idea to name her new venture Lefkada.
“It was Tim’s idea,” she says of her partner in music, as well as in life.
“Initially I had cultural cringe about it, I didn’t want to be like: look at me, look how Greek I am, I’m naming my band Greek,” she laughs.

“When you’re in a relationship with someone you shouldn’t force your culture on them,” Messinis adds. “But Tim has been really interested in Greek culture and history and mythology and he’s asked me to teach him.”

Eventually she conceded.

“I like the word and how it looks,” she says, referring to the specific writing – LEFKΑΔΑ – used on the band’s logo.

It is not uncommon in electronic music to see words used this way for their aesthetic allure. But how do the specific images that Lefkada evokes reflect on the duo’s music?

“I suppose the images drive some of the compositions in terms of the colours,” she says.

Messinis describes the sound of LEFKΑΔΑ as “alternative electronic dance music” with “intricate polyrhythmic ideas” and nods to R’n’B and hip-hop, but also to the European approach to dance music. It would not sound out of place in a London club – or at one of the loud beach bars that have emerged at Kathisma beach in the past decade.

This is a far cry from her previous (and ongoing) musical venture, the jazz trio ISM. In fact, the classical-and-jazz trained pianist and composer had not had any interest in pop in the past.

“I’ve only been into electronic music for the last couple of years or so,” she says.

“Growing up I never had a strong interest in pop music at all, I was focused mainly on jazz and classical music, I was not listening to commercial radio and in high school, I used to lie to my friends about pop artists, pretending to know names and songs, when I had no idea,” she laughs.

This changed when she started studying at the Victorian College of the Arts.

“I got exposed to a lot of modern music that my friends were really into, we were sharing music and it was all bouncing off each other, in a really creative space.”

But her true influence is Cox, a versatile drummer and producer who shapes Messinis’ compositions and vocals into the LEFKΑΔΑ tracks.

The project marks a lot of firsts for Messinis.

“This is the first time I’ve put something out there with myself singing,” she says and references R’n’B singers Jill Scott and Lalah Hathaway as her influences.

“I’ve always been interested in singing, but my mum wouldn’t let me take up singing lessons as a kid because I was already learning too many instruments,” she laughs.

“You can’t do the choir as well as the jazz band as well as the orchestra,” was Mrs Messinis’ reasoning.

But the most challenging part has been writing lyrics.

“Lyrics are hard,” she says. There’s a reason for that: “I want the lyrics to reflect personal experiences, I’m not pulling stuff out of the air.”

This is definitely reflected on the duet’s debut track, Deadlines, a song about her challenging experience with chronic fatigue and anxiety.

On the LEFKΑΔΑ Facebook page, it is described as “a sonic representation of the derailing and debilitating nature of chronic stress and anxiety. The pulsating movement of the song symbolises the never-ending pressures of modern society; ones that can, if left unmanaged, lead to an individual’s mental collapse.”

Which is to say, that it is not your average dance track.

“I know it seems crazy, but it’s important for me to talk about real stuff,” she says, explaining how she’s juxtaposing the musical style of dance music with a serious issue, hoping that people are going to enjoy the sound and want to dance, but then want to go deeper.
“I guess it’s all about bringing those messages in an accessible way,” she says.

“It’s sort of like comedians bringing up serious issues. They make people laugh, they draw people in and then slap you in the face with a message.”

‘Deadlines’ is available through Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes and Soundcloud. For more information and future releases, head to facebook.com/lefkadamusic