A heavenly voice

Dioni's sounds travel between Sydney and Athens

An opening artist in Athens for international heavyweights The Chemical Brothers and Faithless, Dioni was a leading light in the Athenian music scene, as an emerging artist who moved from Sydney to the city that rarely slept. Dioni fronted the band Astyplaz in 2001 and caught the attention of veteran promoter Gilles Petelle. This led to tours around the world and the release of two Astyplaz albums, ‘Name Your Slippers’ and ‘Bi’ respectively. Several tracks featured in numerous compilations, including the internationally recognised Buddha Bar XI series.

As a solo artist, she also collaborated with many other respected European electronic artists, featuring as vocalist, leading to solo performances in her native Australia, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Greece and Qatar.

Dioni is currently in Sydney to be with her family and to continue her career. To celebrate her return to the harbour city, she is holding a performance on 2 April, titled A Tribute to the Greek Divas of Song. The gig, to be held at The Juniors Leagues Club, is certain to sell out as she pays tribute to numerous female Greek singers. Dioni has a multilingual repertoire – seven languages – and sings in almost any genre. Neos Kosmos recently caught up with Dioni to ask her a series of questions about her career.

What can you tell us about your childhood? Is that when you had your first taste of music?

I had an ideal childhood, something I consider myself lucky for. I had a propensity for the arts as soon as I developed a talking personality. Theatrical productions and singing for the family led to talent schools as a kid and then on to further studies. Connie Francis’ Where the Boys Are and Glenn Miller’s In the Mood were the first songs I publicly performed at the age of nine. My mother was a concert pianist, hence the constant presence of music in the house. We also travelled to Europe, where I was exposed to various sounds, genres and languages. I studied music at school and received 100 per cent in music for my HSC and a TER of 95.5, even though I don’t consider myself studious at all.

What inspired you to become a singer?

I had the perfect balance between a strict private girls’ school – where I played the euphonium and later the trombone – and the Greek extracurricular events I was dragged to and didn’t appreciate at the time! I was very fortunate to have an academic father who was also heavily involved in the Hellenic lobby (SAE Oceania president among many others) and an artistic, ever-supportive mother. I studied Greek philosophy at university as part of my mass communications degree whilst falling in love with the Greek language. Hanging out with newly-arrived Greek musicians prompted my love affair with rembetika as well. My grandmother was an opera singer, though I think one just gravitates towards something they are born to do.

Prompted by International Women’s Day, which was on 8 March, what was it like for a woman to succeed in the music business? Do you think barriers have come down for women in the arts/performance scene?

I honestly believe this is one business where sex doesn’t really matter as it is equally hard for both men and women. In other industries women still have some way to go and in third world countries the distance to be covered is far greater.
Astyplaz developed a cult following. Tell us about how they formed and your role in the band. Any juicy stories to share?
We formed in 2001 in Athens, soon after they found me through the then guitarist, and the rest is history, as they say. The original band has four members but for live shows we go on stage with the addition of drums, sax and guitar.
As a matter of fact, I have quite lot of juicy stories. I was once detained at the Montreal airport under suspicion of drug-smuggling as George (keyboards) was suspected of terrorist activity for no other reason other than his Mediterranean complexion and poor English. I narrowly escaped a cavity search while my life flashed before my eyes. Poor George then had to report back to the Greek Embassy. Playing to middle-aged drag queens in Chicago on Thanksgiving was quite surreal also! Since my moving back to Australia, Astyplaz are informally dissolved for now, but maybe we will reunite again in the future.

Tell us about your recording career success both as member of Astyplaz and as a solo artist.

We have released three albums and have been included on many different compilations – of which the most notable would be the internationally renowned Buddha Bar series. We have sold music in The Canary Islands and Africa to South America, Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada. I think pretty much everywhere but I’m not sure about Australia.

What in your opinion makes a songwriter? Is there a certain style?

Being able to verbalise your experience and feelings in a way that can be conveyed to different people with the use of passion, internal honesty, empathy and plenty of poetic licence is essential. This doesn’t mean one can’t tell a story with none of the above.

What are the influences you have had and why? Have you ever influenced anyone yourself?

I have had various influences, some subconscious, while others as a result of popular culture and life experience. On the other hand, I briefly dabbled in teaching at different talent schools but it is a huge and dangerous responsibility that requires much dedication and selflessness – I am not there yet! Although my integrity has never been compromised, I don’t think at this point I have enough altruism to mentor a student. Notwithstanding, I have been told I have influenced some aspiring young singers, which is extremely touching and rewarding.

I recall you opened for acts such as Faithless and The Chemical Brothers. How would you describe this experience?

Awesome, amazing, exhilarating. You can imagine the atmosphere of packed stadiums – even if they weren’t packed for me!

Why did you come back to Sydney?

I have been away for over a decade. The crisis and missing my family brought me back.

Do you have advice for any aspiring musicians?

Persevere and never ever give up on your dreams. Also, don’t be lazy – something I wish I could heed myself.

What future projects are you involved in?

The release of my new solo project and video clips in the next few weeks. The start of the promotional campaign will hopefully see me travelling to Canada again in June.
Coming up soon is a new show for the Greek festival of Sydney on 2 April, entitled A Tribute to the Greek Divas of Song, incorporating 17 female singers who greatly impacted the Greek music industry as well as a surprise inclusion.
Moreover, Ode to a Crisis, the first multimedia show I wrote and produced, will be presented at several festivals, with Canberra as its first stop on 9 May at the Hellenic Club. A surprise collaboration with a Greek artist is also on the cards.

How would you describe your current style of music? Is there a hidden message in it?

It is hard as the songs amongst themselves vary but perhaps blue-eyed soul and retro pop are the most predominant styles, followed by certain electronica elements. The existential theme is central to all but whatever anyone extracts will do. Hope is a great message.

If you could dabble in another genre of music, what would it be?

I have been lucky to have collaborated with many different artists and music styles, including almost everything from rock, dark-wave, goth, metal, funk, jazz, classical, Greek, electronica, flamenco and more. However, I haven’t been in a musical since high school, so I guess that would be it.

How do you see the future of live music in Australia?

It can only be promising. There is a lot of talent and scope for great bands. If the ridiculous regulations and curfews ever get amended, then hopefully we can see more live venues open up. I think it is unacceptable in a city as large and eclectic as Sydney to have so few theatres and performance spaces.

What else can we expect from you in the future?

Hopefully to tour everywhere possible. A Grammy and an Oscar would be great, too!

*You can find out more about Dioni by visiting dionimusic.com. For tickets to the concert on 2 April, visit www.thejuniors.com.au/shop/item/a-tribute-to-the-greek-divas-of-song